Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Smith Scale

When I start looking around for a new Whatsoever Wednesday book, I start to wish someone would create a better rating scale. The five star method that Amazon uses doesn't provide nearly enough information.  When I go to find a book to review for you, I really want to know things like:  

How is the writing?
  • This was real literature!
  • A little slow and pedantic but bearable.
  • The cross on the front is the ONLY reason they sold any of these books!

Did the book make you cry?
  • I laughed till I cried.
  • It did bore me to tears once.
  • Keep the Kleenex close
  • "Sniffle," I'm still a little weepy.

How practical is this book?
  • Angels dancing on the end of a pin are more useful and entertaining.
  • I get it but I'm not so sure how to do it.
  • I'll be changing my life.  Today.

Did you learn anything?
  • I agreed with everything the author said.  Mostly because he only said what's been said a thousand times before.
  • I disagreed with everything the author said.  Where do they get these people?
  • I'll be going to be talking to my small group about this book for years. 

See, don't you agree? My survey is a much better rating system.  I bring it all up to point you to an author that would get great marks on the Smith Scale, N.T. Wright.

I began my journey into Wright's books because one of our elders recommended him to me.  First I read Surprised by Hope which is a book about the power of the resurrection.  I went into the book prepared to disagree with Wright on a number of issues.  The book argues very persuasively that our idea of "Heaven" often totally discounts the resurrection and is thereby more pagan than Christian.  I have not read another book that changed my mind more on such a basic point.

I went on to read, How God became King, Scripture and the Authority of God, and I am in the middle of Simply Jesus.  I just won a free book and I think I'm going to choose his very well known (and rather controversial) book Justification.  He's quickly become one of my favorite authors. 

On the Smith Scale, he'd get full marks.  His writing is good.  I'm rather picky about these things.  I typically avoid Christian fiction. Too often it is very poorly written fiction with a Christian twist.  Among my other ESL courses, I teach writing.  I do not enjoy books where I feel the need to leave editorial comments in the margins.  

An Anglican, Wright has been on both sides of the aisle.  He has experience as a trained theologian and working minister.  I love this combination.  You'll find it in Eugene Peterson and Dietrich Bonhoeffer whose books I have reviewed before.   My favorite books bring deep theology to bear on our ordinary lives, although I am very willing to read books that lean heavily in one direction or the other (say Crazy Love - super practical vs. Bonhoeffer:Pastor, Prophet, Martyr, Spy - deeply historical/theological)  For example, "Surprised by Hope" has a wonderful section that applies Jesus' kingdom ethics into real world politics.  Specifically, he argues that Jesus' call to debt forgiveness should be applied to the crippling debts that are depressing Latin and South American economies right now.  

If you're interested but not ready to invest in a book yet, let me recommend hopping over to YouTube and listening to a lecture or two of his.  We enjoyed weeks of lunchtime entertainment watching his lectures or debates while we ate. (I know, we are a whole family of nerds.  In my defense, our 4 year-old was in preschool!) His speaking and writing voices are remarkably consistent.  If you enjoy the one, you'll enjoy the other. 

I would only recommend Wright's books to grounded Christians.  There are parts of them that I do disagree with, parts which should be read with discernment and a Bible in hand. Also without some basic Bible background they would be very difficult to understand.  However, the writing is not particularly academic and his dry British sense of humor shines through. 

For fun, in the comments today, why don't you review a book or two using the Smith Scale? Maybe I'll find something new and wonderful to read!

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