The Limits of Book Endorsements

“Perhaps no country has abounded so much with religious books as our own: many of them are truly excellent, but a very great number of those which are usually more obvious to be met with (as they stand recommended by great names and the general taste of the public) are more likely to mislead an inquirer, than to direct him into the paths of true peace and wisdom” (John Newton, England c. 1800).

Over the past few years the Christian book industry and market have grown by leaps and bounds.  Christian books are promoted like crazy; most publishers have marketing teams or marketing programs to help sell books.  One major marketing strategy is the book endorsement – popular Christian preachers and leaders endorse a book to gain the attention of prospective buyers.  This happens in all Christian circles – from Pentecostal to Presbyterian, from Baptist to Reformed, etc.

I’ve come to the point where I’m skeptical about book endorsements.  More than a few times I purchased a book simply because a handful of famous preachers said the book was “an absolute must-have” (or something like that) – and the book just wasn’t that good.  I’m not questioning the integrity of the publishers or endorsers here, but I do want to note the limits of endorsements to help readers spend money wisely and make the most of their limited reading time.

1) Book endorsements can’t tell you if you really need the book.  For example, if you have three books on “gospel-centered” parenting and a new one comes out, no matter what the endorsements say, you probably don’t “need” a fourth book on the topic.  For another example, if you already have two Study Bibles, you probably don’t need a third (no matter who endorsed it!).  Endorsements can’t tell you if you already have a book like the one being endorsed.

2) Book endorsements don’t mention if the book has been written before.  A majority of Christian books written today don’t necessarily fill a gap in Christian literature.  You could probably find twenty books on the topic of “community” written in the last ten years alone.  Typically, endorsements don’t mention that there are quite a few books like the one they’re endorsing.  And as a side, though this certainly isn’t always the case, I’ve often found that older theological books are typically better than new ones.

3) Most book endorsements don’t mention the book’s weakness or weaknesses.  I believe it would be more helpful if book endorsements were constructively critical.  Sometimes you’ll find an endorser noting that he doesn’t agree with everything written – I appreciate endorsements like that.  We need to learn to be discerning when it comes to theology; uncritical endorsements don’t help us in the area of discernment.  (“Book endorsement” seems to have become a literary genre in itself, but that’s probably a different topic.)

4) An endorsement doesn’t necessarily mean the endorser read the entire book.  While publishers differ in their endorsement policies, I’m not sure all endorsers are required to read the entire book in order to endorse it.  I’ve had it before where a solid Calvinistic preacher heartily endorsed a book that leaned towards universalism.  This should make us at least pause before accepting endorsements without question.

Again, I’m not trying to throw Christian publishers or book endorsers under the proverbial bus.  I appreciate many Christian publishing companies and some of my good friends have endorsed books.  There is a place for endorsements and there is a place for book recommendations.  But they have limited value (including the recommendations of this blog!).

If you want to purchase Christian books in a level-headed, self-controlled, and mature way, don’t let the hype and/or endorsements “seal the deal” for you.  Before you read them, ask yourself these questions: 1) Do I really need this book?  2) Do I already have one or more like it? 3) Has this been written before in a better and more solid way? 4) What are the weaknesses of the book?  5) Am I buying this book simply because a celebrity pastor or two endorsed it?  These are some questions I ask myself before purchasing a new Christian book.

Agree?  Disagree?  Comments?

shane lems

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