Book Write-Up: Unimaginable, by Jeremiah J. Johnston

Jeremiah J. Johnston.  Unimaginable: What Our World Would Be Like Without Christianity.  Bethany House, 2017.  See here to buy the book.

Jeremiah J. Johnston is a New Testament scholar and a Christian apologist.  In Unimaginable, Johnston essentially argues that Christianity is better than a lot of the other belief systems out there.  It was better when it began, and it presented a loving God, who was in contrast to the amoral gods of Greco-Roman society.  It has long upheld the dignity of human beings against racism, economic inequality, and immoral callousness; many of the renowned figures of the Enlightenment cannot say the same.  Moreover, Christian theism provides a solid basis for morality, something that atheistic views do not do.  Johnston not only promotes Christianity, but he criticizes prominent atheistic and skeptical figures, often highlighting their sexual promiscuity, concluding that their skepticism of Christianity was a means to justify their lifestyles.

In terms of positives, the book is interesting.  Johnston near the beginning of the book refers to research that suggests that civilization was built around religion rather than vice versa, and that monotheism preceded polytheism.  This discussion somewhat contrasted with the usual tone of the book, which was that Christianity is right and moral and other worldviews are grossly deficient, in that it held that a belief in God is a primal aspect of humanity.  Johnston’s references to Bertrand Russell’s spiritual searching, and to Richard Dawkins’ candid admission that he would not be too happy to see Christianity go, highlighted the complexity of these thinkers.

Some discussions in the book were actually nuanced.  The discussion about whether Hitler was a Christian did not cavalierly lump Hitler into the atheist camp but thoughtfully engaged what Hitler believed about religion and sought to explain his pro-Christian rhetoric.  The discussion on Darwin was all right, for it highlighted stages in his thought about religion, while taking care not to demonize the theory of evolution.

The references to primary sources make this book a keeper.  What immediately comes to mind are the Greco-Roman sources what expressly dismiss the concept of bodily resurrection.

Also noteworthy are the endnotes.  Johnston refers to scholarly sources for those who wish to inquire further.  His book is well-researched.  For instance, he engages Candida Moss’ book, The Myth of Persecution, while mentioning scholarly resources that are critical of it.

In terms of negatives, the book somewhat downplays, and sometimes ignores, the pro-slavery and sexist and patriarchal sentiments that have existed within historic Christianity.  Johnston does well to demonstrate the pro-woman aspects of the Bible, but biblical interpretation played a significant role in Christian sexism, as well as Christian pro-slavery sentiments.

While there were occasions in which the book highlighted the complexity of those whom it criticizes, there were plenty of occasions when it did not.  For example, the book cavalierly declares Tolstoy an atheist seeking to justify his sexual promiscuity, but Tolstoy was also one who took the Gospels seriously, to the point of being a pacifist.  The book presented many prominent skeptics and atheists as morally-deficient human beings, but it may have been more thoughtful had it also engaged the immorality and hypocrisy among Christians.  That would have added a tone of humility to the book.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher.  My review is honest.

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About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. I study the History of Biblical Interpretation at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio, as part of its Ph.D. program. I have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting.
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One Response to Book Write-Up: Unimaginable, by Jeremiah J. Johnston

  1. Pingback: Unimaginable: What Our World Would Be Like Without Christianity Book Review Tour | Cross Focused Reviews

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