Everything Needs Discernment

Shaun Groves on how a note about heresy in a Donald Miller book made him rethink discernment.

I bought Donald Miller‘s book A Million Miles In A Thousand Years for my wife recently … at Barnes & Noble—across the street from my local LifeWay store. I think I was too hard on them.

I planned to buy it at LifeWay, but when I pulled the book from the shelf, I discovered that it—and every book by Donald Miller at the store—comes with a slip of paper tucked inside, a note instructing me to get extra info on Miller from the cashier before making my purchase. So I did. The extra info turned out to be a warning which read, in part:

“We want you to know that the authors of books marked 'Read with Discernment' may have espoused thoughts, ideas, or concepts that could be considered inconsistent with historical evangelical theology.”

On LifeWay’s website the following further explanation is given:

“We at LifeWay Christian Stores are dedicated to providing biblical solutions that spiritually transform individuals and cultures.

“One way you can grow spiritually and intellectually is through reading. And whenever you read we encourage you to read with discernment, asking God to reveal His truth to you as you read …”

At the time the warning bugged me enough to send me across the street with my money. It shouldn’t have. Now, I like the warning. I like it so much, I wish it accompanied every purchase.

Just Say No … I Mean, Yes … I Mean, No

LifeWay warns Miller’s readers to exercise discernment because it believes his books to be inconsistent with historical evangelical theology in some way, yet instead of refusing to sell them, LifeWay chooses to profit from what it alleges to be heresy(ish). That seems a bit like Nancy Reagan going into the crack business. “Just say ‘No.’ First one’s free.”

But more odd is how LifeWay is defining “historically evangelical theology.” Actually, I’m not sure how they’re defining it.

What definition both condemns Miller as a heretic but approves the writings of Joyce Meyer and John Hagee?

What History?

It’s historical fact that Christianity was almost entirely led by pacifists for the first 300 years of its existence. Should LifeWay then carry books written by soldiers, books endorsing America’s wars, books by Oliver North, for instance? I mean, I don’t have a problem with Colonel North, who knows hundreds of ways to kill any man who has a problem with him, but Tertullian wouldn’t agree with the guy.

It’s historical fact that for most of Christian history individuals did not ask Jesus into their hearts or “accept Jesus.” Should LifeWay carry books and tracts that communicate personal salvation in such non-biblical, non-historically Christian terms? Would home churches that existed before Rome’s building projects scratch their heads at books on institutional church administration as well?

Is “historical” Christianity the stuff that happened after Constantine … or after Calvin … or is it after D.L Moody?

And what historical evangelical theology is communicated by paintings of cottages printed on mousepads, and T-shirts that print Scripture pulled from context across an American flag or keychains, or romance novels minus the sex?

Save Me from Myself

I was too hard on LifeWay. Or at least hypocritical. Anyone not exercising selective discernment may cast the first stone. Anyone?

Truth is, we all do what LifeWay appears to be doing here. I do this.

I read certain books fearfully, prayerfully, critically while others get a pass. I breeze through them with my heart and head wide open and unguarded. This guy is dangerous. That one not so much. Because he thinks like me, I guess.

This assumes I think like God, or that God thinks like me—that I’m not a heretic, that I don’t need God to protect me from myself.

LifeWay’s right: We need a warning. And the one they distribute with some books is a pretty good one to start with. Maybe they should stick it in every book. Or, better yet, print that advisory on a massive banner and hang it outside every store:

We want you to know that everything in here might be wrong. Exercise discernment.

I’d like one to hang up at my concerts:

I want you to know that everything I’ll sing and say tonight might be wrong. Exercise discernment.

And one for my church:

We want you to know that everything taught and sung here today might be wrong. Exercise discernment.

And of course one for my blog:

I want you to know that everything I write might be wrong. Exercise discernment.

Everything. Not just Donald Miller. Because, well, is selective discernment in line with historical evangelical theology?

Shaun Groves is a singer-songwriter and avid blogger. He is also actively involved with Compassion International, which you can find more information about by clicking here. This article was originally printed on his blog, and is used by permission.

69 Comments

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JDAVIS commented…

just a quick note: Lifeway does not carry Joyce Meyer, and only a limited number of John Hagee books. Also, as a faith-based retailer that supports thousands of missionaries across the world, Lifeway takes the books on itself seriously. This means that sometimes they give out a slip of paper with a book, because there have been some questions about the author or the content. This seems like a good idea to me. I guess I must me intolerant and irrelevant.

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Jeremy commented…

Actually I commend Lifeway...well, strike that. I wish they wouldn't sell the book at all or any of the Emergent stuff that represents a very very dangerous break from the classical Gospel. But I at least commend them for standing for something, which of course, Mr. Groves would be unfamiliar to you as part of our (yours and my) apathetic, ignorant, Godless generation that aren't devoted to learning and applying the Bible but rather make a career out of blogging and social networking their own pragmatic ideas about what works best for them. Don Miller has been left unchecked for way too long because we just have to "love everybody" which in 2011 means you accept whatever garbage they're spewing out unchecked. ...and though you don't realize it yet, I think time will show that guys like Miller, Brian McLaren and some others are going to leave a lot of victims in their trail. As somebody who really used to love the teachings of Rob Bell (still do love some of them) you're seeing him come apart right now as well in terms of theology.

Okay I'm done. I'll stand here and take my absolute melee from every disagreeing "I'm 29 and I still live with my parents, I go to a twenty something group and otherwise I live at Starbucks, but I get there in a pair of Tom's Shoes and a Vespa" would be philosopher. Do your worst.

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Jeremy commented…

Oh and let me add that I have some hope for our generation because of guys like Louie Giglio, Andy Stanley, John Piper, Francis Chan and the guys that do Passion who haven't succumbed to tickle your ears Christianity. Lifeway is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Church I believe. Ironically, having been a part of a denomination for 9 years that is absolutely coming apart right now because they stand for nothing and actually have done several things that are absolutely contrary to the Word I can speak with envy toward the Baptist church right now. Funny how all the denominations that have operated with a certain doctrinal ambiguity for a while now are the ones dwindling and watching civil war unfold within their leadership (i.e. Episcopalian, Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian). Maybe a little more vision, like Lifeway is demonstrated might actually have some merit.

Where there is no vision, the people perish. Period.

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Mike commented…

I don't think you should put Don with McLaren. Don just tries to make people think, which not thinking is the root cause to "our (yours and my) apathetic, ignorant, Godless generation that aren't devoted to learning and applying the Bible". Critical thinking is virtually dead within Western Christianity. I have no fear of having my faith challenged. McLaren doesn't know what to think. You back him in the corner over a statement he makes and he will back-peddle and flip-flop real quick.
Rob is "coming apart" only because people who haven't even read his book yet are trying to tear him apart. Most of them are just jealous mainstream evangelicals (read: lazy, status quo pew warmers).
By the way, I am 45, live with my wife and 3 children...despise Starbucks, wear New Balance and drive a Kia Rio.

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Matt Rose commented…

Perhaps the only thing more ridiculous than defending a $9/hour bookstore job is insulting the person who has one. A job is a job, and in this economy, I'm glad to have one at all. Thanks for modeling Jesus' love, though.

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