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Posts Tagged ‘faith’

A Review of Deconversion: a Journey from Religion to Reason

Posted by Scott Holstad on March 5, 2018

Deconverted: a Journey from Religion to ReasonDeconverted: a Journey from Religion to Reason by Seth Andrews
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fantastic book! Seth Andrews lived my own exact life growing up, and we were both traumatized by the same types of things (the movie, “Thief In The Night!”), and we were both fundies/evangelicals for much of our younger lives before we both started asking ourselves some questions, before asking others, and began reading and researching, and while Andrews reached his conclusions and belief system before I did, I admire his resolve and his courage for “coming out” as an atheist in a strong Bible Belt city, because I live in the biggest Bible Belt city in America (I believe it was so named last year…), and unless you’re a Red State Republican bible thumper here, you don’t really feel very welcome in this city, and while I haven’t spent years as an out and out atheist as Andrews has, I may as well, because when I’m not on my feet “praising the lord,” I stick out like a sore thumb, and it can make one very uncomfortable. Yes, there there are “liberal” Christians here, as well as a few Muslims, about 25 Jews, possibly a few Hindus, although I haven’t seen any, some agnostics, some atheists, but no place to really gather and not be in church, because the only alternative is the Unitarian CHURCH, and while it’s a catchall for all beliefs and while they tend to make fun of fundies, it’s still called a “church,” so that kind of defeats the purpose. I’m reading Dawkins, Hitchins, Barker, George W Smith, and others right now, and it’s been really refreshing, and for the first time in my life, I feel like a huge weight has been lifted off of my shoulders, like I’ve been liberated, and I have Barker and Seth Andrews to thank in many ways, because unlike Hitchins, they’ve BEEN there, they understand, they know what it’s like to “deconvert” and how traumatic that can be for so many reasons, and I have found this book very helpful and very freeing and I recommend it for anyone going through a similar process or who has questions, doubts, etc. It helps fill it the holes, or flesh out the holes one finds gaping wide open in the christian bible. And the stress is not on what one believes, but what one doesn’t believe, unlike what many people think. Atheism is merely “a lack of belief in a god” or supernatural being, etc. It’s NOT a philosophical antithetical belief system, although individual atheists can choose to have antithetical beliefs or any belief they want; it pushes no life agenda, just ration, reason, being a good person, and a lack of belief in a god. That’s it, that’s all. It’s very simple. If there is no rational evidence to convince you that a god exists, you are thus not obligated to believe in a god, nor should anyone else. Very simple. Sure, you can go full blown philosophical and George W Smith does that, but it’s not necessary, and you can find out why by reading most of these authors and finding out in less than 10 minutes. In any event, I’m elated I came across this book and now I listen to the author’s podcasts and have found help, comfort, and entertainment in them. Strongly recommended for those encountering spiritual doubts….

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A Review of Speaking My Mind

Posted by Scott Holstad on January 15, 2013

Speaking My Mind: The Radical Evangelical Prophet Tackles the Tough Issues Christians Are Afraid to FaceSpeaking My Mind: The Radical Evangelical Prophet Tackles the Tough Issues Christians Are Afraid to Face by Tony Campolo

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I was pretty disappointed with this book and that’s a pity. I’ve seen Campolo’s name bandied about in liberal Christian books and by liberal Christian authors for some time now, but this is his first book I’ve read. I felt really lucky when I stumbled across it in a used bookstore this week. And the table of contents seemed very promising: “Do Evangelicals Have an Image Problem? Is Evangelicalism Sexist? Are Evangelicals Handling the Gay Issue All Wrong?” and so on. Very promising. So I bought the book and sat down to read. And was thoroughly disappointed. I don’t know who labeled Tony Campolo a liberal Christian, but he’s most definitely a conservative evangelical who happens to be somewhat liberal politically and socially. But he’s a conservative Christian. And since that’s what I’ve just escaped after being trapped as a lifelong dissatisfied evangelical for the past 45 years, that’s the last thing I wanted to read.

