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July 13, 2009

I’ve been thinking a fair bit lately about endorsements (or blurbs, if you prefer)—the little lines and paragraphs you see on the back of a book giving you good reasons why you really ought to read it. I have done this as I’ve gone through a process of defining my ministry, what I will give time to and what I will not give time to. Endorsements, when done right, take a lot of time and often for very limited results. So I have wanted to figure out the circumstances in which it makes sense for me to go through the effort of providing them. I thought I’d share just a bit of what I’ve come up with.

Practically, here is how endorsements usually work. Several months before a book actually shows up on store shelves (often as much as six months before) an author or publisher (or sometimes an agent or other representative) will contact people whose name and endorsement have the potential to help readers decide to purchase a book. If these people agree they will receive a copy of the manuscript, either in electronic format or, more commonly, printed on 8.5 x 11. They will have a certain period to read the book and provide their endorsement of it. Sometimes these endorsements must be provided on official forms while other times they can be informally emailed through. Of those asked, only a few will accept the manuscript and of those usually only a few will actually provide an endorsement; so sometimes, when you see a long list of endorsements for a book, it may be that the author was hedging his bets, so to speak, and had the good luck of having everybody actually come through. Endorsements are provided based on a draft copy of the manuscript so it is possible that the text may change between the writing of an endorsement and the publication of the book.

As you would expect, endorsements are volunteer efforts (except, I’m sure, in exceptional and unethical circumstances). However, there can be some “tit-for-tat” in endorsements where one person feels obliged, for one reason or another, to provide an endorsement. Perhaps there is some kind of reciprocation for endorsing a book or speaking at a conference. Also, if you read closely, you will sometimes see that a single endorsement, written in general terms more about the author than his book, may be used on multiple titles. It may even be just a line or two taken from an article that is completely unrelated to this book or any other.

A good bit of thought goes into the arrangement of the endorsements on the back cover and in the first few pages of the book. The biggest names will go first and will appear on the back cover; the lesser-known names or the ones least likely to be meaningful to the target audience will appear at the bottom of the back cover or perhaps only inside the book.

Here are a few things I’ve learned about endorsements:

Endorsements matter. I would gladly forgo endorsements for my books, but I don’t think my publisher would be pleased with me if I did so. Potential readers do look at the back cover of a book to see who has endorsed it, though I am quite convinced that they look more for the name than the actual words. I have a certain number of names I look for and, if one of them happens to have endorsed that book, it immediately interests me in a way it might otherwise not. So endorsements do sell books and, therefore, they do have value. I consider them a necessary evil.

We endorse books and authors. Because endorsements matter, authors have to be very careful with who and what they endorse. Ultimately we endorse authors as much as their books (and perhaps more than their books). In just a few lines it is difficult to draw the kind of distinction that might say, “I disagree with this person’s core beliefs but do think this book is worth reading.” Instead, we see the name of the author, the name of the endorser, and draw a line from one to the other. Hence, if I am going to endorse a book, I have to agree with the vast majority of the book and 100% of the core theology. But I also have to appreciate the author and his ministry. As much as I might like to, I cannot neatly separate the two because those who see the endorsement will not neatly separate the two.

Quality is important. So many Christian books really have very little to say that is not derived from other books and so many others are poorly written. I want to encourage quality by providing endorsements for books that are genuinely well-written and objectively good. There are a couple of books I endorsed early on for which I would no longer provide an endorsement because the quality was just not there. One particular book has done more to shape my philosophy (and theology) of endorsements more than any other. I read the book again, after it had been printed, and was really embarrassed at what I had put my name to. I want my name on a book to have value and will no longer endorse books that do not display good quality.

It is no great honor. Being asked to endorse a book is not necessarily any great honor. The very nature of endorsements tend to mean that the requests are of the “what you can do for me” variety. That sounds terrible, but there is some truth to it. I am not asked to endorse books because people like me; I am asked because my name may help a few people decide to purchase it. I remain grateful for requests to endorse books, humbled even, but I also know that it is no occasion for pride.

