Some of you may be following this story. Carl Trueman, a Westminster Theological Seminary church history professor, was browsing a new book on the Protestant Reformation and found it riddled with historical errors. It was so bad that the publisher, Intervarsity Press, pulled the book from its list.
But what are we to make of the fact that this book was endorsed by several leading evangelical scholars of the Reformation? I will let Tim Challies explain. Here is a taste:
But here’s a dirty little secret of publishing. When you look at the back cover of a book and see a list of commendations, it is possible—likely even—that the majority of those people have not read the book or have not read it carefully. There are some people who will only endorse books for which they have carefully read every word, but more commonly, people merely skim a book before writing their blurb; others do it sight unseen and still others have assistants do it.
I doubt there are a lot of people who like to write endorsements based on less than a careful reading, and yet that is often how it ends up happening. There are many reasons for this. Here is one: People have good intentions but little time. A person receives a manuscript in June—a Word document via email or an unbound stack of paper—and is told that an endorsement will be due by August 31. It is an honor to be asked to provide an endorsement and he genuinely want to serve that author. There is lots of time and it all seems like it should be simple enough. But then August 29 rolls around and the publisher sends a reminder that the book is about to go to print and endorsements will be due in just two days. Now there isn’t time to read the manuscript carefully, so he skims through it quickly, tries to get the main idea, and jots down a few words, sending it to the publisher just on time.
Or perhaps the manuscript is from a well-known author, a man who has written forty or fifty books. This new book will look at a subject he has covered before. Even by skimming the book this endorser can quickly see how the argument will be framed and what conclusions it will lead to. And so he gives the book a cursory read and writes a blurb.
Or maybe this book has been written by a friend. The endorser knows his friend’s stance on the subject; maybe he has had conversations about it or heard him cover the topic at a conference. He then pens an endorsement based on what he knows to be true of his friend.
I have even heard stories about prominent authors who have members of their staff write blurbs.
I received several nice endorsements for Was America Founded as a Christian Nation. I have no idea if everyone who endorsed the book read the entire thing. But I will always remember the endorsement by Daniel Walker Howe. Howe not only wrote a glowing front cover blurb for the book, but he also sent me an extended e-mail with suggestions for how I might make the book better. (Fortunately, his blurb came to me early enough so that I could make the changes. This is not always the case). In fact, his e-mail printed out to about four or five pages! Needless to say, I am confident that Howe, a Pulitzer prize-winning historian, read the book. I am grateful for the time he spent making this a better volume. He is a true gentleman who sees scholarly work as a collective enterprise.
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