Why It Might Be Helpful to Read a Really Bad Book

Whether you read a little or a lot, it’s impossible to have every book you pick up be a 5-star page turner that completely rocks your world.

It just doesn’t happen. (Believe me, I’ve tried.) 

For example, I’ve been reading a lot of books on the church this year—what it is, how it is to function, the relationship between our doctrine, philosophy and methodology… all that kind of stuff. And there’s one book that, out of respect of the author, I’ll leave unnamed that shocked me with how awful it is. Really, really bad—like “thinking and rethinking and diagraming the author’s logic to see how he came to the conclusions he did” bad.

As you can imagine, it’s a book that I didn’t find particularly helpful.

Now, I didn’t pick up this book because I expected it to be bad. Just the opposite. I hoped it would, in fact, be very good and God-glorifying. Instead, I got a book advocating experientialism mixed with a mild strain of the prosperity gospel.

However, the point of this post is not to thrash this unnamed book, because even though I was frustrated by it (and continue to be mildly disturbed by it), reading a bad book reminded me of a couple of very important things:

1. Reading a bad book forces you to think critically.

When you find yourself reading a bad book, you can’t be complacent and let content wash over you (not that you should do that with any book, but hopefully you know what I mean). A bad book (especially the theologically and philosophically challenged ones) can help sharpen your thinking and keep you better attuned the truth.

2. Reading a bad book reminds you it’s okay to stop reading.

There’s nothing that says you have to read to the end with a really bad book and you’re not going to win a medal because you finished one.

3. Reading a bad book reminds you that no one is beyond error.

One of the unique dangers we face as Christians in the west is fandom—we can too easily elevate pastors, teachers and authors and forget they are just as fallible as the rest of us. Bad books help us remember that those of us who have the privilege to occasionally write books shouldn’t be blindly followed.

4. Reading a bad book makes you appreciate good ones all the more.

Immediately after finishing the book described above, I started another book on the same subject that was a breath of fresh air. Reading a bad book helps you appreciate what you assume when you read a lot of good ones. Not everyone writes well. Despite what some might tell you, not everyone can. Well-written, theologically sound, engaging books… these are a gift that we ought not take for granted.

Posted by Aaron Armstrong

Aaron is the author of several books for adults and children, as well as multiple documentaries and Bible studies. His latest book, I'm a Christian—Now What?: A Guide to Your New Life with Christ is available now.

Reader interactions

2 Replies to “Why It Might Be Helpful to Read a Really Bad Book”

  1. ive read a lot this year and this is so true. its one of hardest things to learn when reading a lot–you can stop if its not good.

  2. Appreciated this post- particularly the point about critical thinking and the challenge of working through a poor argument.


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