My husband asked an assistant pastor how to handle a suggested Nouwen book in our small group meeting. One of the first questions I heard from him was, “was it an unqualified recommendation?” In fairness, people do sometimes read and recommend books, but they don’t always agree with everything in the book or everything from that author. Unfortunately, this was actually qualified in that the book was recommended excitedly and whole heartedly. The man in our group shared several concepts openly and offered to let two women in the group be the next ones to read it after someone else outside the group finished his copy. I believe he even suggested that Christians should read it, and I am sure he said it was his favorite book. We shared some of our thoughts with the pastor, that the man seemed to really like the book and was sharing it. I did mention the comment the man made stating that the book opened an idea he hadn’t thought of, that Jesus himself was a “prodigal of the Father” because he left and came back. The pastor’s eyebrows twitched a little bit, and he shook his head, “no.”
The pastor’s advice was not to go all out after this man. He said that we should actually bring this to the attention of the small group leader. He suggested we share why we see problems with the author and that it’s not someone we’d recommend reading. He said that many don’t have the same level of discernment, and some don’t subscribe to the strange teachings but also don’t know the problems with an author’s entire body of work. He said to assume the best about a person at first, and just trust the leadership. However, he did say to keep paying attention and if this keeps coming up, to bring it back up again to the leader. It can also be brought up to the pastors in leadership of the church. He suggested further we truly befriend this man and if the opportunity arises, we can share with him carefully the problems with Nouwen and why we wouldn’t recommend it as a solid book for Christians to read.
This is a very big difference than what happened at our former church when we brought up books and teachings that were questionable. The pastor here acknowledged the teaching from Nouwen was bad (if it indeed was what we were saying it is…he’d never read it before). He mentioned how many people read popular authors, he has been given books from church members of such authors. He said how he has personally tactfully told people how the author is in error and he’d suggest they never recommend the book without some qualification. He personally had quoted authors from the pulpit he doesn’t agree with, but he says he intends to always qualify those quotes as true as far as he sees it but the author has other comments or ideas that are not in line with scripture. And reading works that are questionable can be a learning experience, but it must be qualified as such. He says he’s sometimes shocked at what members in our church recommend for reading on facebook or in person, saying that he often wants to say, “What? Haven’t you been hearing sound teaching in our church for years? Why would you recommend that book?”
At least he acknowledged us, and was kind. He did seem to be bothered by this problem and suggested a way to deal with it and not ignore it. He actually thinks the leader in our group likely hasn’t heard of Nouwen, and may have no clue about it. I find this to be a very good thing. It’s much different than the “oh, that author is recommended and used by many pastors…and we might not agree with everything he says but he has good intentions.” That was our former church, and that was unacceptable squashing. We weren’t told not to be divisive, but to proceed carefully.