What to remember when you change your mind about a book

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Maybe you’ve had this experience before—the thought that comes the exact moment after you hit publish:

What if I change my mind?

I’ve written a lot of book reviews over the last five years. Some books I’ve really enjoyed; others I wonder why I ever read in the first place (probably because I got them for free from one of the blog review programs). But for the most part, I’ve never felt a deep burden to go back and change a review once it’s written. Even so, every so often, the temptation strikes:

  • when a book makes its way back into the reading pile and I notice something different about it;
  • when other thoughtful reviewers raise concerns I didn’t even notice during my read through (either because I didn’t pick up on them or I was blinded by a nasty case of “fanboy-itis”); or
  • when the review simply wasn’t very well written.

So what do in these situations? Well, there are a few things you need to remember:

1. Your review is representative of your opinion at the time it was written. This is just the result of time, and (hopefully) wisdom and maturity. Opinions change, writing abilities improve, convictions either firm or soften… it just happens. And when it does, you can change what you’ve written, but it doesn’t mean you have to.

For example, some time ago, I wrote a review of N.D. Wilson’s Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl. The first time out, it had a few catchy lines, but it was in dire need of a polish. In all honesty, even though I loved the book (still do, too), the review itself was kind of a mess. So I decided to rewrite it and republish it.

But poorly written reviews aside, there are a number of books I’ve reviewed over the years that, honestly, I don’t think I was hard enough on. I wasn’t asking the right questions of them, or I was filling in the gaps for myself. (Here’s one example that comes to mind.) But do I feel a burning need to revisit it? Not really. I’ve got enough on my plate to deal with than that.

2. The shelf-life is short, so you probably don’t need to worry about it. Book reviews tend to be very (VERY) time sensitive, and because so many books are published each week, the book you might have been sure was going to be life-changing may be collecting dust in a remainder bin right now. So if you wrote a review and you feel like you gaffed on it, you probably don’t need to sweat it. it’s likely no one’s reading it these days, anyway.

3. It’s never too late to publish a retraction or clarification. This really comes down to a matter of conscience. If you wrote a glowing review for one of Joel Osteen’s books and have recognized the error of your ways, it’s okay to fix it. If you wrote a particularly harsh review of a book that, after some more time and maybe an additional read, you realize wasn’t so bad, it’s alright to say so.

In other words, it’s never too late to say, “In 2011, I wrote that I believe Real Marriage was more good than bad. Upon careful consideration since reviewing the book, I no longer believe this to be true.”1

Changing our minds is simply part of life. Sooner or later, it’s going to happen to you. So enjoy it when it happens. Leave what should be left alone, alone. Change what needs to be changed. Just make sure you don’t lose any sleep over it.

You (yes, you) really do need an outside perspective

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One of the many dangers of social media is the temptation to say something before you’ve thought it out. A snarky comment or a genuinely witty remark are occasionally the fruit; more often, the result winds up being something, well… unwise. I almost had a moment like that last week. Fortunately,my wife tends to be sitting next to me whenever I’m preparing to send out a tweet. Because she sometimes has a better sense of—how do I put this?—feeling than me, she usually can tell pretty quickly whether something is going to cross the line from funny to offensive.

This is something I suspect more of us need. Not necessarily a spouse telling us, “Hey, you shouldn’t tweet that,” although that’s definitely helpful. But someone to watch our backs, to helpfully second-guess us when we’re writing, speaking or whatever. An outside perspective to help cover our blind spots, and to push us onto our best work.

And yet, it seems like we’re a bit afraid to do this at times, doesn’t it? We blogger types tend to be secretive about our writing, at least with other bloggers. Is it because we don’t trust other writers to help us? Sometimes, though I’m not sure why we act like this. It’s not like whomever we ask is going to scoop our article for themselves.

Unless they do.

And then they’ll be jerks.

(Kidding.)

Mostly, I think it’s because we’re afraid to ask. So we publish something with more holes in its logic than my car has rust spots, or presents a straw man, or is just kind of “blah” as a piece of writing—just because we didn’t seek an outside perspective.

Which, of course, is silly.

