Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Christianity Today and My Response

I am stunned, humbled, and deeply grateful to have Introverts in the Church as the featured book review in the January issue of Christianity Today. CT receives hundreds and hundreds of books, and can only feature a very few over the course of a year, so this is an incredible honor. I suspected that my book would resonate with a lot of people, but I had no idea what incredible publicity the book would receive. Add the CT review to the November cover story of Christian Century, and I continue to believe that my professional career has peaked!

You really should read the review before you read my response. You can find it here:

Introverts for Jesus Unite!  Christianity Today

I'm not planning on responding to reviews on a regular basis, or maybe even at all after this, but I felt this one was important enough to warrant a reply.

My response:

I think the reviewer has been fair and represented many of my points accurately, while sharing some of her own life and perspective. I am happy that she quoted the book so frequently, since most reviews do not have the space for anything but broad generalizations. She focused mostly on relationships and community, specifically the relationships between introverts and extroverts.

I won't lie and say that I'm entirely happy with the review. I certainly would've hoped for at least 4 stars, but most of that dissatisfaction is likely ego. I think she presented the book as a manual for helping introverts and extroverts to relate to one another. While I certainly hope the book will do that, I wrote the book primarily to help introverts navigate Christian life and community, and as a corrective to the evangelical bent towards extroverted ideals. It's for introverts, with the hope that many extroverts will listen in on the quiet conversation.

There are a couple of other places where I disagree with the review, but that's just part of being an author and having other people read your book. However, there is one place where I think I have been misquoted and that a main theme in the book has been passed over and misrepresented. I sent in a letter to the editor on this point, and I want to elaborate on it here.

On the first page of the review, the reviewer says "[Introverts in the Church] is weakest when it offers solutions, precisely because the author's solutions are too pastor-centric and by his own admission, theoretical."

I can see where someone could think the solutions are too oriented towards pastors, because I draw significantly from my own experiences as a pastor and I interviewed several other introverted pastors. I also have two chapters, including the longest chapter in the book, devoted to introverts in church leadership. I think she makes a valid point in saying that introverts in full-time ministry may struggle in finding their rhythms more than others. I don't even have a problem with someone saying my solutions are "weak" - that's a matter of opinion. What is not a matter of opinion is that 1. My solutions are theoretical and 2. I admit that my solutions are theoretical.

I'll start with the second point. What I'm sure the reviewer is referring to is my personal introduction in chapter 5, in which I say:
As I write about relationships, I draw more from theory than I do experience. My failures in this arena have outnumbered my successes. Though I feel the universal human desire to know and be known, my knowing is more intellectual than emotional. So I have loaded this chapter with practical suggestions for getting involved in community, but I'm still trying to take them myself."
While I openly admit that many of my struggles as an introvert have come in relationships, and I have struggled at times to find my place in Christian community, that does not mean that my SOLUTIONS are theoretical. I was acknowledging that I do not have as much personal experience with relationships as I would like, and that I constantly strive for more depth and openness in my close friendships. However, the solutions I present are rooted in the tangible experiences of introverts, both of myself and of many, many other introverts who are a part of Christian communities. I haven't always applied them to the degree I would like, but these are practical suggestions straight out of the real life and discipleship of introverts following Jesus and participating in his body. And even if a person interprets the above statement as me saying that that particular chapter draws more from theory than experience, it is not fair to then apply that to the book as a whole, as the reviewer does.

I have a hard time seeing how someone could read the book and think that the solutions I propose are theoretical. At the outset of the research process, I knew my temptation, as a strong introvert and also an NT on the Myers-Briggs, to spend the vast majority of my time in my study, just writing things that pop into my solitary head. I knew that if the book was going to ring true and really help introverts, that I needed to work against these natural tendencies. I say in the book that the trajectory of growth for introverts is towards relationships and the outside world, and I knew I needed to apply this myself in my writing process. So I went out there, and I interviewed literally dozens of introverts - pastors, scholars, psychologists, and many introverted churchgoers, and if you read the book, you'll see it's filled with illustrations, quotes, narratives, and solutions that come directly out of those interactions.

Later in that same chapter on relationships and community, I say:
In this book project, I had to resist my introverted temptation to spend all my time in my study reading, researching, and writing, because it was the conversations and interviews I had with others that proved the most illuminating. The discovery of the most profound insight on my own did not compare to the exhilaration of truth stumbled on together. One conversation with another introvert brought more sparks of thought than a weekend at my desk. I found clarity that was lacking in my inner process. I built bonds with others through our mutual experiences as introverts trying to live in Christian community. Introverted friends helped me to realize I was not only giving voice to my own thoughts about this topic; I was advocating for a community of introverted Christians who share frustrations and hopes for their lives and for the church.
So even though my experience with other people has been more theoretical and intellectual than I want, this book project was an excellent opportunity to begin and cultivate the sort of intimacy I desire.

The ironic thing is that I have constantly heard how "practical" the book is and how much people appreciate the stories of their fellow introverts that permeate the book. Maybe my solutions are "weak" or ineffective; that's up to individual readers to determine. But I do not think it's fair to say they're theoretical.

Unfortunately the letters to the editors of CT are only allowed 1000 characters, and so I did not have space to express my appreciation, but could only voice my critique. I hope that letter is received as friendly and constructive. I do want to thank Christianity Today for devoting so much space to Introverts in the Church. 2010 is a good time to be an introvert!!

I want to request that any comments will be in an irenic spirit and will not be overly polemical or critical towards CT or the review. And please don't feel like you have to validate me or the book; that's not why I wrote this. We're all on the same team, and Christianity Today has done introverts everywhere a tremendous service!