Part five of the blog series: How to Read with Discernment.
Read part one: 5 Reasons to Test What You Read
Read part two: What Do They Mean When They Say _________?
Read part three: What Aren't They Saying?
Read part four: How Are They Using Their Bible?
Question #4: Are My Ears Itching?
What do itching ears have to do with reading spiritual books with discernment? A lot actually. Not physically itching ears, of course, but spiritually itching ears. The apostle Paul says, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Tim. 4:3-4). Whether its end times predictions or books promising heaven-like experiences on earth (or about their experiences in heaven; or hell!), the problem with many spiritual books today is that they are written more towards people with itching ears than to fill people with sound doctrine.
Do your ears itch while you read? In other words, is what you’re reading teaching foolish speculation and empty myths or is it teaching sound doctrine?
Does this Sound like Paul? (a.k.a. the Apostolic Sniff Test)
But what is sound doctrine, anyway? Sound doctrine is holding firm to what the Lord’s disciples taught (2 Thess. 2:15). So when you read, give your book the old “apostolic sniff test.” Ask yourself: Does what I’m reading “smell” like the apostles? That is, does this sound like Paul (or any of the apostles for that matter)? You see, the apostles were charged with keeping sound doctrine and to teach it to Christ’s church. Therefore, the discerning reader will use them (that is, what they wrote in the New Testament) to determine if what they’re reading is true or not.
The Focus and Balance of Sound Doctrine
The apostles help us as discerning readers in two ways. First: They let us know what the focus of spiritual books should be. Namely, the work and meaning of the cross and Christ’s mission to build his church and how we ought to live. Therefore, spiritual books that are sound in doctrine will always, at minimum, be built upon this gospel-centered reality. Second: The apostles help us to know what spiritual issues have priority over others. Paul did this in his ministry (e.g. 1 Cor. 15:3). And knowing this will help us to rightly prioritize the various spiritual subjects of interest to us.
The apostles teach us how to major on the majors and minor on the minors. This doesn’t mean that the minors are unimportant (like what the Bible says about how we should take care of the earth) but it does mean that we should be chiefly concerned with what the apostles most emphasize (like preaching the gospel to all the world and living a gospel-centered life).
The #1 Spiritual Book Every Christian Should Read
One of the greatest problems with discernment is that we don’t know our Bible’s very well. In fact, sometimes we read books about spirituality (or even about the Bible), but don’t spend time reading the Bible itself. Now books and teachers are instrumental for learning how to read the Bible and learning what it actually says—God wouldn’t have given the gift of teaching if that were not the case! Nevertheless, we will never be good “Bereans” (the Bible’s self-proclaimed discerning readers) if we don’t know well what the Bible actually says (Acts 17:11). Isn’t the Bible, after all, the chief source for what spirituality actually is? Let’s not neglect our #1 source for spiritual reading. And when we cherish that and use that as our filter for focus and balance we will find that we are a lot further down the road in our ability to read spiritual books with discernment.