Go into any Christian bookstore and you will find a host of Christian living books.  Basically, these are books that provide assistance in the Christian walk through 1) personal testimonies; 2) scriptural insight;  and 3) recommended applications.

The concept of Christian living books is not a bad one.  Someone decides to capture their experience in print in order to encourage other believers concerning their walk.  A significant number of these books are written by pastors or other experienced Christian leaders who want to address a particular issue and appropriate remedies, or at least how they see it.    Of course that does not preclude, anyone from writing and getting published.   It is no different than if I sat down with my pastor or another brother and sister, and listened to their insights.  We need encouragement and insights from others.

However, it is quite easy to formulate a methodology for how we progress in our Christian walk or address specific issues.  This methodology can dictate an approach that others must follow in order to achieve success in whatever area the struggle exists.  Unfortunately, the lion’s share of Christian living books provide these kinds of formulas that insists on a particular methodology that is directly or indirectly labeled as the appropriate Christian response.

Here is where I become very wary of Christian living books.  What concerns me about them is the supposition that a particular methodology can be followed to achieve a particular outcome.  The one thing I see in scripture, that I have also experienced in my Christian walk, is that God deals with people and situations differently.  Yes, there are commonalities but they all hinge on people trusting God and God doing for people.  Period.  There are rarely two incidences that are alike. It is wonderful to look at the examples of how God comes through for his people or how He changes the hearts and behavior, but that cannot rely on a specific methodology that if we do X, Y, and Z we can be guaranteed the same outcome.

Specific to sanctification, which is merely the progress of being made more like Christ as we follow and trust Him, there are principles found in scripture that shapes Christian growth and maturity.  But how that is designed, I believe, is unique to each Christian because we are shaped and influenced by a variety of factors, including culture, upbringing, family history, church tradition, and our own dispositions.   We are transformed by the renewing of our mind but how that is accomplished involves a tailor-made process to accommodate each individual.   Christian living books that focus on principles extracted from scripture and account for the uniqueness of our sanctification plan, I think can aid in our walk but still must be evaluated critically.

Yes, I do believe critical evaluation is essential in reading a Christian living book.   I fear that with the wealth of materials available, that weak or faulty discernment may result in formulating a prescription for sanctification that is at best, not compatible with a realistic program of what is needed to address particular issues or at worst, forces a rigid compliance to a program that manipulates external behavior without addressing the root cause of apathetic, sinful or deviant behavior.  It can also enforce an imposition on others that may not be honest to scripture or compatible with where others are in their Christian walk.

Critical evaluation is based on an understanding of scripture that is the fruit of extensive study made applicable in the Christian’s life.  I fear that Christian living books can be relied on to the extent that the author’s perspective shapes an understanding of scripture that may or may not be consistent with what the complete witness of scripture is communicating.  This may be particularly true of popular authors with cult followings that are trusted simply because of their mass following and prolific publications.   I have seen people eat up everything a particular author says without any critical evaluation.   If this is the case, the eisegeting of perspectives into the reading of scripture is inevitable.  Now I am not saying that all popular authors have unsound theology and some have wonderful insights into scripture.  But I am saying is that unquestioned trust is not such a good thing, particularly if the theology is troubled.

And here is where I would temper the use of Christian living books and advocate instead for a hearty and comprehensive study of scripture and theology.  The more we seek to understand God on his terms, his plan and program, the more we seek his face through study and prayer, the better reconciled our Christian walk will be with his purpose.  And while experiences and insights can be shared through the publications of materials, the encouragement of others is better done in the context of community, which is after all, the heartbeat of the Church.

To be honest, I don’t read many Christian living books.  But if I do it is 1) by a very trusted source; 2) is compatible with a particular issue that is at the forefront of my life and 3) evaluated critically.  I’d much rather engage with scripture and people.  I firmly believe that as I trust in Christ, God is working out his purpose in me, which may not look like what authors of books say but most certainly can be used within the community of faith to help others.  As I work out my salvation with fear and trembling, it is God who is at work in me both to work and will for His good pleasure (Philippians 2:12-13).  This applies to all Christians but will most likely look quite different.  Let’s be cautious of what we read, folks.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    19 replies to "My Take on Christian Living Books"

    • From The Balcony

      Excellent post, Lisa. The problem I have with them is that people turn “opinion” books into theology. They replace the Bible with Christian Living books because they feel easier to read.

