Thursday, March 02, 2006

My love/hate relationship with Christian books

I was mentally going through the titles of my Christian book collection when I realized many of my books were a critical response other titles in my "library." I suppose I have a natural inclination to be skeptical of one man's opinion ... perhaps because I know I have an even more natural inclination to give any single person the benefit of the doubt.

I don't read much at all these days, although every now and then I get excited for an upcoming book. Mostly, I'm weary of the process. Modern books are tedious, and they are rarely so complete as to include fair representation of an opposing view.

One rare exception is Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology, where his Calvinism is always compared against other points of view from their best representations in the arguments' best representation. Some may argue, for example, Grudem's favoritism of Clark Pinnock doesn't do much justice to other equally regarded scholars outside of Calvinism, but his effort does honor to the Kingdom and is a shining example of what Christian scholarly writing should look like.

Otherwise, we have people putting out their opinion or their vision. Our nature is to turn the most prolific of these authors into icons who bear the flag for our own polarized positions.

The worst of this is the practice of proof-texting. I think it's wise to provide some Biblical support for a statement about Christianity, but proof-texting as a general practice is bad scholarship. Copious proof-texting beyond providing some kind of expository explanation in relationship to the whole passage (and it's relationship to the referenced book's Biblical history) inevitably produces eisogesis even from some of the smartest, most well-regarded authors.

Far be it from me to call for the end of Christian publishing houses. I don't have any moral objections to the income Christian authors receive from their books. But with the Internet and blogs, I see a much better form of conversation that reflects a more mature, Godly way to publish these kinds of things. It's freely accessible, and makes for a much more free exchange of ideas in an organized, civil manner.

Furthermore, if X author has the notion to put out a major criticism of Y preacher or teacher, perhaps X author will be less inclined for hyperbole if he/she knows Y preacher will be able to respond with the same kind of visibility and authority. If X author no longer has the advantage of an international publishing deal while Y preacher or teacher can't get books in major markets, the Internet serves as a nice, leveled playing field.

I'm not an idealist. I know people who abuse their power without conscience will abuse any kind of power. But at least there's a more fair way to do things.

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