The reading of secular literature has been frowned upon by some conservative Christians as carnal and sinful. Those who condemn the act insist believers should read and fill their minds only with sacred writings that glorify God. What’s the position of Scripture on this issue? Can Christians lawfully read any literature that’s not based on the Holy Scriptures? Let’s examine the Bible for answers to these questions.
The Acts 7:20 At this time Moses was born; and he was beautiful in God’s sight. And he was brought up for three months in his father’s house,
The Acts 7:21 and when he was exposed, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him and brought him up as her own son.
The Acts 7:22 And Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in his words and deeds (ESV).
Moses, we learnt from Scripture, was brought up by Pharaoh’s daughter as her adopted son. Being raised as a prince in Egypt, Moses was tutored in all the arts, science and philosophy of the Egyptians. He thus became a mighty prince in Egypt, and was powerful, both in speech and in action. Moses could easily relate with people of other cultures, being well exposed himself, by virtue of his universal education. Being educated in other cultures (through the study of secular literature, among other means) makes a person able to engage people of other cultures in a broad-minded way. An understanding of other cultures and worldviews gives us easy access into other people’s lives, which is necessary for effective evangelism. We see this point clearly demonstrated in the ministry of Paul, in his preaching to heathens.
The Acts 17:28 for In him we live and move and have our being; as even some of your own poets have said, For we are indeed his offspring.
The Acts 17:29 Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man (ESV).
Paul was preaching Jesus to heathen philosophers in Athens, a city in ancient Greece wholly given to idolatory. In order to catch their attention and get the gospel across to them, he quoted one of their Greek poets, Aratus of Cilicia. The pagan Poet Aratus, in the beginning of his book, Phenomena, speaking of the heathen god Jupiter (whom the heathen considered the supreme God), says this of him, tou gar kai genos esmen—“for we are also his offspring”. Having quoted a portion from Aratus’ poem, Paul then made the argument as to why the Supreme Deity couldn’t be like the dead idols they worshipped, if human beings are his offsprings. He deflty turned their attention from Jupiter to Jehovah as the Supreme God, and then to the resurrected Jesus Christ as the Saviour and Judge of all mankind. By quoting a popular pagan poet, Paul showed he was an all-round scholar (not just of sacred Scriptures, but also of secular literature), and that the learning of secular literature can be an invaluable tool to a Christian and minister of the gospel, especially in the convincing of educated and learned unbelievers. It enables us to speak to them in a language they can relate with. Sometimes, we need to use the enemy’s own weapon against him, like David did with Goliath’s sword. How can you engage and defeat an adversary you don’t understand? If you know your opponent’s stronghold, it will be easy to undermine his faith by using his knowledge against him. If you can puncture holes in his worldview, you’ll shake the very foundations of his faith and open him up to the gospel. Paul used that approach to great effect among the heathens, and won not a few converts thereby.
The Acts 17:32 When they heard Paul speak of the resurrection of a person who had been dead, some laughed, but others said, “We want to hear more about this later.”
The Acts 17:33 That ended Paul’s discussion with them,
The Acts 17:34 but some joined him and became believers. Among them were Dionysius, a member of the Council, a woman named Damaris, and others (NLT).
Paul, the most effective Apostle in the history of the Church, demonstrated the need for Christians to become all things to all men in order to win some for Christ. Paul showed the need to identify with the people around us, in order for them to open up to us and give us a chance to minister to them. Mirroring people smartly lowers their resistance to us and to the gospel we preach, and is a necessary tool for effective evangelism. The fastest means of acculturation with our target audience is through the study of their literature and close observance of their ways of life. Paul was a master of this strategy, and proved himself an effective Apostle to the Gentiles.
1 Corinthians 9:18 What then is my pay? It is the satisfaction I get from preaching the Good News without expense to anyone, never demanding my rights as a preacher.
1 Corinthians 9:19 This means I am not bound to obey people just because they pay me, yet I have become a servant of everyone so that I can bring them to Christ.
1 Corinthians 9:20 When I am with the Jews, I become one of them so that I can bring them to Christ. When I am with those who follow the Jewish laws, I do the same, even though I am not subject to the law, so that I can bring them to Christ.
1 Corinthians 9:21 When I am with the Gentiles who do not have the Jewish law, I fit in with them as much as I can. In this way, I gain their confidence and bring them to Christ. But I do not discard the law of God; I obey the law of Christ.
1 Corinthians 9:22 When I am with those who are oppressed, I share their oppression so that I might bring them to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone so that I might bring them to Christ.
1 Corinthians 9:23 I do all this to spread the Good News, and in doing so I enjoy its blessings (NLT).
Solomon was the wisest man that walked upon this earth, until Christ came. He was imbued with divine wisdom, which he used to administer the most prosperous earthly kingdom of his time. Solomon wrote many sacred books, including most of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and some Psalms. However, Solomon also wrote plenty stuffs on diverse secular subjects like love and romance, botany, zoology, horticulture, geography, economics and politics, among others. God’s wisdom is not just for spiritual understanding; it’s also for understanding the physical and natural world we live in. We’re not to read only sacred literature; we’re to also develop and cultivate our minds with respect to secular knowledge! The entire Songs of Solomon, the book of love and romance (an aspect of secular literature), was written by Solomon!
