Should Christians ever take the time to assemble an entire book in response to another book? It depends on the significance of the book, the impact it could have, and the value of the response.
As someone invested in promoting the health of the church, who values robust interaction, and who is interested in publishing developments, two new books have decided to do exactly that, but through different means.
The first involves a multi-author response in print to Bart Ehrman’s new book, How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of Jewish Preach from Galilee. RNS explains:
The two books are an unusual publishing experiment, in which HarperCollins subsidiaries arranged to have a team of evangelical scholars write a counterargument to the hot-selling superstar writer. [The arrangement was actually proposed by Michael Bird.] Ehrman and the evangelical team exchanged manuscripts and signed nondisclosure agreements so as not to pre-empt each other, but otherwise worked independently for their own HarperCollins imprints, HarperOne and Zondervan.
The books were released simultaneously. Anything Ehrman writes attracts mainstream attention, so it is helpful to have his arguments and fallacies publicly refuted from the get-go by the likes of Michael Bird, Craig Evans, Simon Gathercole, Charles Hill, and Chris Tilling. At the Gospel Coalition, Andreas Köstenberger has reviewed both books: How Jesus Became God (by Ehrman) and How God Became Jesus (by Bird and company).
The second example is a new book, releasing today, authored by Matthew Vines, God and the Gay Christian: God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships. The book is a popularization of standard revisionist scholarship, but it is done by someone young, winsome, and purporting to believe in the full inspiration of Scripture.
In response, the folks at Southern Seminary have simultaneously published a free eBook response to the book, edited by Albert Mohler. The book consists of five short but substantive essays:
- Albert Mohler, “God, the Gospel and the Gay Challenge: A Response to Matthew Vines”
- James Hamilton, “How to Condone What the Bible Condemns: Matthew Vines Takes on the Old Testament”
- Denny Burk, “Suppressing the Truth in Unrighteousness: Matthew Vines Takes on the New Testament”
- Owen Strachan, “What Has the Church Believed and Taught?”
- Heath Lambert, “Is a ‘Gay Christian’ Consistent with the Gospel of Christ?”
Dr. Mohler writes, “The church has often failed people with same-sex attractions, and failed them horribly. We must not fail them now by forfeiting the only message that leads to salvation, holiness, and faithfulness.”
There are often two sorts of reactions to book-length responses like this.
On the one hand, some celebrate that this ends the discussion (the book has been decisively refuted).
Others lament that this only provides free publicity (the book is being made into a bigger deal than it is).
Both responses could be true, depending on the book, the author, the critics, and the cultural moment.
But let me suggest a third alternative: responses like this can help to sway those who are uncomfortable with the revisionist proposal but do not know how to answer them adequately and carefully. This is not merely preaching to the choir, but the strengthening and equipping of the choir, as well as a timely word to those outside the choir who may be listening and unsure of what to think or how to respond. We should thank God for those who have the time, energy, gifts, and skills to assemble such learned and thoughtful interaction with proposals that undermine the teaching of God’s holy word.
So hats off to these brothers who have labored to give us careful, thoughtful, and timely responses to critics of the faith once delivered. I am happy to commend these responses as helpful tools for the church.