Book Review: The God You Thought You Knew

The God You Thought You Knew: Exposing The 10 Biggest Myths About Christianity, by Alex McFarland

[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Bethany House in exchange for an honest review.]

Sometimes the beginning of a book can give a lot of insight about what the book was about, and in an unexpected way, that is true of this particular book, which opens as follows: “As a kid, I longed to feel accepted for who I was, especially from my dad. But living on a farm in the South, I could never seem to do things right—my efforts were never satisfactory for my father. The rules seemed to always be changing. I felt as if I were constantly walking on eggshells, trying not to mess up or make him angry. Consequently, I grew up feeling rejected and believed I was never quite good enough. I felt I needed to depend on someone or something so I could feel secure and have some stability in my life, but my home was far from a safe place. Mom and Dad fought a lot. My family was on the verge of bankruptcy and losing the family farm. With family fortunes and relationships in ruin, I sensed there was nothing I could depend upon (13).” This personal background, as the child of a broken and dysfunctional family, appears to have honed his interests into relational matters, the emotional longing and needs that lead to the intellectual justification of doubts that many people have over their hurts, a situation for which many Christian organizations are responsible. As the author writes later on this book, “Today, churches are often viewed as a corporation rather than a congregation, an organization rather than an organism, and a monument rather than a movement. Yet God created the church as a family designed to communicate truth, build community, and change lives (101).”

In this short but immensely worthwhile book, noted Christian apologist Alex McFarland [1] tackles the ten biggest cultural myths about Christianity. The book is organized around these myths, beginning with the heartfelt introduction quoted from above, closing with what amounts to an altar call giving the sinner’s prayer and other advice on how to begin a personal relationship with Jesus Christ along with additional resources and many worthwhile books to read on the subject of apologetics, intelligent design, and other related issues. The rest of the chapters contrast a societal myth about Christianity with the truth, as follows:

Myth #1: Christianity is intolerant and judgmental towards others.
Truth: Christianity teaches to love neighbor as self and to share the love of Jesus with others.
Myth #2: Christianity cannot be true because of the evil and suffering in our world.
Truth: Christianity offers the best hope and power to deal with suffering.
Myth #3: Christianity is untrue because it is based on faith instead of facts.
Truth: The claims of Christianity are based on historical facts that can be tested.
Myth #4: Christianity has been disproven by modern science.
Truth: The latest scientific evidence points to an Intelligent Designer behind all creation.
Myth #5: Christianity is not a religion for the educated.
Truth: Many of the world’s top past and present scholars are educated.
Myth #6: Christianity is boring and would be a waste of my time.
Truth: Christianity is the most adventurous life a person can experience.
Myth #7: Christianity isn’t real because it didn’t work for me.
Truth: The Christian faith is difficult, yet also the most rewarding way of life.
Myth #8: Christianity is false because it is based on the Bible, which is filled with errors and contradictions.
Truth: The Bible is the most accurately preserved book in history.
Myth #9: Christianity can’t be true because it is based on a dead man coming back to life.
Truth: If the best explanation for the empty tomb of Jesus is the resurrection, then Christianity can be true.
Myth #10: Christianity isn’t real because a loving God wouldn’t send anyone to hell.
Truth: God has made great efforts to make sure many will spend eternity with him.

These are not new concerns, as there are many books, quite a few of them cited by the author, including Josh McDowell’s Evidence That Demands A Verdict, Lee Strobel’s A Case For Christ, and God’s Not Dead [2]. This book fits well alongside many of the books about apologetics that deal with the intellectual and rational questions of faith, including the need to separate the sometimes unacceptable behavior of believers with the rational and sound basis of belief in God based on an accurate understanding of Creation and history. Where this book differs from many books about the subject is the way that the book deals compassionately and thoughtfully with the reality that the intellectual arguments of skepticism and disbelief are fig leaves to cover the raw and bleeding wounds of a broken heart, often due to the tragedies of life or the wicked behavior of professed believers that all too many of us know from our own personal histories, where those who claim to love God the most and believe Him the best often lack the love and concern for others that genuine Christians demonstrate in our lives. This is a worthwhile point to remember, as it is a matter where we can all stand to do better.

Despite the book’s considerable achievement, whether it is recapitulating the familiar ground of other excellent works in apologetics, or whether it is grounding this familiar and comforting exploration of the truth of Christianity with striking personal examples and stories, and compassionate observations of others, this book is not perfect. Indeed, it is noteworthy to reflect a bit on the author’s flaws because they are flaws that are common to many books and therefore demonstrate that just as this author shares many of his positive qualities with those who he has accepted as authorities, so too he has accepted their flaws without proper biblical understanding. A few examples are particularly obvious, including the misinterpretation of Acts 10, which gives its own interpretation that believers ought to call no person unclean, having nothing to do with biblical food laws at all, ultimately, the focus on immediate heaven and hell based on a misreading of the parable of Lazarus and the rich man and the ignorance of the broader biblical context of prophecy as well as the nature of the final judgment and the resurrections, and the book’s mistaken statement that it was the resurrection and not early anti-Semitism based on a desire to distinguish Christianity from the rebellious Jewry of the post-Revolt period, as well as a counter to the hostility of Jews in the later decades of the first century and beyond that led many self-professed Christians to change their day of worship from the biblical Sabbath to the pagan day of the sun. Despite these flaws, the book has a great deal of worth, but it should be noted that some of these flaws dramatically shift the nature of the author’s claims about Christianity and its solution to problems such as the question of the legitimacy of eternal judgment.

[1] See also:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/08/02/book-review-the-21-toughest-questions-your-kids-will-ask-about-christianity/

[2] Apologetics happens to be an interest of mine. See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2015/09/07/book-review-the-atheist-who-didnt-exist/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/03/01/book-review-true-reason/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/03/11/book-review-reasons-for-belief/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/06/06/book-review-the-big-book-of-bible-difficulties/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2010/11/29/book-review-and-musing-on-the-foundations-of-christian-scholarship/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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13 Responses to Book Review: The God You Thought You Knew

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