Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Judging a Book by its Dust Jacket

For reasons that I cannot fully explain, I feel compelled to scan the religious books section whenever I go into a book store (which is always). I suppose I do it so that I can Be Responsible, as someone who is a priest and scholar who is also intensely interested in people's lived lives. So I dutifully stand and scan the titles in such areas as Christian Living.

Occasionally I will find something that looks good, such as this that I found last Monday, and is being discussed here. But on the whole, I find the experience a gradual slipping into the slough of despond, because there is an awful lot of dreck out there.

I have observed something which I thought I would share with you, to help you to save time and energy should you find yourself confronted with a display of Christian books and in need of some edifying reading:

Avoid any book which, in the author's bio, touts the size of his church.*

For example, if you pick up and find the following on the dust jacket, give it a miss: The author, The Rev. Billy Bob Throttlebishop is a graduate of Stinking Creek Bible College and leads the 40,000-member Family Life Center in Flunky Hill, Texas.

In this way the publishers have helpfully erected a red flag that here is a book you should set down and forget about straightaway.

* Why is this? you might well ask. The Christian call is (among other things) to be faithful, not necessarily successful in terms the world would recognize. At least in the US, numbers -- especially huge numbers -- are unmistakable cultural signs of success (and 'effectiveness' and a host of other dubious notions). And if a Christian is asked to describe him- or herself in just a few words and runs right for the (huge) numbers, then that indicates that something is wrong.

Imagine dear old Rev. Billy Bob in an alternate universe with this author bio: The author has spent many years praying, worshipping, and reading Scripture; he has tried to follow Christ faithfully. He pastors among a group of people who are experiencing the life-changing love of God, and who have been working to transform their community to be more humane, based on God's self-giving love rather than vain selfishness. Say you ran across that and were interested in his church, so you did some internet research and found the church's website. Looking at it, you found many pictures of people: people worshipping, people studying, people celebrating with one another, people bearing with one another in hard times -- but nowhere any numbers about how many people. By now perhaps you're intrigued and want to know even more, so you keep searching; at the bottom of the Google page, you see a link to an interview, Leadership Journal or something like that. About two-thirds of the way through, the interviewer asks So how many people attend your church? and Billy Bob responds 'Oh, I don't know -- what do numbers mean anyway?' But the interviewer presses him 'So you don't know how many people?' 'Well,' the pastor responds 'my administrator tells me we have 40,000 on our list, but what does that really mean? That sort of thing can be a distraction, as if I did that, or I were responsible for that growth. It's not me -- it's God. Pastors have enough ego issues, I don't want to focus on the numbers as if it were all about me. Besides, each of those people are precious individuals, not just another number to make me feel good. At our church, we just try to be faithful with what God has entrusted to us, follow Christ as best we can, and love God and others in the Spirit. If we focus on that, we believe everything else will fall into place.'

My friend, if you run across that bio blurb, pick that book up immediately. Read, learn, mark and inwardly digest, for you have found someone who has a clue, rather than some self-important twit with a publishing contract.


Blogger Aaron G said...

That's a great tip!

I always look at who is blurbing to see if I want to buy the book. (As I have heard someone else say) JI Packer seemingly never read a book that wasn't outstanding/world-changing/original/much-needed contribution/etc.

Thursday, July 06, 2006 12:45:00 PM  

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