On Responding To Criticism

On Responding To Criticism March 4, 2013

In general, I make it a point to engage very lightly with negative things that people say about my writing; recently I posted on Facebook that I’d given up reading comments for Lent (and maybe forever). As one of my writer friends has said, it’s not especially conducive to good mental health—or to writerly self-confidence—to remain constantly informed of other people’s opinions of your writing. Still, to write for other people should be more than a one-sided conversation, and reviews and comments are an important part of that conversation. While I try very hard not to engage comments on blog posts that are clearly written in a hasty moment after an even hastier reading (skimming), I am troubled by the review of my book by Adam Day at The Gospel Coalition website, and, given the context of the review (a very popular evangelical website) I’d like to respond here in what I hope will be a measured way.

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Adam’s main beef seems to be that the book’s ‘biblical’ chops are inadequate, a criticism he repeats several times throughout the review:

“Overall, the book is heavy on anecdotes and light on biblical content. There’s little sustained interaction with the biblical text, making it seem like Scripture serves as a mere proof-text for many of the stories she recounts.”

“I wish she would have more deeply engaged the biblical text…”

I’m so puzzled by this criticism that I scarcely know how to address it. My book is indeed heavy on stories. It’s certainly not a work of exegesis, but the charge of “light on biblical content” is absurd. Biblical concepts and concerns shape each chapter, and there are Bible references on nearly every page.

Stone’s book would have benefited immensely if she’d answered the question she asks: Why did God make creatures that must eat?

I think I did. You’ll find that on page 32:

“Jesus as Bread of Heaven is spiritual truth but also living metaphor.

We eat every day—several times, if we are so lucky;

without food, we die. We can no more make food grow than we

can make rain fall. We are, as Wendell Berry writes, “living from

mystery,” dependent on forces we can’t control and processes we

can’t fully understand. A physical reality—our bodily dependence

on food and, in turn, on the sustaining hand of the Creator

who designed the earth to bring forth food—daily reminds us of

a spiritual reality: our dependence on Christ. Thus every meal is

sacramental: a tangible, tasty reminder of Christ’s sacrificial

love, especially when we take a moment before eating to consider

the potato casserole or Pad Thai (or whatever!) as God’s

sustaining love made edible.”

Adam goes on to say that if I’d really engaged Scripture, I would see that

“food reveals to us God’s provision for our daily need, our need for humility since we recognize we depend on him (Deut. 8:3), and the importance of trusting him. Food points to something greater than itself. Indeed, the fact we depend for life on something outside ourselves should direct our gaze to the Lord who sustains life.”

Ahem. Do you see why I’m scratching my head?

And then there’s this:

Additionally, Stone could benefit from balance. She doesn’t mention the place of moderation in eating. In her attempt to focus on enjoying food, she neglects dealing with deeper concepts like fasting and feasting and stewardship of our bodies.

“Fasting and feasting and stewardship” are“deeper concepts” than “enjoying food”? The concept of joyful eating, to a reader paying any attention at all, is that it encompasses these concepts as well as “enjoying food.” Page 159:

“As we’ve seen thus far, eating with joy is more than simply

sitting down and enjoying your food (although that’s a big part

of it!). Eating with joy means accepting food as God’s gift—

“God’s love made edible,” as Norman Wirzba put it. It means

choosing food, as far as we are able, that affirms a flourishing

life for the land, for the animals and for the people that bring us

our food. It means eating food with others in ways that lead to

our mutual health and flourishing. And it means embracing our

creativity as people made in the image of the Creator God to

prepare food in ways that celebrate God’s gift while bringing enjoyment

to all our senses.”

And as to the charge of not engaging fasting and feasting, page 166:

“The words simplicity and celebration—or, if you like, “ferial” (ordinary)

and “festal” (feast day)—are helpful in shaping a practice

of joyful eating day to day, week to week, year by year. The alternating

rhythms of feast days and ordinary days belong to the

church year and to cultures that still follow traditional and seasonal

patterns of eating, but this is a cycle that most of us have all

but lost.”

Adam concludes the article by repeating the tired charge of “not biblical enough” and ends with this:

Most of all, I wish she would have celebrated the most important aspect of joyful eating—fellowship with God.

Again, head-scratching. The idea food is a conduit of God’s gracious and daily sustenance—“God’s love made edible”—is repeated so often throughout the book that it’s embarrassing.

So I’d like to ask: What’s really going on here? Did Adam Day read my book carefully at all?

I’d have appreciated if the book review editor at The Gospel Coalition had done a little fact-checking before posting such a review that so lightly engages the actual substance of the book while criticizing so heavily and so inaccurately.

What do you think?

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