Unimaginable – A Fitting Title

“…once God is pushed out of the picture, moral absolutes are very much in doubt.” – Jeremiah Johnston

When I set out to review Unimaginable – What Our World Would be Like Without Christianity by Dr. Jeremiah Johnston, my concern was that I wouldn’t have time to fact-check Dr. Johnston’s claims. Upon completion of the book, it turns out this worry became a minor concern in light of some of my other apprehensions.

 

Before I launch into my issues with the book, I’d like to highlight what I found enlightening. Though not stated, the premise of the book turned into an argument about human dignity and inherent worth. Johnston contrasted Christianity to humanistic and pagan views of human dignity. He effectively layed out the destructive ends to which the former views arrive if left unchecked – the devaluing and systematic destruction of individuals.

Johnston quoted original documents and this proved very effective. The story at the beginning of chapter one – the letter from Hilarion to his pregnant wife, Alis, was both gripping and jarring. Likewise, the quotes and ideas from Sam Harris, Nietzsche, Huxley, Russell and Kinsey helped to add color to the narrative.

 

That said, I have four major concerns with this book. I will first state what my concerns are, then I will attempt to explain my concerns, and, finally, I will lay out what I think could help resolve my concerns.

First, I felt the thesis, or at least the foundation of the thesis, was incorrect, and it left much room for objections to the argument. Second, the title and subtitle seem to oversell the actual text. Third, Johnston never dealt with a large time period which was highly damaging to the witness of the followers of Christ. Finally, I found the flow of the text to be confusing, and I couldn’t track with the narrative until I was well into the middle third of the book.

Concerns

The Thesis

As I stated, I felt the thesis of the book – that humanity is protected by Christianity’s views of the world – didn’t get to the center of the concern. It doesn’t materially change the defense of the argument, but the book neglects Common Grace and Original Sin (or Total Depravity), two topics that are nearly universally accepted within Christian circles. The issue of how people treat people is less rooted in the Christian moralistic argument and more rooted in the base nature of mankind. That is why practicers of other religions, non-religious people and atheists can and do good works for fellow humans. Neglecting to state the nature of humankind leaves the entire argument open to arguing the exceptions in all worldviews.

The Scope

The stated scope of this book was far too broad. The subtitle indicates that the book deals with many manners of society…and it will do this in 200 pages. To deal with treatment of people, societal structures, economic systems, governmental constructs, legal views – in a short book – is, at best, ambitious, and, more likely, nearly impossible even for the most skilled of writers.

The book itself primarily focuses on the unique views of the value of humanity contrasting to pagan, humanistic and Darwinian views, and the book does a compelling job of arguing why Christianity is unique in this. His drawing from Ancient Rome and the 20th Century brutal regimes is highly effective. In this one topic, by itself, the book is very compelling.

Objectionable History

Johnston’s book skips from Ancient Rome to the humanistic philosophers of the Enlightenment. There is good reason for this, as many modern philosophers drew inspiration from Rome’s Golden Age.

The challenge is the book skips the very dark time of the Middle Ages. Often, Christianity’s strongest critics will point to this period as evidence of the failures of Christianity. It’s hard to disagree, especially as scientific exploration and mathematics flourished in the Muslim world, and Christianity grew more and more brutal.

I wish Johnston had devoted one chapter to this period. It could be a short chapter that explained the differences between the strains of true Christianity that existed in spite of a very pagan culture with a veneer of Christianity placed on it. Even a quick survey of the Dark Ages quickly reveals that the dominant strains of what was called Christianity had no foundations in the Scriptures, and a short chapter stating this could have prevented the argument from being left open.

The Narrative

The book never clearly states up front where it is going with the argument. Maybe I’m just a lazy modern reader, but I like to be told what I’m going to be told, to be told, and then to be told what I was told.

I was completely lost in why the book started in Ancient Rome. I understood a need for showing the brutality and inhumanity of the period, but Johnston doesn’t really get around to starting to make the connections until much later. It left me feeling like an unanchored reader.

I would have preferred the author, at the close of his opening chapter, state his thesis and roadmap. As a reader, I didn’t need anything elaborate, but I would have preferred a hint as to where he was going with the book.

Recommendations

I think a couple of small changes would greatly improve this book. First, I would recommend a section that deals with Original Sin. This section can be short, maybe part of the introductory chapter, but I think it’s necessary to understand the origins of worldviews and why the Christian worldview is unique.

Second, I’d add a quick roadmap in the first chapter explaining how the book is structured and where’s he is headed. This gives some context.

Third, I feel the the subtitle is too ambitious. I think it oversells the work. I like that the book focuses on the treatment of humanity, especially the vulnerable and marginalized, but the subtitle makes it sound more ambitious and broad than the book really is. Focusing on the value of humans – image bearers of God – is a big topic in and of itself.