For instance, in tackling the gay issue, Campolo acknowledges that Christians need to reach out to gays in the church and the community — provided they live completely celibate lives!!! He’s not sure if gays are born that way or become that way (they’re born that way, dingbat!), but we need to love them — provided they don’t act out on their preferences and keep their behavior pure. WTF? That’s not realistic! He even notes that “although Jesus was silent about homosexuality, He did specifically condemn the remarriage of divorced people unless adultery was the cause of the divorce.” He starts out by appearing to be open, by talking about the “dilemma,” and then holds up his shining example of a man who died apparently a homosexual virgin, because he thought it was such an abominable sin, so he never gave in. Huh. Homosexuality is mentioned less than 10 times in the Bible, yet being kind to the poor is mentioned hundreds of times and adultery is mentioned numerous times again. So again I say to you, WTF?

Tony starts out with sexism and never really clearly answers that little question, conveniently enough. He admits that there’s a yin yang type of thing going on with the sexes and that’s about it. Nice. He can write a few decent things at times though. In his later chapter on whether there’s a second chance for people who die without Christ, he discusses universalist theology briefly. He ends that section by writing

“One universalist theologian carried me through his progression of thought with the following argument: ‘If there is a God, then there is a God, whether people believe it or not. If God is their Creator, that also is true, whether they believe it or not. If the Bible is an infallible message from God, that fact, too, is not dependent on their believing it. So, if Jesus died for their sins and is their Savior, isn’t that fact also true, whether they believe it or not?'”

An interesting thought. Campolo does an interesting job on the science chapter, with some good ideas about God/Jesus being in the HERE at all times. He made it seem real. He also introduced me to a new concept that Seventh-Day Adventists, apparently, believe — “soul sleep.” When we die, we lie in the ground until the Second Coming, basically asleep until God raises everyone from the dead at the same time. I’ve never quite gotten a handle on what happens to a person’s soul upon death in the Christian tradition. This was an interesting explanation.

Campolo delves into my old Calvinist roots in his discussion on predestination, a topic I truly hate. Here he gets a little iffy though. On page 121, he writes

“I do not understand how reasonable people can believe that God is in total control of everything right now when there is so much evil and injustice in the world. I grant that this may be a failure on my part, but if I believed that God controlled everything that goes on in the universe these days, I would not know how to explain why innocent children in Africa get AIDS, or why godly people die of cancer, or why there was ever an Auschwitz or a Hiroshima….”

His answer leaves one wondering, though:

“To those who ask, ‘How could a loving God allow horrendous diseases to afflict good people, permit insane wars to kill the innocent, and let a man like Hitler create such widespread suffering?’ I answer, “God is doing the best He can….'”

Seriously? That’s the best you’ve got, you “liberal” Christian??? What a wussy way out of things.

Campolo also contradicts himself in this book. He goes on in the chapter about the poor about how Jesus spoke about the poor and how important it is to help them. Then he has a section called, “The Disastrous Welfare System,” where he sounds like a bitter right wing Republican in writing that the system “generated cheating and deceptions so that eventually hundreds of thousands of people were on the welfare rolls, collecting unjustified handouts, even though they were quite capable of getting jobs and properly supporting themselves and their families.” Excuse me? Did I just hear that out of a so-called “liberal” Christian??? The welfare system has been abused by some, yes, but it’s the only safety net millions of people have, and don’t you think, while we’re talking about it, that lots of “good” things like sub-prime mortgages and hedge funds have been abused too??? Hypocrite!

