I often just scan the foreword and other such preamble in books. Every so often, however, in my eye catches something. In this case it was George Barna’s foreword to Carson Pue’s Mentoring Leaders.
In the Foreword, Barna writes, “There are three critical elements that make a book appealing to me…the messenger must be trustworthy…the message must be trustworthy…[and] the message must be helpful to the reader” (p. 9). At first glance it seemed reasonable, but as I reflected on it I began to question it.
On the first point,”the messenger must be trustworthy,” I have little to quibble with. After all, if I see a pharmacist reaching for a book on pharmacopoeia by Snake-oil Huckster Bob, I might be inclined to go somewhere else to get medication advice. Even here I must say that some shadow of doubt crosses my mind. On what basis do I determine the trustworthiness of the author?
On the second point, “the message must be trustworthy,” more questions are raised. Certainly if I am going to recommend a book to someone I want to be confident in the veracity of the message inked on the pages. Barna, however, makes a statement here that makes me a little uncomfortable. “The information must fit the known facts” (p. 9).
I do agree with his premise in terms of the more obvious things. After all, I am unlikely to consider a message trustworthy if it suggests that the secret to long life is skydiving without a parachute. To be a little more esoteric, however, I am post modern enough to question the overarching validity of the statement.
I’ll keep my question here to the more obvious, how do I know what the “facts” are. Understand that I am concerned here with the epistemological question not the ontological question of truth. In other words, the question of how do I know, not is there something to know.
If I merely read that which reinforces what I already “know,” will I learn anything new?
On the third point, “the message must be helpful to the reader,” Barna adds,
Time is too short to waste on useless information or inapplicable theories. The message should therefore be timely, practical, and beneficial (p 9).
My artsy, non-utilitarian, “it isn’t just about function,” right brain leaning, moderately post modern brain starts spewing smoke and gears on this one. Would a painting be painted in a world that thought this way? What symphonies written or performed? While Barna was writing about selecting books to read, it reflects an attitude of modernity that troubles me (this may or may not reflect Barna’s philosophy in all matters).
Allowing me to put on my pastoral hat for a moment, with such an approach, would be ever read the Psalms, or–gasp–the Song of Solomon? Is there any room left for what we do not know? Is there any room left for experiencing that which has no timely, practical benefit, like a flower beside the path?
Did God create creation to be “timely, practical and beneficial”?
 Pue, Carson. Mentoring Leaders. Baker Books, 2005.