A few days ago I posted the first part of Randy Alcorn’s explanation of his views, in response to a number of criticisms blog members leveled at his review of my book Heaven and Hell. In particular, a number of readers thought that he was unduly harsh and even “slandered” me. Here he provides a response. Feel free to make further comments, though Randy probably will not be responding directly.
From Randy Alcorn:
I’ve changed my mind on various things, I assume Bart has too. In a few cases I wish I wouldn’t have cited info that at the time appeared accurate but turned out not to be (my publishers have sometimes cringed when I insist on another update and revision, as well as corrections that are sometimes expensive).
To your charge of slander, Truncated, I don’t consider it slander to say that I believe someone appears to think he’s 100% right in certain areas when there are many people as smart and educated as he is that disagree. I do think at times Bart speaks with an air of certainty, which, had I not read N. T. Wright or someone else taking a very different view, I might have assumed it’s the only position thinking people believe. That is often the case of others and I think it tends to be more true of pastors, teachers, philosophers, researchers, scholars, textual critics and historians.
I do not take offense at the people who say they think the same is true of me. (Trust me, I’ve had scathing book reviews from people of other worldviews, and many reading this would fully agree with them, as is your right.) I am certainly grateful Bart is open to the exchange of viewpoints and invited me here. Good for him.
Naturally he disagreed with much of my review. But spirited and opinionated book reviews are not slander. I gave my honest assessment of the book. You believe I was “annoyed at how scholarship often doesn’t come to the same conclusion as faith-based interpretations of the Bible.” There’s that “scholarship” again, which doesn’t acknowledge countless scholars, scientists and historians who are faith-based. Why? Because…they must not really be scholars? Is it only other people, not we ourselves, who filter data through our own grids? I don’t mean that as slander or insult, I just think it should be self-evident that we all have greater vested interests in our own positions than we realize.
I apologized to Bart in a comment yesterday where someone rightly pointed out I’d misrepresented something Bart said. I went back to his book, looked it up then contacted two editors to make that correction. I think Bart and I are both accustomed to people with other worldviews misunderstanding and mischaracterizing us, hopefully not deliberately. I would say this, though, and it validates some of the criticisms a number of you have made. As I told Bart, I was asked to write that review by The Gospel Coalition, an evangelical audience, and it was decidedly NOT intended for this blog. There was much that could be assumed among the intended audience readership that couldn’t or shouldn’t be assumed here (e.g. 99% believing in an inspired Bible, believing in such a thing as false doctrine that has harmful effects, agreeing that certain doctrines are indeed false and harmful, etc.)
Not only was it written for an entirely different audience (compare the blog entries in The Gospel Coalition and Bart’s Blog and you’ll see that no one would confuse the two ????), but it was especially off-target to an audience understandably loyal to Bart. By this I don’t just mean Bart’s views (I know there are different opinions here), but Bart as a person. Had I written something for Bart’s blog it obviously would have been very different and I would have made different points and not quoted Scripture naively believing that readers would see it like I do (that belief wasn’t naïve with the TGC audience.)
Above all, had Bart and I exchanged emails and had I known him before writing it, I would have worded certain things differently. (No, it is not common practice for authors to develop a relationship with book reviewers, while I’ve had hundreds of book reviews not one reviewer has ever called to get to know me first; were there sufficient time in all our schedules that would be nice, but I actually will consider reaching out in the future when the views are dramatically at odds.) When I don’t know someone and only see their words it’s easier to be insensitive to them in critiquing their work. I realize that when someone says things I believe are untrue and misleading—and with what are to me stakes of biblical proportions—it amps up the situation, and if I don’t know them, I am less likely to give them the benefit of the doubt. I was basing my impressions on the five or so of Bart’s books I’ve read and the debates I’ve seen him in. That’s perhaps an adequate sampling to form judgments on viewpoints, but not on a person.
In retrospect, despite the serious disagreements that remain between us, I spoke too adamantly and even harshly and uncharitably at points, and for that, Bart especially, and secondarily for the many others I offended, I am truly sorry.