Challies posted an article about how and why he gives good and bad reviews on his blog and more importantly how he evaluates a work on context of the larger ministry. He is directly responding to criticism of his two recent reviews of books by James McDonald and Mark Driscoll. I often disagree with the results of Challies reviews, but I read almost all of them because even we I disagree I respect his attempts at thinking through the issues.
So I think he is right to say why in one case he recommended a book without comment to his larger ministry, but in another case he gave a pretty clear statement about concerns over the broader ministry before recommending the book. And I think he is right to bring up the idea that people with good ministries can write lousy books and people that have written lousy books in the past, or have questionable overall theology can write a really good book.
My view is that I try as much as possible to evaluate the book I am actually writing and not the overall work. But it is hard to do because you cannot ‘unknow’ what you already know.
Here is the opening to Challies post:
This blog has introduced a challenge to my life that I hadn’t expected. It demands that at least part of my life—or thought life, at any rate—is lived out in public. This blog, like most others, is a place where I am able to think out loud in public and this affords every reader the opportunity to agree or disagree with me. This is well and good. Part of the joy of blogging is the measured exchange of ideas and opinions. But the surprise has been that people would not only agree or disagree, but would also assume motives, and publicly declare their understanding of why I do what I do and why I say what I say. I am accustomed to having people challenge my beliefs and ideas and enjoy it even, but don’t think I will ever grow used to having them assume my motives.
The other day I followed a link on Twitter and found a web site where various people were discussing something I had written. Have you ever had to read a long back-and-forth discussion where the subject is you? It is an odd and uncomfortable feeling (though, honestly, it didn’t devastate me; I felt very much like an outside observer). I had recently penned a book review and some were expressing disgust with me, telling others that I am merely a patsy, someone who is just a pawn in a greater agenda, answerable to some higher authority. Some were suggesting that I am desperately trying to curry favor with the Christian bigwigs, trying to ingratiate myself with the decision-makers. A couple dissented and defended me. But that discussion, and a few others I’ve been made aware of, tell me that there may be value in a quick word on book reviews.