Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Book Snaps: "God Is Not..." and "God Does Not..."

I'm behind (as usual) on putting these up, so I may do it for the whole week if nothing else happens. This is from the July 2009 Ticker, by guest author "Teluog".


This is a dual review of two books edited by D. Brent Laytham. One is titled, God is Not....Religious, Nice, "One of Us," an American, a Capitalist and the other is titled God Does Not....Entertain, Play Matchmaker, Hurry, Demand Blood, Cure Every Illness.

In a culture full of consumerism, emotion, convenience, individualism, and McSpirituality, the church has not been able to be the salt of our society that it should be. It appears as if the church is losing against the forces of Western society, whose elements have infiltrated the church to the point where God and the Bible are being shut out and replaced with a god that our culture wants. A group of writers from the Ekklesia Project set out to sort through the maze of misconceptions about the nature of the Triune God and the church in order to address a problem that is all too rampant today.

Laytham introduces the purpose of the book by pointing out the various factors in the world around us that compete for our allegiance. These loyalties distort our perception on who God is and how the church relates to Him and to the state. Although the purpose of the essays in these books are to challenge our perceptions of who God is, Laytham et al. realize that many people may take offense to challenges of their convictions, but the authors offer their rebuttals in a humble manner.

Each chapter is an essay written by a different author on a different topic. The essays are written like a good sermon; it is easy to imagine the author speaking these words in a pulpit on a Sunday morning (and I sure hope they do!). Each essay goes into some of the details on the misconception, including where it comes from. The theme throughout all of these essays is that in the battle between the church and society, society is winning. Society has influenced the worldview and perception of those in the church to the point where the church has created God in their own image, an image that mimics the image of society in contrast to the Triune God revealed in Scripture.

For the most part, the authors tackle the issues well. Most of the essays are written clearly, with good, catchy rhetoric. They make many good points, and even though many readers may already know much about these topics, they may still be captured by the way the authors portray the details of the topics, which should aid the readers when they discuss these topics with their fellow Christians. Rarely are there some points that are a bit confusing and fuzzy. The fuzziness is due to the apparent and alleged lack of space to expand more on a certain detail.

The selection of topics are mostly good. It's nice to see church leaders tackle issues like how people think that God is "nice," that Christian marriage works out like a fairy tale, or how our fast-paced society is at odds with God's patient pace. The biggest issue with this book is the contradiction between Long's essay (God Is Not Nice) and Bell Jr.'s (God Does Not Demand Blood: Beyond Redemptive Violence). Long argues soundly that God is not a therapist who gives us our perceived "personal needs" for our own fulfillment, and that the Bible does, in fact, reveal that He is a God of wrath and justice, where there are consequences for violating His holy commands. Bell does away with God's justice by arguing that Christ did not come to pay for our sins (ignoring Scripture that talks of us being healed by his wounds, the fighting decreed by God in the Old Testament, the fact that God basically demolished Egypt in order to free His people), but he came to offer a way to reunite with God. 

Not only does Bell not explain how we are reunited back to God, but Bell continues to argue that Jesus went to the cross only so that he could come back to life to continue to offer reunion. How that justifies us before God isn't explained (speaking of justification, Bell thinks that his atonement theory is also Paul's theory). While ignoring biblical justice and justification, Bell turns God into more of the nice God that Long argues against.

Laytham opens both books with some background info to the purpose of the books with some details of the problems in the church and some explanation of how society has influenced the church's perception of God, along with the need to tackle them. Laytham also writes the final chapter of each book with an essay of the biblical perspective of God; in God is Not he writes on who God is, and in God Does Not he writes on what God does (well, sort of, he writes that "God does Father, Son, and Holy Spirit," more of a basic treatise on trinitarian theology than on God's actions in the world and our lives).

Overall, the books are solid polemics against common misconceptions in today's church (which, I would add, could be prevented with more Bible reading and better exegesis of it). Those who are of a more scholarly bent may not find these books that useful; they probably already know how to refute these misconceptions already, and so they may not learn much from them. But the average Christian and layman, and, sadly, the average pastor these days will find these books very useful. The topics would make good material for a series of sermons, or for small group study. Hopefully, more church leaders will be willing to take a stance against misconceptions of God with sound theology and Scripture, and be the salt of society that they are called to be.

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