James Emery WhiteBaker Books / 2019 / Trade PaperbackOur Price$12.994.5 out of 5 stars for Christianity for People Who Aren't Christians: Uncommon Answers to Common Questions. View reviews of this product. 4 Reviews
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Missy4 Stars Out Of 5Good effortDecember 18, 2019MissyQuality: 4Value: 4Meets Expectations: 4This book kept me mostly interested. Full disclosure, I only made it half way through since I ran out of time to publish my post for publisher who issued me a complimentary copy for my honest review. I am unsure if I will finish it or not at this point. The cover was pretty boring for me, but then again it is a topical book. I would agree with another reviewer that stated it is probably more for the Christian population. White makes several convincing arguments that supports Christianity as the one true faith (which I agree with). However, I still question what nonbelievers would think of this book. Not to say that White didn't do his research. I very much appreciated his more conversational approach, rather than a scholarly/academic approach. Again, it did keep me interested but I was unable to finish it. For those that love reading about apologetics, this is a great survey of several common questions.
James E Hartley4 Stars Out Of 5Explaining Christianity to ChristiansDecember 7, 2019James E HartleySome books have the wrong title. This creates two problems. The more obvious problem: people who buy the book because of the title will be disappointed. The bigger problem: people who would really enjoy the book will never buy it because they have no idea it is a book written for them.
The case in point: James Emery White's Christianity for People Who Aren't Christians: Uncommon Answers to Common Questions.
The first sentence sets the tone: "I hope you begin this book with a healthy amount of doubt." White then proceeds to explore a wide array of aspects of Christian theology. It is quite the collection of topics: Existence of God, Nature of God, Nature of Christ, and the basics of Christian Theology, the Bible, and the Church. Some quibbles aside (more about that anon), it is a solid book.
However, and it is a very important "However," this is not a book I would hand to any non-Christian I have ever known and say, "Here is a book you should read." On the other hand, I have known a lot of Christians to whom I would happily recommend this book. For reasons explained below, a more accurate title for the book is Christianity for Christians who Have a Lot of Questions about the Nature of What They Say They Believe.
Then consider the subtitle of the book: Uncommon Answers to Common Questions. With that subtitle, I naturally enough read the book waiting for the moments when White ventured out past the edge with an uncommon answer, either providing uncommon insight or wandering into the fringes of heresy. Instead, at no point in the entire book was there a single answer to a common question which was anything other than a quite common answer. I can't even imagine where White believes any of his answers are uncommon. He keeps insisting through the whole book that his answers are simply run-of-the-mill Christian answers. I could suggest the subtitle should be Common Answers to Common Questions, but that is a pretty lame subtitle.
I would be fascinated to know if the title of this book was White's own idea. The title reads like someone at the publisher spent too much time dreaming up titles which would have a big market, put them in a drawer waiting for a book to show up, saw this book, and slapped the title onto it.
So, what is the difference between a book explaining Christianity to non-Christians and one explaining it to Christians? The difference can be seen in thinking about an example from this book. The first substantive chapter sets out to prove the existence of God. The evidence White uses is the nature of the universe. It is, as he says, a universe which is "freakishly suited for human life." It is a universe which, according to the most common view, it not eternal but originated in a Big Bang, yet there is no scientific explanation for the origin of the thing that went Bang. It is a universe in which things evolve which are so complex that the probability that they evolved due purely to random chance is smaller than infinitesimally small.
All those things about this universe are true. Do they prove there is a God? Of course not. Indeed, it would be a very dangerous argument to insist that these things are the proof of God. Scientific knowledge advances. Physicists are now exploring the idea that the Universe did not originate with Big Bang; instead it expands to its outer limit and then contracts back down and then expands again and then contracts again; it is a sort of bouncing universe. Biologists are exploring ways that evolutionary mechanisms might work which do not involve random genetic mutations. If anything like either of these theories ever becomes the best scientific explanation of the universe, there would still be no conflict with Christianity. So why would Christians want to tie their theology to the current state of scientific knowledge?
In other words, White's argument here for the existence of God will persuade nobody who reads it with the doubt he encouraged in the first sentence of the book. But, imagine a Christian, who does believe in God. This chapter is an enormously useful overview of how a belief in God is easily reconciled with modern scientific understandings of the Universe.
In other words, what White has done is shown how Christianity is not in contradiction to scientific knowledge, not that scientific knowledge proves the existence of God.
To take another example, White recycles the C.S. Lewis bit about how we are faced with believing that Jesus is necessarily Liar, Lunatic, or Lord. In the gospel of John, for example, Jesus makes an explicit claim to be God. So, when people say they like the teachings of Jesus, but reject the divinity of Christ, the Lewis argument is a very nice thing for Christians to consider. If you accept the authority of the gospel of John, then indeed, you either have to believe that Jesus is God or that he was a liar or a lunatic.
But, what if you are not a Christian and you don't accept the authority of the gospel of John? Then, it turns out there is a very easy solution to the problem. You can easily like the teachings of Jesus recorded elsewhere, but think John was not telling the truth at the part of the narrative in in which he wrote that Jesus claimed to be God.
There are very many examples along these lines. In case after case, it was easy to imagine Christians I have known who would learn a lot from this book, but difficult to imagine non-Christians I have known who would find this book persuasive at all.
However, and it is another very important "However," the real title of the book is not even Christianity for Christians who Have a Lot of Questions About the Nature of What They Say They Believe. It should be Christianity for American Evangelical Christians who Have a Lot of Questions About the Nature of What They Say They Believe.
