I was recently reflecting on books that had profoundly touched me (look for that in an upcoming post), and I got to thinking about others that, for a time, negatively influenced the way I thought about God, Scripture, relationships, and myself.
I’m sure that with each of these examples, there are people who would say that one (or all) of these books changed their lives. If that’s the case, leave me a comment and let me know. I’d love to hear about it.
For me, these five books—as popular as they were—just kind of derailed me.
5. Wild at Heart
“A wound that goes unacknowledged and unwept is a wound that cannot heal.”—John Eldredge
I read this with some guys in a men’s group. There were some aspects about it that I liked, but there were a couple of elements that had a less than positive effect on me.
My father wasn’t around when I was growing up, and my adopted dad had some abusive tendencies (my mom’s third marriage was the charm, and undid a lot of damage). If I dwelt on the father issue too much, it would upset me. But life just went on. We’re all a lot more resilient than we think.
At least for me, Wild at Heart seemed to want me to focus on the woundings I had received from fathers in my life. It just wasn’t a healthy experience. My hurt might have been unresolved, but it wasn’t buried. At some point you learn to live with the unresolved parts of your story; you make peace with the monster under your bed.
There are people who have wounds that do need attention. They need someone to come alongside them and help them sort out their story and find some peace. But there are people whose wounds are not weeping, gangrenous, or hindering them and it’s detrimental to tell them that they need to focus on their wound to find healing.
Wild at Heart encouraged me to gather up all the broken little pieces of my childhood and inspect them. And where there wasn’t really a problem before, now I was putting those broken pieces into a grudge bag, and regularly stopping to pull them all out and examine them . . .over and over . . . and over.
But at least I had something to examine. One of the guys in the group said he felt like he had to manufacture problems with his dad that didn’t exist.
On top of all that . . . I’m not William Wallace. I don’t want to wrestle a shark or punch a mountain. I don’t feel the need to see my masculinity as some sort of macho stereotype.
4. The Prayer of Jabez
“Oh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain!” So God granted him what he requested. (1 Chronicles 4:9-10)
Did you know you can take a prayer out of Chronicles infuse it with a little self-help magic and create a cottage industry? It’s true!
In 2001, you couldn’t get away from this book . . . or the subsequent devotional . . . or the leather-bound journal. People everywhere were praying this obscure Old Testament prayer because they believed it was the prayer that God really wanted to answer—despite the fact that Jesus gave us a pretty good model for prayer (Matt. 6:9-13).
Is there something wrong with praying Jabez’s prayer? Of course not. The problem with this little movement is the same thing that happens with so much Christian literature. You take a verse or a pericope and create a formula . . . and then you imply an outcome from following the formula but you don’t promise it.
For all the people I know who were sincerely praying for God to enlarge their territories, territories were expanding at the same rate they always do.
3. The Left Behind Series
“He believed he was in love with her, if he knew what love was.”—from Tribulation Force
I think I read them all—or most of them anyway. I honestly don’t know why; they were terribly, terribly written. After a while I guess I stuck with it in the same way you keep sticking your tongue in a cold sore or smelling bad milk one last time before you throw it out.
The problem was that I had become a believer after Late Great Planet Earth and I was pretty steeped in dispensationalist, pre-tribulation, rapture mania. As far as I could gather, this was all the church had ever believed and it was the truth. The Left Behind novels were just a pulp-fiction expression of this truth and to not believe it was heresy. And then I realized that not only had the church not always believed this stuff, it was fairly new.
What bothers me now is how popular this series became beyond the church walls. These novels were the doorway (or at least the window) into Christianity for a lot of people. One has to wonder if it matters what you tell someone as long as it gets them to follow Jesus.
What happened to powerful stories inspired by belief that made people think deeply about what it meant to be human, to have faith, and to be transformed. Where are the modern versions of Les Misérables and The Brothers Karamazov?* Why, when it comes to the stories the church wants to tell about what it means to follow Jesus, do so many authors and publishers want to focus on end times nonsense? Not only is it played out, it’s all conjecture sold as fact.
*Answer: They’re being written by Marilynne Robinson
2. His Needs, Her Needs
“Most women who use no make up or use it inappropriately simply lack the initiative to get the help they need”—Willard F. Harley
There are so many people who have been given this book in an effort to save their marriage. I just don’t get it. I am sure it has helped marriages, but I have to wonder if just spending time pouring energy into your marriage isn’t really the fix they needed.
His Needs, Her Needs boils marriage down into non-negotiable needs that are divided by gender:
|HE NEEDS||SHE NEEDS|
|An attractive spouse||Honesty and openness|
|Domestic support||Financial commitment|
Is it really that simple? Can the complexities of human relationships be broken down into two columns? Openness and honesty aren’t a need for men? Sexual fulfillment isn’t a need for any women? Are we through the looking glass!?
The whole part about men needing an attractive spouse and a woman’s job to never be frumpy or less than stunning was awful. I mean, what happens if your spouse is in a debilitating and maiming accident? What happens if she is unable to meet your need for an attractive spouse so that you can win the approval of your peers and superiors?
1. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs
“I was brought up in a religion by which I was always taught to renounce the devil; but should I comply with your desire, and go to Mass, I should be sure to meet him there in a variety of shapes.”―John Foxe
I gobbled up Foxe’s Book of Martyrs as a primer on what it means to follow Christ. I need to be willing to sacrifice my very life and these examples of saints doing that very thing was inspiring to my young faith.
It wasn’t until later that I started actually reading church history and realized that Foxe’s book was propaganda. Did Catholics really kill and torture Protestants? Yes! Did Protestants kill and torture Catholics? Yes! Did Protestants kill other Protestants? Ask the Anabaptists—or Michael Servetus. The truth is everyone in the 16th and 17th centuries (and then some) thought they were right and that their ideological enemies were under the influence of Satan.
It’s nonsense life Foxe’s that did more than inspire martyr-like faith but helped inspire prejudice and hatred.
In January, 1999 DC Talk released Jesus Freaks, a book of stories about young people who had made stands for Christ that would cost them dearly. It wasn’t propaganda against Catholocism, and there were some seriously inspiring stories in there. But I came to feeling the same way about Jesus Freaks that I did about Foxe’s.
The problem with Christians from privileged cultures reading these kinds of books is that they associate martyrdom with genuine, real, powerful faith—but they will probably never, ever face a situation like that. Meanwhile, they won’t see their every day choices as opportunities for mortification. They won’t think about embracing the little martyrdoms that matter every day like: choosing not to get your way, giving when it’s hard, loving when you get nothing in return, refusing to retaliate, etc. These are the sacrifices that move the kingdom along.
Yes, we should be ready to make the ultimate sacrifice if the need arises, but it’s even more important that we learn the much more difficult work of daily incremental martyrdom.
Okay . . . was I too hard on these books? What books do you wish you had passed on? Leave me a comment.