While I’m at it, even though this book was published in 2004, it seems woefully dated. For example, in talking about whether America is in moral decline, he writes “all kinds of wonderful things are happening in our world, in spite of all that is evil and demonic. Across America, churches are being born and reaching out to huge numbers of previously unchurched people. A revitalized commitment to the poor and the oppressed is emerging among American Christians.” Really? Tell that to the Republican Party, aka, the Religious Right, aka the Christians, all doing their best to eliminate every possible safety net poor people in this country have, all the while working to make their rich masters richer. What did Jesus say about the rich entering Heaven like a camel through the eye of a needle? Seems most Republicans/Christians haven’t read their Bibles lately. Hypocrites! Also, stats show that church membership is declining, most especially within the 18 – 29 year old set. Evangelicals are turning people off to God, Tony. Time to face up.

Campolo does show he’s not 100% conservative in his discussion on dispensationalism. He states his opposition of it and nearly goes so far as to label it a danger to this country and the world. That’s bold. He does a good job with this section. Oddly, however, he says that the charismatic movement is the greatest opposition to dispensationalism and is Christianity’s best chance in the twenty first century. Huh? Speaking in tongues? Really? He ends his book by writing, “As progressive evangelicalism increasingly emerges out of fundamentalism over the next fifty years, the rest of the world will encounter Christians who are more than ready to struggle with the tough issues that await us, and to do so with open minds and open hearts.” Really Tony? Telling your gay friends to be celibate if they want to go to Heaven? That kind of open heart? Sorry, I’m not buying it. He tries to come across as open minded, but when the chips are down, it seems to me that Campolo goes crawling down the nearest conservative evangelical fox hole and hides out — and it sickens me.

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A Review of The Gospel of Judas

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 22, 2012

The Gospel of Judas: Critical EditionThe Gospel of Judas: Critical Edition by Rodolphe Kasser
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I have to confess I started this book out of sheer interest in the subject matter, but I couldn’t finish it — I just thought it was too silly to believe. Maybe I’ve got too much of the traditional four gospels ingrained within me, but for Judas to be portrayed as the favorite and best disciple of Jesus who only did what he was told by Jesus to do and was therefore a hero as he brought about the crucifixion and resurrection strikes me as totally absurd. Not to mention that it was hard to read with all of the missing text that was skipped over and omitted. That was distracting. I couldn’t buy the notion of Jesus appearing to his disciples in the form of a child. You’d think that would have been mentioned in another gospel. And here’s one thing that might seem trite, but it bugs me nonetheless — apparently this gospel was written in the second century. Well, who wrote it? It follows Judas for just a brief period of time up until his suicide, I believe. Well, if he killed himself, how did he communicate the secrets of this text to the ones who would ultimately write it? He was DEAD for Pete’s sake! Isn’t this just some second century made up gnostic tale by people wanting to stir things up? That’s ultimately what it strikes me as. So, yeah, I probably should have finished it and maybe one day I’ll return to it, but I just thought the premise(s) was too absurd to continue reading the book.

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A Review of Bad Religion

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 6, 2012

Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of HereticsBad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics by Ross Douthat

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book has strengths and weaknesses. One thing that was an initial turnoff to me, although I got used to it, is it’s quite dry and has an almost textbook feel to it, particularly the first half which consists of a history lesson of how the Church (Protestant and Catholic) has come to its present state dating back to the late 1800s. I mean, it’s somewhat interesting, but there’s only so much about 1920s fundamentalist preachers I want to read about.

Douthat’s premise is that we’ve fallen off the wagon as a Christian nation, and he highlights three main areas where this has happened. One is the “name it and claim it” prosperity gospel preaching that seems so prevalent these days, and he particularly takes Joel Osteen to task. I got into this chapter, because I utterly despise this type of preacher. I think they have nothing in common with the can’t serve God and Mammon instructions found in the Bible. I think they’re frauds. Apparently Douthat does to. He then moves on to New Agers, like Chopra, Dyer, etc., only he doesn’t call it New Age. Instead he refers to this movement as the God Within movement. Call it what you like, but it’s a watered down, Eastern influenced form of pseduo-Christianity at best, and he calls a spade a spade. The third primary heresy here is the current politicization of Christianity, most notably contemporary Evangelicals and how they’ve hijacked the Republican party. I have much to say about that, but I’ll resist the temptation for the time being. In my opinion, Douthat didn’t spend enough time on this one, because I think this particular heresy is the one that is poisoning American society and politics and it makes me ill.

