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On reading reviews

March 17, 2011

Before Rob Bell’s Love Wins has even hit the bookstores, reviews have been posted online. A couple of days ago someone wrote to Probe to ask whether someone here is going to review the book.

A simple question: Shouldn’t people read the book before reading reviews of it?

(A more complex question which I won’t address here: Why do people even post reviews of books not yet available?)

Sometimes looking at brief reviews is helpful if one has to do a lot of reading and wants to know the gist of some books before investing time in them. I also understand that some authors are too dense to understand, so it helps to have someone more advanced translate that writer’s thoughts into words one can grasp.

But there are a lot of people who make it a practice to rely on others to tell them what an author said rather than find out for themselves. I learned the hazard of that when I read Calvin after reading his successors. Commentators don’t always get the original right, and their understanding of the book can be improperly colored by their own biases.

I doubt Bell’s book will be too difficult for anyone of average intelligence to understand. That isn’t a slam against him. He’s a pastor who is used to putting his ideas into words the average person can grasp. The hazard of reading his commentators first (or only) is that one might be swayed by the reviewers’ biases and not really understand what Bell said.

But maybe someone is already convinced that Bell is a heretic and doesn’t want to waste money on his book. Fine. Then there’s no need to read his reviewers either. If you don’t want to pad his royalties, borrow a copy from a friend, or wait until it hits the used book stores.

What I’m ultimately after is that we get his position right before condemning it.

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