Reviewing Reviewers: the limits of indirect critique

I thought initially that it only applied to Mark Driscoll and his “scandalous” book, Real Marriage.

It seemed that everyone and his proverbial brother were hopping on the pummel-Mark bandwagon and offering critiques of his book, causing me to wonder how I — a normally fast reader — were woefully behind the blogosphere in reading, then reviewing, Driscoll’s book.

As it turns out, buried in the blogs and articles labelled “reviews” of Real Marriage was the whispered disclaimer, “I have not yet read the book, but…” The reviews were so fast in coming, as it were, because the reviewers skipped a crucial step: reading the book.

Occasionally what was not whispered in the dark was proclaimed from the housetops, and some actually took pride in the fact that they not only had they not read the book for which they offered scathing critique, they also boldly announced that they “would never read such a book”, obviously possessing a gift of the Spirit for sanctimony, private revelation and Solomonic wisdom, to boot.

But I find that such talents are not just applied in critique of whipping-boy pastors of the West Coast, but also to prominent, well-known pastors from the heartland. One well-known website offering ostensibly Christian critique of culture posted an article blasting John Piper’s book, Bloodlines: Race, Cross and the Christian (offered as a free download by Piper). The author admits in his article that he has not read the book. Yet he is comfortable saying things like:

Although I have not had the opportunity to read Bloodlines yet, if Mulder’s review is accurate, I have to agree with him that Piper’s solution ignores the reality of institutional racism.

“Piper’s solution” has not been explored by the author, but by someone else. Does anyone else see the obvious problems with this? The reviewer is disparaging Piper’s conclusion based upon what someone else has concluded about Piper’s conclusion.

This is madness.

There are certainly occasions when I read that someone’s book is forthcoming and I see the flurry of activity in reviews, articles and blogs about the book. That might reasonably prompt me to write something on the topic. And there are times when other bloggers and writers take up a topic in a way that spurs my own thoughts on the matter and prompts me to post them. But without having read book or blog, I dare not make statements to the world claiming how I know that they are wrong (or right, for that matter).

Yet this is precisely what happened ad nauseam to Driscoll, and what appears to be happening to Piper.

My plea to my Christian brothers is simply this: should you be tempted to offer your conclusions about what someone has said, read what he has said.

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