It is okay to say no. I politely refuse the majority of the endorsement requests I receive. I feel no obligation to anyone to endorse his book (and neither do I expect him to feel obliged to endorse anything I write) and this gives me the freedom to say no. Nor do I feel that it’s part of my “core ministry.” Therefore I don’t want it to dominate my time (which it could). I do write a fair number, but this is just a small part of what I could write. I suspect the same is true of most people. When I do write endorsements, I prefer to focus on books that have fewer rather than more endorsements (or potential endorsements). When a person sends me a manuscript, I often ask how many endorsements they already have or expect to get. If that number is more than four or five, I typically explain that I will instead focus on books that have received little attention.

Not all endorsements are equal. As I read more and more books, I quickly learn the people whose endorsements mean more to me than others. For example, when I see Mark Dever’s name on a book, it tells me a lot about that book—it is a valuable endorsement. I know that Mark puts a lot of thought into his endorsements and that he is very careful with what he puts his name to. I have learned to trust him. There are other names I see that tell me little and would do little to convince me to buy that book. There are a few who will convince me not to buy that book. This is true for most serious readers, I am sure, no matter the genre they prefer to read.

And that’s about all I’ve got to say about that.

But let me ask you: how important are endorsements to you when you consider purchasing a book? Are you often persuaded to buy a book based on the blurbs on the back cover? Or do you just ignore them and try to judge the book on its own merits?

July 10, 2009

Free Stuff Fridays

I got busy today and forgot all about this week’s Free Stuff Fridays. Thankfully I remembered with enough time to launch it before day’s end. This week’s sponsor is Ligonier Ministries and they are offering a prize fitting for this, the 500th anniversary of John Calvin’s birth. Five winners will each receive a Reformation Trust John Calvin Book Set. This includes three great hardcover books: Living for God’s Glory by Joel Beeke, John Calvin: A Heart for Devotion, Doctrine, and Doxology edited by Burk Parsons, and The Expository Genius of John Calvin by Steven Lawson.

Reformation Trust

I suspect Living for God’s Glory is the one that will most interest most of this site’s readers. “In this comprehensive survey of Reformed Christianity, Dr. Beeke and eight fellow contributors offer twenty eight chapters that trace the history of Calvinism; explore its key doctrinal tenets, such as the so-called five points of Calvinism and the solas of the Protestant Reformation; reveal how Calvinists have sought to live in devotion to God; and survey Calvinism’s influence in the church and in the world at large. In the end, the book asserts that the overriding goal of Calvinism is the glory of God. Saturated with Scripture citations and sprinkled with quotations from wise giants of church history, this book presents Calvinism in a winsome and wondrous fashion.”

Be sure to visit Ligonier’s blog this month for a lot more Calvin-related articles and specials.

Rules: You may only enter the draw once. Simply fill out your name and email address to enter the draw. As soon as the winners have been chosen, all names and addresses will be immediately and permanently erased. Winners will be notified by email. The giveaway closes Saturday at 2 PM.

July 04, 2009

I guess this is going to become a regular feature around here—a list of some of the books I didn’t review. The fact is that I receive far more books than I could ever read and that I read more books than I could review. Yet many of these are perfectly good books—excellent books even—that deserve some kind of a mention. So this allows me to draw attention a few of the ones I just couldn’t get to, whether good or bad (Click here for a previous roundup).

First off, here are a few titles I read but have not reviewed in full.

Meeting God Behind Enemy Lines by Steve Watkins. Steve Watkins was not always pastor of Kenton Baptist Church as he is today. In 1987, after deciding he was not eager to face four years of college, he decided to join the Navy with a view to being one of the elite Navy Seals. Not lacking in ability or motivation, he did just that and began a successful career in the military. He served in Iraq during the Gulf War but eventually left the Navy to pursue the pastorate. He graduated from the Masters Seminary in Los Angeles and, since then, has been serving Kenton Baptist Church in Kenton, Kentucky. This biography recounts his career in the armed forces and his eventual conversion. It is an enjoyable read, especially for those with an interest in military affairs. Watkins offers an interesting description of his conversion and is careful to ascribe all glory to God.

