Recommendations And What They Mean

So what do recommendations mean? I’ll answer with the negative: they do not mean a guarantee that the content will be absolutely safe and free from error — artistic or spiritual. They do not mean the reader can put his critical thinking to bed when diving into books given high praise.
on Jul 25, 2011 · No comments

Regular visitors here at Speculative Faith know that we are expanding our vision and purpose. With the addition of the Spec Faith Library, we are offering a resource for readers looking to find books in our genre — Christian speculative fiction.

In fact, we’re working on other resources, too — articles we think might be helpful and books we can suggest to different people depending on their level of interest.

But as we move in this direction, I think a word of caution might be in order. Or several words. 😉

First, no book is “safe.” Within the pages (even screen pages) of every book resides ideas. Apart from the Word of God itself, these ideas are generated by a sinful human being. If the author is a Christian, he would presumably be aligning those ideas with God’s truth. But ought we to presume such a thing?

Can Christians be followers of Christ in name only? Can Christians be self-deceived or swayed to believe (and repeat within their stories) false teaching? Scripture would indicate so. (See the parable of the wheat and the tares in Matthew 13:24-30.)

Consequently, books that purport to be stories containing Christian truth must be examined as closely as any other to see if the ideas within are consistent with God’s revelation.

Note, I am not saying that books showing sinful human behavior are not consistent with God’s revelation. In fact, the opposite is true. God’s Word reveals Mankind’s sinful state. A story that does not show man as a sinner would be more suspect than one that does.

A second word of caution is this: A recommendation is one person’s opinion. Of course, some people have credentials that make their opinion seem more valid than others. The opinion of doctors, for example, carries more weight regarding a medical condition than would that of a group of business executives.

Hence, people writing Christian fantasy, for instance, would presumably have some ideas about what makes a fantasy Christian and what makes a story well-written. But there’s that pesky “presumably” again. Nothing about book recommendations is certain, and therefore they should not be taken as absolutes.

We can conclude that one factor to consider when looking for recommendations is the person’s credentials — what makes this individual’s opinion something others should listen to? Of equal importance to a list of qualifications, is some idea of what the person giving recommendations believes.

Years ago, when one of the first movie recommendation programs came on TV, I quickly learned that the reviewers looked at movie content differently than I did. As a result they gave thumbs up to stories espousing values I opposed. With that understanding, I could then more accurately consider their recommendations.

Happily, those of us writing regularly here at Speculative Faith (and eventually passing along recommendations) are “known entities.” We may not (probably won’t) always agree, but anyone who wishes can find out about us from our Author page which contain short bios, links to our personal sites, and a statement of faith that reflects what we believe.

Our guest posters may or may not agree with those basic statements, so comments, including recommendations, from someone here at Spec Faith still need to be examined with discernment.

And this brings me to the next caution: there is strength in numbers, but the majority isn’t always right. Generally speaking, I think that lots of people recommending a book means it’s probably a good book. If I had to choose between two books with equally intriguing premises and attractive covers and well-written first chapters, and the first had one favorable recommendation but the second had a hundred, I’m pretty sure I’d opt for the latter.

Still, Job was one man opposed to three friends, Moses was one man opposed at times by the company of Israelites, Elijah was one man opposed to three hundred prophets of Baal. Right is not always on the side of the many. A reader still must be discerning.

So what do recommendations mean? I’ll answer with the negative: they do not mean a guarantee that the content will be absolutely safe and free from error — artistic or spiritual. They do not mean the reader can put his critical thinking to bed when diving into books given high praise.

Am I saying recommendations are worthless? Not at all. I rely on the opinion of those I trust to help me filter through the countless number of titles on cyberspace or bookstore shelves. However, I must be in charge of my own choices. Recommendations can narrow the field, and that makes my decisions a lot easier. But they remain mine to make.

Best known for her aspirations as an epic fantasy author, Becky is the sole remaining founding member of Speculative Faith. Besides contributing weekly articles here, she blogs Monday through Friday at A Christian Worldview of Fiction. She works as a freelance writer and editor and posts writing tips as well as information about her editing services at Rewrite, Reword, Rework.
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  1. Luke says:

    There is NO such thing as (in my biased opinion) “unbiased opinion” ,”unbiased review” or anything “unbiased”
    Every person, every human being is completely different than the other.
    We may try, we may think we don’t add our personals into the text, but then how is the text written ?
    By us! It is OUR text, we used OUR brain to write it. Our perception of the world will always be individual, and …biased…not even voluntary.
    Said that, i do read reviews, and recommendations but in certain fields i simply need to get a sample or even full product to really judge.
    Music is perfect example.  I buy an album, i like it, i love some parts, and later i read a review that says that the parts i love actually sucks. (for the reviewer)
    Music is one those fields where all reviews should be called simply “what i think, what i like”.
    I read them though as there are some valid points made, and seeing things from others perspective is good for understanding other generals about the topic. I take them into account, but nothing more.

  2. Luke, I don’t completely agree. Yes, as you and I both said, recommendations are opinions. But some opinions are informed by study or experience and therefore should carry more weight.

    That doesn’t mean I have to like what experts might say is a perfectly written story. The content might clash with my worldview, for example, or the type of story might not be the kind I like. In that case, the person making the recommendation isn’t wrong, but his evaluation didn’t take into consideration things important to me.

    Those are things we need to keep in mind, I think, when we read reviews and recommendations.



What do you think?