Here’s where the author loses me though. His last chapter is called “The Recovery of Christianity,” and he gives a series of examples of what he thinks needs to take place to bring the religion back to sanity and the masses in general. (He’s a Catholic and spend a lot of time on Catholicism in this book.) Here are his theories:

1. Christianity should be political without being partisan.
2. Christianity should be ecumenical but also confessional.
3. Christianity should be moralistic but also holistic.
4. Christianity should be oriented toward sanctity and beauty.

And then he goes into minor detail on each topic. And forgive me if I misread this, but it seems to me that he’s arguing for an early 20th century Catholicism returning in order to get things back on track. His ideas, the terminology he employs, his pleas all ring of a stern yesteryear, and it’s beyond odd to me that he’s arguing for a return to the roots when he just wrote an entire book criticizing how Christianity has been full of charlatans and frauds and how it’s gone uphill, but mostly downhill for decades, and now he wants a return to the Middle Ages. OK, harsh assessment, but perhaps you get the picture. It just didn’t jibe with the rest of the book, and while I thought the bulk of the book was well researched and written in a civil, even way (I would have hated to see a Baptist write this!), the last chapter just kills off everything he’s said for me. It’s blotto. Utter crap. Maybe not everyone will agree, and I do think the book is worth reading while skipping the final chapter, but I can’t get over that last chapter. I cautiously recommend this to anyone interested in seeing what has happened to the Church over the last century and what it means for today.
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A Review of A Search for What Is Real

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 4, 2012

A Search for What Is RealA Search for What Is Real by Brian D. McLaren

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is intended to be a guide for those who are seeking something spiritually, no matter what faith, but yes, primarily Christianity. It’s a little light (especially for McLaren), but the contents are pretty solid and the book is quite accessible. Some of the chapters deal with experiencing God through doubt (a big one for me), why church is often the last place to look for spiritual guidance, why people don’t turn to Bibles in their spiritual search, losing interest, and more. One of the things McLaren writes in the doubt chapter really stood out for me:

“They say that the opposite of love isn’t hate; it is rather indifference. And I have to think that the same is true of faith. Doubt isn’t a spiritual danger sign nearly as much as indifference would be.”

In the final chapter, McLaren writes that Jesus was “scandalously inclusive” and that

“In a world of religious in-groups and out-groups, Jesus created a ‘come on in’ group. The kingdom of God is open to everyone who will come…. It’s like a party to which everyone is invited, rich or poor, employed or unemployed, clear or dirty.”

That section of the book really stood out for me because when I was growing up, the various youth groups in school and church “rushed” (like the fraternity allusion?) the popular kids with the alleged goal of the unpopular kids following the popular kids to God. Yeah, right. It was a total joke. I rode the fence between popular and unpopular and I didn’t like it. As an adult, many churches I’ve been to seem little different. We want the “beautiful people” — those in real need don’t need to come on in. I hate that about mainstream Christianity. Jesus was all about love and inclusive love. In fact, he hung out with hookers and outcasts and told the Moral Majority of his day that the scumbags he was with would have an easier time of entering heaven than they would. (That didn’t go over too well with them.) So, I like what McLaren writes here. I just wish more actual church people would read and realize this….

The book’s chapters all end with interesting discussion questions and a suggested prayer. McLaren tries to stick to guidance, not to telling — as in, he’s not the authority on this, God is. It’s not the best book I’ve read, and it’s not for everyone, but I found it worthwhile and others will too.