We all need someone who is going to give us the straight goods on what we’re doing. Who is going to tell us when we’re in danger of crossing a line we ought not cross, or when a joke falls flat, or when something we’ve written just isn’t very good. The only reason we don’t go after it is because we’re either too proud or we afraid of constructive criticism (which also means we might be too proud). Sometimes feedback’s going to hurt, but it’s not because the person giving it doesn’t care. It’s because they do. After all, “faithful are the wounds of a friend,” Proverbs 27:6 tells us.

Whether you believe it or not, you (yes, you) really do need an outside perspective. Don’t let pride or fear blind you to it.

Three things I’d like to see in the Christian blogosphere in 2014

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For the last couple of years, I’ve shared a few things I’d like to see change in the Christian blogosphere each year (here’s a look at the 2012 and 2013 editions). Looking back over these past dreams has been fascinating for me. What we’ve seen in the last year, and in particular the last several months, has been a greater confirmation that we don’t handle controversy well, and our public personalities struggle to understand what it means to take personal responsibility. So one thing we can be sure of is I am no prophet.

This—the controversy and shameful public behavior, not the not being a prophet—has been an ongoing frustration for me. Why? Because the whole thing casts a dark shadow on our witness. And that’s got to stop. We need to be less about whatever bonehead move Celebrity Pastor X made this week and more about the gospel. Here are three ways I’d suggest we do that:

1. Bloggers practicing Titus 3:10. “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him,” wrote Paul to Titus. A while back I wrote on this in a more in-depth fashion (specifically on what makes a person divisive), but we should remember the seriousness of Paul’s words: If a person is being divisive—whether it’s a church member stirring the pot through gossip and slander, or Christian celebrities who crash conferences and seem to lack any sort of real accountability1—then you should have nothing to do with them.

Don’t read their books. Unsubscribe from their blogs. Stop following them on Twitter. Stop paying attention and those problems will, in time, go away on their own.

2. Bloggers actively serving in their local churches. Something peculiar I’ve noticed is that a number of people seem to treat their blogs as their ministries. But they don’t appear to be involved in any meaningful way at their local church beyond showing up on Sunday and singing off-key for a few songs. Blogging is an effective aspect of ministry, but it should always be an add-on to their ministry in the real-world. So serve people, whether it’s by leading a small group, joining an evangelism team (if your church does street witnessing), volunteer in the nursery or toddler room… do something that stretches you and benefits others.

3. Bloggers who don’t think too highly of themselves. No blogger—especially not a Christian one—should walk around thinking they’re a big deal. Whether you’ve got 10 followers or 10,000,000, it really doesn’t matter that much. It doesn’t matter if you don’t weigh in on every significant issue. (Or any of them, for that matter.) Focus on creating content that’s edifying—for yourself and others. What is the Lord teaching you through your regular study of his Word? How is he working in your life? Think on these things—and share the ones that should be shared.

That’s what I’m hoping to see in 2014. More importantly, I’ll be doing what I can to adhere to them. How about you?

Five signs you need to quit blogging

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I’ve been at this whole blogging thing for about five years now. One thing I learned very quickly: blogging can be tricky business. Although it’s not actually all that hard to get attention in the Christian blogosphere, it can be fleeting. Deadlines can weigh on you. Life gets busy, and you have to ask: should I still be doing this?

(And for those wondering, no this isn’t my subtle way of saying I’m giving up the ghost.)

So when do you know you need to quit? Here are five signs:

1. You hear your wife making “jokes” about being a blog widow. Repeatedly. Within earshot. On purpose. This is usually a good sign that you’re spending too much time on the interwebs instead of ministering with and to your family. (And my wife wants you to know she doesn’t feel this way, for which I’m grateful.)

2. Your website is the sum-total of your ministry. Brother and sister bloggers, please hear me: I love you very much. I appreciate much of what you write. But your website is not your ministry. It should be an extension of your ministry, but if you’re not serving in a local church and being involved with flesh-and-blood people in any way, then can you please shut it down?

3. You’re always going to war—and usually over the wrong things. You might say you’re “truth-teller,” a “contender for the faith,” or some other such thing, I’ve got a news flash for you, Walter Cronkite: you aren’t.1 Seriously, building an audience on controversy isn’t hard. It’s probably the easiest thing to do, regardless of where you live on the theological spectrum. Evangelical “celebrities” make it really easy for you, too.

