From time to time I am asked why I typically only write positive reviews. Why don’t I do much in the way of genuine criticism? Why don’t I spend a lot of time lambasting all the piffle, drivel, and swill that seems to subsume the publishing industry these days? There are two simple reasons.
First, I don’t have time to read bad books. There are still too many classics that I have yet had a chance to read. I don’t have any inclination to waste precious time plowing through boring, or wicked, or sentimental, or lurid works. If I discover that a book is not worth reading after a couple of chapters, I usually stop reading it. And if I wouldn’t waste my time reading something, I figure I shouldn’t waste your time telling you as much. How much better to profile the myriad of volumes that are really worth reading—and thus, worth talking about.
The fiercest criticism I can offer a bad book is to ignore it.
Secondly, my whole purpose in writing articles, columns, newsletters, and blogs about books is not merely to write articles, columns, newsletters, and blogs about books. I don’t need the space, the PR, or the extra job. I make no pretense of being a journalist or a professional critic of belles lettres. I am a reader who happens to enjoy sharing my favorite discoveries with others. I try not to be promiscuous in my praise. But I have no intention of masking my enthusiasms either.
Now, if a Mein Kampf were to come along, I’d likely be obligated to point out its gross malignancy. That is most assuredly a noble task worth undertaking. To be sure we need to be alert to the dangers around us. We can’t afford to be incognizant of the dark forces that threaten to topple our culture. We mustn’t stick our heads in the sand. Lord knows, I’ve spent much of my career lampooning the enemies of justice, mercy, and humility before God. So I’m certainly not saying that we need to shy away from condemning the prejudice, perversity, and intellectual dishonesty that are the hallmarks of modern inhuman humanism. But the fact is, most bad books aren’t all that important. They will ultimately collapse under the weight of their own absurdity and generally do not warrant our frenzied concern.
So look: I am not unaware of The Shack phenomenon. How could I be? I couldn't begin to count the number of people who've asked me to review it, who want to know what I think about it, who are wowed by it, or baffled by it, or angered by it, or all three together. But, here is the thing: the book is just dreadful. It is badly written and badly conceived. It is maudlin, sentimental, and silly. But, worst of all, it is heretical. Indeed, it is heretical from start to finish. Its portrayal of the Trinity, of Scripture, of man's calling, of providence, of the Fall, and of Christ's purposes in redemption are all blatantly, brazenly, objectively apostate. And then, there is its horrifying view of the church—according to a recent articles in World Magazine, neither the author or the publisher have attended church for years, and it really, really shows. Screwtape, Gollum, and Voldemort working together couldn't have made this any worse. Surely this is the sort of thing Francis Schaeffer had in mind when he warned about an encroaching latitudinarianism in his final work, The Great Evangelical Disaster.
But--and here is the point--it is so bad, it is likely to be about as enduring as a summertime gnat. I know, I know, it's made an astonishing climb up the New York Times bestseller list, but this really is not the sort of book that will still be in print in twenty years. It's a blip on the screen. It's a fad--like neck tattoos, droopy pants, doo-rags, tongue piercings, and bed-head dino-hair. It's just another of the tawdry passing fancies of a culture slouching toward Gomorrah.
So, I am not going to do a full review this book. Ever. Instead, I am simply going to repair to my commitment to focusing only on good books. At a time when so many of us are only too well aware of the smothering mediocrity of American Evangelical pop culture, why not direct attentions to those few works of encouragement, edification, erudition, and enlightenment?
Indeed, the Apostle Paul reminds us to keep things in proper perspective—to major on the majors and minor on the minors: “Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are noble, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report, if there be any virtue, and if there be anything praiseworthy, think on these things” (Philippians 4:8).