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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.  

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I have come to a conclusion that there is a disconnect somewhere between those who are trained in Reformed theology and are highly educated and the general run of the mill Christian out here.  The disconnect has to do with the knowledge of church history and the study of historical figures such as Martin Luther, Spurgeon, etc.  I do not have a grasp on this church history.  I do not know TULIP, and need to actually read up on this.  I am a Christian who has really relied on sermon and bible study, that’s it.  I read my bible and listen in church.  I’ve been in bible study groups and been most happy when we actually have studied the bible rather than topics (around here we often say “stupid topics).  I have read a few books that have very little to do with church history.  I recall reading Josh McDowell’s book More Than a Carpenter, Cumby’s The Dangers of the Rainbow, Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth (yes, this scared me in my youth).  I read the Peretti books as well as the Lewis book, Screwtape Letters. Because of interest in popular themes, I read a book about one of the Columbine victims…was the title She Said Yes I also read the book about the McCoy babies and the one by Gracia Burnham about their captivity.   Because of my interest in cults, I have read books about witnessing to Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons, and Hank’s book  Christianity in Crisis.  I’ve gone through various bible study books on many New Testament letters.  I have also read through books of the bible straight through for personal study.  At times I’ve gone through devotionals such as My Utmost for His Highest.  Because of my interest in the music of Rich Mullins, I’ve read a book with his articles and after his death, a book about his life.  I have a Strong’s concordance, an English Greek interlinear and several bibles around the house I dig into.

I didn’t really have leaders steer me in the direction of any kind of church history, or of studies on theology.  It wasn’t even on my radar.  Consequently, I am very confused about what would be best to read, best to search out.  There was quite a curve on reading up on emergent, Purpose Driven error, and contemplative/missional.  I just feel so ignorant, and also wonder if I am going in the right direction.

I am quite concerned for my children, wanting to teach them correctly and help them avoid the pitfalls I have come across.  I would like them to have the correct knowledge, not just for knowledge sake but as a tool to help protect them and also help them proceed as Christians confidently knowing the truth. 

Sometimes I just think, we should be able to just know what we need to know from the bible?  Yes, that would be nice.  Scripture is sufficient.  However, we do need the body of Christ to meet with so we can serve each other and so we can hold each other accountable.  Bereans likely studied scripture and pointed out things to one another.  I believe that’s what the theologians have done through out.  They study the scriptures and then point things out to the body, always teaching and shepherding.  I just want to be sure what I am learning is right, and who to read about first?  An unstudied person like me can find myself using a dictionary just to go through some blog posts of those who study these theologians.  I am perplexed.

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