But you know what? It’s lame.

If your whole bag is saying The Gospel Coalition is full of gospel-compromisers, the “New Calvinism” is leading people back to Rome or drinking decaf leads you to liberalism, you need to get your head straight.2 You might feel tough using the word “heretic,” but you’ve got to take it easy. It’s a big word and can’t be taken back easily (the same goes for those who liberally toss about “fundamentalist” by the way). There are times when it’s definitely necessary, but you know when you should use it? When it’s really necessary.3

“For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you” (Matt. 7:2). If you’re always on the warpath, do you really think that’s not going to come back to bite you?

4. You turn every issue to your pet cause. I’ve seen radical egalitarian types lose their beans when a man says husbands should help around the house (because “helping” isn’t good enough), and pundits desperately search for a calvinistic conspiracy theory shaped needle in a haystack, but c’mon. Sometimes a comment is just a comment. If you’re always looking for the “thing” to justify your position, it’s a good sign you need to shut things down.

5. Your online persona and who you are in reality are unrecognizable. Confession: everybody’s got a little bit of this.4 Many bloggers find it easier to communicate their thoughts through words on a screen than words from their mouths. I get it. I’m like that, too. But if you’re a raging firebrand online and are about as gentle as a kitten offline, if being behind a domain name makes you feel mighty when you normally feel weak, you need to check yourself before you wreck yourself.

If you travel around the Christian blog world at all, you’ll almost certainly recognize a few things I’ve listed here (which is also why I’ve chosen to forego naming specific sites). Heck, I’ve been guilty of a number of them myself (particularly being a bit too liberal with the h-word). Keeping the main thing (Jesus) the main thing can be tricky, but it’s worth it. And if you can’t, it’s okay to admit it. Just be willing to do something about it.

I’m Looking for A Few Good (Guest) Bloggers

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For the last couple of years, I’ve taken some time off during the summer It was terrific to unplug, unwind and read some really great content from a number of different voices. In fact, it was such a great experience, I’m doing it again!

If you’ve got something you think needs to be shared with the world I’d like to provide a platform for some other bloggers with 10-15 posts in August. If you’d like to submit something, here are a few details you need to know:

  1. You should have an active blog (although if you don’t, it’s not the end of the world)
  2. You need to be familiar with the flavor of Blogging Theologically and be willing to write material that will be in line thematically
  3. Your content needs to be encouraging to God’s people and glorifying to God
  4. Your guest posts must be submitted to me by June 30th, 2013.

Think you’re up for it? Send me an email, tell me what you want to write about and we’ll talk.

Looking forward to your responses!

 

Guilt by association?

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Maybe it’s me, but it seems like the Christian side of the Internet getting a bit… crankier.

This Internet is a wonderful tool for Christian ministry—it allows us to share further the spread of the gospel, connects us with fellow believers around the world, and lets us equip and encourage believers who desperately need it.

It also provides a terrible opportunity for sin to gain a foothold in our lives. 

Recently, I’ve seen more than a few websites attacking a Christian publisher as well as a well-respected blogger—simply because of their association with another Christian leader (and in the blogger’s case, the connections are extremely loose).

What’s increasingly disturbing to me is how easily we succumb to guilt by association.

We see it too often:

  • Pastors who are public figures take shots at bloggers as being single guys living in their moms’ basements who don’t have lives, jobs or girlfriends.
  • Bloggers who are confused on the relationship between discernment and divisiveness.
  • Professing Christians whose long-harbored bitterness toward a particular church or leader who set up websites featuring months and years of saved personal correspondence and detailed analyses of every minute detail of a leader’s public ministry.

…and if you’re a friend of the “enemy,” heaven help you.

How we deal with this continues to be one of the most difficult issues we face, both within our local churches and as part of the global body of Christ.

And it doesn’t seem to be getting any easier.

Honestly, it’s easy to look at the watchblogger/”survivor” type websites out there and write them off entirely. But I’m not always sure that’s the best thing to do—not in a “their arguments have merit” sense, but from a perspective of desiring to help others.

