What is a good Christian book? Sounds like a simple question. But it really isn’t so simple. For instance, a friend of mine once asked me, “How can a book be ‘Christian?’ A book can’t receive Christ.” And, of course, that’s true. Probably when we say that a book is a Christian book we mean that it was written by a Christian, or it is written with a Christian world view, or maybe more accurately, that it deals with Christian themes and ideas. For instance, another friend of mine is a reporter. And he is a Christian. But not much of his writing would be classified “Christian” because his stories don’t deal with Christian themes; his job is to accurately report the local news.
It gets even more complicated when we ask, what is a good Christian book? And on this question we will probably find that there are a number of perspectives. For some people a book is only a good book if it portrays a Christian world view and deals with Christian themes and ideas. But more than that, it is only a good Christian book if it portrays their Christian worldview and lines up with their particular theology—and, oh yeah, if the author is in good standing with their particular tribe. We wouldn’t want to read anything from someone who might disagree with us! This kind of view is more prevalent than we might think, because we often don’t recognize this kind of arrogance in ourselves. We only recognize it in others. But, I am forced to confess that this misleading notion worms its way into my own thinking at times.
Probably a better way to answer the question, what is a good Christian book, is to first consider whether the book is a good book. Only then consider whether it is written from a Christian vantage point. Now, that doesn’t mean that we ignore books if they aren’t Christian. There are many great books—important books—that we ought to read in order to know our culture and our time. The apostle Paul often quoted from pagan authors and poets (He did it in the dialogue on Mars Hill (Acts 17:28), but also see Titus 1:12). Even though he had been brought up steeped in the Jewish Scriptures he also knew the writings of the Greek and Roman poets.
So, what makes a book good? It needs to be well written and engaging. It should deal with important ideas. Hopefully a good book will expand our horizons and make us think new thoughts, giving us insight into the nature of our lives, and the plight of our neighbors. A good book, whether it is written by a Christian or not, will often deepen my own Christian walk because the book faithfully confronts me with the nature of this world and the plight of humans in it, and I am forced to enfold that understanding into my own faith.
Consequently, my own personal reading is a bit eclectic. And so, you may be surprised by some of the books that I choose to review. I’ve been thinking about how I want to set up Books And Curriculum realizing that I will probably review some books that don’t really fit the phrase “Christian book.” I have decided to categorize those “Marketplace” books. I originally was thinking I might use “Secular book,” but I didn’t want to perpetuate the idea that a book that doesn’t deal with Christian themes doesn’t have anything to say to us. Then I considered “Mainstream.” But that gave the wrong impression, too, somehow imbuing a book with legitimacy. On the other hand, “Marketplace” is a good description. They are in the book markets, otherwise we wouldn’t know about them. But also, they are a part of the marketplace of ideas; they are talked about in everyday life by our neighbors, friends, and coworkers.