How to Read Secular Authors With Biblical Wisdom
Written by Phylicia Masonheimer | November 25, 2018
Followers of Christ aren’t supposed to live in an echo chamber.
Living for Jesus includes interacting with the secular world. We’re meant to be “in the world, but not of it”—a phrase taken from Jesus’ prayer for His disciples in John 17:14-19. In this prayer, Jesus says, “I do not ask that you [Father God] take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.” But how do we live among people who don’t share the Christian worldview? How do we read secular material, watch secular media and discuss issues with secular friends without being swayed to an unbiblical view?
Jesus’ prayer gives us the answer. But before we break this down, let’s pause for an important truth. While we are free to read secular material and should definitely be aware of what is going on in our world (culturally and politically), not all material is beneficial to our walk with God. The Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, “’I have the right to do anything,’ you say—but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’—but not everything is constructive.” (1 Corinthians 10:23) Constantly reading secular fiction, rife with sex scenes and foul language, is going to affect your walk with God. Choosing TV shows that are replete with these themes, however fun the plot lines, can be a stumbling block to your spiritual growth. Use discernment when making these choices.
But say you have chosen some secular authors to read—perhaps to be in tune with the bestsellers or to have a conversation with unbelieving friends. How do you read the book, take something away and remain steadfast in faith? Here are some tips.
1. Stay grounded in God’s Word. My strongest caution to you comes with this first point: If you are spending significantly more time in secular books and media than you are in the Word of God, you are in danger of being deceived. The Enemy works overtime to make Christians ineffective. He doesn’t do this directly because we’d catch on to his schemes; rather, he uses seemingly innocent things like the books we read and media we watch to shift our minds away from Christ. By staying in God’s Word on a regular basis, studying it, learning about it and equipping yourself for godliness, you have the wisdom needed to consume secular works. Jesus said in His prayer, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” His goal for you is your sanctification. Your purity. That purity comes through the Word, and if you’re spending more time in secular work than in the Word, your purity of mind and spirit is in danger.
2. Do not fear the world. Christians are meant to be in the world because that is how we share the gospel! To effectively share the gospel, we have to know what other views exist in our culture. In Acts 17, Paul shares the gospel with Greek philosophers using their own language and quotes from their poets! He knew enough about their culture to have an educated discussion. Jesus prayed for us, “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” You’re meant to be here. Don’t fear it. But don’t let the world dictate your life, either.
3. Remember: Jesus died to make you clean. Jesus ends the John 17 passage with, “And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.” He gave Himself up so you could be at peace with God, being made clean through His death. Don’t use His sacrifice as an opportunity to depart from holiness! Let His love motivate you to be educated and discerning.
Practically speaking, discernment happens as you read from a Spirit-led place. If you sense something is “off” in what you read, make a note of it, ask the Lord for wisdom and do some further research in the Word. Compare the worldview to what you know from the Bible. Do not simply accept something because the author has degree letters after their name; compare it to what you know to be objectively true. Secular works contain much beneficial information, but without a spiritual foundation that information is limited in its eternal value.
Walk by the Spirit as you live in the world.