Thursday, April 29, 2010

I guess I still smell like sawdust.

My wife and I walked into a used bookstore in Fredericksburg, Texas.

Some of you have been there too. Not in Fredericksburg, perhaps, but in the Christian books section of a familiar-looking shop. You scan the shelves, hoping against hope. Eyes momentarily alight on the gloss of Philip Yancey, Rapture novels, and Billy Graham biographies. You peer more intently on the worn, cloth-shrouded hardbacks. No, you're not going to find a well-known treasure—a steal on a top-shelf commentary or some Spurgeon, but you might find something rich but obscure.

And then you realized that you've just blown 20 minutes.

But this time, on the way out I figured it was worth five more minutes to sift through the two or three tables of $1 books. And there they were: Ken Myers' All God's Children and Blue Suede Shoes and Richard Mouw's The Smell of Sawdust. Both were on my Amazon wishlist, though for very different reasons.

Myers will have to wait a bit longer, but last week I settled into Mouw's book, a collection of 15 short essays on "what evangelicals can learn from their fundamentalist heritage." (The sawdust analogy is an allusion to the common practice of spreading sawdust on the aisles of fundamentalist/revivalist evangelistic tent meetings in the 19th and 20th centuries.)

Used bookstores really do offer many opportunities to feel cheated when paying $1 for a book. I didn't expect the sensation from a book I'd been deliberately looking for. I supposed I expected a more robust critique, analysis, and positive assessment of the strengths of revivalist fundamentalism. I suppose that was naïve. Instead, I read the literary equivalent of a patronizing pat on the head from an aloof uncle as a child displays the popsicle-stick-and-cotton-ball Bible-sheep created in Sunday school.

But you're wondering why I'm surprised. Point taken.

I hope Myers is worth $2.


Frank Sansone said...

I think you'll find Myers worth the $2.00. I picked up a copy at our library a couple of years ago for 50cents.

Even if you end up not agreeing with him, I think it will make you think. (It also might make you think you are reading something Scott Anoil wrote :) ).

Just my thoughts,


d4v34x said...

So what was the sawdust for? To soak something up? Weird.

Dan Salter said...

Yes, to soak something up. Tents erected in open fields had dirt floors on dry days, mud on wet days. The sawdust helped to avoid losing a shoe.

d4v34x said...

That's disappointing. I thought perhaps they anticipated an outpouring of sweat and tears from the repentant. :)

Anonymous said...


Meyers is definitely worth the $2 -- a lot more actually. And while there may be some similarities, it isn't quite the same as Aniol's stuff.

Meyers critiques "The Logical Song" by Supertramp in that book. He's probably right in his critique, but it bummed me out -- I like that song. Nevertheless, Meyers is an insightful cultural observer and a serious Christian.

I had a different reaction than yours when reading Mouw's book (years ago when it came out). I thought it was an honest praise of the praiseworthy in a movement that wouldn't return the favor in his direction. A lot of it was familiar to my experience/thoughts. It wasn't deep or scholarly -- more like an extended blog than an academic book. But it seemed honest and appreciative.

Maybe if I read it again today I'd have a different experience.


Ben said...

Keith, part of my frustration with Mouw was that he consistently appropriated the things he appreciated about fundamentalism into his minimalistic version of Christianity—as if the good parts of fundamentalism aren't still completely incompatible with his vision for a grand and glorious ecumenism. How he can criticize fundamentalism for theological reductionism is simply beyond me. I'm not suggesting that he's wrong, simply that he's not exactly speaking from a robust, coherent platform, IMO.

Re Scott Aniol: I am quite sympathetic with many of his arguments. I'm skeptical that 1) objectivity is attainable, 2) preferred forms are universal, and 3) the people who reach different conclusions are guilty of defective worship. (Obviously, all our worship is defective. I'm unconvinced that a worship service steeped with Bach is inherently, necessarily superior to one steeped with Chris Tomlin.)

Justin Nale said...


On our honeymoon Crystal and I stopped into a used bookstore in Boone, N.C. Among all the Lucado and Yancey books was an old book by a man named Henry Scudder called "The Christian's Daily Walk". I'd never heard of it, but it had two forewards: one by John Owen and one by Richard Baxter. I paid $5 for the book & have found it to be one of the best purchases I ever made. I've now read and reread the book several times over many years and rank it in my top 10. Thankfully, its now being reprinted so that people don't have to find it in old bookstores like I did.

All that to say that the hunt for good books in used bookstores does sometimes have its rewards. Perhaps you'll find Myers to be a worthwhile read.