A Call for Qualified Book Reviewers

Bowker, the world’s leading provider of bibliographic information, reported that in 2005, 172,000 new titles and editions were published in the United States. The preliminary count of books published in the category of “Religion” was 9,222. This statistic is almost double the number from 1993. This fact indicates “all too clearly that mania scribendi is a well-established characteristic of our age.” [1]
books.jpgConsidering these statistics, a few questions enter my mind. First, “Do we [2] need to be aware of everything that has been printed?” It’s very interesting to see the rise and decline of numbers and consider the world events that took place during those years. In some cases, it’s obvious that some publishers took advantage of current events in order to sell more books.

In 1960, in the Introduction to his book titled A Treasury of Books for Bible Study, Wilbur Smith wrote the following:

No Christian in the world today can keep up with all that is being published relating to the Christian religion and the Word of God. The busy pastor, the equally busy professor in a theological seminary, and the unusually busy missionary will not be able to carry a phenomenal reading schedule—if they read one hundred serious books a year, they are doing well, I think. [3]

The Preacher rightly warns us in Ecclesiastes 12:10 that “there is no end to the making of many books, and much study wearies the body” (HCSB). [4]

A second question is, “Do we need to be aware of any of them?” Reading is essential to the growth of the mind. As Christians in a self-centered, media-frenzied world, we must exercise discrimination to determine what we will feed our minds on and what we will pass by. Even in the category of “religious” publications, there is call for much discernment. False teachers and doctrines abound.

Books are tools, and just as all tools are not equally useful, so all books are not equally useful. C.H. Spurgeon spoke of good books as a minister’s “apparatus.” He insisted that, if at all possible, the church ought to take care to provide, not only for the pastor’s dinner table, but also for his study table. A minister possessing only a slender apparatus, he said, “is a state of things which ought not to exist in any case.” [5]

For sure, pastors need to be well-read in theological matters. Even so, all Christians ought to be readers of good books. All parties, alike, need discernment in choosing and reading good books.

A third question is, “Do we need to be concerned about new books alone?” For a wise answer to this question, I direct you to the words of C.S. Lewis:

There is a strange idea abroad, that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books….This mistaken preference for the modern books and this shyness of the old ones is nowhere more rampant than in theology….

I do not wish the ordinary reader to read no modern books. But if he must read only the new or only the old, I would advise him to read the old. And I would give him this advice precisely because he is an amateur and therefore much less protected than the expert against the dangers of an exclusive contemporary diet. A new book is still on its trial and the amateur is not in a position to judge it. It has to be tested against the great body of Christian thought down the ages, and all its hidden implications (often unsuspected by the author himself) have to be brought to light. Often it cannot be fully understood without the knowledge of a good many other modern books….

Where they are true they will give us truths which we half knew already. Where they are false they will aggravate the error with which we are already dangerously ill. [6]

Finally, we all wonder, “What can be done to address the need for sifting through the mania scribendi?” We have, in the past, enjoyed book reviews from some of our contributing authors and forum bloggers. Writing a good book review takes a considerable amount of time and effort. Those who are most qualified tend to avoid this tedious work because there seems to be little remuneration for their time other than a complimentary book. Since book reviews are usually tucked away in the back of journals, they aren’t considered “real publications.” Neither do book reviews draw a flurry of requests for your autograph or for even a second printing.

Although this is a volunteer activity, the readers of book reviews consider this service to be a valuable tool. For the busy pastor, teacher, or missionary, book reviews are a way to keep up with the literature and trends of thought in the various fields of biblical studies. For all readers, book reviews are an opportunity to compare one’s own critical views and opinions with those of others.

Imagine a band of qualified men and women from a Christian, biblical, fundamentalist perspective writing reviews of books with which they normally interact in their specific field of expertise. These reviews would cover every genre pertinent to the Christian community. Not only would this band of reviewers deal with brand-new books, but also with classic reprints and some out-of-print titles that are worth hunting down in used bookstores. What a valuable service this would be to the Christian community!

I can’t accomplish this goal on my own, nor am I qualified to write reviews in all of the subcategories of Christian literature. But what I am willing to do, and what I have been asked to pursue, is the forming of such a band of book reviewers. So, here I am, sending forth a call for qualified book reviewers. Attached is a simple application form I would like to ask all of you who would be interested in reviewing books for SharperIron to complete and return to me.

I am serving as SharperIron’s liaison with the book publishers. I have begun requesting review copies, and we need to follow through and keep our promise to review these books. A list of books to be reviewed will be made available for all book reviewers. Also, a list of guidelines has been established for submitting book reviews, and flexible criteria has been outlined for the writing of book reviews for publication on SharperIron.

I look forward with great anticipation to see what the Lord will do with this aspect of the ministry of SharperIron. Those who are interested may contact me via email.

1. Cyril Barber, The Minister’s Library (Chicago: Moody Press, 1987), p. xii. What Cyril Barber noted about the few years between 1971 and 1985 now seems to be only a “drop in the bucket” compared to the past 15 years.
2. By “we” I mean anyone in the Christian community, whether a pastor, a teacher, a student, a businessperson, a man, a woman, a teenager, a child, etc.
3. Wilbur M. Smith, A Treasury of Books for Bible Study (Natick, Massachusetts: W. A. Wilde Co., 1960), p. 8.
4. Holman Christian Standard Bible (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2004). The world’s fastest reader, Howard S. Berg, can read 25,000 words per minute. A 250-page book with an average of 300 words per page would contain 75,000 words in all. At his supersonic speed, it would take Howard 3 minutes to read this size of a book. The average reader reads about 250 words per minute. At this rate it would take the average reader 5 hours to read this same book. Considering that the 2005 preliminary report shows that U.S. book publishers published 9,222 books that year in the area of “religion” alone, it would take a person 46,110 hours to read everything that was printed. That’s 1,921.25 days, or 5.26 years. This expectation is unthinkable and impractical for the average reader.
5. C.H. Spurgeon, “To Workers with Slender Apparatus” in Lectures to My Students (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1974), p. 175.
6. C.S. Lewis, “On the Reading of Old Books” in God in the Dock (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1970), pp. 200-202. This essay was originally published as an Introduction to St. Athanasius’ The Incarnation of the Word of God, trans. by A Religious of S.S.M.V. (London, 1944).


Jason Button received a B.A. in Bible from Bob Jones University and has begun work on an M.A. in Theology. He is the creator of TheoSource, a project to compile comprehensive lists of recommended books for Bible study. Currently, he is a layman serving in various roles at West Ashley Independent Baptist Church (Charleston, SC). He is married to Tiffany, and they have two children, Caris Joelle and Asa Livingstone.

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