Finally, I would strongly recommend a chapter to deal with objections and damaging history. Don’t shy away from the medieval Catholic Church; run to confront the anti-biblical views. Don’t ignore how the Lutheran and Catholic Churches were complicit in Nazi Germany; explain how they were wrong. If the premise of the book is built on Original Sin and Common Grace, the dark moments in the faith’s history become part of the redemptive stories of the faith.

In conclusion, I wouldn’t recommend the book, though some big names (Thom Rainer, Lee Strobel, Sheila Walsh, and Sean McDowell, to name a few), have endorsed it. I think there is value in exploring the contrasting worldview implications of the inherent value of humanity – and with the changes I recommend – this book could move from my “Don’t Read” to “Read” list.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

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Pray About Everything – A Review

“…as likeminded believers pray together, God knits our hearts together in deeper affection and empowers us to accomplish his work” – Pray About Everything

When given the opportunity to read Pray About Everything, I was very interested.  Personally, I feel that, unfortunately, my prayer life is lacking, and I was excited to read a book to help me build this discipline.  I was not disappointed.

 

First, I am a fan of Jerry Bridges – I have learned much from him – and, since he wrote the forward, I was more willing to give this book a shot. Additionally, Mark Dever endorsed this book, and that added more credibility.

 

 

I was pleasantly surprised by the content.  Paul Tautges focuses more on corporate prayer instead of focusing on personal prayer. For whatever reason, fewer authors write about this topic.  His format gives a series of devotionals that would work well for corporate prayer meetings, and I found these to be particularly helpful.

The content does have a slight secessionist feel, and that disappointed me.  This is a minor criticism, as the rest of the content was very valuable.

I would encourage pastors and small group leaders with teaching responsibilities to look at this book. The devotionals are tailorable, and I think the format and content is beneficial.

I received a preview copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.  

Don’t Punish the Good

Today, I’m looking at the Super Tuesday II results.  I’m embarrassed at what I see.  For the first time in my adult life, I can’t believe I’m actually hanging my political hopes on New York, California, Pennsylvania and Indiana to do the right thing.

I think there are many who will abstain from voting should “The Candidate I will not Name” get the nomination.  In fact, I think that it’ll make Romney’s purported “4 Million Missing Conservative Voters” looks like a minor blip.  I will, most likely, be a part of that pool.

As a person who will abstain out of conscience, I have a few comments.

  1. Do not punish the good candidates on the ballot.  Many times, the top of the ticket determines the outcome of an election.  That doesn’t need to be so.  There are many Congressional, Senatorial, State and Local candidates that are solid, doing the work they’ve been sent to do.  Show up at the polls, and cast your vote for them.
  2. At minimum, research the various 3rd party candidates. We Americans, regardless of our party affiliation, should research all candidates. At one time, the Federalist Party and then the Whig Party were the dominant parties.  The Democrat Republican Party, and then the Democrat Party & Republican Party, replaced them. History says that, while America will probably remain a two-party system, those two parties will be replaced.
  3. If you choose to leave the top spot open (I may), vote for “other,” and fill in a name. If the 2000 election taught us anything, it taught us that election judges and poll watchers are given great latitudes in determining the “will of the voter.”  In Florida, many blanks were ultimately counted because judges determined the “intention of the voter” based on the rest of the ballot.
  4. Don’t sit this election out. As I said in my first bullet, there will be many good candidates on the ballot, and they deserve our vote.

2016 is a big election.  One the country can recover, but one in which both parties are again seeking their soul.  May they both find their bearings once again.

 

 

Radical Works Versus Radical Grace

I’m seeing a lot of “we just need to understand them” posts coming out now, both from Christian and secular sources. This piece will help frame ISIS’s strategy and ideology. I read the article when it first came out, and, as I remember the article, it does a great job of explaining this group.

The more I learn about Islam, the more I’m beginning to understand how a works-based (versus a grace- and gospel-based) religion perverts one’s behaviors.  Islam is a works-based religion, where the good a person does is balanced against the evil. If the scales tip one way, it’s paradise; if they tip the other way, eternal torment.  Unfortunately, there is no way to know how the scales will tip until one moment after death.

Radicalized Islam, like the version highlighted in this article, give a shortcut.  To die a martyr’s death circumvents the judgment. Knowing that heaven or hell weighs in the balance, and knowing there is an alternative, leads to these results.

Christians, we’re in danger of establishing our own works-based gospel. We can easily swap our good works for the work of the cross, and, while it may not lead to suicide bombings and self-sacrificing attacks, it does lead to arrogance.  I believe that we are probably all guilty of comparing our good works against those of others, and, even worse, comparing our good works against the evil done by others.

We – I –  should always remember the words spoken by Martin Luther, “So when the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this: ‘I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it? For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God, and where He is there I shall be also!’”

Knowing we cannot earn salvation should lead to humility and acts of good service.  And it should motivate us to invite others to a simpler life in the saving work of Christ.

Welcome

Good day.  Welcome to my new blog.  This is the new home for my thoughts.  If you are interested, you can see my former online life at World of Asa.

I am honored that you chose to visit my home.   Please enjoy and comment as you see fit.

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