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Endorsing the Endorsers

On Wednesday, Justin Taylor posted the news that my book is now available and provided a list of the blurbs for it. This led to some interesting discussion in the comments section. It began with the entirely fair question of “Who is Tim Challies?” and soon turned to “I was just surprised that, as his website says, a web designing blogger now writes books on spiritual discernment. When did our pastors and bible teachers quit doing this and your laypeople assume the roll?” Another person replied with, “I like TC’s blog; but I guess if you live-blog at enough famous pastors Bible conferences then you can get endorsements from just about anyone.” This led to a bit of a screed penned by Steve Camp who said, among other things, that this book is my attempt to make a mark and gain my fifteen minutes of fame, that I am young, theologically immature, and untested in handling God’s Word, that I know little about discernment, that I’m insecure and lack credibility, and so on. The discussion has gone on, though some rather important comments have since been erased. All this by way of background.

Now I’m not in the habit of defending myself against specious claims. Truthfully, and thankfully, it is quite rare that these things happen, but even then I’m not often compelled to invest time and effort in my own defense. I’ve got more important things to do, and this is especially true today. But I do want to take a few moments to respond to something else Camp says about the book’s endorsements and endorsers. Here is what Camp says:

As to endorsements: very few of these guys actually sit down and read through an entire book of any author they are asked to review. Most give a thumbs up through staff recommendations or because of friendship.

In other words, Camp hints, these endorsements are utterly meaningless, or nearly so. These people endorsed the book only because they felt they needed to or because someone told them to. There are two reasons I would like to address this statement. First, because it is a common belief that endorsements are meaningless and second because it reflects negatively on the people who were kind enough to provide an endorsement for my book.

Now it is widely assumed that many of the people who write endorsements for books do so without actually reading the books. And certainly this does happen in the Christian world and beyond. More commonly, though, you would find that certain endorsers do not read a book thoroughly. They may skim through, take in the major points, and on the basis of what they know about the author, craft an endorsement. There are definitely some who have enough of an organization around them that they would have trusted men or women speaking for them, writing endorsements in their name even while they have never actually even heard of the book. But I am sure this is less common than people who simply do not read the book thoroughly. Far more common, though, are people who really do read the books and who read them carefully, knowing that an endorsement is serious business. This would be particularly true with mature, biblical Christians who truly value truth. Over the past few months I have endorsed a half a dozen books or so, and am constantly aware that adding my name to the back of a book is a reflection on the author, on me, and on God. Perhaps in time I will grow more jaded and provide endorsements with less care. I hope and pray I do not.

Enough then, on the first matter, and on to the second. My concern here, and I think the concern is validated by some of the comments following Camp’s, is that his statements will cause people to think negatively of the individuals who endorsed my book. I would not wish anyone to think that these people simply dashed off a blurb with little thought, concern or reflection. Neither do I believe that any of them accepted my request for an endorsement out of some sense of obligation that may have compelled them to rush a half-hearted endorsement.

I am not a peer to these people. With just one exception, I have spent very little time with any of them. I may have emailed back and forth with some of them a handful of times and have spent a few brief moments with them at conferences, but really I barely know them. All this to say that none of them owe me anything; none of them would be out to do me a favor out of obligation or out of a sense of “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine.” After all, I have little to offer them by way of repayment and have done very little for them in the past! There well may be some trading of favors in the industry when it comes to endorsements, but you can rest assured that none of these people would have felt they owed me for whatever I may have done to somehow benefit them. Give them more credit than that.

Admittedly, I did not consider writing those who endorsed my book to ask, “Did you really read it?” as that would have been both rude and, I believe, unnecessary. However, several of them inadvertently furnished ample evidence that they really did read it and that they did so in some depth. For example, one of the people who endorsed the book called me several times as he read it, either to clarify certain statements or to challenge me on areas that were either overstated or that lacked clarity. He went so far as to even call other people to double check certain facts. This man takes clearly endorsements seriously. Read Nancy Pearcey’s Total Truth, and particularly the last few pages, and you’ll see that she is adamantly opposed to ghost writing as she finds it utterly inconsistent with a Christian worldview. Nancy has been a friend of my family’s for years and I know her well enough to understand that she would have read the book carefully and would not have written an endorsement had she not felt she could do so with clear conscience. In another case a third party told me of his discussions about the book with the person who endorsed it. In each of these cases it is clear to me that the person really did read the book. In fact, my confidence in endorsements has increased, rather than decreased, through this process.

There are some authors from whom an endorsement means very little to me. I have learned that they will endorse just about anything and after a while I feel they destroy their credibility. But in having even only brief interaction with the people who wrote a blurb for my book, I can vouch for them and am confident that an endorsement from their hand is meaningful. I look for their names on books, knowing that they take seriously the task of endorsing a book. I trust them and am grateful that they were willing to take the time to read even my book.

In a future article I’ll look at another question that has come up a few times both at Justin’s site and beyond—the question of why a person should read a book written by a lay-person or by someone with the less-than-impressive credentials I offer.

By way of update, I wanted the readers to know that Camp posted this:

*To All I want to publicly ask forgiveness for my initial comment concerning Tim and his book. My words could have been seasoned with more grace and chosen more carefully.

The main question here raised is worth discussing from a biblical worldview and should be considered with sobriety of heart and mind: What qualifies one to speak for God and His Word?

I pray that many here dedicated to biblical ministry will continue to provide helpful and biblical responses to this question as I hope to do in the coming days as well.

To those who sought to use excessive vitriol against me for sport, I hold no ought against you. You wouldn’t have been provoked to do so if my initial words were thought through more carefully.

HIs unworthy servant in His unfailing love,

Steve 2 Cor. 4:5-7 *