Love/Hate Relationship With Book Reviews

Date Your WifeI have mostly stopped doing reviews of new popular books in the Christian world.  Occasionally I will.  But I prefer reading books I want to read, when I want to read them instead of reading based on what is new and hot.

The other problem is that I prefer writing good reviews.  No one really wins writing a bad review, unless you like being curmudgeonly.  If you write a negative review of a book, people are not going to purchase the book through your links (which is the main source of revenue for most independent bloggers).  Negative reviews are the best way to be voted down as a reviewer on Amazon.  Just go look at virtually any product on Amazon.  Unless that negative review was very clever (funny, probably non-sensical) an honest negative review is voted down.

But more than anything I want to read books that I like.  So I like to read reviews.  When I can I like to read multiple reviews (unless it is fiction, I tend to avoid reviews on fiction because I hate finding out the whole plot of a book.)

Today I thought it was interesting that Tim Challies and Tullian Tchividjian both reviewed Justin Buzzard’s Date Your Wife.  I pay attention to both but do not read their blogs every day.   (Tchividjian is Billy Graham’s grandson and the pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian in Ft Lauderdale, Challies is a one of the most popular bloggers in the Christian, especially reformed world.)

It is interesting how different the two reviews were.  Tchividijian (blogs at the Gospel Coalition) was very positive.  The theme of the review is that Buzzard had written a book that basically says that the only way that we can adequately be a husband is through God’s grace.  We cannot work our way to a better marriage if we have a slavery mentality.  If we love our wives as Christ loves the church, then we can be empowered by grace.

He ends the review this way:

“This small book is biblically sound, theologically rich, sensitively illustrated, and profoundly practical. If you read it prayerfully, God will show you his heart for you which will in turn enlarge your heart for your wife.

Read it. It’s good. It’s really good.”

Challies seems to be reading an entirely different book.

“The book is fueled by one core conviction: If you want to change a marriage, change the man. Looking first at the sexual relationship and then widening the scope to all of marriage Buzzard says this: “Your wife isn’t the problem. You’re the problem. I’m the problem. Men are the problem…Before you can be the best thing that ever happened to your marriage, you need to see that you have always been the worst thing that happened to your marriage.”

Challies complains about his use of scripture, his advice on sex, but more than anything Challies seems to be complaining that Buzzard is writing a book on marriage when he has only been married 7 years.

In the end, I have no idea which blogger is more correct in his assessment of the book.  There are part of both reviews that I really wonder about.  Tchividjian at one point says, “I don’t need that love (of his wife), because in Jesus, I receive all the love I need.”  That certainly seems like inappropriate advice.  As Tchividjian keeps talking about ‘Gospel empowered marriage”.  I keep thinking about Scot McKnight’s reminder that the “Gospel is that Jesus is Lord and Messiah” anything else (like marriage, understanding of scripture, church structure, politics, parenting, etc.) may be important, but it isn’t the gospel.

And again Challies seems to be hung up on Authority.  I really like much of Challies’ book on technology.  But he has issues with authority that seemed really miss the point of the overall book.

These rambling are probably not all that helpful for anyone.  But for me it is a reminder how fallible reviewers really are.  So often I know that my own reviews say much more about me than they do about the book.

4 Comments

Adam, I find this post intriguing, especially with what you said in the second paragraph. As the eternal optimist that I am, I always try and find the positive in everything and so in my reviews even if I have to give a less than stellar review I still like say something nice. I never thought about it but you are right about getting voted down for negative reviews. I reviewed a book on audible that was really a book that Chris had picked out and I had no interest in it. I tried to get into the book but stopped listening because I was bored. I said as much in my review. I believe that review was voted something like 0 out of 15 reviewers found it helpful.

I also wanted to comment somewhere on your blog that I am currently reading a book for a women’s bible study that I am in called “Enemies of the Heart” by none other than your pastor, Andy Stanley. So far, I am getting into it but I am anxious to see where the book leads. I can see that it has the potential to change lives but my expectations may be too high because of how highly I think of Andy. When I finish, I would definitely like to write a review for the book for your blog.

I also tend towards not reviewing books I suspect I won’t like, although if something I thought would be good turns out to not be so great I will give it an honest review. I have way too many books I really want to read to waste time on ones that look questionable (with the occasional exception of one I’m reading to understand how others are thinking.) I also consider it part of my mission as a blogger to help people find books that will be helpful. Writing negative reviews doesn’t really contribute to that as I don’t consider myself theologically astute enough to pick apart the finer points of where books go wrong.

The extreme subjectivity of reviewing is a bit bewildering as a writer. I’ve been doing some professional writing which needed to pass both reviewers that were assigned to it before it could be published. One reviewer was very complimentary and only made minor suggestions for improvement. The other was scathing. It is rather hard to know what to do with such divergent feedback.

    I really do think that the dirty secret of writing is that it is so much about the reader. I agree. It is hard to know what to do with wildly differing opinions.

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