When dealing with “survivor” blogs…

While it’s tempting to do so, we have to be careful to not heap condemnation upon them. Though we must recognize that all-too-often their methods are both ill-advised and and entirely sinful, many of these kinds of bloggers are people who are badly wounded by real or perceived slights and sins.

Whether the facts line up with the feelings, the feelings are real and need to be considered in making a judgment of their behavior—not as an excuse, but as a reminder:

Bitterness is poison to the soul. When we leave hurts too long, they spread like cancer. It’s no wonder Paul commands us to be done with our anger quickly (cf. Eph. 4:26-27).

When addressing controversy…

Tim Keller’s advice on gospel polemics is very helpful, so much so that I can only reiterate what he’s said so very well:

  1. You don’t have to follow Matthew 18 before publishing polemics. This doesn’t mean you don’t go to person X to confirm their views prior to publishing, but that the rules for church discipline don’t apply.
  2. You must take full responsibility for even unwitting misrepresentation of someone’s views.
  3. Never attribute an opinion to your opponent that he himself does not own.

Number three is probably the greatest challenge bloggers face in addressing controversy. As much as possible, make sure you can demonstrate what someone actually believes before you say anything publicly. But more than that, try to address controversy in a spirit of love for a potentially misguided brother or sister.

Protect and defend sound doctrine, without question. But be mindful that your methodology doesn’t do as much damage as some destructive heresy.

When dealing with accusation…

I remember one pastor who, when his book was being lambasted by critics (including those who were otherwise friendly to him), went on the attack. Rather than hearing the legitimate criticism about his book, he declared that critics were revealing their own issues and hang-ups more than anything his book said.

This hurt, not simply because I was indirectly implicated by the statement, but because it called into question a stated desire of this particular individual: to turn critics into coaches.

This is my plea for the prominent public pastor, and indeed for all of us who occasionally face accusation: please remember not to think too highly of yourself than you ought (Rom. 12:3).

 

While not every critic is worth listening to, some most definitely are. When someone criticizes us, it hurts, especially when it’s about something we’re passionate about. However, we need to remember that in the end, the Lord will vindicate us if we’re truly in the right (cf. Psa. 135:14)—but thoughtful, carefully worded criticism may God’s grace at work in our lives.

The Backlist: The Top Ten Posts on Blogging Theologically

Let’s take a look back in time and see the most-read posts from December. Go check them out:

  1. Everyday Theology: God Won’t Give You More Than You Can Handle (July 2009)
  2. Branch Out! Three Reasons to Diversify Your Reading in 2012 (December 2011)
  3. I’m Giving You a Library for Christmas! (December 2011)
  4. Kindle Deals for the Christian Reader (December 2011)
  5. Everyday Theology: God helps those who help themselves (July 2009)
  6. John Piper on Mark Driscoll & John MacArthur (May 2009)
  7. 12 Books I Want to Read in 2012 (and Think You Should, Too) (December 2011)
  8. My Favorite Books of 2011 (December 2011)
  9. Book Review: Love Wins by Rob Bell (March 2011)
  10. The Dos and Don’ts of Book Reviews (or at least how I do them) (January 2011)

And just for fun, here are the next ten:

  1. Book Reviews (page)
  2. Who Writes This? (page)
  3. Book Review: Real Marriage by Mark and Grace Driscoll (December 2011)
  4. Three Things I’d Like to See in the Christian Blogosphere in 2012 (December 2011)
  5. A Readers Guide to the Inspiration of Scripture (December 2011)
  6. Everyday Theology: Preach the Gospel always, if necessary use words (July 2009)
  7. Podcasts, Pastors and People (December 2011)
  8. Book Review: You Lost Me by David Kinnaman (December 2011)
  9. 4 Things That Irritate Me About My Kindle (December 2011)
  10. Immanuel: God With Us (December 2011)

December was a terrific month in terms of traffic, the best month to date in fact (thanks in no small part to an endorsement by Tim Challies). God Won’t Give You More Than You Can Handle remained at the top of the heap, but the vast majority of the top ten (and indeed the top twenty) was dominated by new content—some of which was released in the last week of the month. Real Marriage is a topic that’s heating up in terms of interest (the book comes out January 3) and the ongoing series on Scripture continues to be of interest (“A Readers Guide to the Inspiration of Scripture” is probably one of my favorite posts of the month). If you’ve not had a chance to read any of these, I hope you’ll check them out!