Good Mr. Baxter by Vance Salisbury. This short biography of only just over 100 pages does an excellent job of introducing the great Puritan pastor and writer Richard Baxter. As any short biography ought to do, this one led me hoping to find a much longer treatment of the life of this fascinating character.

50 People Every Christian Should Know by Warren Wiersbe. This book offers fifty short biographical sketches of Christian figures of varying importance, ranging from Katherine von Bora to A.W. Tozer and had its genesis in magazine articles in Moody Monthly and The Good News Broadcaster. It combines two previous books, Living with the Giants and Victorious Christians. As a collection of short biographies it does with excellence exactly what is sets out to do—provide a mere introduction to important Christian figures. There is am emphasis on figures in some way related to Moody, but this hardly detracts from it. It’s an excellent choice to read just a few pages at a time.

Here are some books I’ve received but have chosen not to review:

The Cross: 38,102 miles. 38 years. 1 mission by Arthur Blessitt. This is an autobiography of the man who has carried a cross across America and across the world, visiting every country and island group in the world. Neither he nor the book interests me enough to read it.

Religions of the Stars by Richard Abanes is another in a long list of books in which Richard Abanes looks at contemporary cultural themes through the lens of Scripture. Here he shows “What Hollywood Believes and How it Affects You.” He looks at a list of several popular religions: Kabbalah, Scientology, Mormonism and so on. I’m not quite interested enough in the subject matter to read it.

I’ve received several titles from DayOne, many of which look excellent. DayOne, a relative newcomer to the North American markets, is publishing a lot of books these days (several per month, it seems) and they are filling a lot of gaps in the publishing field, I’m sure. Many of their books are eminently practical, seeking to help Christians consistently apply biblical truths. A few of the recent titles are:

  • Darwin and Darwinism 150 Years Later by Ian McNaughton and Paul Taylor
  • Evolution: Good Science? Exposition the Ideological Nature of Darwin’s Theory by Dominic Statham. This title and the one before it are part of the “Creation Points” series.
  • Same-Sex Marriage: Is it Really the Same? by Mark Christopher
  • Merchant to Romania: Business as Missions in Post-Communist Eastern Europe by Jeri Little
  • Jesus: The Life Changer by Simon J. Robinson. In this book Robinson seeks to stand in the shoes of some of the people who met Jesus to give a first-person account of their encounter with the Lord.
  • Simon Peter: The Training Years and Simon Peter: Challenging Times by Helen Clark.
  • Six-Day Creation: Does it Matter What You Believe? by Robert Gurney. Needless to say, this book maintains that it does, indeed, matter what you believe.
  • Teach Your Family the Truth by Brian Stone

Buddhism: A Christian Exploration and Appraisal by Keith Yandell and Harold Netland. This may be the kind of book I’ll refer to in the future as needed, but it’s not one I would prioritize at the moment.

Politics for the Greatest Good: The Case for Prudence in the Public Square. I don’t think I’m smart enough to read it.

Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship by Scott Aniol. This carries an endorsement by Ligon Duncan so much be good. But it has been on my shelf for long enough now that I guess I’m not likely to read it.

Teaching Acts by David Cook. I like the look of this book and will keep it around for if and when I do need to think about teaching Acts. It is part of a series of similar books published by Christian Focus that helps teach a teacher how to teach. It looks very, very helpful for that purpose.

Did the Resurrection Happen? by Gary Habermas and Anthony Flew. This would be interesting, I’m sure, but I can’t prioritize it.

Let’s Study Matthew by Mark E. Ross. This series, published by Banner of Truth and edited by Sinclair Ferguson, expands to include Matthew. These are valuable little guides for person Bible study. They come highly recommended.