      But nothing replaces the living Word of God. 🙂

    • Sallie Wilson

      I agree Lisa, Although there is nothing wrong with many of these books they are in a sense predigested biblical truth. The author benefited the most from the information. I believe people substitute these books for their own stud y as a shortcut to Christian growth Also I think the encouragement to read these books weakens peoples confidence to study the Scriptures for themselves. They can get the impression the authors have more of the Holy Spirit guidance than other believers.

    • cherylu


      Also I think the encouragement to read these books weakens peoples confidence to study the Scriptures for themselves. They can get the impression the authors have more of the Holy Spirit guidance than other believers.

      Excellent point. I think that is the way I felt at one time.

    • I would agree with you and I think one of the weaknesses in this type of book is they can end up offering a quick fix or magic formula to solving our spiritual problems. Not all such books are this way but many of them are. A broader understanding of God’s truth is better for knowing how to apply it to ourselves in a given circumstance.

    • John from Down Under

      Great Christian living advice 🙂

      Love Kathy’s quote as well: “The problem I have with them is that people turn “opinion” books into theology”

      I doubt those Christians that are on or below the biblical illiteracy index, know the difference between opinion and theology, especially when they’ve crossed from admiration to adulation toward the author/pastor/leader.

    • mbaker

      I’m glad you brought this out Lisa. I am seeing these kinds of DIY Christian books become almost an addiction with some of my peers.

      I’m beginning to think it’s a misnomer to call Bible studies by that name any more either, as I find them rarely about studying God’s word directly, but indirectly though popular Christian life books like you are talking about and/or study guides from a best selling author.

      I think that’s also true of theological books and commentaries to a certain degree as well. It seems everyone has their favorite spiritual gurus nowadays. While theologically solid Christian books of this nature can be invaluable resources for teaching and for expanding our Bible knowledge, we must be careful not to get too dependent upon them either for direction.

      Very timely post.

    • Gary Simmons

      Well said, Lisa. I show an equal caution to apologetics books, since they likewise can be very wacky and overly simplistic.

    • Susan

      Sometimes we can’t fix our problems and it isn’t God’s intention for us to try, but rather to ask Him for wisdom, submit to Him, obey and trust Him. When we are lead to believe that a certain formula will lead to the resolve we hope for, are we trusting the formula, or God? Perhaps these books can at times take our eyes off of the Lord, and as you have said, become a distraction from the Word.

      I agree, Lisa, that God works with each person in different ways. It’s not a good idea to develop our understanding of God based on the experiences of another person.

    • Benjer McVeigh

      Great point, especially:

      “What concerns me about them is the supposition that a particular methodology can be followed to achieve a particular outcome.”

      The issue is that the outcomes that the books seek to help people achieve are often shallow or temporal. The outcome suggested ought to be glorifying God. Yes, that does include healing marriages, becoming less anxious and finding what we believe God is calling us to do with the gifts he’s given us. But those things in themselves are not the point. Glorifying God is.

    • Daniel Pulliam

      I agree with the propensity for Christians (myself definitely included) to read things uncritically based on our opinion of the author. The only man we should read/listen to in such a way is Jesus as He is the truth.
      The attitude in which some of these books are written and most of the are read is misguided. Instead of an emphasis on what God did in my life or through my circumstances, the approach seems to be one of “here is the formula to get God to act”. Do you think it’s a result of a pragmatic, Pharisaical mindset focused more on rules than relationship and man than God?
      I don’t say this judgmentally, I speak from my own “experience”. Maybe I should write a book about it! =)

    • Mike O

      I see nothing wrong with Christian Living books, if you read them as an aid to whatever the issue is they are dealing with. But one mustn’t “turn off their brain” when reading them. They are not inspired and they are not absolute truth. They may be “inspirational” and helpful, and basically good. But they are pre-digested and oversimplified applications that worked once, as has already been said here.