The Top 10 Posts of 2011

Continuing the 2011 wrap-up, here are the top ten posts on bloggingtheologically.com for 2011. A couple of items to note:

  1. I have removed two pages (not posts) from the list. Had I left them in, they’d be in between numbers 5 and 6 on the list.
  2. This list is based on WordPress’ page view statistics (is the case with the regular monthly reports).

I’m incredibly grateful to everyone who has engaged with the content on this site over the past year. Thanks for taking the time to read this site over the last year, everyone!

Now, to the top ten:

  1. Everyday Theology: God Won’t Give You More Than You Can Handle (July 2009)
  2. Book Review: Love Wins by Rob Bell (March 2011)
  3. Everyday Theology: God helps those who help themselves (July 2009)
  4. John Piper on Mark Driscoll & John MacArthur (May 2009)
  5. His Name was Smeagol (April 2010)
  6. Everyday Theology: Preach the Gospel always, if necessary use words (July 2009)
  7. Rob Bell + Universalism = Fireworks (February 2011)
  8. Everyday Theology: You Need To Feed Yourself (May 2011)
  9. Book Review: Erasing Hell by Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle (July 2011)
  10. Branch Out! Three Reasons to Diversify Your Reading in 2012 (December 2011)

Unlike many of my fellow bloggers, Rob Bell related content wasn’t the most frequented throughout the year, and for this I’m very grateful (I hope I managed keeping it to a minimum). I’m also grateful to see that half of this year’s top posts were actually from 2011, including one that’s less than a month old. If you haven’t had a chance to read any of these, I hope you’ll check them out. Thanks again for reading!

5 Ways to Get Attention in the Christian Blogosphere

One of the common concerns I’ve seen come up again and again about blogging (and Twitter… and Facebook…) is that it’s inherently selfish. Well, while I think that critique is a tad overstated, there’s no denying that blogging certainly can stroke our egos.

No one said that pride was logical.

Or intelligent.

There’s a sense in which we all (even introverted weirdos like me) love attention—and on the internet, it’s surprisingly easy to get it. Now, the best way to get people to pay attention to what you’re saying is to have something worth saying… but sometimes that takes too long. Here are a few ways you can get attention on the internets (even if they’re not the right way):

1. Start a “Victims of big church/popular preacher” blog. Controversy sells. And speaking of controversy…

2. Start an online “discernment” ministry. There is an art to the discernment ministry. I’m always impressed at how someone can write a post smashing Rob Bell by citing something by Mark Driscoll can then turn around and smash Driscoll in the next post (or paragraph). That takes serious skill. Although I’m not sure it’s what Jude had in mind when he exhorted us to contend for the faith.

3. Post about sex. You’ll be guaranteed to get the wrong kind of traffic, but you’ll probably get a boost (and maybe someone will stop and read a gospel appeal…)

4. Choose a nemesis. Whether it’s public school, giving babies formula or Mark Driscoll, you’ll probably get some crazy traffic. Or at least crazy comments.

5. Quit blogging (or at least post that you’re thinking about it). Read the comments from people telling you how much they’ll miss you. Blog more than ever. Repeat ad infinitum.

Did I miss any?

(P.S. It should go without saying that this post was written with my tongue firmly in my cheek.)

Around the Interweb

Is There Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus?

Insightful videos featuring Dr. William Lane Craig:

 

HT: Justin Taylor

Also Worth Reading

Controversy: Adrian Warnock had a face-to-face conversation with Rob Bell about Love Wins. It’s a very interesting listen (albeit incredibly frustrating at times).

