Posts tagged ‘book review’
My holiday reading was Godless: How An Evangelical Preacher Became One of America’s Leading Atheists by Dan Barker. I had travelled a similar journey (albeit in a less publicised way). Having made the change from being an evangelical leader, preacher, counsellor, and author (for over 30 years) to an unashamed, blogging atheist, I thought it would be interesting to read the human story. I wondered how far Barker’s experience would parallel my own, and if his analysis of his change would help me see my own in a new perspective. I am really glad that I read through to the end of the book.
The book is divided into four sections: his life as a believer; his loss of faith; more detailed reasons for rejecting Christianity; his present work for the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF).
His faith didn’t disappear overnight, and I could certainly identify with the agony of the period where he felt so hypocritical. On the outside everything was OK and everybody was looking to him for Christian leadership and teaching, but on the inside the certainty of his faith was shifting dramatically. And once the faith had really disappeared, his experience certainly shed light on my own clinging to a pretence for so long. Not only was I clinging to a culture and people that I had known for most of my adult life, but I was also clinging to a public reputation that I had established. In our cases, faith wasn’t just a private matter, but it also came with a history, a community, and an important identity. The faith was private, but the ‘ baggage’ was public and, in some ways, was more ‘psychologically sticky’…
The Flight of Peter Fromm by Martin Gardner is a tale of one man’s intellectual and spiritual journey from a literalist, fundamentalist Protestant faith to … some other sort of faith. When the young Peter arrives at the University of Chicago to prepare for a preaching career, he is one of a handful of students who believes in that Old-Time Religion. You know the kind I mean: tent meeting revivals, holy rolling, speaking in tongues, being slain in the Spirit, etc.
Several years later, Peter’s faith has matured into something less rigid, something more sophisticated and theologically informed. By now, he’s read Augustine and Aquinas, Luther and Calvin. He’s dabbled in Catholicism and Communism. And he’s taken up smoking, drinking and sex. When the United States is drawn into World War II, he interrupts his education and spends four years in the Navy.
When Peter returns to Chicago, he explores the writings of twentieth century theologians: Barth, Niebuhr, Bultmann, Tillich, among others. Eventually, he questions the life and ministry of Jesus. Was there actually a man named Jesus? Was he born of a virgin? Was he resurrected? These are all good questions. (Well, I think they are because they were questions I asked)…
While I was still working as a pastor, I brought my doubts to my bishop and he started the process of finding me a spiritual mentor. The process of my leaving licenced ministry for an indefinite period of time went faster than the process of finding a spiritual mentor, and by the time I first met the pastor who would be my mentor, I was already unemployed. We agreed to meet anyway, and see how things worked out. I was very unsecure in my deconversion and was hoping there was something obvious I had overlooked.
One of the first things my mentor asked me to do was read a book called The Shack, written by William P. Young. The tagline on the front cover reads, “Where tragedy confronts eternity” and on the back cover is the claim that in Young’s story, he wrestles with the question, “Where is God in a world so filled with unspeakable pain?” Young wrestles with this question through the fictional character Mackenzie Allen Phillips (or Mack, for short), who suffers some horrible tragedies in his life, then one day receives an invitation in his mailbox which may or may not be from God.
Please be aware that this article contains SPOILERS and that if you want to be surprised by anything in the book, you should read the book before finishing this article. You may still find nothing in the book to be surprising, but at least that won’t be my fault…
I bought Bart Ehrman’s God’s Problem on the strength of reading his Misquoting Jesus, and I wasn’t disappointed.
There are three things about Ehrman’s writing that help me sit up and listen to what he is saying.
First, he is world renowned scholar in his field. He has been teaching the bible at university level for years and knows the book and its documents and the scholarship associated with it inside out.