      But I guess I see more value to them then others commenting here. I mean, here we are at whatever scholarly level we are at – be it high or low. We didn’t get where we are by reading the Bible alone. We got where we are by reading the Bible and pursuing Christ, yes, but we DID have help. And now that we may be at a maturity level that WE don’t need pre-digested helps, they are nonetheless a valuable tool for growth.

      I guess I basically agree with everything said here, but would add that there is great value in learning from others outside of our own community. Otherwise we would risk becoming inbred and off-balance. I guess I don’t know how healthy your spiritual growth could be if you didn’t expose yourself to the thoughts and insights (valid or not) of others.

    • Mike O

      Also, as I was reading the post, I couldn’t help thinking how much this also applies to churches. We join one church instead of another because we like how they handle things. We agree with their approaches to spirituality, we like the pastor. Of course our primary goal is to follow Christ and him alone, but we put a pastor in the mix to aid our growth. If we didn’t, how would we ever know we were going off the deep end on a topic?

      But at the same time, just because I am a member of a particular church and basically agree with their approach to Christianity, I should NEVER swallow whole the teachings of my pastor if they do not ring true with my OWN study of scripture. I should take it as input absolutely – he may be right and I am wrong – but I don’t feel like I need to be on board with, or in agreement with, everything they teach.

      And when I don’t agree, that is not cause for me to find another church. It’s just an instance where, in my way of seeing things through personal study of the scripture, I believe he is wrong. No harm, no foul. The church is a community, a family. I need them. But I need to also be responsible for my OWN pursuit of Christ.

      Like Christian living books and authors, churches and pastors CAN and SHOULD be trusted. But they are only an aid, and they are fallible. We still need to think critically about what they are teaching us and reject what needs to be rejected.

    • Dale

      A very good post Lisa. Thank you.

    • jim

      This really rang true for me as well!!

      As a Sunday School class we went through “The purpose driven Church” There was some pratical advice that we as a Church Body adopted but really there was a lot of stuff that didn’t fit our demographics or rural culture. I agree that our circumstances could not be solved or improved upon with direct application of Rick Warren’s solutions at Saddleback. It was good to see fellow believers work out the appropriate and effective dyanamics for our particular growth and outreach.

      Thanks Lisa, God Bless

    • C Skiles

      Lisa, I’m sure there are untold thousands who have read how to Christian literature only to become more discouraged in their christian walk rather than encouraged…….feeling that because walking thru the steps doesn’t work for them that they just don’t measure up. Many I’m sure avoid studying at all for fear that something else they have failed at will come to light. Even worse , many avoid the assembly because they feel that they just can’t cut it. We must encourage these discouraged saints by communicating to them that everyone grows at a different pace and that the latest author of the hottest new christian growth book is not the measure of their spirituality.

    • LukeN

      I like that you emphasize that true principles for Christian living can all be gleaned directly from Scripture. I don’t think that we need to forsake the use of these books. We need to be knowledgeable enough about what Scripture says to evaluate the theological accuracy of a book. As long as that passes, we also need to realize that a book may be written for people in certain circumstances that its content may not be much help to those outside those circumstances.

      As someone who people look to, I think that it is important for you to be at least familiar with the content of some of the more popular books. This way you can steer people away from those theologically unsound, and put the right ones in the hands of the right people. Most people are more inclined to read a lay-level book than embark on an indepth study of a topic in the Bible.

      We need to be able to minister to those who God sends our way with the resources God has given us. Not all resources are appropriate for all people at the same time. Christians need to be able to swallow milk before they can chew meat. A theologically sound Christian Living book that speaks to their circumstances may be the milk that gets them craving the meat.

    • Linda

      Amen, sister! And have you noticed that the cover always says they are “warm” and “practical”. I learned a long time ago that it means simplistic.

    • Leslie Jebaraj

      I have read some bad and good books on Christian living. A good book that I will always cherish is Charles Ryrie’s Balancing the Christian Life. When I was floundering, the book became a beacon, shining the scriptural light on Christian living.

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