1 Kings 4:29 God gave Solomon wisdom–keen insight and a mind as limitless as the sand on the seashore.
1 Kings 4:30 Solomon’s wisdom was greater than that of all the eastern people and all the wisdom of the Egyptians.
1 Kings 4:31 He was wiser than anyone, than Ethan the Ezrahite, or Heman, Calcol, or Darda, Mahol’s sons. His fame spread to all the nations around him.
1 Kings 4:32 Solomon spoke 3,000 proverbs and wrote 1,005 songs.
1 Kings 4:33 He described and classified trees–from the cedar in Lebanon to the hyssop growing out of the wall. He described and classified animals, birds, reptiles, and fish.
1 Kings 4:34 People came from every nation to hear his wisdom; they came from all the kings of the earth who had heard about his wisdom (GodsWord).
In the passage above, we equally read of the wisdom of other people not classified as God’s people, especially the ancient Egyptians and Chaldeans. Chaldea and Egypt were nations famous for learning, with an abundance of scholars whose works impacted significantly on the course of civilisation. These scholars, though not known to be believers in Jehovah, were no doubt imbued with knowledge and wisdom, and had something believers could learn from. No doubt, the writings of such men should be worthy of study even by God’s people. God has distributed to all men one form of knowledge or the other, to each man some measure of grace. Now, whether all men know and acknowledge him as the source of all good gifts and endowments is an entirely different thing. The fact remains, however, that God has gifted all men with things that would benefit the entire race. It would be foolish to write off what others have to offer in terms of skills, knowledge and wisdom, just because they are not Christians. It would be foolish to disdain and disregard all forms of secular literature and the knowledge contained therein. If we can learn from animals, surely we can learn from all human beings?
James 1:17 Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change (RSV).
Proverbs 6:6 Go to the ant, you sluggard. Consider her ways, and be wise; (WEB).
Furthermore, let’s consider Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, the Hebrew children who served in Nebuchadnezzar’s court in Babylon. We read of these God-fearing Jews who were highly favoured by God. Daniel was a great prophet who was highly regarded in heaven. The book he wrote, which bears his name, contains some of the most profound prophecies concerning endtime events. But, God’s gifts to these Hebrew children in Babylon were not only in spiritual knowledge and wisdom. God also imbued them with great skills in science, languages, secular literature and philosophy! God is a God of all knowledge, including secular knowledge! To despise any realm of human knowledge is to despise God’s gifts! Some truths about the universe can be found in the writings of secular writers, and it would be foolish to ignore them, simply because they’re proposed by unbelievers!
Daniel 1:3 The king told Ashpenaz, the chief-of-staff, to bring some of the Israelites, the royal family, and the nobility.
Daniel 1:4 They were to be young men who were healthy, good-looking, knowledgeable in all subjects, well-informed, intelligent, and able to serve in the king’s palace. They were to be taught the language and literature of the Babylonians.
Daniel 1:6 Among these young men were some Judeans: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.
Daniel 1:7 The chief-of-staff gave them Babylonian names: To Daniel he gave the name Belteshazzar. To Hananiah he gave the name Shadrach. To Mishael he gave the name Meshach. And to Azariah he gave the name Abednego.
Daniel 1:17 God gave these four men knowledge, wisdom, and the ability to understand all kinds of literature. Daniel could also understand all kinds of visions and dreams.
Daniel 1:18 At the end of the three-year training period, the chief-of-staff brought all the young men to Nebuchadnezzar.
Daniel 1:19 The king talked to them and found no one like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah among all of them. So these four men served the king.
Daniel 1:20 Whenever the king asked them about things that required wisdom and insight, he found that they knew ten times more than all the magicians and psychics in his whole kingdom (GodsWord).
Finally, rather than despise and disparage all forms of secular literature, Christians should judge and carefully examine what they read. We should be open to all knowledge and all truths, because all truths are God’s truths! However, we should be careful to avoid filling our minds with stuffs that are lewd, vulgar and base. We’re to take care to avoid things that are capable of inflaming vile passions and leading us into sin. Even among secular writers, there are those who stay within the bounds of natural morality and decency. Consider and read things that are enlightening, honourable, inspiring, motivating, socially acceptable and commendable, even if they’re not from Christian authors. Even unbelievers who write secular literature also have the image and likeness of God in them, even if that image has been corrupted by the fall. They are definitely wrong in their idea of salvation and in spiritual matters, but most of them are not far from the truth in the wordly knowledge needed to navigate this world. They too have gifts of knowledge and wisdom from God to teach and impart some truths to us about the world we live in. We must not be arrogant and bigoted to resist and reject such truths. Humility requires that we be open to learn from all, even from unbelievers.
Philippians 4:8 Finally, brothers and sisters, keep your thoughts on whatever is right or deserves praise: things that are true, honorable, fair, pure, acceptable, or commendable (GodsWord).
In conclusion, the wisdom and knowledge God bestows on believers is not just for the purpose of understanding spiritual things. We need knowledge of the physical and natural world around us, to be able to dominate and subdue the earth as commanded by God. And part of that knowledge to relate with our physical world can be readily found in secular literature. Also, Christians need to have knowledge of other cultures and worldviews in our multicultural societies, in order to effectively engage and evangelise people of other faiths. Only by engaging our minds in total and wholesome education will we be able to fully serve the Lord with all our mind, and bring every knowledge to the obedience of Christ.