Alex McFarland. The God You Thought You Knew: Exposing the 10 Biggest Myths About Christianity. Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 2015. See here to buy the book.
Allow me to quote from the back cover of the book, and this will set the stage for me to explain why this book disappointed me:
“Many of us believe the Christian God is far away and unapproachable, that we have to be good to be accepted by him, and that the Bible is just an antiquated list of do’s and don’ts. But maybe none of that is true. Maybe we’ve gotten it wrong. Instead of proofs for God’s existence, what we really need are compelling reasons to want to know him, and those reasons are more personal than we sometimes think. Through sharing his story, author and speaker Alex McFarland shows how the God you thought you knew actually cares about you—-about the rejection and loneliness you feel. It’s time to replace the half-truths and lies we believe about ourselves with his overwhelming love and forgiveness. We all want acceptance and purpose. Let this book teach you how to be anchored in the security that comes through knowing God for who he really is.”
That is beautiful! One problem that I have with classical apologetics is that it tries to offer evidence for the existence of God, but it leaves me scratching my head wondering why I would even want for the Christian God to exist! I thought that this book would be different.
But it isn’t. Yes, Alex McFarland shares his personal story in the first chapter, and it is a moving story. Alex dealt with rejection from his father, and his father on his deathbed called Alex a dumb ape. Alex smiled and responded, “Well, I’m your dumb ape. And I love you.” That made me cry.
But the rest of the book is not really like that. Rather, it is a rehearsal of the usual classical apologetic arguments. McFarland has already written those kinds of books, so why this book is even necessary, I have no idea. Some may get use out of it. It is a fairly decent and lucid introduction to the usual classical apologetic arguments, the bibliography in the back looks good, and I liked many of the quotes that McFarland had throughout the book (though he should have cited the source for them for those who want to track them down). One should remember, though, that there are arguments for the other side, and I think that McFarland would have done well do have engaged those more rather than to imply that atheists are bitter or hurt people. While McFarland did make an effort to sympathize with people’s hurt regarding Christianity and the church, I felt that he was trying to soothe their pain with short pat answers. Those pat answers may have some wisdom to them, and they may offer people something to think about, but I do not think that they by themselves are an adequate response to people’s pain, or that they take people’s pain seriously enough.
In talking about the bad things that Christians have done, McFarland says that this does not mean that Christianity is untrue. Fair enough, but it does make me wonder: If Christianity changes people’s lives and makes them new people, then why do we see so much bad among Christians? What are they doing wrong? Why doesn’t Christianity appear to be working as advertised in their lives? I do not mind McFarland’s pat answers, but I wish that I saw a more thoughtful wrestling with issues in this book.
This book did not present me with much that I did not already know. Those who have been in evangelical Christianity probably will not learn from this book much that is new. “Well, how is the author supposed to know what you know and don’t know, James?” Fair question, but I think that one can tell that McFarland is repeating the usual classical apologetic spiel, and at a very basic level. Repeating this spiel is not wrong, per se, but at least I learn something new when I read other apologists, such as William Lane Craig or even Lee Strobel, perhaps because they engage scholarship more. McFarland could have made this book more interesting than it is. I did learn one thing that was new to me from this book, though: that there was a view in eighteenth-nineteenth century England that the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20 and Mark 16:15 (to preach the Gospel to all the world and make disciples) only applied to the first century apostles.
I cannot give this book one star because it is not horrible. As I said, some may find it useful. Plus, the back cover and Alex’s story are gold. There were also a few good anecdotes (such as the story of how Jerry Falwell befriended Larry Flynt). I am just saying that my reading experience of this book was not that positive, and that the book could have been better.
I received a complimentary review copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers, in exchange for an honest review.