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How to (Properly) Judge a Book by its Cover


The old saying “don’t judge a book by its cover” has its value, but honestly, we’re all time-tied busybodies who won’t be able to read the entire Christian bookstore.

As mentioned by Collin Hansen, the editorial director for The Gospel Coalition, “You don’t have all the time in the world. So don’t waste it on bad books”1 . If you’re really going to mature in your knowledge and love of Christ, then you might just need a handy guide for selecting books that are worth your time.

Some would say that if a book cover has the author’s face on it, stay away. As an extension of that advice, here’s the method that I’ve learnt from my mentors and likewise teach to those I mentor.

1) Recognise Authority

The first and most important aspect is the recognition of the author/s who wrote the book and the publisher supporting its release. If you already know the author and the book is backed by a reputable publisher such as Crossway or Baker, then you may be pretty much set.

If I don’t know a particular author and don’t completely trust the publisher’s perspective, I’ll do a quick background check on the author’s theological qualifications and current ministry. The denomination of the church they serve at and the seminary/college they studied at have a massive impact on whether or not to bother reading their book.

2) Understand Reputation

Most Christian books will have someone to write the foreword for them, and even more books have a list of endorsers on the back cover or inside on the first few pages. Note here that who is endorsing the book is more important than what they actually write about it. You can do a similar background check quite easily as many endorsers will have their ministry listed next to their name. 

Many authors/publishers simply call up their mates to write an endorsement, so make it a priority to know the various Christian circles (denominational, affiliative etc.) that exist. This is not to say that you should only read books written and endorsed by Presbyterians or Baptists, for example, but because it’s important to know what kind of theological perspective is shaping your learning and understanding of the world.

3) Survey Thesis

Now is the time to read book’s title, subtitle and blurb. If you’ve gotten this far you should probably know what subject the book is about, but you need to know what the book proposes. What is its thesis? What does it bring to the world and the seemingly bottomless plethora of existing Christian books recommended by Disciple Timothy?

When you get a bit comfortable with this step you can begin to judge whether the author can successfully convey the message by looking at the table of contents. Analyse how the author divides up the chapters and where they take the flow of information throughout the book. Are you going to enjoy reading this? If you haven’t enjoyed holding and inspecting the book thus far, you’ll probably fall asleep reading it at home.

Another thing to note is whether the author and endorsers alike are experts in the topic. I love John Piper’s writings on the glory of God, but I think he misses the mark on the doctrine of the second coming, for example. On the other hand, I trust everything Michael Horton says. Just saying. Here are his books.


Well fair enough, we had to look at more than just the front cover. Hopefully, though, this saves you much time as you read the many good books available to you at your local or online bookstore. Happy reading!

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