Being a small church pastor I fill a lot of roles. I am the preaching pastor, I am the counselling pastor, I am the “executive” pastor, and I also the pastor of snow removal, the pastor of web mastery, the pastor of “oh no we’re out of paper towels,” and just about everything in between. One of those in between roles is being the pastor of book recommendations and reviews.
The way this normally works: someone will grab me after a sermon or they will send me an email and the question asked is always “would you recommend I read ___________? And the underlying question, especially when it comes from a newer believer, is “is this book theologically sound?” or “is this book safe (theologically) to read?” So with that question in mind a typically answer yes, no, or provide any needed cautions or caveats. When asked if I would recommend a book, if it upholds the authority of Scripture and allows God’s Word, rightly divided and applied, to shape its content I give it the thumbs up. That is the kind of book I recommend.
There are a few authors I feel comfortable recommending based on my familiarity with a large portion of their work, and there are others I automatically veto based on a familiarity with much of their work. That said if two people bring up the same book, that doesn’t fall into one of these categories to me, I read it before I give a recommendation, even if I suspect what my answer will be.
And such was the case when people began asking me about Judge Not: How a Lack of Discernment Led to Drunken Pastors, Peanut Butter Armpits & the Fall of a Nation by Todd Friel. I am familiar with Todd through his ministry on Wretched Radio, his role as the moderator of Q&A’s at the Shepherd’s Conference and his various other public ministries, and in the interest of full disclosure I like him. As Todd would say quoting the move Dumb and Dumber, “I like him a lottt.” I in a very modest way financially support Wretched Radio, and my senior testimony from TMS was once played on the air (I am still waiting for a royalty check or a donation to PBC in lieu of that). We are in theological agreement on most issues (I can’t think of one we disagree on off the top of my head) and when it comes to the local church we have similar views and philosophies.
So when I was asked if I recommend his book, I said I needed to read it first, but I fully expected to give it a hearty thumbs up. But after reading it I can’t, but not for the usual reason; there is nothing in the book that I disagree with and certainly nothing I would regard as a theological danger.
The reason I don’t recommend it, goes to a deeper issue; as a Christian why do we read? For me, I read to be edified, either to learn new things, or to be sharpened in my thinking, and this book didn’t edify me in those ways and at least for the people who asked me about it, I didn’t think it would be edifying to them in those ways either.
The book itself is relatively lengthy, weighing in at 320 pages, which is great. The problem lies in that the book is divided into 40 chapters each of which (with one exception, two chapters are devoted to “Giving Wrong Salvation Instructions”) is devoted to a different subject. After factoring the introduction, that amounts to less than eight pages per chapter, while some chapters are only half of that length. That brevity is simply not sufficient to adequately treat any of those subjects. Having read the book, although it was at times insightful, I learned nothing new nor did I have my thinking sharpened on any of those topics. In fact, I am pretty sure I heard everything said before, from Todd on his radio show. I have a very strong suspicion this book is a collation of material prepared from the radio show. There is nothing wrong with that, however, it results in a volume that fails to meet the edification bar for me.
And I strongly suspect that it would for most of those who are inclined to read this book too. Todd is insightful, in fact his previous book Jesus Unmasked is one I heartily recommend, because my thinking was sharpened by it, but the breadth of Judge Not lends to a lack of depth that leaves little room for insight. Everyone who has asked me about this book I know to be not only in agreement with virtually everything in it, but also to be a regular listener to Wretched Radio. That is the audience Todd reaches, and I’d love to see him reach them (and me) with not a chapter on worship music and one chapter on the band Jesus Culture specifically, but with an entire book on worship music in and for the church (or on biblical youth ministry or on the intersection of faith and politics) or any number of the other topics he touches on so briefly.
So in a world where most “avid” readers read less than six books a year, I simply can’t recommend this book. I don’t think it has enough value as a resource to recommend spending the amount of time it takes to read this. Is there anything wrong with the theological content? No. Is there anything spiritually dangerous in it? Absolutely not. But when it comes to what I would recommend someone spend their valuable time reading, it simply falls short. I like Todd Friel, I commend him to you, I recommend listening to his radio show, but I simply can’t recommend this book.