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A Review of Searching for God Knows What

Posted by Scott Holstad on June 2, 2012

Searching for God Knows WhatSearching for God Knows What by Donald Miller

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m not a fan of Miller’s Blue Like Jazz. I think it’s an immature book written by an immature writer. This book — Searching for God Knows What — seems a vast improvement to me, albeit still with the same scatter shot, rambling topical approach to the book. I’ve got to admit to being annoyed with Miller’s writing style. It’s certainly not linear, and perhaps I like linear a bit too much, but Miller jumps all over the place. Sometimes I think each chapter of his could stand on its own, as they don’t seem to have all that much in common with each other.

However, I wanted to like this book. I was disappointed, then, to feel like it started out like Blue Like Jazz. At some point, though, Miller seemed to tighten things up a bit. A more lucid, more mature style of writing emerged that I occasionally found gripping. The final pages I found to be quite good, actually. For instance,

“I can’t tell you how many times I have seen an evangelical leader on television talking about this “culture war,” about how we are being threatened by persons with an immoral agenda, and I can’t tell you how many sermons I have heard in which immoral pop stars or athletes or politicians have been denounced because of their shortcomings. Rarely, however, have I heard any of these ideas connected with the dominant message of Christ, a message of grace and forgiveness and a call to repentance. Rather, the moral message I have heard is often a message of bitterness and anger because “our” morality, “our” culture, is being taken over by people who disregard “our” ethical standards. None of it was connected, relationally, to God at all.” (page 185)

How true. I can relate to Miller here so very much. The bitterness and anger preached from America’s pulpits can be overwhelming and, in my opinion, have very little to do with the message of Jesus. Another passage:

“A moral message, a message of “us” versus “them,” overflowing in war rhetoric, never hindered the early message of grace, of repentance toward dead works and immorality in exchange for a love relationship with Christ. War rhetoric against people is not the methodology, not the sort of communication that came out of the mouth of Jesus or the mouths of any of His followers. In fact, even today, moralists who use war rhetoric will speak of right and wrong, and even some vague and angry god, but never Jesus.” (page 190)

Again, so true. I recently became disenchanted with the minister at the church I occasionally attend when he started politicizing his sermons. He had already been slamming pastors like Rob Bell and preaching fire and brimstone messages on Easter while criticizing those who preached rebirth and renewal. Frankly, the only reason I go there at all is to occasionally make my parents happy. I can do without ministers like that one. Why so much hatred in the pulpit, in the churches?

I guess my final thought on the book is that it’s worth a (quick) read, but don’t expect too much. It’s more solid than some of his other works, but it’s not earth shattering. The only reason I give this three stars instead of two is his solid ending to the book.

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A Review of A New Kind of Christianity

Posted by Scott Holstad on May 25, 2012

A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the FaithA New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith by Brian D. McLaren

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I finished reading Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christianity, all I could say was “Wow!” It blew my mind, mostly in a good way. And it left me with an awful lot to think about.

Countless people have reviewed this book (some rather viciously), so I’m not going to win any awards with some in-depth discussion of the book, but I do want to write about a few things that stood out for me. First of all, the book is based on 10 important questions to be asking these days. The first five are largely theological, and the remaining five are more practical. The 10 questions are:

1. The Narrative Question: What Is the Overarching Storyline of the Bible?
2. The Authority Question: How Should the Bible Be Understood?
3. The God Question: Is God Violent?
4. The Jesus Question: Who is Jesus and Why is He Important?
5. The Gospel Question: What Is the Gospel?
6. The Church Question: What Do We Do About the Church?
7. The Sex Question: Can We Find a Way to Address Sexuality Without Fighting About It?
8. The Future Question: Can We Find a Better Way of Viewing the Future?
9. The Pluralism Question: How Should Followers of Jesus Relate to People of Other Religions?
10. The What-Do-We-Do-Now Question: How Can We Translate Our Quest into Action?

The cool thing about this book is that while the author raises – and addresses – these questions, he admits to not having the definitive answers and invites us all to participate in the “conversation.”

