Q/A Friday: Should We Use Reading Materials from Authors or Pastors That Have “Fallen From Grace”?

Tullian Tchividjian. Mark Driscoll. Peter T. O’Brien. Bill Hybels. James MacDonald.

Each of these 5 men of have 2 things in common: (1) I own books written by each of them that sit on my shelves and have been useful, in some way, to me in the past and (2) each of these men have “fallen from grace” as pastors or authors – either because they were rightfully terminated by their church’s or conducted themselves in some unethical way.

Let me explain why I am willing to keep these men’s books on my shelves and make use of them again.

  1. It is impossible to know the true character of every man and woman you ever read. How many hundreds of authors do I have on my bookshelf I know in name only? Probably most. Do I have the time – or should I take the time – to read the biographies of every one of those people to make sure they have no questionable character? Nope. And don’t we all have questionable character? Yup. There is no such thing as a perfect person who has written a perfect book.
  2. Owning a book by someone is not condoning their known behavior. I suppose someone can make the case that a purchase of a book indirectly supports that author’s life when your money is part of a royalty check someday, but buying a book for $19.99 is not a noticeable percentage of that royalty check. Now, if your church wanted to buy 50 books by any of those men listed above, then a conversation about the wisdom of that purchase may need to take place.
  3. We read and memorize words from adulterers, drunks, liars, and the like in the Bible. Sins committed doesn’t always prohibit men and women from communicating truth well in a helpful way. As the slang phrase goes, “You can keep the baby and still throw away the bathwater.”

Now, I would certainly caution authors or bloggers or pastors from using these men in a direct way in their teaching or writing. I have – on occasion – quoted from men like this, but prefer to use language like “someone once said” instead of “(fill in name) once said,” because some Christians cannot handle the use of others who have fallen from grace and will be more distracted by who you quote than what that person actually said that might have been true.

On the other hand, there is always some other author or preacher you can quote from who has no known public “falling” on record. It is always best to choose that individual – who has no “baggage” – in my opinion. This allows your audience to focus more on the truth that is stated than the person who states it.

I would also add that if we choose to use certain books by men like these, we should still be saddened over their past sins and pray for them that their words would align with their heart.

If you are uncertain about how to use, or if you should use a work at all, I would encourage you to consult your elders or pastors in your church for their counsel (Proverbs 11:14).

If you have a question you would like to submit to our blog to be answered in the future, please email it to charlesheck@cox.net or post your question in the comments section.

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