Deciding who is safe to read, quote, sing, and recommend?

(Jay Simon) #1

How do you all decide who is good to read for you and for others?

For example, I’ll pick on Chesterton because many quote him. I’ve not read a full book of his (I’ve intended to…I’m not saying I wouldn’t), but I’ve seen enough to recognize his brilliance. Would you recommend him without qualification? To new Christians? I see, for example, that Pastor Tim Bayly included some of his books on a recommended reading list, which is not surprising since I’ve heard him quote GKC many times. Is that for anyone, or just the person who asked? He also recommended books by Bonhoeffer and Baxter, who some Reformed folks disparage. Same with Lewis.

A common criticism goes: “With so many good resources from people who are Reformed, why read/quote ________?”

And if Lewis or Chesterton are okay, where do you stop? Or do you? If all truth is God’s truth, do we quote true statements freely regardless of the source? I’m far from the most strict on this, but I admit I don’t know how far to go either way. If Chesterton is safe, are all RCs safe to read and quote? Or are they fine for me but not for someone young in the faith? I use the word “safe”, but I recognize this is more about value: what do you get out of it compared to the risks? Some would say a papist is never worth the risk, and I’ve thought (and maybe even said) the same. Even if I read Chesterton and found him helpful, I wouldn’t quote him liberally, maybe in private conversations where I know the maturity level of my audience. What about a Mormon, or a Hindu? I understand studying engineering or programming from an expert in the field, whether Presbyterian or atheist, but what about matters of Christian doctrine?

Similar question about music. Talented musicians come from all streams of Christianity, and some of the most professional-sounding modern songs come from progressive sources. If they put out a few solid songs and a bunch of wishy-washy ones, should I listen to the good ones in my car? Sing them in corporate worship?

I’ve probably gone over my question limit without making many statements myself, but I hope that’s okay. I’ve read some Warhorn content, but mostly from the past year, so if you or anyone else has resources on this, send them my way.

(Lucas Weeks) #2

It’s a great question. It’s one of the reasons the discussion about what to consume of the music and movies in popular culture can be so difficult to pin down. I think it’s a question of wisdom that cannot be boiled down to a simple rule of “no Roman Catholics”, or “no Roman Catholics except for GK Chesterton.”

I remember years ago that Tim told a good friend of mine that he shouldn’t read NT Wright. In Tim’s judgement, NT Wright was toxic for this particular young man, who was very much in the process of forming his convictions about quite a lot of things. But Tim would not have said the same thing to me, I don’t think. We were just in a different place.

For myself, I know there are certain things I should not read or consume because they would be a temptation or a distraction to me. There are also things that I would never recommend to anyone. (Catcher in the Rye would be right up there, right @nathanalberson?)

And as for music, I think all of us listen to godless musicians on a regular basis. This is also a question of wisdom. To pick what I consider to be an obvious example, I recently came across Disturbed’s version of “Sound of Silence” on YouTube. I liked it, so I started listening to some of their other stuff. It’s horrifically bad: black, dark, evil. I would never recommend it or listen to it for myself.

(Jason Andersen) #3

Paul quoted pagan philosophers during his discourse at the Areopagus (Acts 17:28). So there’s at least one textual precedent to consider. There is a way to quote a person without conveying wholesale approval to what the person stands for.

The categories of who to read, who to quote, who to sing, and who to commend are all very different, and greatly depend on context. I don’t think it’s either possible or helpful to try to create rigid lists or rules here.

A few examples.

  1. I would never commend a new believer to read Bill Johnson. But I would absolutely commend pastors to familiarize themselves with his teachings, in order that they might prepare themselves to combat the kinds of influences that will most assuredly be arising to threaten their flocks.

  2. I would not introduce certain songs into corporate worship — regardless of how orthodox the lyrics themselves may be — simply because of the song’s connection to a living author, or the undergirding theological paradigm that the author represents. However, many decades from now, when the author has been long dead and forgotten, the same song might actually show up in a reformed hymnal. My favorite example of this would be Horatio Spafford’s “It Is Well.”

