As a much younger man, my then-pastor instructed we preacher boys (whom he called “Young Prophets”) on how to select books. There were some we should read and some we should not read; they were not worth the money to buy them. This was probably true enough, as far as it went. But, rather than teaching us discernment, it was more a straight prohibition.
For many years of my ministry I heeded this truth, staying with “safe” authors—read: primarily those from my tribe. Getting outside the tribe meant the Young Prophet needed a security clearance. I learned theology, practice, church growth, preaching, spirituality and principles for life and pastoring from an unofficial approved reading list.
It was years before I learned how that approach limited both my spiritual and intellectual growth. There are people within the bounds of orthodoxy who have come to some theological conclusions that are different than mine. Here’s why I ultimately started reading authors with whom I disagree on any number of these issues:
1. Because no tribe has a monopoly on truth.
No matter what your tribe is, it does not have all the truth. It can’t; there is simply too much truth for a cornered market. Reading outside my tribe helps me recognize different emphases and interpretations. I need to know biblically defensible views even if they differ from my own.
2. Because my thinking needs to be challenged in order to be strengthened.
The longer I read within the same circle of authors, the more susceptible I was to confirmation bias, though I did not even know what that was (the tendency to believe things are true because they confirm what we already think). The more we read people who think like us the more we are convinced we are right. The more we are convinced we are right, the more we tend to avoid authors who disagree with us.
Think of it like exercise: bodies that are exercised (challenged) stay strong or get stronger, but bodies that are not exercised grow weak and fatty. I do not want my spirit, emotions, or intellect to be weak and out of shape.
3. Because I might need correction.
If I am wrong about an aspect of theology, I will not be corrected by reading only people who agree with me. I will be corrected by people with a different angle on the subject; those who present different scriptures to present different arguments. I’m not talking about sin, which generally has to be confronted by those close to us. But, correction in mistaken theological nuances does not occur when all my thinking is repeatedly affirmed.
4. Because I get the “other side” directly from the “other side,” not a tribal interpretation.
Have you ever read a movie review or book critique written by someone who has not seen the movie or read the book? These folks comment on the rumors or reviews someone else has written, then present their “review” as authoritative. Generally, those are not the best reviews.
Few things are more intriguing to me than to see a dog-pile of hate on a book, only to read the book for myself and find 1) the warnings were overblown, or 2) the book had a lot of worthy content despite the bad parts. I would rather “eat the meat and spit out the bones,” as a former pastor used to say, than, like a baby bird, eat someone else’s partially-digested meal.
5. Because a varied diet is a more enjoyable diet.
One of my kids was an extremely picky eater all the way through elementary school. Her entire diet consisted of only 5 or 6 items, spaghetti and Pop-Tarts among them. She didn’t starve, and she was relatively healthy, but she missed out on so much great food! (Thankfully, her personal meal menu has expanded significantly.)
My reading intake was much like my daughter’s diet: it kept me from starving, but it also kept me from other healthy, helpful intake. I finally realized my limited diet was problematic. A larger, more varied diet has done me well.