"I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes: I hate the work of them that turn aside; it shall not cleave to me" (Psalm 101:3).
"And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret" (Ephesians 5:11, 12).
"Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things" (Philippians 4:8).
These three verses have been the standard by which we judge our children's reading material (and, indeed, our own). Books need to be profitable spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. Books with swearing, immorality, witchcraft or magic are definitely off our shelves. Books that put evildoers in a "good" light are also out.
All right, that was easy. After all, those things are blatantly anti-Scriptural. Now for the hard part. What if most of the book's content is good, but there's this one little section that is questionable? This dilemma was faced recently in connection with one of my favorite books from childhood. The whole book was good, I thought, except for one minor section, which I merely skimmed over. But wouldn't you know it, that was the ONE section of the entire book that one of my younger sons enjoyed the most! He thought it was hilarious as he retold it to the rest of us, wanting us to join in the laughter. At that point I realized that I needed to re-evaluate that book, and perhaps others on our shelves, as well.
Spiritually profitable books are those that tell a story or a biography in the context of accurate biblical truth and sound doctrine. We have had to be especially careful with biographies and historical fiction, since the doctrinal bias of the author colors the life of the person he/she is writing about. For example, I once read a fiction book that included the real Jonathan Edwards as one of the minor characters. In the story, he was called to the bedside of a dying girl and asked to pray with her. In the process, he gave the gospel to this girl. He basically led her through the standard "sinner's prayer" and pronounced her saved. Any one who has studied the life and writings of the real Jonathan Edwards will immediate recognize the error here. He would NEVER have dealt with a sinner this way! Dying or living, child or adult, that person would have been asked to examine their hearts in the light of Scripture, and encouraged to pray by themselves. He would have waited for the Lord to burden the individual about his/her sin, and left them alone to pray their own prayer before God alone.
Similar things have been written of John Bunyan, Charles Spurgeon, and others. Spurgeon, especially, would be greatly grieved to read the things he is now supposed to have believed. He fought tooth and nail against those things, and that fight so wore on him that it led to his death.
Mentally uplifting books are those which give accurate information without wicked, gory details. This is the hardest for me to judge. Since we homeschool, we have lots of resources on our shelves that give historic and scientific facts. Scientific resources aren't hard to deal with. We just keep evolution off the shelves, and the rest takes care of itself. Historic resources are harder. Here, again, the bias of the author will color the information given, whether it be a documentary, biography, or historical fiction. The most awful things will be presented in a favorable light, while anything having to do with true righteousness and godliness will be given a mere footnote at best, or criminalized at worst.
Once again, it is easy to keep away the blatantly bad. Harder is to sort through the material that looks good. Christian conservatism, especially in the United States, has done a lot more harm to our historical reference materials than many would like to admit. To read most of their histories, you'd think all the great men who are called the Founding Fathers of America were the most godly men you'd ever hope to meet. Were they? Absolutely not. Most were deists who denied the diety of Christ and believed God had no real influence in the modern world. The infamous "Jefferson Bible" is full of holes where Thomas Jefferson cut out everything he believed to be in error. Benjamin Franklin spoke of a "higher power" but never bowed his knee to the God of the Bible. Most of these men were idolatrous Masons.
Emotionally uplifting books are those which encourage good character qualities such as self-control. The average romance novel does nothing of the sort. Characters whose anger, hatred, selfishness, sibling strife, etc., are seen as normal behavior do not encourage good character in our children. Sorting out the bad, again, is easy. And difficult, again, is dealing with books from "Christian" authors and publishers. What about the "Christian" romance novel? Even the "best" of these appeal to the flesh and the lusts thereof. How are family relationships portrayed? Do brothers and sisters fight a lot? Do mothers support the fathers? Are wives submissive to husbands? Are dads seen as doofuses and laughed at? Do children look up to and respect their parents? To whom do the children go most often for advice--their parents, their peers, or some other trusted adult?
I added a new link to my sidebar: the Castleberry family. They are a homeschooling family who write and publish their own books. I have come to share their philosophy regarding books for the family, and recommend them to you.
Two other book-related links are listed. Grace and Truth Books distributes books written mostly from a sovereign grace perspective, but let the buyer beware: we have encountered a few questionable items from them. Nevertheless, most of their stuff is fantastic. I have almost decided to remove the other link for Christian Book Distributors. I've left it on only because they sell homeschool curriculum at discounted prices. A look at their most recent homeschool catalog, however, reveals that they are becoming more and more ecumenical in what they recommend and distribute. Buyer be doubly aware.
I have not mentioned videos, DVDs, cassettes, TV, newspapers, magazines, or radio, choosing to focus on books. Yet all the above applies to these as well.
God's grace to you as you look at your bookshelf,