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Official, professional site for author, speaker and blogger Karl Giberson. 


The Scary World of Reviews

Karl Giberson

Writer’s Log: Stardate 1-6-2012

The big event for today in my “Year of Writing Furiously” is a review of The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age in the NY Times.  My co-author, Randall Stephens and I, have been quite fortunate to get some high profile attention for our book. We have had the infamous op-ed in the NY Times that had so many fundamentalists wailing about how evil we were. Less inflammatory pieces appeared in the FrumForum and the Guardian. And there were reviews in the Weekly Standard, Christian Century, Wilson Quarterly, Answers in Genesis website, and a few other places.  Books & Culture has a review in the pipeline, and Insider Higher Ed has an essay from Randall and I ready to go. The Chronicle of Higher Education is also working on a more general story about the issues raised in our book.  And those are just the major outlets.  So we have been pretty fortunate in getting the word out.

Randall and I, like most authors I suspect, hold our breath when we know a review is about to appear. There is simply no way to know how the reviewer will approach the book. Our book was highly critical of the evangelical right wing and we “named names.”  We indicted Ken Ham, David Barton, James Dobson, Tim LaHaye and a few others for contaminating evangelical culture with their particular brands of anti-intellectualism.  But we also applauded Francis Collins, Mark Noll, NT Wright, David Myers and a few others for exemplifying evangelical intellectual excellence.

I was not surprised when Answers in Genesis published a hostile review of The Anointed, for we had been quite critical of them. What did surprise me, though, was how badly written the “review” was, especially since it was co-authored by a former professor at Mount Vernon Nazarene College, who should have known that a review is a not a “selective rant based on a few sentences.” I was also surprised at the Weekly Standard review as that reviewer seemed to not have read the book carefully.  He wrote as if he was oblivious to the fact that we had discussed “both sides” of the conversation and presented numerous evangelical leaders in highly positive light.  Weekly Standard is an aggressive right wing publication that takes pride in fighting the culture wars vigorously. I think the issue there was that culture warriors often don’t acknowledge people in the middle. They tend to see the world as black and white so, if you are gray, they make you whichever color they are not, since you are clearly not the same color as they are.

The NY Times review was really well-done. I even agreed with the criticisms.  Here are some really nice quotes from the piece, some of which I suspect may end up on the back cover of the paperback, whenever Harvard University Press decides to bring that out.

*The authors make a strong case that serious scholars are prophets without honor in a culture in which successful leaders capitalize on “anti-intellectualism, populism, a religious free market, in- and out-group dynamics, endorsement by God and threats from Satan.”

*“The Anointed” condemns the current state of evangelical intellectual life, but Stephens and Giberson avoid monolithic stereotypes. They are careful to note that evangelicals disagree wildly among themselves about almost everything.

*Why would anyone heed ersatz “experts” over trained authorities far more qualified to comment on the origins of life or the worldview of the founding fathers? Drawing on case studies of evangelical gurus, Stephens and Giberson argue that intellectual authority works differently in the “parallel culture” of evangelicalism. In this world of prophecy conferences and home-­schooling curriculums, a dash of charisma, a media empire and a firm stance on the right side of the line between “us” and “them” matter more than a fancy degree.

You can read the full review here