The main reason for this is because I haven’t actually read the book, though I have read several in depth reviews. To be honest, I am more interested in thinking about and analyzing the sociological effect a book like this has rather than its actual content. This post then is focused on determining what to read, and why book reviews are in some cases acceptable substitutes for actually reading a book.
In general, I read books for at least one but usually more than one of the following reasons:
- Personal spiritual growth
- Intellectual development
- Research/General Interest
- Practical Application
The ideal book would be strong in all of the above areas. Sometimes a really great book will completely lack one or more of these individual criteria, but will be really strong on the others. For instance, some of the theology books I have read do not hit the practical application very hard. Many of the books I’ve read in the New Studies in Biblical Theology series have been fantastic, but they are not always conspicuously practical. A little reflection can draw out application, but the books themselves aren’t necessarily aimed in that direction.
In light of these criteria, I probably won’t read Love Wins. I do not see it as strongly contributing to any one area above. Because of that, and hear me out on this, it does not seem worth my time (it certainly doesn’t seem worth the $10+ investment). To give it a quick read may not take much time, but I could spend it doing better things. To actually wrestle with and analyze it would take more time, but I don’t see a need for that personally. By saying this, I am not saying the book is worthless since I can’t make that judgment without reading it. It might be worth your time to read it, depending on where you are in your intellectual and spiritual development. But given my knowledge base and from the synopses I’ve read of the argument of the book, it is not well reasoned or even that new of an argument.
Some other issues come to bear on my decision beyond my perceived lack of personal value inherent in the book, such as the following:
- I already have 10 books I need to read and review either for school obligations or because publishers have provided them for me
- I currently have about 20 more books I need to wade through for my thesis by the end of May
- I have additional reading and research to do for a paper on justification due at the end of this month
- I have several other books that are more beneficial to my own spiritual growth and development that I am planning to read
- Nobody is counting on me to provide a clear review of the book (that I know of) and so I can refer anyone with questions about it to many of the competent reviews available (like all the ones listed here for instance).
About the last two points, while I do not see the book as personally beneficial, I would consider reading it for the purposes of helping another in ministry (and originally had planned to do something along those lines, and may still in the future). If I were in a position of ministry where people I was responsible for shepherding were curious about it, reading through it themselves and had questions, or something along those lines, I wouldn’t hesitate to read Love Wins along with them. But since that is not the case, I have no qualms giving you my overall opinion about the book, and then pointing you to careful reviewers who have already offered their thoughts.
In a way, this is not much different than what we do with reading the Bible (follow this closely). Unless you sit down and the read the Bible everyday in the original language, you are depending on someone else’s interpretation (which is what a translation is) for you to understand the text of Scripture. While a translation and a book review are clearly different, they are both translating the ideas from one language to another. In Bible translation we are moving from a literal different language (Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic) to our own. In a book review though, at least one done well, the first part of it is a translation of the ideas from the author’s language to a condensed form offered by the reviewer. In a good review, nothing essential is lost in translation.
The rest of the book review is somewhat analogous to the footnotes in a study Bible, with the main difference that there is some level of critique involved. The footnotes in the study Bible are (or should be) the result of careful heremeneutical procedures and additional research, the result being you as the reader are better aware of what the author meant by what the text is saying. A book review does much the same thing, ideally giving you the overall content of the book and some additional reflections and analysis. To the extent that the person who offered the review can be considered a careful and competent exegete/interpreter/translator, there is no reason to disparage only having read the review and not the actual book when discussing it. You are in that case working with a secondary understanding of the book instead of a primary one, but given a book like this, that shouldn’t be quite the issue people make it out to be. If the author can’t take the time to offer careful argumentation for his position (which is hallmark of his style of presentation that I can know without reading his book), it does seem I need to take the time to actually read the book.
All this to say, for me personally, in the absence of ministerial commitments, I do not feel that the tyranny of the urgent demands I read a book that does not have a high potential for being personally profitable. This is not disparaging Love Wins so much as placing it in the stack of other books I am aware of but have no plans to read and analyze (e.g. most Christian books that hit it big and sell millions).
Now for you, this may be a different story entirely. But it is helpful I think to ponder why you read what you read, if you are making the best choice with your time and whether or not this particular book is worth the investment, or whether a synopsis will suffice. From what I’ve said above, do you think my criteria are sound? Do you think I am applying them consistently? And perhaps more controversially, do you think it is acceptable to discuss a book you haven’t read?