The first question is pretty important – what is the overarching storyline of the Bible? Well, he argues that the basic story – as believed and adhered to by most of Western civilization – is mistaken in its belief systems. He asserts the beliefs don’t come from the Bible, but are instead taken from (at the time current) Greco-Roman narratives. I can almost buy that, but it didn’t appear to me that he made a strong case for how this exactly transpired. He just gives us Plato and Aristotle and declares that this is how we have based everything for centuries. Odd. I would like a greater understanding of this theory.

As a result of this theory, there are a number of Christian misconceptions floating around, such as the world was created in a “perfect” state, when in fact, it was “good” – which doesn’t equal perfect. Another component of this reading is a rejection of the “Fall” of mankind. This got a bit confusing for me at times, but if you buy into his theory, it makes sense. He relates it as a “six-line narrative,” comprised of Eden, Fall, Condemnation, Salvation, Heaven, Damnation. This is what we learn in Sunday school and church our entire lives. This is the basis for believing what we believe. And he asserts it’s wrong. McLaren feels that the Bible is really telling us numerous stories of God’s never-ending compassion and forgiveness, seen over and over again throughout the text.

In another chapter, McLaren asserts that Christianity has had a “constitutional” view of the Bible and this should be replaced with viewing the texts in the Bible as a type of “community library.” As I dislike the constitutional view of Christians I know and know of, this appeals to me. Enough with evangelical fundamentalism, say I! Part of this constitutional view of the Bible is its static state of being, as in everything is settled, so do as I say. McLaren instead thinks the Scripture is inviting us to be a part of an ongoing conversation. This is a refreshing outlook to me.

Still later in the book, he deals with the nature of God, and this reminds me of Rob Bell’s Love Wins in a way (a book I like very much). Basically, if you go by the six-line constitutional way of viewing the world, one could see God as a mean spirited, punishing god, one not worthy of belief or worship. With a new kind of Christianity, in this case with a redemptive community library narrative to go on, it’s foolish to view God as a god who tortures most of humanity forever in “infinite eternal conscious torment” (ECT). Now that makes a lot of sense to me. Why would God create a world with many billions of people and send the vast majority of them to an eternal conscious torment for the few varied sins they commit during their brief and finite period of existence on Earth? It literally makes no sense to me.

McLaren goes on to discuss many other important issues, all in a radical way of viewing things (to me) that I found appealing. He argues that contemporary Christians are “fundasexualists” in their overt hatred of homosexuals, among others, and reminds us that Jesus forgave the adulteress, sought out and mingled with the outcasts of society, and based his world vision on loving inclusiveness. A refreshing look at things from my perspective.

I enjoyed all of the chapters with the possible exception of the last one – on translating our quest into action – where I think he falters a little bit and makes some assumptions that don’t necessarily need to be conveyed as they are. Still, as he starts and ends the book by writing, he’s not producing definitive answers to these questions. He’s merely starting conversations in calling for a radical rethinking of Christianity, Jesus, God, and the Bible.

In reading through reviews on Goodreads and ones found Googling the author, it’s amazing to me how many people hate McLaren. The vitriol is something else. And it’s all coming from “loving” evangelical/fundamentalist Christians – some of the very people he describes in this book, and some of the very people we need to move away from. Some of the best things he’s called are a false prophet and a heretic. Nice to be able to sit in judgment there, isn’t it? It’s amazing to me how contemporary conservative Christianity is filled with hate – hatred of others who do not espouse the same beliefs that they do, who don’t vote the same way, who – quite frankly – may be trying to lead a life set by Jesus’ example of loving others. These Christians just don’t get it and they probably never will. They have too much invested in the Greco-Roman worldview of life to consider alternatives or change. It’s truly sad. I’m giving this book five out of five stars. I think it’s an amazing book that can be life altering, and it’s made me re-think a lot of things that I wish I had re-thought many years ago. Nice job Mr. McLaren.

