My brother’s comments about my recent string of book reviews have prompted me to say a word about my approach. He writes:

Oh, and I have a new goal in life: to write a book that meets my brother’s critical approval, which is pretty darn stringent, as you know if you’ve been following his series of book reviews.

This is certainly true. While others have raved about Martindale’s book, I was somewhat tepid in my commendation of it. This simply underscores the need to understand a particular reviewer’s tastes and the need to read multiple reviews of books (something I attempt to do of the books and movies I review as well).

I will continue to be critical, but my hope is that my recommendations will actually mean something. I reserve good recommendations for books that I think are worth taking the time to read or movies I think are worth seeing, just as I reserve my standing ovations for performances I think are actually outstanding. I have found American audiences much more free with standing ovations than the British, and I realized that they had lost meaning in America. My goal with my reviews is simply to give an accurate assessment of the work and to preserve my own credibility by not giving praise where it has not been duly earned.

Not every book published is worth reading, and a reviewers job is to identify for everyone else which books actually are worth the time and effort. The limitation that I experience in reviewing Martindale’s work is that I am not familiar enough with the secondary literature on Lewis to be able to compare it to an equivalent work. After reading Martindale’s book, I began to wonder why there is a secondary literature on Lewis’s work at all. Lewis seems too clear to actually be a serious object of study himself. But this is obviously a problem with the genre, not Martindale’s work itself.

Really, what this all means is that if I ever publish, the reviewers are going to have a field day with whatever I churn out.

Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.

  • Matt Mills

    Well said, especially point three. “It may not be my calling, but it is a calling for plenty of members of the church and we need to support them in their calling.”

    I’m reminded of I Corinthians 12:21: “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.'” Nor, I would think, can the eye say to the hand, “You should be an eye,” or the head say to the feet, “You should be a head.”

  • Our buildings do not shape us. The new life of the Spirit within us shapes us into His image and no building, beautiful or ugly, can get in the way of that. How many people can afford to “think very carefully about the architecture we interact with on a daily basis?” I certainly cannot, for reasons of money, time and calling. But I can and do fill my house and office with beautiful objects and books of lovely poetry and grand buildings, etc.

  • I don’t think that Christians are in danger of abandoning the suburbs. I don’t see very many Christians talking about how to overcome the inherent health and spiritual dangers of the suburbs– and I see plenty who are blindly waltzing through them.

    • Overcome inherent health? What a strange place, that even goods are evils! : )

      And that you don’t see many people talking about them…is that a sign that people aren’t talking about them, or that the evangelical celebrity-industrial publishing complex currently has a fixation on cities so no one is hearing anything else?


      • “health and spiritual” are adjectives modifying “dangers”… guess I could have rephrased that. ; )

        Re: your second paragraph– I don’t think whether or not evangelical celebrities are saying anything or not is particularly germane (most of the churches I’m familiar and most of my friends are fortunately out of earshot.) I do know that among the folks that I know, the Christians living in the city do give more thought to how to intentionally love their neighbors and serve their local community in small, faithful, practical ways. I know plenty of people in the suburbs who do it, too– don’t get me wrong! But it’s just not the same between the church I grew up in where we went door-to-door singing carols once a year and the church I go to now that has helped build 300 Habitat houses.

        • Great! We can trade anecdotes all night about how most of the “folks I know” in the small town that I grew up in went caroling at Christmas, took in kids when they were kicked out of their homes (as my parents did multiple times), supported the local food banks and pregnancy centers, restored homes that were burned down, and so on.

          Which is to say, some of these things get magnified by the scale. A bigger city leads to bigger churches leads to bigger stories. But part of the problem of suburban/rural Christianity is that, more often than not, because of the lack of visibility within American Christianity and culture most of those stories are not going to be told.

          • okay, I think I didn’t explain what I meant there– the examples I gave were meant to embody what it means for two different churches to think about & engage with their immediate communities. Acts of kindness will multiply everywhere that the Body gathers; I think that transforming any place– urban, suburban, or rural– “into something more sustainable, beautiful, and ecologically sound” requires more robust, “culture-making” engagement, and I do think that’s rarer in suburban churches.

