In today's world, we have extra biblical resources at our fingertips. Extra biblical resources are any kind of material like books or podcasts that contain biblical teaching but aren't books of the Bible themselves. Extra biblical resources are helpful, but they are not meant to be our ultimate source of truth. God's Word is our ultimate source of truth. However, when extra biblical resources are not read with discernment, those reading the resource can trade the truth of God's Word for an ideology that is false. As believers, we need to be wise when we engage with extra biblical resources, reading them with discernment so we continue to walk in the truth of God's Word. But how do we do so? Here are four ways that we can read extra biblical resources with discernment.
Ground Yourself in Scripture
This is by far the most important part of reading with discernment. If we want to grow in wisdom and discernment, we need to be grounded in Scripture. We cannot believe we know enough on our own to recognize heretical teaching or sinful ideology. We need God's Word to teach us the truth and reveal falsity to us. God's Word helps us remain grounded in truth in a world that seeks to either refute absolute truth or promote subjective truth. When we are not rooted in Scripture, and growing in our knowledge of Scripture, we can easily be swayed by the ideology of our culture. Something may sound right to us, but actually, be false because we have not taken the time to study God's Word. Knowing what God's Word says helps us recognize when a resource is saying something that is contrary to Scripture. It is like putting on a pair of glasses. As we read extra biblical resources, we are to read through the lens of Scripture, seeking to see how the content either aligns or departs from the truth of God's Word.
Familiarize Yourself with the Author
Learning about an author provides insight into what shapes their writing and theology. Before starting a resource, spend some time researching the author. Read who the author is and the information that is available about them. Look for their church background or theological education. Examine the language in their bios to see how they are described. Notice if there is anything they support that doesn't align with truth from God's Word. You can even take a look at people who endorse their work. If a trusted Bible teacher or author endorses their work, their work most likely can be trusted. But if there are people who endorse their work that have questionable beliefs, you will know to approach their work with caution.
Ask Yourself Questions
As you listen or read this resource, think critically about what you are taking in. One mistake we can make when reading extra biblical resources is agreeing on what another is saying without thinking through how the author drew their conclusion or if what they are saying is reflected in Scripture. It is very dangerous to follow the teaching or adopt the thinking of another without evaluating what they are declaring to be true. One of the best ways we can think critically as we read is to ask ourselves questions. Here are some important questions to ask yourself as you read or listen:
- Does the content glorify sin or call out sin?
Is the author or speaker encouraging you to sin or challenging you in an area of sin? Are they declaring something to be right that Scripture claims to be sinful?
- Does the content point you to the gospel or to yourself?
Does the author go to the gospel as our means for help and identity or do they teach that we must look to ourselves as the means for our identity joy, help, etc.?
- What does the content say about Jesus?
Does this content present Jesus as the Son of God or as a moral teacher? Does the content affirm the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus? Does the author affirm that salvation is by grace through faith in Christ alone?
- Does the content reflect a Biblical worldview or a cultural worldview?
Does the content reflect the truth of Scripture or does it reflect cultural ideologies that are not based in Scripture? If the author does use Scripture, is the author being faithful to the true meaning of Scripture or are they twisting Scripture to say something it was not written to mean?
As you ask yourself the above questions, notice when doctrine shifts from primary issues. Primary issues contain doctrine that is essential to the gospel and essential to the Christian faith like the Trinity, or the nature of Jesus. Because God's Word does not shift from essential doctrine, neither should we. As believers, we need to hold fast to primary issues and recognize when an author shifts from the truth of those essential doctrines. The questions above will help you evaluate primary issues in extra biblical resources, but I would also encourage you to check out our Theology Handbook which covers the doctrine of the Christian faith.
Lean into the Spirit
As believers, we have the Spirit inside of us who gives us wisdom, brings conviction and reveals truth. The Spirit acts as a reading companion when we read extra biblical resources, signaling to us when something isn't correct. When you feel the tug of the Spirit when you read, don't ignore the tug. If something doesn't feel or sound right, don't wave it off. Allow the Spirit to
reveal to you what isn't true and to guide you back to the truth of God's Word.
May we be wise as believers by engaging with extra biblical resources thoughtfully and carefully. God has given us discernment through His Word and by the Spirit, so let's use discernment as we read and remain rooted in God's truth.