Wednesday, July 30

Bad Books and Good Books

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).


Unknown said...

Thank you for a fresh perspective on bad books! I wonder if these books would die more quickly and with less hoopla if we just left them on the trash heap where they belong.

TomG said...

Philippians 4:8 can keep us out of so very many ditches - it's really not that complicated. Thanks for the reminder, and thanks be to God for the perspicuity of Scripture.

Cadence of Life said...

I was unaware of your review until I recommended it to a client who read your blog. Wow! My take on the book came more in the movement of the character development and his journey of sadness, heartache and forgiveness of a monster and more importantly his forgiveness of God. That he revealed his disbelief in God's omipotence and omnisience. So many times bitterness takes hold of our hearts and does not allow us to move forward, even when we are presented with scripture. Sometimes, we are jolted by a story that requires us to actually step out of our norm wrestle with God in ways that I think all of us deep down do, but are afraid to actually speak out loud. Do we believe in God's goodness for us? Do we believe God is the restorer of hearts? Do we believe God is for us? Or are we doubtful Thomas'? I enjoyed your thoughts and it now propels me to read the book again but more from a theological standpoint and less from a person's journey of healing. Who knows maybe I might blog about it! I so appreciate you and Karen:)

Diane V. said...

Dr. Grant,
As always, I appreciate the continued wise instruction available on your blog. I was not aware of this book, The Shack, until I read your post. Within recent years, we have come to learn of "professing Christians" who we know who are now denying the Trinity, hell, and other such doctrines of Christian Orthodoxy. A book of this nature would feed their existing heretical errors. I came across a book review about this book that I found helpful. If you think it could be useful to others, here is the website:
I do hope, as you wrote, it will be "as enduring as a summertime gnat.

Diane V. said...

Dr. Grant,
I mispelled a word in the web address above. My apologies. The correct web address is:
Boy, the difference between an "n" and an "r"! It's sharper, not sharpen. My bad.

Diane V. said...

Golly! My bad part II! I must be having a really bad computer day! Here's the correct site:
Logging out and going for a bike ride!

Cadence of Life said...

Thank you diane for your research! I read thouroughly the site you linked! Great input, however, as the writer shared the feedback on The shack is quite mixed and I have learned that rather than letting someone else decide for me what is good or not, I trust my Faith and intuition to know if it is helpful or not. I have seen people's lives as well as my own changed for the better by this book and I not once doubt that God used this book to do that. The only book that is infallible is the the Word of God and God sometimes even uses the imperfect in life to change us.

GEYW said...

George (er, Dr. Grant...) --

Thank you for your non-review of The Shack. I particularly like your analogy:

The Shack is "a fad--like neck tattoos, droopy pants, doo-rags, tongue piercings, and bed-head dino-hair."

In a way, that is exactly the point! Some of those fads have long-lasting, even painful consequences (such as neck tattoos and tongue piercings). My concern about the book and it's popularity among so-called evangelical Christians is the long-term negative effect it may have on those not well-grounded in the Truth of Scripture (i.e, their immortal souls).

Eden W.