Easter: Jesus and the Martyrs

Business Ethics: The 4 P’s of Business

The Persecuted Church in China“If This is What God Intended, So Be It”

In Case You Missed It

Here are a few of this week’s notable posts:

He Will Be Holy To Make You Holy

Book Review: Redemption by Mike Wilkerson

Fully, Finally, Unquestionably, and Irrevocably Vindicated

The Power of The Resurrection

Only If A Substitute is Provided

Let the Law, Sin, and the Devil Cry Out Against Us

#TGC11 Day 3 Reflections

Emily and I took a few minutes last night to talk about the final day of The Gospel Coalition’s 2011 National Conference:

 

The last few days have been fantastic for Emily and I. We’ve been greatly encouraged by our time in Chicago and were blessed to talk with so many great people.

More from us when we get home!

Help Me Reorganize!

So, after two years of (usually) weekly reviews, the Book Reviews page is beginning to get a bit out of control. And since it exists for your benefit, I’d like your input on how best to reorganize it!

What would be most helpful for you, readers?

Filing by author?

Publisher?

Subject matter?

Leave a comment and help me reorganize that page!

Blogging Break

Something that a number of people I respect have been encouraging in their own lives is the idea of a blogging break. Taking some time away from what can be a highly self-promoting medium to recharge, relax and refocus. This week I’m doing that while enjoying a family vacation in Grand Bend, Ontario.

So this week, I won’t be contributing any new content to this site. However, it doesn’t mean there won’t be anything worth reading as I’ve line up a few godly and thoughtful men to guest-blog.

This week’s guest bloggers are:

  1. Ben Reed, small groups pastor of Grace Community Church in Clarksville, TN. He also blogs regularly at Life & Theology;
  2. Matthew Svoboda, soon-to-be pastor of 56th St. Baptist Church in Kearney, Nebraska. You can find him online here;
  3. Gabe Posey, who blogs at Jesus Apostrophe and is involved in an Acts 29 church plant in Southern Alabama; and
  4. Chris Canuel, who blogs at Striving with God.

There might be another one or two surprise guests coming up, but we shall see.

I’m very blessed to have these guys helping me out this week. I hope you enjoy what they’ve got to say!

Around the Interweb (01/31)

The iPad: Greatest Disappointment in Human History or the New Device You Can Touch

Last week, Apple unveiled the long-rumored tablet computer, the iPad.

Über-blogger Tim Challies has written an astoundingly negative post on the iPad, calling it “the greatest disappointment in human history”:

I wanted the iPad to do lots of neat things but to do one thing exceedingly well. Speaking personally, I wanted it to be an exceptional reading device. Why Apple didn’t position it as a reading device baffles me. Why didn’t they work with textbook manufacturers to make this the future of reading, the future of studying? . . . .This device could have been an amazing way of taking reading (which even Steve Jobs knows isn’t really going to go away) to the digital world. Kindle has tried and has done some good things. But the whole field is still vastly underdeveloped. Apple had its chance and, by what I can see, has completely blown it. Sure the iBook application looks pretty, but it does not look at all innovative beyond a few visual effects. I’m disappointed because the iPad could have been so much more.

Josh Harris disagrees:

Now my brother Tim is upset that the iPad doesn’t have a camera and more input options. But that’s the genius of Apple. They know what to leave out. Before we even know ourselves, they figure out what we’ll actually use and how we’ll use it. Sure, the iPad will get better. We’ll look back on this first version like we do the clunky first-edition iPod. But I think this will be a game changer for how people interact with media and the internet. Seeing my kids interact with the iPhone has convinced me of that. We want a computer we can touch.

Mike Rundle, rightly, I think, gets to the heart of the issue: The iPad isn’t for power users. It’s for everyone else.

What about you, internet friends? You a fan of the iPad or do you think Tim’s right to be disappointed?


In other news

My internet friend Matt Svoboda needs prayer in pursuit of church planting. He’s a good guy and I’ve got no doubt he’ll be a great pastor.

JD Greear offers a tip for evangelism: Tip well.

You are cool if you are “missional.”


In case you missed it

Here are a few of this week’s notable posts:

Book Review: God the Holy Trinity

A tip for evangelism: Talk positively about your spouse

Ten questions about books (because Aaron likes his bookie-books)

“If I’m the hope, that’s not good news,” a message from Mark Driscoll

Martyn Lloyd-Jones reminds us that there is hope because we have a God who acts.