Secondly, he is a very able communicator. The substance of the Misquoting Jesus is the scholarship surrounding the New Testament documents – a very technical subject. Despite this, he wrote a very readable book for the non-expert. In God’s Problem he looks at the subject of suffering and examines how, for him, the answers as to why we suffer provided in the bible seriously fail to convince him that an omnipotent and loving god exists.He moves with ease and grace through the theology and philosophy of the Old and New Testaments, all the time reminding us that despite the words, suffering is a very human problem. The modern day examples of suffering he discusses are personal and real, and cry out for answers. We may be able to detach ourselves from the suffering of Old Testament nations, but, as Ehrman reminds us, the obscenity of the Holocaust is closer to home, as is the suffering of our family members and neighbours…
I started writing this review for my Shelfari page, but it kept growing and growing until I decided it might make a halfway decent article here. Since my scathing review of Blue Like Jazz , I thought this one was a little more generous. By a little.
I wanted to like this book. I really, really wanted to like this book. Inspired by an article by blogger DagoodS, I picked up the book in Dallas while waiting for a connecting flight. Dowd has lately been making the rounds promoting his book, and appearing on everything from Albert Mohler’s radio show to Point of Inquiry. He lives the life of an itinerant evangelist, who travels about the country writing and lecturing on his successful marriage of Christian faith and the theory of evolution. After hearing Dowd being interrogated and his Faith questioned by Dr. Russell Moore, I admit I developed a soft spot for Dowd. I wanted to like him, and his book. I wanted somebody from inside the Christian faith who could successfully promote and evangelize both Christian belief and modern science. Picking up the book, I was struck by 6 pages of accolades from theologians, physicists, ministers, biologists and Nobel laureates. I was impressed by his opening paragraphs which promise inspiration and insight to such diverse beliefs ranging from the Fundamentalist to the Atheist, and everyone in between…
I have previously written about whether or not a reasonable faith exists. Today, I’d like to share a few thoughts inspired by the book Finding Faith by Brian McLaren.
In Chapter 1, titled Does It Really Matter What I Believe, McLaren distinguishes between good and bad faith. What I found interesting is that his descriptors for bad faith perfectly label my experience of faith in the churches I’ve attended, while his descriptors for good faith are the things I’ve desired but rarely found. The descriptors for bad faith are as follows:
- Bad faith is based solely on unquestioned authority.
A rather wicked use of scripture for this assertion is “touch not God’s anointed”.
- Bad faith is based on pressure or coercion.
If you’ve ever been to see the production of Heaven’s Gate Hell’s Flames, you’ll know about this one. That is a terrible dramatic presentation utilizing fear and guilt to coerce people to believe.
- Bad faith is often the result of a psychological need for belonging.
This is likely the primary reason why my family came to faith. Churches can be a wonderful place of friendship and potential courtship for singles, particularly given the individualism of our time…
For the Christian who is disillusioned with the fundamentalists (and the fundamentals), along comes Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz, supposedly the youthful and honest voice of modern Christianity (I wouldn’t know for sure – old fart that I am). Miller writes with a very casual style – more fitting to random and disjointed diary entries, than as a cohesive unit. But I suppose that is what gives the book its seemingly authentic and honest veneer. Yes folks, here is a Christian who attends a secular college, gets drunk, hangs out with the dopers and attends anti-Bush rallies. Not that any of that particularly bothers me; I remember fondly the old days of the Pentecostal Jesus movement from the early 70’s. But even though Miller claims that Christianity is at its core unhip, he strives to make himself and his version of Christianity the hippest act in town. Miller seems almost oblivious to his self-absorption, and I continually wanted to shake him in my frustration so as to snap him out of his stupor.
The book was recommended to me by fellow church-goers as a means of questioning my questions, and doubting my doubts. I read it during the early stages of my own suspicions of the claims of Christianity, and I was told that Miller’s experiences would mirror my own. Wrong – oh how wrong they were. What Miller shows is not doubt nor skepticism toward his beliefs, rather disillusionment towards the political right wing that Evangelical Christianity has recently taken. This goes without saying, and answers no questions about honest doubt in God or the Christians’ supposed relationship with him. To counteract his ‘doubts’, Miller devises a tepid theology is of the ‘feel good’ variety. He admits that he never really doubts his faith in Jesus…