How to Read Secular Material With Discernment
Written by Phylicia Masonheimer | November 15, 2016
Living as a Christ follower in this world requires us to defend what we believe. In order to “give an answer for the hope within us” (1 Peter 3:15) we not only need to know Scripture—we need to know how our culture thinks. Just like the Apostle Paul, we need to be aware of the issues that take priority in our culture and answer them from a biblical perspective.
To do this, we need to understand unbelievers’ point of view. We can gain some perspective from our unbelieving friends and family, but it is also helpful to read the materials from which these friends build their worldview. But when reading secular material, we need the wisdom to sift through what is true and what is false. We need discernment.
Discernment is a gift of God’s Spirit. He grants us His eyes to see truth when we make Him our first priority. As you read, watch and converse on cultural issues, keep in mind the following three points.
Ground Yourself in God’s Word
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. (1 John 4:1)
Our human minds do not have the objective knowledge necessary to sift through truth and falsehood on their own. We need God’s wisdom! Fortunately for us, God has provided everything we need in His Word. Our evangelism and witness in society is as effective as we are equipped by Scripture.
How well you know the Word of God—and how rooted you are within it—determines how firmly you stand on God’s principles in this culture. As you study what the Bible says on issues like alcohol, homosexuality, marriage, purity and Christian living, you’ll view the world through the lens of God’s wisdom. God’s principles of holiness and love will determine your conversations and convictions in work, love and entertainment. As you root yourself in God’s wisdom, you’ll be able to read secular material without being swayed by false ideologies.
Without grounding yourself in God’s Word, you will not be able to defend what you believe. You must learn to study the Bible and apply it to your daily life—not just for your personal spiritual growth, but for the sake of your witness in the world.
Research the Author’s Background
But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. (Hebrews 5:14)
When reading something by a secular author (and even an author who claims to be a Christian), research that person’s background. A person’s life story tells a lot about them. Today many Christians share so-called Christian books without researching the author’s theology (as in the case of Jen Hatmaker). It is important, both with Christian and non-Christian authors, to be aware of what you’re reading and be ready to discern what is true.
Ask Yourself “Why?”
See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. (Colossians 2:8)
Finally, when reading secular material or consuming secular media, ask yourself: “Why am I reading/watching/doing this?” Is it to understand a cultural worldview? Is it to better equip yourself for evangelism? Or is it for personal entertainment?
There is a fine line between researching secular ideologies and buying into a cultural-Christian model of discipleship, which isn’t discipleship at all. If your media choices echo society’s priorities more than Christ’s, ask yourself these questions.
Still, there are times when we need to read secular material (in college or for our own research). In those times, allow the Spirit of God to grant you discernment, and be open to His leading. Take notes on your thoughts and find out the answers you’re unsure about. And remember: God delights to grant wisdom to those who ask.
If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. (James 1:5)