Psalms: Songs Along the Way by Kathleen Buswell Nielson continues P&R’s “Living Word” Bible Study series. Aileen enjoys using these studies to provide structure to her times of personal devotion.

Courage to Stand: Jeremiah’s Message for Post-Christian Times by Philip Graham Ryken is, well, I guess you can pretty much figure it out by the title.

Right Thinking in a World Gone Wrong features John MacArthur and the leadership team at Grace Community Church. It offers Christian wisdom on a variety of contemporary topics ranging from the cult of celebrity and homosexual marriage to environmentalism and birth control. While I have not read it cover-to-cover, I have referred to several of the chapters and have enjoyed what I have read there. It looks like a good volume to keep on my shelves for future reference.

Practical Prayer by Derek Prime. Here’s another one I keep thinking I’m going to read but then don’t actually get to. Sooner or later I should, I suppose, as it looks like a good read.

The Fine Line: Re-envisioning the Gap Between Christ and Culture by Kary Oberbrunner. I’m sorry, Kary, but I just can’t read another Christ and culture book right now. My apologies!

Desperately Wicked: Philosophy, Christianity and the Human Heart by Patrick Downey. Again, I’m pretty sure this one would make my head explode.

Stars in God’s Sky by Faith Cook is another compilation of the short biographies Cook is known for.

July 03, 2009

Free Stuff Fridays

It’s Friday and that means I’ve got another Free Stuff Fridays for you. This week’s sponsor is Shepherd Press, a name I’m sure most are familiar with. “Shepherd Press is committed to provide God’s people with solid biblical books and materials. … At Shepherd Press we look for materials that … will enable us to identify the idols of the heart that pollute our service to Christ, keeping us mired in confusion, unable to obey God. They will also encourage us that we can “do all things through Christ who gives [us] strength.” Remember the gospel is for Christians. We daily repent and cast ourselves on the abundant grace of Jesus Christ.”

This week five participants will each win a copy of Paul David Tripp’s new book Broken-Down House: Living Productively in a World Gone Bad along with his previous title Lost in the Middle. “Sin has ravaged the house that God created. It sits slumped, disheveled, in pain and groaning for the restoration that can only be accomplished by the hands of him who built it in the first place. The good news is that the divine Builder will not relent until everything about his house is made new again. The bad news is that you and I are living right in the middle of the restoration process. We live each day in a house that is terribly broken, where nothing works exactly as intended. But Emmanuel lives here as well, and he is at work returning his house to its former beauty.”

Here is a video in which Tripp describes this book:

Rules: You may only enter the draw once. Simply fill out your name and email address to enter the draw. As soon as the winners have been chosen, all names and addresses will be immediately and permanently erased. Winners will be notified by email. The giveaway closes Saturday at noon.

June 26, 2009

Free Stuff Fridays

It’s Friday and, as you know, that brings us to another edition of Free Stuff Fridays—an opportunity for you to win some free product from a great sponsor. This week’s sponsor is Timberdoodle, a supplier of homeschooling curriculum and related material. They are offering five great prizes. Each of five winners will be able to select a set of Jungle Doctor books (there are two sets of six books—winners will be able to select one or the other). This is what they say about these books:

Popular For A Reason
In the 1940s there was probably no more crucial calling than that of a missionary, no more intriguing place than Africa, and no more gratifying task than that of a doctor. Mix the three together and you have a series of mesmerizing children’s books that have inspired multiple generations of children to serve God regardless of the cost.

Bringing Medical Help To A Primitive Culture
Born in 1910, Paul White was an extraordinary Australian missionary who labored several years as a physician in the African nation of Tanzania. The Jungle Doctor series is based on his experiences working in the bush and recounts the struggles of providing medicine in a primitive colonial hospital.

