By Don Shrader
Currently, there are a number of computer “how to” books out entitled “____” for Dummies. The original book written was DOS for Dummies. From there, the series went to PC’s for Dummies, and now we have Windows for Dummies, AOL for Dummies and The Internet for Dummies. I saw some the other day called Cooking for Dummies, Gardening for Dummies and Home Repair for Dummies. In the future I suppose we will see books such as Psychology for Dummies and maybe even Brain Surgery for Dummies. Of course, the original purpose of the “Dummie” books was to help the layman utilize complex technologies without having to gain a true understanding of the inner workings and relationships of the multifarious interplays of hardware, software, terminologies, etc. In essence, these books were intended to help the layman manipulate the computer with all of its complex and powerful capabilities without having to truly understand how it functions.
Whenever I go into a Christian bookstore these days, I soon feel as if I am perusing row after row and shelf after shelf of “Dummie” books for “Christians.” There are “how to” books on every subject imaginable. There are books on how to study the Bible without having to work at it, how to become a prayer warrior, how to live a Spirit-filled life, how to cope with emotional distress or abuse, how to have self acceptance, and how to maintain promises to others. There are twelve step recovery program Bibles, The Promise Bible so you can see what God wants to do for you, and the Full Life Bible. There are books on economics and budgeting, on how to choose friends that are right for you, how to diet from a Christian perspective. You name the subject and there are “Christian” books written about it from all sorts of theological viewpoints, all claiming divine authority and direction in order to help you understand God’s teaching on the subject. Michael Horton writes, “Theology is considered irrelevant, whereas ‘practical’ tips for success in business, marriage, child rearing, and personal self-fulfillment seem to suddenly be the Bible’s major preoccupation.”1
It is not that help books are all wrong or improper. And certainly, there is a need for good study and reference books to help us better understand and apply proper hermeneutical principles to the study of God’s word. But the propensity of “how to” books is overwhelming. It becomes obvious that what the vast majority of us want is a God for Dummies handbook that will help us learn how to manipulate the power of God without having to comprehend who God really is. Just as the “Dummie” computer books were intended to help novices utilize the power of the computer without ever having to understand the inner workings of the computer, so the majority of books in a Christian bookstore seem to be aimed at helping us manipulate the power of God without ever having to understand the source of the power. Elsewhere, Horton asks, “Is the greatest story ever told now boring, since we cannot see how it can possibly make us feel good or advance our self-fulfillment over the next seventy-two hours?” He goes on to declare, “Many intend a high view of Scripture when they insist that it is a manual for life, but, in fact, treating the Bible as a manual ends up leading to a low view of Scripture by trivializing the message.”2 Horton further asserts that the Bible is not about us, it is about God and His redemptive activities.
The current lack of scholarship, understanding and deep thinking by Christians today, even in the ministry, is evidence that we overwhelmingly are more interested in using (and abusing) the power of God to our benefit than we are in applying ourselves to understanding the true essence of God and what that means to us. The unwillingness of pastors and laymen to take on the more difficult and intricate aspects of God and study these through His divine revelation is appalling. The book of Hebrews tells us that solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good and evil (5:14). But the plethora of “how to” books seems to fly in the face of the earlier warning from Hebrews when it states, We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness (5:11-13).
Rather than delving into the meat of the Word such that we can come to an understanding and agreement based upon the constant exercise of our spiritual senses, we prefer to read and study “how to” books which nibble away at the truth. Can the publication of the ultimate “how to” book, God For Dummies, be far away?
Notes: 1. Michael Horton, “Recovering The Plumbline,” in The Coming Evangelical Crises (Chicago: Moody, 1996) 235. 2. Ibid. 251.