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Reading and Discernment – Part One

The newest Harry Potter movie released this summer. Truth be told, I’d love to go see it. But my husband loathes all things Harry Potter and I really don’t like going to the movies by myself, so I’ll wait until I can convince a friend to go with me.

I mention this because I had an interesting conversation with a friend about Harry Potter recently. A friend so close I consider her family – a unique blend of sister, mother, and aunt. I adore her. And yet we don’t always agree about which books Christians should, or should not, read. My friend thinks that Harry Potter definitely falls in the “should not” category.

On one hand I think she has some valid reasons: heavy subject matter, focus on the occult, homosexual undertones (or so says the author – I didn’t detect that theme when I read them).

But I disagree on the overall blanket statement that the books are “Bad.”

And it got me thinking about why Christians don’t read certain books. And if we don’t read a book, can we really have an honest opinion about it?

I, for one, love the Harry Potter series. They sit on my bookshelf right next to the Narnia Chronicles. As an author I live and minister in the world of publishing. I read many things that don’t support my world view or affirm my faith. And yet I am able to recognize great writing, great premise, and great content even in books that some would find offensive. If I want to authentically share my faith then I have to take an authentic interest in what others read and write. That’s what it means to be in my world.

I love books and I love the people who write them, even if they hate Jesus.

So what is a good reason NOT to read a book?

A dear friend of mine has chosen not to read romance novels by Nicolas Sparks because they create unrealistic expectations in her marriage. Her marriage. She made that decision after reading a few of his books and realizing that they created discontentment. Yet she does not place value judgments on the books or the author. They simply are not good for her. In my opinion, that is a good reason not to read a book.

I made a new friend several weeks ago who has chosen not to read the Harry Potter books because her mother got pulled into the occult and she witnessed first hand the damage that occurred. She has a deeply personal reason for not reading those books. In my opinion, that is a good reason for not turning those pages.

Yet I also have a friend who will not read any books that challenge her faith out of fear they will entice her away from Christ. I don’t think fear is a good reason to do, or not to do, something. Doubts should serve to strengthen our faith, not weaken it, as George MacDonald says:

“If perhaps your belief is but the shallow absence of doubt, then you must ask yourself a question: do you love your faith so little that you have never battled a single fear lest your faith should not be true? For what are doubts but the strengthening building blocks toward summits of yet higher faith in Him who always leads us into the high places? Where there are no doubts, no questions, no perplexities, there can be no growth into the regions where He would have us walk. Doubts are the only means through which He can enlarge our spiritual selves.”

As a discerning reader, I do not fear books or authors that challenge my worldview. Nor do I fear the doubts they may create should I tarry a little too long. I fear God, and that is the beginning of wisdom.

Yet, in all things, there is a balance. I choose NOT to read books, myself. Sometimes out of principle, sometimes out of preference. But do I have a right to place judgment on a book I have not read? Is it intellectually honest if I do?

So how do reading and discernment blend? How do we take a look at a words on a page and separate the wheat from the chaff? Ernest Hemingway was a master wordsmith. He played with words in a way that few people can. And yet I disagree with his worldview and have been troubled by the content of his stories. I can appreciate his writing without becoming obsessed with death the way he was. I can read the Harry Potter series and have no interest in the occult. I can read the DaVinci Code without it threatening my faith in the deity of Christ. And in the process of all that reading I can have an honest discourse with others who read them. I can read them (all of those books sit on my shelf right now) but I don’t have to. And neither does any other Christian.

I think it is perfectly fine not to read a book. But we must evaluate our motives: conviction or fear. And even then, personal preference comes into play.

How do you think reading and discernment blend? What are the reasons you have chosen not to read a book?

Let me know by leaving a comment, and we’ll pick up this conversation later in the week with part two of Reading and Discernment.

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is the author of THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS (2014), FLIGHT OF DREAMS (2016), and I WAS ANASTASIA (2018). Her books have been translated into numerous languages and have been Library Reads, One Book One County, and Book of the Month Club selections. She is the co-founder of SheReads.org and lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee, with her family.

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