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A Review of I’m Fine With God — It’s Christians I Can’t Stand

Posted by Scott Holstad on May 21, 2012

I'm Fine with God... It's Christians I Can't Stand: Getting Past the Religious Garbage in the Search for Spiritual TruthI’m Fine with God… It’s Christians I Can’t Stand: Getting Past the Religious Garbage in the Search for Spiritual Truth by Bruce Bickel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I just finished this fine book and must say I thoroughly enjoyed it. First of all though, the authors identify themselves as Christians, so don’t get too worked up before you know this fact. A lot of the reviews I’ve read for this book state they don’t know who the intended audience is. Man, that blows my mind! I am most certainly of the intended audience. For years — for decades — I have been saying the title to this book literally over and over again to whoever will listen. It’s not about God — it’s about his idiot representatives, or at least the majority of them! Talk about driving people away from God….

The authors of this book cover Christians who
* impose their morality on others
* are paranoid
* think they are correctly right and everyone else is wrongly left
* think science is the enemy
* are convinced God wants them to be rich
* fixate on the end of the world
* make lousy movies
* don’t know what they believe
* think they have a monopoly on truth
* give Christ a bad name.

Wow, that covers a whole lot of people, doesn’t it? The chapters that especially spoke to me were on the getting rich quick Christians (prosperity Christians) and the anti-science Christians, because these two drive me nuts more than most of the others. I guess I could lump in the ones that believe they have a monopoly on truth too. I wish some Christians could lighten up, not be such assholes, get a clue, etc., et al. This book really spoke to me, and it spoke some real truths to me as well. (It didn’t hurt to see Pat Robertson get taken down a notch. LOL!) There are so many people out there — avowed Christians — who I would love to give this book to, but I know deep down that if I did, I would be met with Christian hostility, and that saddens me. Cause sometimes you have to look in the mirror and even though it hurts, it’s often best to do.

One passage toward the end of the book stuck out for me. It said, “If Christians are going to restore the perception of Christ as he is portrayed in the New Testament, we need to be more thoughtful about our faith. Instead if spending our time lashing out at the culture …, we should put our time to better use by trying to conform ourselves to God.” That’s a powerful statement, and I think it’s right on. Frankly, society as a whole could benefit from America’s Christians reading this book all together, and ultimately acting on what they read. Finally, the only reason I’m giving this book 4 stars instead of 5 is that I think each chapter could have been more in depth than they were. This book was clearly intended for the TV generation of those with short attention spans. Other than that, I was happy I read it.

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A Review of Rob Bell’s Love Wins

Posted by Scott Holstad on May 14, 2012

Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever LivedLove Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived by Rob Bell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the second time I’ve read Rob Bell’s Love Wins, and I’ve got to say it’s one of the more remarkable books I’ve ever read! Whether you agree with him or not (and many people do not), he asks a lot of good, legitimate questions — some I never thought to ask and some I was afraid to ask — and puts issues on the table that are very worthy of discussion. What exactly is heaven? And hell? What does God’s love really mean? How do we get to heaven, if there is such a place? Etc., etc. I’ve had “issues” with God and traditional (evangelical) Christianity most of my life, so I can’t tell you what a relief it has been to read a self-described evangelical ask some of the questions being asked in this book and stating some of the things that are stated. It has given me a new way of looking at things. It has given me a sense of hope. What more can you ask for in a book?

I want to mention just a few passages from the book that really struck me:

“Now, back to those church websites, the ones that declare that ultimately billions of people will spend eternity apart from God, while others will be with God in heaven forever.

Is history tragic?
Have billions of people been created only to spend eternity for the finite sins they committed in the few years they spent on earth?
Is our future uncertain,
or will God take care of us?
Are we safe?
Are we secure?
Or are we on our own?”