Epidemics, Drug Dealers, Witchdoctors, Wildlife… vs. The Gospel
But epidemics weren’t the only battle the doctor faced. Satan used drug dealers, witchdoctors, and menacing wildlife in an attempt to choke out the doctor’s Gospel message. Yet Paul, clearly a gifted communicator, effectively shared God’s love with Tanzanian families in a unique way that made complete sense to them. If your family likes read aloud books, know that these are some of best, for there is much to discuss in nearly every chapter. From the idiosyncrasies of the Australian language and how diseases are spread to the dark side of unbelief, each volume is an education in itself. First published in the late 1940s and early 1950s, the Jungle Doctor series has been translated into more than eighty languages, including Braille, and is newly reprinted for another generation.

You can read more by looking at the first set or the second set at the Timberdoodle site.


Rules: You may only enter the draw once. Simply fill out your name and email address to enter the draw. As soon as the winners have been chosen, all names and addresses will be immediately and permanently erased. Winners will be notified by email. The giveaway closes Saturday at noon.

June 19, 2009

A couple of weeks ago Dr. Mohler supplied a suggested summer reading list. My tastes and Dr. Mohler’s run pretty much the same when it comes to recreational reading so I thought I’d go ahead and just read this entire list of ten books. I’m now forty percent of the way through (math wizzes will do the math and figure out that this means I’ve read four of the ten) and thought I’d report in.

The Unforgiving MinuteFirst up was The Unforgiving Minute by Craig Mullaney. Mohler says “The Unforgiving Minute is in account that mixes courage with intelligence and deep patriotic commitment with a reflective mind. This book is an account of education, growth into manhood, and the demands of leadership. It unites the intensity of battle with the anguished thoughts of a young man who desperately wants to be worthy of the trust invested in him.” I found it a fascinating read and one that was atypical for war memoirs (of which I’ve read many). Mullaney is both a jock and an intellectual, a guy who is as comfortable in the halls of academia (he was a Rhodes scholar) as he is in the wrestling ring (where he was quite an accomplished athlete). He is far from a Texas Republican (like the authors of many of the memoirs I’ve read) and yet he’s also not quite the Rhode Island liberal we might (unfairly) expect for a guy who is part of the Obama-Biden Transition Team. He offers a poignant look at coming of age on the battlefield that is reminiscent of the similar memoirs of men like Eugene Sledge and Erich Maria Remarque, to whom he is clearly indebted. Forewarned is forearmed and, as Mohler noted, there is a little bit of profanity in this book, though it is mostly descriptive and happens on battlefields (where, by all accounts, there tends to be a fair bit of profanity). If you are interested in war memoirs, this one is a must-read.

With Wings Like EaglesNext up was Michael Korda’s With Wings Like Eages. I’ve always had a deep fascination with the Battle of Britain (which probably began the day I saw the movie of that name) and read this book like it was a spy thriller. Mohler says “With Wings Like Eagles is an accurate and well-written account that takes the reader into the drama of those days and the lives of the pilots. Korda places the Battle of Britain within the larger context of the war and, in the end, makes clear that, had Britain fallen, the world we know would be a remarkably different place.” It is, indeed, both accurate and well-written. It is also perfectly-paced, never getting bogged down in the details. It is deep enough to give a good sense of the ebb and flow of the battle, but not so deep that it becomes inaccessible. If I was forced to come up with a negative for this book, I’d point to the author’s esteem, and perhaps even over-esteem, for Air Chief Marshal Hugh Dowding. In fact, in many places the book reads almost like a biography of Dowding. While his importance to the battle and to the eventual Allied victory in the Second World War has long been under-appreciated, Korda may be just a little bit too positive toward his hero. Nevertheless, this is a very good book and one that describes an exceedingly important battle that without doubt changed the world.

