Shouldn’t We Share Our Concerns About a Book Directly with the Author Instead of in the Public Forum?
Recently someone asked me, “When you have concerns about a book, and disagree with it, shouldn’t you talk directly to the author rather than posting about it on your blog?”
In some cases, yes. I’ve gone directly to authors when I have a relationship with them, in the spirit of Matthew 18:15-17. For example, for years I didn’t share my review of The Shack publicly, and just emailed it directly to those who asked me about the book. Because the author and I live in the same area, I was able to invite him to discuss his book. We sat down in a coffee shop for nearly three hours in constructive dialogue. After we talked about a lot of things, I read to him most of the parts of the book that concerned me. When we met together face-to-face, he graciously agreed to respond to my questions, as I had underlined many places in the book where he has God make statements that I believe are not biblically accurate. I actually met with him a second time to discuss the issues.
When it became apparent that he wasn’t going to revise the book in light of the doctrinal concerns that I and many others have expressed, and because the book’s influence was growing and I was still getting questions about it, it seemed appropriate to finally post on my blog a link to what I wrote years before.
However, Matthew 18 addresses the need to go to people privately when they’ve sinned against us, or perhaps when we’ve sinned against them. But I’ve never read a book where I think the author has sinned against me, or I’ve sinned against the author. The author publicly takes a stand, so any ideas in the book are subject to public disagreement. This comes with the territory of being an author. After writing 55 books this is something I’ve long accepted. People routinely criticize my works and ideas, and they absolutely have the right to do so. I don’t lose sleep over that. True, sometimes I feel they have no regard for what I’ve said in context, and that they’re misrepresenting me. But I too have the right to say that just as they have the right to criticize me.
Also, often it’s simply not practical to connect directly with an author, since we don’t have a relationship. In such cases I can certainly hope and pray there are others in their lives who are willing to speak the truth in love to them. I have personally contacted several people with concerns about what they’ve said, and never heard back from them. I get that. Honestly, there are so many people who’ve taken issue with me on various things I’ve written, that often one of our staff members ends up addressing their concerns.
I could spend the rest of my life trying to respond to people’s objections and never be able to do anything else again. So I fully understand the limits of time to respond.
I think what’s central to this issue is that a book is by nature something placed in the public sphere, and is no longer a private matter. When it impacts and influences Christian readers, sometimes after careful consideration, I might feel the need to point out doctrinal and theological issues that readers should be aware of. I believe that just as others are free to do so, I am also.
Those who regularly read my blog know how rare it is for me to express opposition to a book or author. I only do so when I feel God is compelling me to. In each review of a book where I share concerns, I am not attacking the author, but rather simply expressing honest disagreement. Usually my disagreements are with some—not all—of the things he or she says.
Yes, we should all examine our hearts and motives before sharing a review. Yet every published book is fair game for honest evaluation. My books have received their share of criticism, but still I appreciate it when people are even-handed and kind, as I seek to be in my posts. My heart isn’t to tear down others or cause unnecessary division in the Church. (Ironically, some people have judged my motives while calling me judgmental.)
Scripture is clear: we’re to know the truth (1 Timothy 4:3), handle the truth accurately (2 Timothy 2:15), and avoid doctrinal untruths (2 Timothy 2:18). But even as we share what we believe honors and reflects God’s revealed truth, we are to be full of grace, humility, and gentleness. An author isn’t necessarily an opponent, but the principle found in 2 Timothy 2:25 still applies: “Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.”