Count me disappointed.

This was the bitter taste left in my mouth after reading what I had hoped would be an excellent book pertaining to an important subject on an unbelievably influential thinker.

I am an enormous William F. Buckley fan. To date, I’ve read three biographies written about him and consume virtually any shred of insight I can garner about his lifestyle and manner of thinking. Imagine my excitement when I discovered that Thomas Nelson Publishers had commissioned a book about him in their “Christian Encounters” series. Admittedly, I was at first confounded by the Buckley choice—not because of Buckley’s heterodoxy (there isn’t any), but for the mere sake that Buckley’s faith is not an oft mentioned feature about him or his political giftings, let alone influential enough to have an entire book dedicated to understanding his religious machinations. Yes, Buckley did publish a spiritual autobiography, but even this book is not sufficient in distilling the entirety of all things Buckley.

With this, Jeremy Lott, an editor at Real Clear Politics and Capital Research Center enters the theo-biographical fray. Lott, who I am unfamiliar with, has the press and journalistic credentials to command our attention. Yet, I am unsure of Lott’s appointment in this endeavor. One need not obtain a theological degree to unveil the many nuanced ways in which Buckley’s faith informed his politics, but still, episodic narratives of Buckley’s public life that provides only mere glimpses into his faith is insufficient. To be fair, the book is short and this contributes to the small treatment that Buckley’s faith is given. My assumption all along was that a book in the “Christian Encounter” series was to be aimed at identifying the manifold ways in which faith springs into a living consequence.

I should admit, however, that the book, biographically speaking, is excellent (yes, that does sound oddly strange since I’ve begun this review with a forthright cringe). Lott is an excellent writer whose prose is admirable and he writes with a penchant for the interesting. There were times I underlined portions of the book for Lott’s brilliant syntax and style. And, generally speaking, Lott captures angles of Buckley’s life that were new to me. For this, he is to be commended.

But Lott’s book fails in the area of theological biography. There’s simply not enough information to be given that would constitute a fair treatment on Buckley’s faith and its corresponding influence.

The chapters are strung along in typical biographical fashion with faith statements infused or appended at odd times. At different points in the book, Lott seems genuinely tepid to speak clearly on controversial faith issues. He writes, as it appears to me, as a disinterested observer—as one who is either not religious himself or as one who is cautious in being upfront about evangelical and Catholic piety.

Would I recommend this book to you? Absolutely. The conservative movement could withstand a greater injection of WFB into its political lexicon. I cannot, unfortunately, endorse this book for its intent on capturing the sum of Buckley’s faith. For this, I would recommend you read his spiritual autobiography.

I really do regret speaking negatively of this book. I really liked it; it just seemed that Buckley’s faith was sidelined in order to capture the more galavanting elements of Buckley’s high society life.

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Posted by Andrew Walker

Andrew T. Walker is an Associate Professor of Christian Ethics at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

2 Comments

  1. Well, I’m glad you liked it, even if it wasn’t quite what you expected.

    Reply

    1. Hey Jeremy,

      Thanks for replying. I really did enjoy your book, tremendously. I read it last week while traveling to D.C. In fact, I could not put it down. If I had to recommend an initial excursion into Buckley to first time readers, I would enthusiastically place your book at or near the top.

      Reply

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