If you know me, you know that I am an avid reader! I have an extensive library that I’ve been chewing through for several years. My wife can attest that I have an ever growing list of book requests on my gift wishlist (because you never know when you’ll find the right deal!).
I also love sharing what I am reading! That is why at least once a month, I will post a book review. I desire to do this so that readers and potential readers of the work can benefit from a critical yet charitable evaluation.
But before I get into the logistics of how I will be reviewing books or even doing book reviews, I want to craft a brief theology of reading.
When we read, we are entering into a conversation with the author. The author is making claims and supporting his or her claims with facts and citations. When we are in a discussion with someone else, we often do the same thing (although, it’s often not as structured as someone’s writing). Simply, the medium of conversation is written, not verbal.
However, this conversation is not a constant back and forth. Written conversation is more in the sense that the author has laid out his or her case in full (or almost in full if it is a part of a series) and we are examining it. The benefit of interacting with someone like this is that we have their full argument and support. They have organized their thoughts and research to prove their main claim of the book.
The advantage of delivering a claim and support in this medium is that we can revisit their argument and claims. Often in a conference we hear a succinct and well thought out argument, but are quick to forget the wording or each step in the argument. So rather than sitting through a several hour long lecture attempting to use active listening skills and note taking (which can be exhausting), we can read their thoughts and revisit the work continually.
Essentially, the conversation in reading is similar to hearing an extended dialogue and getting the chance to respond.
Because there is no direct back and forth between us and the author, it is easy to be overly critical of a work because there is no direct back and forth between us and the author. Plus, they’ve had more time an editor to review their work. It’s common to hear/say/think the following:
“Well, that’s not how I’d say it!”
“This language is sloppy, doesn’t the author know to make his/her argument this way?”
“This author has no idea what s/he is talking about. If I were to write this book, I would do it this way: …”
One of the reasons why we are often more critical of the person we read is due to the fact we probably do not know the author personally. A tendency of readers it that we see the book as just words on a page for our consumption. We forget about the humanity of the person who crafted these words.
Additionally, we engage with many new ideas or the opposite side of our view in books. Anytime we engage with a new idea, we experience dissonance (when we believe 1 idea, but another idea contradicts it, and we are forced to reconcile the differences). This dissonance can be uncomfortable, but it is vital to growing as Christians. We don’t have to accept every new idea. In fact, we can modify existing ideas and make them our own! However, if our first reaction is to attack the author or the argument without evaluation, we are not reading charitably.
We should assume the best before we assume the worst.
Book reviews are laborious because they require careful reading and critique.
First, they require careful reading. In an age of constant distraction, where 1 (to 100!) notifications can rip your attention away at any second, it is easy to miss the argument of the author. For example, we might be reading an argument supporting the Trinity then receive a phone notification. We divert attention to read (and maybe respond to) the notification then come back to the book forgetting where we left off. So instead of reading a logical argument against Modalism (where God reveals himself in different modes), we think the author supports Modalism! Reading requires careful attention.
Second, book reviews require careful critiques. The author was meticulous about his/her wording, so we should be careful how we communicate positive/negative critique in our evaluation. We don’t want to come across totally uncritical, accepting everything the author wrote as gospel. Yet we don’t want to come across totally argumentative, rejecting everything the author wrote.
All that to say, I will be writing book reviews so that we can read together and talk with the authors.
I will review a wide variety of books within the Christian tradition. Topics can range from Bible to theology to leadership to pastoral ministry to Christian education to home making, etc.
Their length will typically be the length of a blog. However, some resources require more in depth analysis, so the reviews may be longer than a typical blog post.
Additionally, I will post 1 review a month. While I read a lot and take a lot of notes, writing reviews is a time consuming task because of the thoughtfulness that goes into the reading and subsequent evaluation. Either way, if I can get more book reviews out, I certainly will!
Reading as Exiles
In the end, we must beware of this constant pursuit of books, reading, and writing.
I am in a season of life where I am receiving a lot of input through seminary and extra-circular readings. Currently, I am attempting to balance this flow of information by sharing what I am learning with others.
In the end, I find myself reflecting on the end of Ecclesiastes during this season. The Preacher, speaking to his son, warns him: “Of making many books there is no end, and much study is weariness of the flesh.” (12:12, ESV)
I am planning on several book reviews in the coming months, so here’s a sneak peek of the books I’m working on now (and there are definitely more to come!):