As much as non-specialists can be dangerous when they spout off, the fact is that they are only dangerous if people listen to them. The responsibility lies, in the end, with the reader to make good judgments about what is being read. Credentials don’t equal correctness, but credentials do tell you one thing. They tell you that the person who’s work you are reading has done his or her homework (literally). I don’t care what anyone says, a PhD or ThD is not an easy get. So, dear reader, if you want to know about the Bible and you want to avoid the dangers of being misled by people who may or may not know what they are talking about, let me recommend the following:
- Ask why the person you’re reading has the authority to say what he/she is saying. Why are his/her ideas more valuable than your own? Google the author, know who it is that you’re trusting.
- Ask where and to what degree the author is educated…and in what field for that matter (a PhD in Chemistry doesn’t make you an expert in Biblical Studies).
- Remember that the person who wrote the book you’re reading probably borrowed some of those ideas from other books. Find out which ones and maybe read them too.
- Get to know an expert personally and ask that person for advice. Most of the churches I’ve been a part of over the years have had at least one or two professors of theology or biblical studies hiding somewhere. If there’s nobody in your congregation, then email a prof at your local denominational seminary. I’m betting you’d get a very cordial reply.
- Instead of reading popular Christian literature about Jesus or the Bible, try reading a commentary along with your regular Bible reading. I’d recommend a very accessible series like NIV Application or Interpretation, or the New International Biblical Commentary. I talked my wife into doing this once and she said it was one of the richest devotional experiences she’s ever had.
The long and the short of it is this: buyer beware. Getting a book about the Bible published is no harder than getting a self-help book published, and we all know what nonsense those things can be. If you are a Christian you should take the Bible very seriously indeed, so consider your supplimentary reading carefully as well. And by the by, all of this goes doubly and triply so for internet sources and blogs (including this one…I don’t consider myself an expert on anything yet).