In-Sight: Recommendations

After ministering for more than 45 years as a pastor and professor, I have recommended many things over the years.  Once in a while, someone will come to me with a book in his or her hand and usually they will have their finger in the book at a certain page.

They will say something like this, “You recommended this book, but you don’t believe this do you?”  And then, they will proceed to read a sentence or a paragraph.  Sometimes I do agree; sometimes, I don’t.  But it is always an occasion for me to think about why I recommended what I do.

Let me be clear—nothing like that has happened to “spark” this post.  I was just thinking recently about how I go about recommending things.

First, I always tell students or other inquirers that a recommendation from me does not mean that I absolutely believe “everything” in the book or other resource.  I have never made a recommendation with a “100% OK” stamp of approval.

The reason is, I’ve never found a person or resource I completely agree with.  I don’t even presume to teach and preach with absolute certainty regarding everything I’ve said or written.  More than once I have had to say, “Is that what you heard me say?  Well, if it is, it’s not what I meant!”  Sometimes, it’s even more significant than that—I have actually said or written things I later wish I had not.  Such is life.

For me, a recommendation is a statement that a person and his/her related speaking and writing will leave you facing in the right direction—that is, toward life in Christ.  With that kind of recommendation, I want to leave myself and you free to take issue with particular statements. I want to leave myself and you free to dialog with the statement, engage it, etc.

This was recently confirmed for me in a quote from St. Augustine in On Doctrine which I am sure I am paraphrasing.  The wise saint said, “Something is good for you if it leaves you loving God and others more.”   I recommend that, but don’t “run wild” with it!

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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