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    How to Read Secular Authors With Biblical Wisdom

    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.

    Phylicia Masonheimer
    Phylicia Masonheimerhttps://phyliciamasonheimer.com/
    Phylicia Masonheimer is an author and speaker teaching women how to discern what is true, discuss the deep stuff, and accomplish God's will for their specific lives. She holds a B.S. in Religion from Liberty University, where she met her husband, Josh, and now lives in northern Michigan with her two daughters, Adeline and Geneva.

    2 COMMENTS

    1. Phylicia,

      While, as a writer and literature critic myself, I do understand your concerns on secular fiction, however, I am slightly more inclined to disagree. Not all fiction is bad, not even secular fiction. It is, as you yourself say, only a matter of spiritual discernment and wisdom in reading. If it is any consolation, I know where to draw my boundaries; there were a few books I had to stop reading, as I was beginning to feel that they would have a negative emotional or/and spiritual impact on me, while reading. I actually had to not read one of my assigned readings at Geneva due to this (it was in a Sci-Fi class, a newer class, the prof was going more on recommendations, and a lot of books ended up being cut from the curriculum, as he would read them each before us, beforehand. The perpetrator in my case was a book called, “Childhood’s End”. We did read a lot of good stuff, though, and I grew to appreciate many of those classics, secular and otherwise. They taught me to think deeper about the values of love, life, and what it truly means to be human, an image bearer. I think those things are very important. ), but my prof was completely understanding about it (something you DON’T see at every college), knowing that I was the kind of honors student who’d rather be maimed than not do her homework for grades’ sake. It takes a LOT for literature to do that to me, though, and only certain books/authors have “triggered” me.

      I’ll end with a fave snippet of mine from Sarah Arthur, one of the former writers of the teen devotional, “Devozine,” on the topic of whether we should write fiction:

      “Are “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” Christian stories? The stories don’t mention God or Jesus; but J.R.R. Tolkien, the author, was a Christian. Asked to describe himself, Tolkien gave a quick summary and then added, “Or more important, I am a Christian (which can be deduced from my stories).” If we pay attention when reading his works we can tell that Tolkien was a person of faith.

      Philosopher Jacques Maritain wrote, “If you want to make a Christian work, then be Christian, and simply try to make a beautiful work, into which your heart will pass; do not try to ‘make Christian’.” Too often, Christians think that what they create should have an obvious spiritual meaning. But Tolkien believed that in the act of creating, we participate in the work of God [something reinforced in me at Geneva– we’re literally culture-makers, as Image Bearers 🙂 ]. God is a Creator and has made us to be what Tolkien called “sub-creators,” which is one of the primary callings of the human heart.

      Tolkien did not set out to write Christian stories. He set out to write stories that gave him joy. He wrote to the glory of God; in doing so, his faith shone through.” (Arthur, “Following Your Joy: The Hobbit and God’s Call On Your Life”. Devozine. Nov-Dec. 2013.)

      Now, am I saying every Christian author is perfect? No. I can completely empathize with your distain for overly gushiness in certain Christian romance novels, or the tempting desires of the seductive “bad boys,” of the secular ones. However, I believe you are too quick to shove it all away, into a large garbage can, based on only a few perceptions of fiction. I know many fiction authors, many believers, who gladly follow in Tolkien’s example, embracing this culture-making JOYFULLY. I know a BRILLIANT entrepreneurial, ENTP, Christian indie publisher head, author of SEVERAL fantasy-steampunk books, who can easily counter like half your points right here (although, she’d be both blunt AND respectful. 🙂 ).

      Don’t knock out what God is calling some of us to do. Jesus taught in parables, in stories, stories that may have been based on real scenarios, but were still very much fiction. The disciples did not even see the spiritual underlying meaning until it was explained; this is a common symbolic device used in many tropes and genres of literature. I’ve seen Dekker, Austin, and Garrett use it numerous times, along with thorough research. Does that not make it OK?

      All in all, I think you need to research the OTHER side’s opinions a bit more thoroughly. This is one of the RARE areas I happen to disagree with you on, Phylicia, and trust me, I agree more heavily than you think. xD

      ~Olivia M. (Livgirl63)

    2. Wow. This is sooo true. I never really thought about like looking to scripture when I was reading other books. It’s a really interesting thing. And I gonna try to do that. I also think it can be the same way with movies. We can watch other movies we just need to be able to project God in all we do and so I think if we are going to do that we need to be able to see God in all we do. And if we can’t see God in something we do. We might need to consider cuting that thing out of our lives. Because ultimately we are here to get to heaven. And help others get to heaven. And I know I for one sometimes forget that. Please pray for me and I will be praying for you guys. We need holy women like you in the world!!

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