Hunting EichmannThe third book I read was Hunting Eichmann by Neal Bascomb. The book describes how a group of survivors along with a fledgling spy agency hunted down the man who engineered much of the Holocaust. And, of course, they quickly brought him to justice in a moment that was pivotal in Israeli history and in Israeli self-identity. Mohler says “Bascomb has written the only full account of Eichmann’s capture and its aftermath. He tells the story with great skill, and he sets the record straight on a number of questions. The most interesting fact about the search for Adolf Eichmann in the years after World War II is the fact that he was not even on the top list of wanted Nazi criminals at the war’s end. Eichmann’s central role in administering the “Final Solution” and the murder of millions of Jews in Germany and central Europe became evident only in the years after the war.” This is a book that reads like a novel, or close to it, in any case. It reminded me a fair bit of James Swanson’s Manhunt which also described the historical account of hunting down a notorious killer (and which is also well worth the read). Like that book, I couldn’t put it down until I had read the last page. I knew little about Eichmann and even less about his life after the war, his capture and his trial. This book provided the facts on all of these matters and did so in a fast-paced, compelling way.

War War One a Short HistoryFinally, just this morning I finished World War One: A Short History by Norman Stone. Mohler says “Without flinching, Stone tells the story of the hubris and insane optimism that brought Europe into this disaster and he recounts the blunders and grinding murderousness of this war. Most Americans want to know more about World War I and, most importantly, they want to understand what that war meant. World War One: A Short History is a great place to find those questions answered.” It is difficult to do justice to as great an event as the First World War in only 180 pages, but Stone does as well as we could hope. He does particularly well in describing the causes of the war and in showing at the end of his narrative how this war was really the prelude for the even greater, even more costly Second World War. Though it is relatively easy to read, it can be a little bit difficult to follow simply because so much had to be left out so this could be, as it claims, a short history. Still, anyone who is eager to read a brief overview of the War, or anyone who seeks to understand some of the background to the Second War, would do well to read this book.

That brings me to four out of ten. For Father’s Day I’ve requested three more from the list: Sultana, The Third Reich at War (which, based on its size, is clearly going to be a challenge) and Horse Soldiers. That will leave me with Masters and Commanders, Maverick Military Leaders and For the Thrill of It. Speaking of which, for the thrill of it, I also picked up the novel City of Thieves which Mohler also recently recommended. It’s going to be a busy summer. I’ll check in again when I’ve scratched a few more off my list.

One more quick note. While browsing the shelves of my local bookstore a short time ago, I came across What I Read, a little reading journal. It simply offers a place to record the books you’ve read along with a few brief comments about them. I’ve quite enjoyed using the journal and think it would make a perfect gift for any reader. So take a look and consider getting one for anyone you know who loves to read. They’ll love it.

June 12, 2009

Free Stuff Fridays

We’ve come to another Friday and with it, another version of Free Stuff Fridays. This week’s sponsor is Reformation Heritage Books, the mission of which is “to glorify God and strengthen His Church through the publication and distribution of Puritan and Reformed literature.” They are offering a generous prize of 5 complete sets of their Profiles in Reformed Spirituality Set. So five winners will each claim all seven volumes.

Profiles in Reformed Spirituality

Lemuel HaynesThe newest addition to this series, written by Thabiti Anyabwile, features Lemuel Haynes and is titled May We Meet in the Heavenly World. John Saillant, author of Black Puritan, Black Republican writes this of the new book: “This well chosen selection from Lemuel Haynes’s writings represents a significant part of the earliest African-American engagements with the Reformed theological tradition. In that tradition Haynes and his black contemporaries, both American and British, found a language of justice and inspiration that allowed them to criticize slavery and racial prejudice, and to offer a Christian vision of a free society. May We Meet in the Heavenly World can be recommended to students of Christian theology and of American history.”

Rules: You may only enter the draw once. Simply fill out your name and email address to enter the draw. As soon as the winners have been chosen, all names and addresses will be immediately and permanently erased. Winners will be notified by email. The giveaway closes Saturday at noon.

June 12, 2009

Yesterday I described the book as The Perfect Technology. There was perhaps a little bit of hyperbole involved, but I think the point was well-taken. I was actually surprised to see how many people agreed with me. Maybe as Christians we are unusual in this regard; maybe Christians are, almost by definition, readers and, thus, people who will toss away their books only with great caution. This is good, I think, as Christians tend to be too pragmatic, prone to believe that any innovation that claims to make life immediately easier or more convenient (without violating any clear teaching of Scripture) must be good.

