As a pastor, I frequently get this question: “Is this book ok, pastor?” Now, I am always happy to answer this question. Always. In fact, it encourages me greatly to know that a Christian is desiring to know more and understand the truth of God. However, I would like to offer a few pointers to help you when you’re pacing the aisles of your local Christian bookstore, scanning the shelves for something edifying.
Now, upfront, I need to tell you that there needs to be about a hundred footnotes to this, as it’s impossible to evaluate a book or a resource based solely on generic factors. There’s always bad books in a good bunch, and there can be diamonds in the rough, too.
But let me offer some general parameters to help you evaluate what’s good and what’s not.
1. Do you know the author?
There are some Bible teachers and authors whose work is solid, no matter what they write. Now, this doesn’t exempt them from examination, but they have a long track record of producing faithful, biblical material and have earned the church’s trust.
For me, I often promote modern Christian teachers such as John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul, Steven Lawson, Mark Dever, Sinclair Ferguson, Alistair Begg, Kevin DeYoung, Martha Peace, Iain Murray, James R. White, Albert Mohler, John Piper, Jerry Bridges, Susan Hunt, Jay E. Adams, and J.I. Packer with little hesitation. Again, it’s not that they can’t be wrong, but I’ve yet to find any glaring errors with their doctrine or application. These are, in my view, trusted teachers.
Certainly, there are likely many I didn’t list, so check with your pastor or elders. They will often be able to steer you in the right direction.
2. Check the endorsements.
Generally, books have endorsements. I always read those. There have been times when I’ve stumbled across an unknown book author and nearly passed it by, but then read, “Forward by John MacArthur” and immediately bought it! This is a pastor or teacher’s stamp of approval. Check to see if you recognize those involved. If you see “Forward by Joel Osteen”, put the book down, and slowly back away—it’s going to be alright.
3. Check the publisher.
This can be hit or miss. This used to be easier to evaluate, but in recent years, many Christian publishers have been bought out by secular companies, who have proceeded to publish material that isn’t always good. Zondervan, for example, is like this. Sometimes they put out slam-dunks, while other times they put out sham-junk!
But there are still faithful publishers that tend to publish solid books. Generally, publishers like Crossway, P&R, Moody, B&H, Banner of Truth, Kress, and Thomas Nelson are good. Again, bad eggs can creep in. Other publishers like Zondervan, David C. Cook, Tyndale, and Waterbrook Multnomah have put out good books, but have published more questionable ones lately. For academic works, Baker, Eerdmans, InterVarsity, and Kregel will generally give you conservative scholarship, but again, also some sketchy stuff, too.
However, you can be almost 100% positive that an outright secular publisher will put out poor Christian books, despite their attempts to capture the “Christian” market.
4. Look for Scripture.
Granted, this is not a sure-fire method to identifying the value of a book. However, if you are scanning through a book in the store and the author makes zero references to Scripture, there’s a good chance that their book is not biblical or faithful. Good Christian books are written by Bible-soaked believers and they are unashamed in their generous quoting of Scripture.
And so, with as little dogmatism as I can muster, I would encourage you to engage in these helpful steps when looking for your next Christian book. Again, there are always caveats to this, but there is plenty of good Christian material out there if you know where to look.