Anyone who’s been reading this blog for a while has probably noticed I do a lot of book reviews, typically one per week. Recently I was asked about how I do book reviews—do I have a general guideline or process, or is approach different every time?
I tried to give a short, 140 character response, but realized that it wasn’t enough, because, frankly, “yes” is an insufficient answer.
So, for better or for worse, here’s a look into my reviewing process:
1. Read with the intention of reviewing. This might seem like a “duh,” but I read a lot material for a variety of purposes, and it’s not always about reviewing. Knowing I’m going to review it forces me to make sure I’m paying careful attention to what is written.
2. The “who” is less important than the “what.” Whenever I’m reading an author I genuinely enjoy, it’s easy to simply just say “I like it,” without necessarily considering what’s been written. Whether it’s MacArthur, Driscoll, Piper, Sproul, Chan or whoever is the cat’s meow, it’s important to not let preference for the person dictate approval (or disapproval) of the content. (Side note, brownie points to the person who can tell me if I used the correct form of “whoever/whomever.” )
3. Don’t fill-in-the-blanks. When someone writes a very…ambiguous book, it’s tempting to start filling-in-the-blanks with my own theological presuppositions. A lot of books that don’t stand up against even the most rudimentary understanding of Scripture have been embraced by many evangelicals. This is why.
4. Acknowledge my biases. Similarly, I need to be aware (as best as I’m able) of my own biases and predispositions. This will reflect how I approach books by authors I don’t enjoy or who I know hold to a different theological position than I do.
5. Try to be humble. Everybody goofs sometimes. Not everyone who says something stupid is a heretic. And not everything I think is wrong actually is. Something I am continually to do (with varying degrees of success) is acknowledge that I can make mistakes and when I do, I need to be corrected. This, incidentally, is why comments can be helpful.
1. What is the main idea the author is trying to convey? Can I figure out what the big idea of the book is and articulate it in one or two sentences?
2. How does the author support his/her idea(s)? Scripture, tradition, history, illustrations from real life examples… every point made needs to be backed up with something. If it’s nothing more than “I think,” chances are, it’s wrong.
3. How does the author handle Scripture (if reading a Christian book)? How an author approaches Scripture is an indicator of their trustworthiness.
4. Do I agree with the author’s main idea? Why or why not? Can I support my position with appropriate Scripture? In the same way that an author’s assertions must be tested against Scripture , so too must my assessments. If my position cannot be supported by Scripture, it must be rejected.
5. What difference does it make? While there are always some things that you read for which you don’t have an immediate practical application, the question of “what difference does it make in my life” is essential for why determining whether or not to recommend a book.
So that pretty much covers it. I’m sure I could come back to this later today and add a few other items. But if you’re interested in the process of reviewing books (or at least how I do it), I hope today’s post has been helpful!