Today I want to carry on with a few more thoughts about reading in a digital world and I want to focus in on one issue in particular.

I have witnessed recently what I consider a disturbing trend—Christians coming to church armed not with a Bible but with an iPod or an iPhone or another hand held device. With many versions of the Bible available in electronic formats and with the widespread popularity of MP3 players, cell phones and other digital devices, I guess it just makes sense to some people to bring Scripture in that electronic format. Pragmatists that we are, I believe many Christians have done this without thinking at all about the implications.

I want to encourage you not to bring an electronic Bible to church. I want to encourage you today to bring to church a Bible—an old fashioned kind of Bible, with ink printed on paper and slapped between two covers made of cardboard or leather or pleather. I also want to encourage you not to get into the habit of doing your daily Bible reading using an electronic device. I think we stand to lose far more than we gain.

In the past couple of months I have spent a fair bit of time reading the works of Marshall McLuhan and Neil Postman—gurus of the technological age. I tend to prefer Postman as I find him not only more accessible but also more accurate and more realistic. McLuhan is prone to hyperbole, excessive hyperbole even, and I find that this detracts from his effectiveness as a communicator (though I know that many would disagree with me on this point).

McLuhan is undoubtedly best-known for his catchy little phrase, “the medium is the message.” It sometimes helps to emphasize that little word is as if to stress that the the medium and the message carried by that medium cannot be neatly separated. This is exactly what McLuhan emphasized time and time again—we cannot afford to fall into the trap of believing that media are neutral, simple bearers of a message. “The medium is the message.” In a classic case of McLuhian hyperbole, he would say that the content of a particular medium “has about as much importance as the stencilling on the casing of an atomic bomb.” He turns the equation right around, saying that the content is nothing, the medium is everything.

I think McLuhan makes an important point and one that we discount at our folly, though he overstates his case here and elsewhere. Still, where McLuhan is so important is in understanding that every medium carries with it a message that necessarily impacts the content. We like to think that we are smart enough, holy enough, to draw complete and utter separation between medium and content. Christians do this all the time when we assume that there is no difference between singing songs from a hymn book and singing songs via a projector and Powerpoint. We do this when we listen to sermons online instead of listening while seated in a pew. But what if we are fooling ourselves? What if the medium really does radically shape our perception, our understanding, of the content it carries? What then?

This is where Neil Postman comes in. In Technopoly Postman says that, when two technologies come into competition or conflict (two technologies such as the Bible printed on paper and the Bible on an iPod), it is more than technologies that are squaring off, but rather, entire worldviews. Every medium, he says, carries with it some kind of an ideological bias, “a predisposition to construct the world as one thing rather than another, to value one thing more than another, to amplify one sense or skill or attitude more loudly than another.” Thus, again, the method we use to convey information is inseparable from the content of that information. And even more so, every medium carries with it both content but also a worldview. When we read the Bible electronically, we read the very same words, but in a way that influences us toward a different worldview, a different way of understanding the reality of those words.

Postman also adds to this discussion a phrase that is so simple but so important: a technology does what it was created to do. Over time, a technology will play out its hand, to to speak, and it may do so in ways we would not expect. Had Gutenberg known what would happen through the invention of the printing press, do we believe that he still would have invented it? That printing press was instrumental in forever changing the Roman Catholic Church (of which he was a faithful son). How many other technologies have played out their hands in completely unexpected ways? Should we not be on our guard, then, when considering such new innovations?

So where does this leave us? It leaves us wondering what ideological bias, what predisposition, is carried in the book and in the electronic book. It causes us to wonder what skill or attitude is amplified in the book and what skill or attitude is amplified in the iPod.

But I will have to take this up in another article. Check in next week for that.