Book Puffs: Pros and Cons
November 3, 2014
After reading a rather punchy and critical review by Thomas McCall, "a Wesleyan-Arminian Christian (and thus only "Reformed" in a fairly broad sense)," I thought it might be a good time to discuss briefly the topic of book puffs/commendations, and also perhaps the worrying direction of Ref21 whereby the word "Reformed" is being stretched way too far because of the "diversity boys."
I am of two minds regarding book commendations. Part of me (i.e., "the nucleus") thinks they are totally stupid. The other part of me (i.e., "the man") thinks they can be quite useful.
There are those books that go completely crazy on the number of commendations. John Frame's Systematic Theology, for example, requires some work just getting through the puffs by the septuagintsia (70 of them). I have a PhD student currently working on an analysis of the commendations in that book, and their internal coherence or lack thereof. Should be a fascinating study.
But there's other more important issues than the sheer number of blurbs a book gets.
There is the issue of the 9th commandment.
According to the WLC 144, we are to "appear and stand for the truth," by "speaking the truth, and only the truth, in matters of judgment...freely acknowledging [others'] gifts and graces, ...defending [them] when need requires..."
So there is a place for commendations, I believe. That is why I am happy to commend books, because keeping the ninth commandment is good (or filthy?), right?
However, the sins forbidden in the 9th commandment include, "giving false evidence...wittingly appearing and pleading for an evil cause...calling evil good...concealing the truth...speaking untruth, lying...[and] flattering..."
So there is also a place for being very careful with the commendations we offer.
You do have to wonder if those who commend certain books have read them carefully and critically.
Here's one problem: Those who get asked to commend books are usually busy people. They are also often nice people. And that can be a deadly combo when it comes to offering an accurate assessment of a book. There are just too many bad books out there commended by top theologians, scholars, and pastors, that raise questions about the credibility of their words.
It may be the "nice" thing to do when we say something positive about a book. But being nice is not being godly. And if we say things about a book that are simply not true, then we've sinned, even if we were "nice."
Pride also explains why many puffs are just plain nonsense. There's joy in being asked to be a person of "influence." And that temptation sometimes causes people to say things they'd never say if they were reading the book for the first time after it had been published.
Here's my suggestion for readers (and I say this as someone who has been asked to commend books as well as ask for commendations): Read an appropriately critical review by someone who knows what they are talking about if you want to know something about a book.
Personally, I was very grateful for the commendations I received for my book on Antinomianism. But I was even more grateful for the reviews by accomplished scholars, such as Tim Cooper, David Garner, Paul Helm, and others. Why? Because they read carefully and critically.
Speaking about book reviews, I'd also like to see reviewers hold the "commendation boys" more accountable in their book reviews. That's a thought, isn't it?
Anyway, as an alternative to Thomas McCall's review, I give you these reliable puffs:
"This is quite simply the most thorough and convincing account of divine sovereignty, both over the new birth and over effectual calling, that I've ever read. It is historically informed, lucidly written, eminently practical, and, most important of all, biblically faithful. This book, and Matthew Barrett in particular, renews my confidence that the so-called young, restless, and Reformed are in good hands and moving in the right direction. Salvation by Grace merits a wide reading and will undoubtedly prove to be an indispensable resource for the serious student of God's Word. I cannot recommend it too highly."
--Sam Storms, Lead Pastor for Preaching and Vision, Bridgeway Church, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
"Matthew Barrett's work on regeneration represents scholarship at its best. His book is exegetically convincing and theologically profound, with significant pastoral consequences. The topic has not been explored in depth in recent scholarship, and hence this book is also timely."
--Thomas R. Schreiner, James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky
In conclusion, one need not agree with every word in this post to find much profit.
"Mark Jones has written a compelling post, full of painstaking historical research. Essential reading." - Carl Packer
"This post says it truthfully, says it best." - Todd Beeke