Extra-biblical material can be helpful – if you read it wrong

It always seems that Christians are 20 years behind… a new music style comes out, like rock and roll, and “the church” deplores it before eventually incorporating it. Everything from 7 Habits of Highly Effective People all the way through to wisdom from other religious systems… Christians face an internal conflict about how we should listen to such things.

The important distinction to make is that no idea, meme, saying, style or strategy comes in a vacuum. They all come with a system of thought behind them; the author has an intended philosophy. So, when Getting Things Done author, David Allen says, “You can do anything, but you can’t do everything” there’s a system of thought behind that, a philosophy of self-fulfilment and personal value. When Buddha is quoted as saying, “No matter how hard the past, you can always start again” that’s the tip of an iceberg of an entire philosophical understanding of our own person and the world.

This means that Christians need to mis-read these ideas. That is, we need to take them out of the context and philosophy they were written from, and then discern if we can say and think them from our own biblical point of view.

So when Mr Allen says, “You can do anything, but you can’t do everything”, I am reminded that Jesus uses all sorts of people to achieve his ends in the world, and I may be one of them in ways I don’t even know. And I’m also reminded that Jesus is the one who makes things grow, and that he is the sovereign lord of everything who I can rest in. I re-interpret the intended meaning of the wisdom.

In other words, Christians read worldly-wisdom wrong… by seeing if it can be a helpful application of our own system of thought… and that’s right.