Wednesday, May 14, 2014

What You Can Expect From A Book By Neil Cole, Part One: The Negative Criticisms

I often get the same questions and comments on my books, both positive and negative. There are reasons for this. In these next blog posts I want to explain why my books tend to draw similar critiques and reviews. Let me start with the negatives:

"Cole's books always say the same thing." Honestly, you'll find repetition in my books, though I wouldn't write a book unless it had something unique to say. Why the repetition? Its simple, I have to assume that the person who is reading a book has never read any of my other books. With that assumption comes the need to explain some of the important information that other books contain. I try to state it in a different way related to theme of each book.

I want every book to be able to stand alone if need be, but also contribute to the growing message of our movement. Some things you will find in every one of my books, such as what I believe to be the DNA of Christ's body. Its important enough that it bears repeating. Jesus and Paul repeated themselves often, so I'm not ashamed of it. Each book has fresh material on an important subject, so if you read all my books you will find each one has something unique to say. That said, if you start reading a new book and early on find that you are experiencing a little déjà vu don't give up on the book. Feel free to skim over those parts until you get to the new material. Often the repetition is found early in a book because I am building on those previous thoughts. Let me say up front that this will not change, it is necessary for the movement we are trying to ignite.

Now there are two books with similar content but they were written with different audiences in mind: Cultivating a Life for God (written for pastors and missionaries) and Search & Rescue/Ordinary Hero (written for someone unengaged, sitting in the pews...bored with Christianity). In this case I do not recommend that you read both, one is sufficient. The latter was written a decade after the former so it is more updated, but is a longer book because of it.

NOTE: Ordinary Hero and Search & Rescue are the same book! The publisher re-released it as a paperback with a new title. Do not buy the same book twice! [You heard it from me]  If you read both of them and think I am repeating myself, well then, guilty as charged. Other than the title, the books are completely identical. It is ironic that something as simple as a Life Transformation Group (LTG) has three book titles released to explain it. Yikes!

"Cole's writing is too popular for a serious academic student or scholar." I usually take this type of critique as a complement. It actually means I am doing my job right. I have a calling to empower ordinary people to do the extraordinary work of representing Christ's kingdom in this world. In my view, my primary audience is the common person, which is where movements are ignited and carried. You'll not find a good movement that started in the hallowed halls of academia. Even an idea discovered in those halls didn't launch into a movement until it left the academic world and communicated into the common language of the day. That doesn't mean that I do not do my homework. My writing style will include stories and practical ideas because I am wanting to communicate with people who are not inclined to read academic work.

Simple is not simplistic. I believe that simplicity is actually a step beyond complexity. To truly understand something well you should be able to communicate it simply. If you are unable to say it in a simple and understandable way, then you likely do not fully understand it yet. That is how I see the learning and creation process and I view all my writing, speaking and ministry development with that core value. Others may say things with greater complexity, but that does not mean they are smarter or know the subject better. Just because the water is muddy doesn't mean its deep. Likewise, just because the water is clear enough to see the bottom doesn't mean the pool is shallow.
"The Scriptures are shallow enough for a babe to come and drink without fear of drowning and deep enough for a theologians to swim in without ever touching the bottom." ~Jerome
There are a few books in which I have attempted to address both types of audiences (deep thinker and common "Jane/Joe" Christian), which is a challenge but not impossible. Church 3.0, Journeys to Significance, Church Transfusion and Primal Fire all need to communicate ideas to both thought leaders as well as ordinary church goers. Those books will have more notes and research behind them. You will need to visit the back of the book more often to discover the depth of thinking behind the content found in those books if you are a thought leader. Even in those, I will still communicate complex ideas with simple stories and analogies and try to explain things so that it empowers the regular Christian. Other books I've written almost exclusively with the common Christian in mind, such as Search & Rescue (re-released in paperback as Ordinary Hero) or Organic Church. Those books will tell lots of stories and have memorable sayings throughout that summarize important ideas so that the workers carry the movement forward.

"Cole's hermenuetic is sometimes questionable." "Hermeneutic" is a ten dollar theological word that really means one's method of interpreting the bible. I usually get this critique when I am saying something from the Scriptures that doesn't match what people have already been taught (or more likely, they've already taught to people). In other words, I disagree with their teaching so they question my interpretation. I get it. It isn't so much that they have actually checked my interpretation against the Scriptures. Granted, I am often proposing radical new ways of viewing an old text, that's part of my calling. If what I am saying is a new theoretical view of a passage in Scripture and not the only way of seeing it, I will communicate the idea in a more suggestive tone as a potential option and will be much less dogmatic.

I actually view my role as someone who should make you think for yourself, not just tell you what to think, so I will often present alternate options. That said, just because an interpretation is unique does not make it wrong or faulty. There are many things passed down through the ages and given to us through the filter of our experience. When the lenses of tradition are removed we see the biblical texts in new light. There is always more to learn and discover. Don't let the geniuses of previous generations do all the thinking for us. They would want you to learn beyond their teaching.

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