On Blurbing

Scot had a nice post on blurbing last week.  My own endorsement requests have dropped significantly of late.  I guess “blogger” doesn’t have as much cache as “national coordinator of Emergent Village” on the back cover.

In general, I agree with Scot: don’t summarize the book; don’t over-blurb; etc.

However, I disagree with him on the advice about not endorsing books with which you disagree.  One of my prouder blurbs sits on the back of R. Scott Smith’s Truth and the New Kind of Christian, a book with which I entirely disagree and which attacks my own work as well as Brian McLaren’s and Spencer Burke’s. My endorsement:

“Scott Smith and I agree on a lot. We share a deep commitment to Jesus
Christ, a love of the Bible, and a passion for the church. We also
agree that we’re currently living in a liminal time, and it’s those
“boundary times” when people look most closely at the beliefs that
underlie their practices. So, we’ve all got some things to figure out
right now, including what we can really know and the certainty with
which we can state our claims in a pluralistic society. I appreciate
Scott’s voice in this conversation. He is a careful reader of my work,
and he writes with a gracious and generous tone. Interlocutors like
Scott will be a helpful challenge to all of us in the “emerging
church.” I consider him a friendly critic and a brother in Christ.”

I also endorsed the 25th Anniversary Edition of John Stott’s The Cross of Christ, the most-read articulation of the penal substitutionary theory of the atonement.  (I wonder if fellow endorsers DA Carson, David Wells, and Michael Horton squirmed a bit when they saw my name on the back cover.)  Although I’m not a proponent of penal subsititution (at least not at the expense of other atonement theories), what I wrote about that book is what I believe to be true:

“For those who want an evenhanded and robust defense of the penal substitutionary theory of the atonement, John Stott’s The Cross of Christ
is the benchmark. With a deft hand, Stott has given us a classic
articulation of this influential, evangelical doctrine that is both
vigorous and readable. Books like this stand the test of time.”

Brian McLaren, who might be accused of over-blurbing, has a very generous policy for endorsing just about every book many but definitely not every book that crosses his desk 🙂 .  Phyllis Tickle does the same, much to my benefit — she’s written a couple homerun endorsements for me.

I’m sure Scot agrees with me that each of us should read books with which we disagree.  It’s part of the academic process, and it should be for all of us who desire to continue to grow and learn.  With that in mind, I consider it entirely appropriate to endorse a book that I consider valuable, even if I disagree with the ideas therein.

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  • hey tony – i hardly ever comment on blogs, but i just thought i’d mention that i’ve never been able to blurb every manuscript that crosses my desk. for a long time, i tried to help as many new/unknown writers as i could, and i endorsed other books that i felt were especially important or helpful. but i’ve always had to turn down as many people as i said yes to because of previous commitments and tight deadlines. like you, i’ve blurbed a couple books i disagreed with because i thought they were fair and added a responsible voice to a worthwhile conversation. i’ve also declined to blurb a few books i agreed with in content, because i couldn’t endorse their tone. this year, though, i’m having to reduce the number of books i blurb to near zero because of my other commitments. one thing i’ve learned from being asked to blurb a lot of manuscripts these last few years: there are so many good books being written, and so many tremendous young writers emerging … we readers have got a lot to look forward to in the coming years.

  • Ha! I was reading this and made it to the portion about Brian McLaren and just wished he would reply. Lo and behold, I read on to find him writing the first comment. I guess my question is answered. Thanks!

  • Tony, while I was finishing up my degree at Biola I had a class with Scott Smith, and I ended up reading his book too. It was a cohort class and you came up in conversation a few times. And yes, while his book pretty much tries to disprove much of what you and Brian talk about, he was always very respectful and spoke very well of you. I did find the fact that you blurbed for his book to be interesting, but I am glad to see people who disagree can still share and respect each other.

  • Jon

    I have to admit that the blurb you wrote for John Stott’s 25th Anniversary of his book the ‘Cross of Christ’ really caught my attention. That was one of the many reasons that I bought the book. I found it interesting that from your standpoint you could blurb an endorsement on a book that does not really fit you theological standings. I like that actually. But I would like to ask, did they approach you to blurb for that addition of the book (Stott’s) knowing your theological position and affiliation with emergent?

  • Jon:
    That’s a good question. I actually don’t know the answer, but I suspect that they simply wanted a younger and non-Reformed endorsement. But I don’t think they knew where I stood on penal substitution…

  • Jon

    I have a hunch that’s what they had in mind as well-they wanted a younger & non reformed endorsement. I find that if someone of a certain theological stance endorsed books other that his/ her strand of theological belief, simply elevates a books receptivity to me. It opens the possibility for conversation and says that it is possible.