(p 102)

Later:

“Could God say to someone truly humbled, broken, and desperate for reconciliation, ‘Sorry, too late?’ Many have refused to accept the scenario in which somebody is pounding on the door, apologizing, repenting, and asking God to be let in, only to hear God say through the keyhole: ‘Door’s locked. Sorry. If you had been here earlier, I could have done something. But now, it’s too late.'”

(p 108)

Still later, about God sentencing a well loved child of his to eternal damnation:

“If there was an earthly father who was like that, we would call the authorities. If there was an actual human dad who was that volatile, we would contact child protection services immediately.

If God can switch gears like that, switch entire modes of being that quickly, that raises a thousand questions about whether a being like this could ever be trusted, let alone be good.

Love one moment, vicious the next.
Kind and compassionate, only to become cruel and relentless in the blink of an eye.

Does God become somebody totally different the moment you die?”

(p 174)

More:

“…when religious people become violent, it is because they have been shaped by their God, who is violent. We see this destructive shaping alive and well in the toxic, venomous nature of certain discussions and debates on the Internet. For some, the highest form of allegiance to their God is to attack, defame, and slander others who don’t articulate matters of faith as they do.”

(p 183)

It’s this last quote that particularly speaks to me, because when I look at mainstream Christianity, I see the type of Christian he describes here. “Loving” until they find out you don’t see things the same way they do. Hostile and nasty when you let people know, for instance, that you’re actually a Democrat in a Republican, evangelical church. I remember when I first heard of Fred Phelps, and his now infamous Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas. This was back in the mid ’90s, long before they were protesting military funerals. They had just started a new website called godhatesfags.com. It made me sick to my stomach. No matter what you think about what happened to the inhabitants of Sodom, all people are God’s children created in his image. God loves us all. (Except perhaps Fred Phelps. Just kidding.) It’s the toxic, ultra-conservative Christian who is ruining things for people like myself all through America and the rest of the world, and when you Google Rob Bell’s name, you find plenty of websites by so-called Christians doing exactly what Bell describes here — creating toxicity in calling Bell a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” and the anti-Christ and numerous other idiotic things merely because they disagree with his theology. Well, who made THEIR theology the right one, huh???

OK, I got off target. I guess I’ll wrap up by saying I think everyone out there would benefit by reading this book, again, whether you agree with Bell or not. It simply raises a lot of interesting and legitimate questions, and its basic premise is one everyone could use and perhaps needs — in the end, love wins.

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A Review of Jesus Wants to Save Christians

Posted by Scott Holstad on May 14, 2012

Jesus Wants to Save Christians: A Manifesto for the Church in ExileJesus Wants to Save Christians: A Manifesto for the Church in Exile by Rob Bell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was an interesting read, and fairly different from Bell’s Velvet Elvis & Love Wins. It’s more straight theology & less personal anecdote. He states early that he’ll be taking a “New Exodus” approach in this book, which sets some people off pretty vehemently. For me, I don’t have a problem with it. Indeed, I found it rather enlightening. Bell tells us that Jesus wants us to concern ourselves with the widow, the orphan, the refugee, the poor, etc., and that much of the church is missing the point. He consistently uses scripture to back up his assertions. Here’s one quote I particularly liked:

A church’s authority comes from somewhere else — it comes from how we’ve been broken open and poured out, not from how well we’ve pursued power & lobbied & organized ourselves to triumph. This is why when Christians organize politically & start flexing that muscle, making threats about how they are going to impose their way on others, so many people turn away from Jesus.

Jesus’ followers at that point are claiming to be the voice of God, but they are speaking the language of Caesar & using the methods of Rome, & for millions of us it has the stench of Solomon.

Rob Bell, Jesus Wants To Save Christians

I just love Rob Bell and his books. He singlehandedly makes me want to return to the church and live the kind of life I think Jesus would want from me. He’s a true inspiration. Indeed, I’m re-reading Love Wins just to get a better understanding of what God wants from us, with us, and for us. I think this is my least “favorite” book of Bell’s I’ve read, but it’s still quite good and very much worth reading.

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