I’m not a fan of labels. But that’s probably a whole different blog post in itself. Labels don’t often fit. They can cause misunderstanding where it doesn’t exists. But labels also create the potential danger that we only gather around likeminded people and create a hive mind, in the negative sense. This is usually called a ‘tribe’. That’s another word I’m not a fan of in the Christian world, but you get what a mean. It’s an unhelpful term because it makes an ‘us vs them’ mentality. It can draw lines where there shouldn’t be any. Having ‘tribes’ means that we’re more likely to ignore certain parts of the Church and surround ourselves with carbon copies of ourselves.
Being surrounded by likeminded people isn’t bad. However, being surrounded ONLY by likeminded people isn’t great…
Multiple times a week I get emails, texts or DM’s from people wanting book recommendations. I enjoy reading, so I happily give my thoughts on books. I realised a while back that I was recommending books that were good, but often from a small pool. This is comfortable, because Christians like to trust the people we read. This makes sense. You need to know you’re reading truth. But, just because you disagree with someone doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read them.
I would argue that every complementarian should read egalitarian books too. That every baptist should also read books by paedobaptists. That every calvinist should read arminian material and that every cessationist should read books about miracles and the spiritual gifts too.
Why? Well, here are four ways that reading books by people from outside of your own ‘tribe’ can help you.
1. Belief Checklist
Reading something you disagree with makes you remember what your beliefs are. Being confronted with other ideas can help you remember what you believe and why. It’s easy to forget what we believe if we never have to talk about, defend or argue that’s it’s true. Being confronted with other perspective helps you have a firmer grasp of your own thoughts.
2. Growth Measure
Maybe you were like me and you got your height marked on the cupboard door every few months as a kid. Reading stuff you disagree with is a bit like that measuring process. It can help you gauge your own growth and maturity. When you first become a Christian you start of small. Time passes, your love for and knowledge of a God grows. As you learn, your maturity grows. Reading stuff from different ‘tribes’ can help you see just how far you’ve come. It is encouraging to see people move from drinking milk to consuming meat.
3. Spiritual Radar
Reading something you disagree with means you know what books and ideas are out there. This is really important. Having an idea of what’s out there, in Christian’s hands means you’re more equipped to help and correct. Christians can be easily caught up because we like to give people the benefit of the doubt. Or if people mention Jesus enough we might be tempted to think they must be right. Sadly, that isn’t true. There are wolves circling. Best practice is to spot them and know how to defend against their attacks. Pastors, read what your congregation are reading. Even the not so helpful stuff. You need to know what’s out there.
4. Health Check
Surrounding yourself with people or materials that all think and say the same thing will not stretch you or challenge you. Reading something you disagree with might help you realise flaws in your thinking and beliefs. My theology has changed quite a bit over the years and that would not have happened if I hadn’t read my Bible and listened to people who I initially disagreed with. Through searching Scripture, prayer, critical thinking and healthy debates we can become better theologians. Everyone is a theologian, we all need to try and be good ones.