Which Books and Authors May We Recommend to Other
In my weekly prayer update on January 6th, I heartily recommended Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, by Peter Scazerro.
Very soon afterwards, I received this message from a good friend:
“Forgive my directness [but] I am perplexed about your reference to the author Peter Scazzero. Is he not a Catholic? And also in the same camp as the seeker friendly movement of Rick Warren? His references to mysticism of the monks, the New Age movement of Henri Nouwen, etc. “
I responded with thanks for this criticism, and went online to read both positive and negative reviews. Since then, I have alerted our prayer partners to these problematic aspects of Scazerro and his book.
Before I proceed further, here are some of the reviews I consulted:
After reading these reviews, I responded to my friend. Here are excerpts of what I wrote:
Thank you for this.
I have a habit of "eating the fish and throwing out the bones" when reading generally helpful books.
I agree that we can't accept the theology of the Roman Catholics whom he mentions or quotes.
I didn't know about his associations. Thanks for alerting me.
I fully agree that he quotes people who are not biblically sound. I was uncomfortable about that, too.
I'm sorry to hear of his association with people and movements that we can't fully accept as biblical.
Again, thank you for alerting me. I'll write some sort of correction in my next letter.
I shouldn't have recommended him to everyone.
Still - and this is only speaking personally - I found his book quite helpful.
I only regret recommending it unconditionally. In the future, I won't recommend Scazerro's book without strong qualifications and warnings.
A few more things:
Scazerro is not a Roman Catholic. That is a false charge.
The negative reviews rightly point out his promotion of authors whom we can't accept.
On the other hand, I believe that they wrongly associate Scazzerro with all the errors of those people. I quote Augustine, too, without accepting the "Roman Catholic" aspects of his teachings. Many Protestants do the same with Augustine.
I believe that Scazzero’s critics are so focused on his unclear or even suspect teachings that they utterly fail to convey the message of his book. I think that they construe some terms and statements in the worst possible way, not allowing for the possibility that he means something else by them.
They fail to point out the "evangelical" aspects of his approach, which dominate his book.
They fail to appreciate the "biblical" nature of many of his points.
They serve as illustrations of what I call "evangelical slander," that is, the - apparently wilful distortion of another's writings.
I am fairly strict theologically, and often criticize writers for errors, so I appreciate their intention and the need to alert unwary readers of very dangerous trends in the evangelical church.
At the same time, I must say that, as one who is very strongly committed to biblical and even Reformed theology, I read most of Scazerro's book with profit. Perhaps I just skipped too easily over what I recognized as bad elements, such as his citation of Roman Catholic authors.
I agree with one reviewer who said that he could have referred instead to the rich tradition of Reformed spirituality.
In fact, that is my chief gripe with the movement back to the Roman Catholic mystics, et al., that I see in people like Richard Foster and Scazerro. I would prefer that they cited the Puritans, for example, instead. I don't recommend the writings of Roman Catholic mystics, though I have personally benefitted greatly from Julian of Norwich, Brother Lawrence, and Thomas a Kempis (the reputed author of The Imitation of Christ).
On the larger issue of whether we can read, and even recommend, books by people with whom we don’t fully agree, let me say that many evangelical authors, including me, engage in this practice.
I think that most readers will know what when we quote something from Augustine, we aren’t endorsing the parts of his books with which Protestants don’t agree. Within Protestantism, those who quote Martin Luther have nothing but grief for his extreme language against the Anabaptists and his later anti-Semitic ravings. Evangelicals who quote John Calvin don’t necessary agree with his stance on infant baptism.
I think that Integrative Theology, by Bruce Demarest and Gordon Lewis, is the most helpful book on systematic that I’ve seen, except for its eschatology. Likewise, I find John MacArthur’s Study Bible extremely useful, even though I can’t agree with his eschatology.
Am I, therefore, forbidden to cite the words of any author with some, or even much, of whose ideas I reject as unbiblical? Indeed, I usually have read only a fraction of their literary corpus, so they could have written something completely “wacko” of which I am completely ignorant.
I am currently reading The Common Rule, by Justin Early. I find this volume to be brilliantly written and full of wisdom. Early quotes or refers to dozens of authors and books that I’ve never heard of or read. Many, or perhaps even most, of them probably say things to which I would object.
May I not, therefore, recommend his book to others?
On the one hand, I believe that we do have a responsibility to be very careful what books and authors we recommend, and we must warn others of their errors when we can.
On the other hand, I don’t think we have to quote or refer to only those books and authors with whom we completely agree.
Maybe I‘m wrong, but that’s where I am at this time.