Read What You Review

Professor Larry Hurtado of the University of Edinburgh is an eminent New Testament scholar known for his work on manuscripts, textual forms and transmission, early Christian symbols, and especially early Christian worship of Jesus in language traditionally reserved for the God of Israel. He agreed recently, sight unseen, to review N. T. Wright's enormous and long-expected work on Paul. Of course, when he received the two-volume set, he realized he'd have to postpone the anticipated completion of his review. As he notes, "I’ve had to re-schedule delivery of the review (as I’m one of those peculiar fellows who actually reads the books that they agree to review)."

That move should be wholly predictable, but I fear it is not. I have read countless reviews of books (books that I have read), in both large academic journals and smaller evangelical ones, that provoke the same reaction. After reading the review, I push my chair away from my desk, drop my head in my hands, and groan, wholly confident that the reviewer did not read the book in its entirety, if at all. Perhaps it is my nearsightedness regarding this issue, but it seems to be happening more and more often.

Or perhaps it is my finely honed personal sensitivity to it. After all, closer to home, while I've greatly appreciated the reviews of my own book on Calvin by scholars in the field who have both obviously read the book and had some substantial experience in its subject matter, there are a couple of reviewers out there, and one in particular, who I am wholly persuaded have not read past the dedication page of the book. Yes, it's that bad.

I will return to said reviewer another time in a more extensive form, but the point for today is simple: It should not need to be said, but if you are going to review a book, you better read the thing. All of it. More than once if necessary. It's not just good scholarship, it's good (and quite basic) Christian ethics.