If there is one thing that has the power to sway and influence the culture, it is media. Media can include music, books, television, movies, and an array of other stimulators and there is no denying the capability it has to influence. Interestingly, not only does it have the capability to influence the culture, but the culture continues to give media permission to influence it more and more. Lacking discernment and critical thinking, most people would rather allow media to think for them. For Christians, this becomes a greater concern because of the propensity that media has to contradict biblical principles. Therefore, the exists a greater need for Christians to be vigilant of the media they take in.
Concerned about the increasing trend, and recognizing the significance of his own testimony, Benjamin Szumskyj seeks to bring more attention to the necessity. Hoping to consider those genres that continue to have tension with biblical teaching, he has written The Pilgrim’s Digress to explain biblical issues with reading both horror and fantasy. It is a book built upon his own experience and engagement in this aspect of the literary world combined with a deeper personal examination of that involvement in light of God’s Word.
A quick read, there are several things that Christians can, and should, appreciate about the author’s writing. He brings much need attention to the idea that media, in this case books, can impact how Christians think and conform. In doing this, he does so in such a way that compels believers to consider and examine areas that we play very loose with. Therefore, a humble reader will acknowledge this impact and recognize the need to evaluate what he/she is putting into his/her mind. However, there is no arbitrary basis for this evaluation, but instead, the author is quick to emphasize the need for Scripture in the lives of readers. He notes that the Bible should be the first book to be picked up and read above all else, and second, it is the tool by which to evaluate the value of what is being read.
While acknowledging the legitimacy of the author’s concern about what we put into our minds, there are some concerns with the book:
- It Is A Book of Deficiency: The author makes some valid points, and yet his arguments often lack the weight of research. He makes some bold claims about books influence on the culture, and while cites people who support that with their own bold claims, fails to provide data to back this up. This combined with misspellings (i.e. Iain Murray’s name throughout the book) and some punctuation errors or missing linking verbs takes away from the reliability of the book.
- It Is A Book of Condemnation: While the author states he is focused on the horror and fantasy genres, in reality, if we use the author’s rationalization it condemns all books, whether they are Christian or non-Christian. While saying that books have the propensity to change people, he alternately denies that power by indicating that they are not worth reading for their capability to communicate truths to us (the author does state that he understands there is value in educational books, but most of his book argues against this). Ultimately, the author seems to say that if a book is not doctrinally pure, it has no value, and by that reasoning, no book has value because it is tainted by the sinner who wrote it.
- It Is A Book of Censure: While the book begins with a note that ultimately the issues being discussed are ones of personal conviction, his writing speaks otherwise. In fact, it takes on a tone in which he censures, criticizes, and censures those who would engage in reading that types of books he seeks to condemn. This would be easy to understand if we were talking about books that promote the occult, engage in pornographic pictures, etc. that are clearly contrary to what Scripture indicates. However, the author has trimmed it down to the most basic of levels so that even the most basic of books are condemned and so is the person reading it. For example, he devotes a whole chapter to the condemnation of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, which I would agree are not Christian at all, but to deny any value and condemn the reading of them borders upon legalism.
So, while very thankful for the author’s concern about current trends, there is also concern about the writing.
Truthfully, after reading the book and the author’s unwavering condemnation, readers are left with more questions than answers, such as:
- Does reading something mean we have to accept it, or are people allowed to read discerningly?
- It is inherently bad to read books even if they are not biblically based?
- It is possible to have Christian books in these genres?
- Are all books bad?
Based on the author’s points and rationale, it would seem that Christians shouldn’t be reading books at all.
After reading The Pilgrim’s Digress, the author leaves no room for the ability to read books, but to do so in light of the only perfect book. No book we read is going to be perfect, Christian or non-Christian, however, until we read it, we will not know its deficiencies (although clearly there are some books based on author and content that will be blatantly obvious and necessary to stay away from not all books are so transparent). Therefore, it is necessary for believers to have the ability to read and evaluate books based on Scripture so as not to be conformed by the books, but by the Bible. With that said, it seems then that the problem is not that Christians are reading other books too much, but that they are reading the Bible too little.
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Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for the purposes of review. However, my review was not influenced in any way by the author, publisher, or any other person associated with this book. Instead, it is the response of my own reading.