As leaders, we're often asked our judgment on books, especially as a book grows in readership or controversy. Unfortunately, sometimes we share opinions before forming thoughts on the topic. You probably recall the enormous number of reviews of Rob Bell's "Love Wins" that flooded the Internet before his book released, based purely on a few minutes of preview video. Likewise, I heard a lot of opinions about Mark and Grace Driscoll's "Real Marriage" long before the book hit the shelves.
The latest controversial book in Christian circles is Rachel Held Evans's "The Year of Biblical Womanhood" in which Evans explores what the Bible says about womanhood by living out a variety of explicit commands in scripture, including things like wearing a head covering, calling her husband master, and following the Old Testament purity laws during her period.
I asked Evans when the first review for her book came in, and she said, "My dad the other night told me he remembered being at his computer, looking over a review of my book, and then he looked over at me and I'm sitting at the dining room table with a pile of books working on the manuscript. He was reading a review of this book I hadn't even finished writing yet." So, the first negative review for the book came before the book was written. I believe the motivation in reviews like this is protecting others from harmful ideas. I also believe it's being done poorly.
For instance, an influential Christian on Twitter tweeted a link and said, "Secular review of Rachel Held Evans: she took the Bible and made a mockery of the whole thing." This secular reviewer had not read the book. I found a one star review on Amazon that was merely a link to someone else's review. Another blogger wrote, "Do not acknowledge Rachel Held Evans. Do not pollute your mind with her teachings." But has she read the book? No.
Here are five practical reasons that we as leaders must make informed decisions about the books we recommend rather than making a call based on instinct or someone else's reviews:
One, we are in danger of undermining our own authority. If we tell people not to read a book because it's a theological danger, and they read it and discover we're incorrect, we're crying wolf. Why should our people trust us when we point out actual theological danger?
Two, reviews by others, even generally trustworthy sources, can make the wrong call. For instance, the review of "A Year of Biblical Womanhood" by Trillia Newbell on the "Desiring God" website skews the book by taking quotes out of context. Newbell says that Evans, "makes it clear that although she holds the Bible in high esteem as a historical document, she would warn us to be careful in attempting to use it as a guide for living out the Christian faith." She uses this quote from the book to back up her conclusion, "Despite what some may claim, the Bible's not the best place to look for traditional family values as we understand them today. (48)"
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