Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Petty Objections or Precision?

Many of the books that I review on my blog come through crossfocusedreviews.com.  As part of receiving the free book, I agree to post my review on my blog as well as on amazon.com.  Occasionally, I will receive feedback from my blog readers, but most of the negative comments I receive are responses to my book reviews posted on the Amazon website.  Therefore, I have a series of blog posts that I've labeled Countering Criticism where I evaluate the validity of the negative feedback I receive.  Today, I would like to look at one comment from a poster named Dan regarding my book review on A Well-Ordered Church.  You can read my original review here.

On August 10, 2015, Dan says:
"Excessively nit-picky review, in fact I cannot call this a review so much as I can call it an advancement of the reviewer's own doctrinal beliefs. I don't care if the author is Reformed, Reformed Baptist, or whatever - first meet them at their own writing perspective and evaluate the book first and foremost on those terms, before contrasting with one's own doctrinal convictions."

In my review, my chief complaint with A Well-Ordered Church was the authors' inconsistent use of the term 'church'.  I specifically pointed out that they did not differentiate between the visible and invisible church in their book.  Dan is very happy and eager to criticize my review without any supporting evidence as to how I did not meet the authors on their own terms.  Even though my review was full of evaluations based on the authors' own words, Dan chose to ignore that because he has his opinion on how I should review a book.  Like Dan, most critics don't like my negative reviews, not because I fail to logically support my position, but because I disagree with their assessment of the book.  I didn't review the book the way Dan would have liked; therefore, somehow he has a right to post a rather vague and highly unfounded critique of my review for a book he didn't even write and maybe hasn't even read.  If my review had been positive, Dan probably wouldn't have cared what I said or how I said it.    

It is because of my different view of Covenant Theology that I did not recommend this book to non-Presbyterian readers.  As a reviewer I don't have to conform blindly to the authors' definition of terms, but I can compare and contrast with what others have written regarding the same subject.  Therefore, to limit my recommendation, I had to show how the authors'  beliefs differed from a Reformed Baptist perspective.  I guess Dan would have been happier if I had just written a one sentence review stating that I didn't agree with the book and move on.  The details were just too tedious for him.

I did meet the authors on their own terms when I quoted their work as defined by their Confession, then I contrasted it to Reformed Baptist Covenant Theology and the London Baptist Confession of Faith.  This discussion of the differences between the two Confessions was only one paragraph in my review.  I very intentionally showed the difference in how the Confessions define the church in order to make it clear to non-Presbyterian readers that there is a distinction.  In the remaining paragraphs, I continued to quote the authors, in light of their confessional stance, and made assessments based on what God's Word says.

Dan took exception that I stood firm on my Reformed Baptist beliefs, and that I didn't suppress those beliefs to accommodate the authors.  Critics like Dan think that I should be "fair" and read A Well-Ordered Church like I am a Presbyterian.  Then I should base my review and recommendation on how a Presbyterian would view this book.  Apparently, as an afterthought, I am allowed to compare it my Reformed Baptist beliefs, but that should not change my review or recommendation.  This process is called assimilation, and it is not biblical.

As a Christian, I am not to be conformed to this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of my mind (Rom. 12:1).  The biblical model for how I do book reviews is found in Acts when the Berean Christians "received the word with readiness of mind and searched the scriptures," (Acts 17:11).  Therefore, I read Christian books through the lens of God's Word.  If what I read from an author does not line up with what I read in the Bible, then I cannot in good conscience give the book a good review.

In all actuality, I was being gracious in my review of A Well-Ordered Church by recognizing that Presbyterians would probably agree with it.  However, I still don't think that it completely lines up with God's Word due to differences in Covenant Theology.  Do I think that Presbyterians are Christians?  Certainly!  But that does not mean that I have to accept or support their differing beliefs.

The charge that my review is nit-picky is not accurate because when it comes to the Bible, all Christians should be overly concerned with the details, and none of the details are insignificant.  Clarifying my objections to A Well-Ordered Church were crucial, not petty, to my partial recommendation; I would call my review precise instead.

"All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness," (2 Tim. 3:16).