  3. I have no problem quoting Tim Keller in certain contexts. However, I would only do so in such a manner that my listeners understand — either explicitly through my words, or implicitly through my pre-existing relationship with the individual(s) I am speaking to — that I am not giving a wholesale commendation of everything the man stands for. And frankly, I think this is about the best any of us can do, because history will remember us all as flawed men.

At some level, we need to be able to disconnect truth from its human source, because as you said, all truth is God’s truth. But discernment will always be needed.


(Jay Simon) #4

I’ve listened to Disturbed’s “Sound of Silence” many times, and less than two weeks ago I said to my wife that it might be my favorite musical performance ever :slight_smile:. I’ve never heard their other stuff, but I believe you.

And your NT Wright example is good. I think there’s some credence to the notion that we need to be more careful about living influences, since we can’t always see their trajectory.

Or what about Christians (including our Christian leaders) who tend towards saying the risk is never worth it? There are plenty of Reformed preachers, writers, and musicians to read and listen to, so why avoid sketchy people at all costs?

(Jay Simon) #5

When Paul quoted the Athenian poets, did he need a disclaimer? Or was it obvious that he wasn’t suggesting they were solid all around? Isn’t it different to quote a pagan than a quasi-Christian? If I quote Jim Morrison of the Doors (which I did in my HS graduation speech…before I was a Christian), will a Christian audience be tempted to listen to his music and let it influence their thinking and living? I think that’s unlikely. But if I quote Chesterton without a warning, will baby Christians think, “Oh, Catholics are just like us. I can read them, go to their churches, and not bother evangelizing them.” I think that’s a bigger risk, though maybe exaggerated.

(Jason Andersen) #6

I think that’s where relationship and discernment inevitably must come into play.

For example, you and I have known each other for several years. We know each other, and we know our shared beliefs concerning the gospel, and concerning Roman Catholicism. Therefore if you were to quote Chesterton to me, it would never cross my mind that you were somehow conveying tacit approval of Roman Catholicism.

By contrast, I have a good friend and brother who is very young and impressionable in his faith, and through previous association with universalist-type theology seems to have a besetting sin of being drawn to want to affirm everyone. And with him, I know that if I mention some author or celebrity pastor, he is more than likely going to take that to heart as some sort of blanket affirmation on my part. So my conversations with him don’t look the same as my conversations with you.

(Jay Simon) #7

Right on. I agree there. So then my question is whether it’s wise to quote these folks in a sermon, or a blog, or a podcast, where you don’t know your audience on an individual level. Maybe a pastor knows his congregation and has given all the necessary disclaimers, but then the audio lands on the church website for public consumption. I’m not a pastor or regular preacher/teacher, but when I have spoken or written publicly, I will typically quote someone and give at least a quick disclaimer so no one interprets my use of the quote as a blanket approval of all that person ever said or did. Am I being ridiculous? I mean, I almost can’t quote anyone without that disclaimer, if I’m being consistent.

(Alex McNeilly) #8

In a way, Paul’s quotation of a pagan philosopher does come with a disclaimer, in the way he frames it:

…in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, “For we also are His children.”

I think Paul’s “even” in this passage means, this truth is so self-evident, even some of your own poets—i.e., men who don’t know God and get a lot of things wrong—have understood this basic truth about who we are in relation to our Creator.

I think that example provides a basic framework for how we should quote pagans:

  1. To convince unbelievers that they have some basic and undeniable knowledge of God built into them:

even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks (Romans 1:21)

  1. To shame Christians for not acknowledging truths which even pagans instinctively understand:

It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife. (1 Corinthians 5:1)

(Jason Andersen) #9

Great points, Alex. Thanks.

(Joseph Bayly) #10

I did the exact same thing sometime in the last year! Weird.

When it is for the public, you take into account the culture you are speaking to, rather than individuals or a church. Sometimes you write something intended for a smallish sub-culture and it gets picked up and misunderstood by the broader culture. There no avoiding that, and no amount of disclaimers can help. Same with after you are dead and the culture has changed.

What I think is that disclaimers are self-protective and usually worthless, whereas warnings are protective of the listener and highly beneficial. So give warnings when they are needed because there is danger, otherwise press on without fear.

Yep. This is a perfect example of what I mean.