            So I certainly didn’t want to swap anecdotes (fun as that may be)– the point that we’ve been going back and forth on is how churches are engaging the challenges of their physical location, and I think it’s safe to say that most city churches, regardless of size (mine is relatively small), are more intentional in this– analogous, one might imply, to intentionally thinking about about one’s physical body. ; )

          • “I think it’s safe to say that most city churches, regardless of size (mine is relatively small), are more intentional in this– analogous, one might imply, to intentionally thinking about about one’s physical body. ; )”

            Well, it’s “safe to say” if you’re just gonna run with your anecdotes. But unless we’ve got some evidence beyond that, how are we *not* anecdote swapping?

            I mean, in St. Louis there were many, many churches well out in the suburbs doing just as much as my inner-city church for people in poverty, etc. But they don’t get the visibility because one of the functions of suburban life is to keep poverty hidden from view. So many of those stories necessarily don’t get told.

            But unless you want to simply *assert* that city churches are obviously better and anyone who disagrees is blind….then I’m going to leave it open as a question. : )

          • don’t know if you’re still following here after today’s main post (well done, by the way!), but I still feel like you’re not engaging with the point that I’m trying to make. I went with representative anecdotes because you didn’t seem to think that books & blogs count, although if we could readmit those as evidence of anything besides an evangelical publishing conspiracy we might get somewhere. ; )

            I would assert that evangelical suburban churches engage the determinants of poverty and try to do community-level “culture making” far less often than urban churches. Agree or disagree? If you disagree, where & how do you see suburban churches engaging thusly?

          • Right. I guess the question is, if you ‘don’t see people in the suburbs’ talking about this stuff and I do, then we’re stacking anecdotes. And what then, when my anecdotes seem to contradict your anecdotes? Well, we can (as you say) admit the publishing complex. But that poses something of a problem, as it tends to reinforce the notion that the city “movement” is something of a fad that is being packaged and sold. You can’t critique the consumerism of the suburbs while pointing to the consumerism of publishing to make your point. At least not if this movement toward the cities represents something real, and not simply the next thing before we go on to the next next thing.

            “Agree or disagree? If you disagree, where & how do you see suburban churches engaging thusly?”

            This isn’t obvious to me. You posited the claim and I asked for evidence. You went to anecdotes, and I said I have anecdotes about churches that are. Ergo…maybe the claim isn’t a helpful one to make, at least not with some more reliable way of verifying it.

          • Okay, now I think we’re getting somewhere… I felt like your anecdotes, while certainly demonstrative of Christ-like kindness, did not represent the church observing a problem unique to the that locale or listening to the community describe an issue affecting the whole neighborhood (both Christians and non), thinking and praying about that problem, and then responding to it. I think the Habitat anecdote is more emblematic of this. I also think it’s safe to say that suburban churches will typically do acts of mercy and then think that caroling once a year in the neighborhood next door represents engaging the community, whereas urban churches do acts of mercy in addition to local “culture making.” Does that make sense at least, even if you vehemently disagree? ; )

            If you have anecdotes that are more representative of this sort of hyperlocal “culture making,” I’d certainly love to hear them. All the better if you can assert that they represent a trend in thoughtful local suburban engagement! (For example, my parents’ church in the burbs chose to hold a Bible study in a public housing complex because transportation issues hindered people in that building from coming to other church programming– but I think that sort of thing is kind of an outlier because that’s the only example I can think of out of the many suburban churches I’ve been to.) I don’t know how you feel about This Is Our City, but I think it does a great job of sharing these sorts of stories– although it is of course biased towards the stories in cities, it also talks about people doing things in the suburbs– but usually the sorts of suburbs that no one wants to move in to, which are probably getting short shrift from the hipsters and from the comfy upper middle class (I work in one.)

            As far as the publishing complex goes– as I think about it more, I would point out that John Perkins, Harvie Conn, Ray Bakke, and Mark Gornik have been writing about the specific challenges of the city and have been developing paradigms for engaging particular locales for well over a decade– long before it was a fad. So I think that’s evidence that this sort of thoughtful engagement isn’t *just* a publishing trend (which is what I think you were trying to assert.)

            So, in summary: I assert my anecdotes prove my point better than your anecdotes disprove my point, and urban Christians were yapping long and hard before Tim Keller made it cool. I eagerly await your thoughtful response.