Monday, March 28, 2011

On Reading Authors You Don’t Agree With

Check out this great post from Henry Neufeld from Energion Publications: On Publishing A Calvinist Book. Henry sees a great deal of value in reading books on or about different perspectives. He was musing about a book that Energion is publishing that looks at the missiology of John Piper, God’s Desire for the Nations: The Missionary Theology of John Piper. It looks like a fascinating look at a topic near and dear to Piper and since Piper is perhaps the most influential voice among the Reformed (at least the non-Westminster Seminary California Reformed), the way his teaching on this topic impacts missions is vital.

Henry is not a Calvinist, in fact I believe he is an unabashed Methodist. Nevertheless he found a great deal of value in reading a book about a Calvinist. Here is what he said:

Now my regular readers and those who know me will realize that I’m not a Calvinist, and that I’m likely to disagree with John Piper on many, many issues. Let me just say here in passing that the range of ideas that fall within the publishing mission of my company, Energion Publications, does indeed include both Calvinism and Arminianism. One of the problems I see in the church is that we tend to look largely at ideas we find agreeable, and to the extent that we look at other ideas, we look to variations within our own tradition streams.

There is value in listening to those who agree with us on many things, and disagree on minor points, but there is greater value, I believe, in taking a close look at ideas that are more radically opposed. I can find many variations in soteriology amongst people who claim the label “Arminian,” yet they do not challenge me to the extent that reading Reformed theology does.

I have started to find that as well. I can read Reformed books all day long and except where it touches the church or infant baptism I will find little to disagree with. A book on the five points of Calvinism is not going to stretch the way I think and in some ways I have found that at one time I fell into the common trap I see lots of other Reformed guys falling into, i.e. looking at every doctrine, practice, speaker, book, etc and asking “but is it Reformed?”. This mindset actually retards spiritual growth by ignoring the enormous universe of books written by people who are, just being honest, dead wrong on major aspects of soteriology but still have an important voice that is neglected.

I think we would find less caricaturizing of one another if we tried reading what voices we disagree with have to say within the Body (and read them without predetermining that they were wrong). That notion scares many people, afraid that followers of their theological flavor will be led astray but I am suspicious of any position that fears intense scrutiny and opposing voices. One of these days I plan on reading a book or two from John Howard Yoder and I know I am going to disagree with a lot he says but that doesn’t mean that I won’t learn something. Reading should be edifying and you can be edified just as much by those you disagree with as though who repeat what you already believe.


Aussie John said...


Very wise words!

Anonymous said...


Excellent points. What you say is encouraging and challenging. I too have found that reading those with whom we disagree can be very beneficial. Not only do we learn new ways in which to defend our own views, but there are often times several (or many!) nuggets of truth to glean as well. It would be wrong to assume otherwise. Perhaps you've heard of Paul Washer. I think that he is a great brother, very reformed soteriologically, but willing to point out common pitfalls us reformed junkies often fall into. I remember him saying that if a brother has a higher view of Jesus than him, it doesn't matter whether his theology is right on target or not, it is a rebuke to him. We can learn a lot from other brothers.

Unknown said...

Great article. I find that reading other view points helps me to understand them and be able to civilly discuss topics with them.
I consider myself to be reformed and am reading a book by Laurence Vance titled The Other Side of Calvinism.

Arthur Sido said...


I agree. Unfortunately there are some of our reformed brothers who see questioning any aspect of the reformed traditional as heresy. I feel that if our doctrines are valid they shouldn't be threatened by reading people not on the T4G approved reading list.

Arthur Sido said...


I haven't read that yet. Please let me know what you think. I have a hard time reading books like that sometimes because of the hostile tone but maybe I need to give it a shot.