(Quick aside: the term "Evangelical Christian" has morphed in the last three years, and no longer means what it meant a decade ago. (More about this in a future blog post.) Unfortunately, there isn't a new title for the Evangelicals of a decade ago. So, in the face of that problem, we have to stick with the word that no longer really means what it used to mean.)
There is no better example of this limitation of the book than this:
"Did Jesus have brothers and sisters? As you read just a minute ago, yes, he had brothers. Christians believe his brothers were half-brothers through Mary"
UhChristians believe that? All Christians? It is an article of faith in the Roman Catholic Church that Mary was a perpetual virginso, is White saying Roman Catholics are not Christians? He certainly is saying that right here. Fortunately, later in the book, in explaining why there are so many denominations, he includes the Roman Catholics in the category of Christian.
This is just an example of the massive blind spot that runs throughout White's book. When White talks about Christians, he means Christians like him. Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholics, and the mainline Protestant denominations don't really enter into White's conception of Christianity. This is terribly surprising given White's clear reliance on and love of C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity. While I suspect White thought he was writing an update of Lewis' book, he missed the memo on making sure the Christianity being described is the things Christians universally believe.
Similar blind spots are also undoubtedly related to the many quibbles I had in parts of the book. To take one example, White addresses the common complaint that there are contradictions in the Bible. He is entirely right in noting that none of the so-called contradictions really give us any reason to doubt the accuracy and internal coherence of the text. To show this, he picks the well-known problem of the cock crowing before Peter's denial of Christ. Matthew's gospel says Jesus said that Peter would deny Christ three time before the cock crowed. Mark's gospel says that Jesus said that Peter would deny Christ three time before the cock crowed twice. These are obviously not the same statements. White explains: "Again, that's not a contradiction. Peter would deny Jesus before the cock crowed, but Mark simply supplies an added detailthat the cock wouldn't crow just once, but twice. Not exactly a scandal."
What is a scandal is that White does not seem to have read the gospel of Mark before writing those sentences. White is clearly saying that the chain of events is Peter denies Christ three times and then the cock crows twice. If that is what happened, then Matthew and Mark are, as White says, in no way contradictory. But, if you actually read the gospel of Mark, the cock crows the first time after Peter's first denial, but before his second and third denials. This is not even a hidden detail: it is quite explicit in text. In other words, White's attempt to brush away the contradiction is not only wrong, but actually wrong in a way that unfortunately would cast suspicion on his whole method of argument if one started as the doubter White encouraged in the first sentence of the book. One might wonder: If White can't be trusted to be accurate in describing the stories in the Bible, then is he accurate anywhere else?
Why did this happen? I have no idea. But, the simple truth is that there was no reason for White to make this sort of claim in the first place. The difference between the two accounts in easily explained if you think even briefly about the nature of biography in the first century. These sorts of details are not the point of the story; Matthew and Mark are writing moral biographies (akin to Plutarch), not "what happened at 3:36 pm on June 24th" biographies.
The larger problem to which these sorts of problem point is White's obvious desire to wrap up all the theological questions into nice little packages. He wants to answer, really answer, all the questions. He makes the extraordinary claim that "99 percent of the Bible does not take any heavy lifting in regard to interpretation." That is simply absurd and, while White does not mean it this way, it utterly trivializes the Bible.
The Bible is a Great Book. It is worthy of attention from both Christians and non-Christians and will repay rereading and deep study. It requires thought, much thought, to divine all of its secrets. Yes, there are many lessons which can be learned in the first reading, many lessons which can be understood by anyone. But, to trivialize two thousand years of theological debate as arguing over a mere 1% of the text is beneath White. Some question are simply hard to answer.
All that being said, I'll return to what I noted at the outset. Problems aside (all books have problems after all), this is a very good book for an American Evangelical Christian who is wondering about how to think about the faith. If you are someone like that or know someone like that, this is a rather good book. But, I would not even think about getting the book for your non-Christian friends.
bookwomanjoanOak Harbor, WAAge: Over 65Gender: Female4 Stars Out Of 5Good conversational style explanation and defense of ChristianityNovember 6, 2019bookwomanjoanOak Harbor, WAAge: Over 65Gender: FemaleQuality: 4Value: 4Meets Expectations: 4White's book is a good addition to the genre of defending or explaining Christianity. His goal is twofold. He wants to explain Christianity to people who have little or know knowledge of it and answers some of the most common questions about Christian faith.
Having read a number of books on Christian apologetics, I did not find anything earth shakingly new in this one. White's writing style is very conversational rather than academic which would appeal to many thinking about investigating Christianity. He came to Christian faith as an adult so understands many of the questions people have about it. He draws frequently on the thoughts of C. S. Lewis, one who came to Christian faith later in life and excelled in well thought out answers to questions about Christianity.
White addresses many of the issues people question today. His exploration of them may satisfy faith seekers or at least get them moving on a path toward Christian faith. I suggest believers give this book to a friend they know is questioning faith. Read it first then continue the discussion with your own personal insights.
I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.
debsMaineAge: 35-44Gender: female5 Stars Out Of 5Christianity for people who aren't ChristiansNovember 3, 2019debsMaineAge: 35-44Gender: femaleQuality: 5Value: 5Meets Expectations: 5This book is one that you read because you have doubt, want to minister to those you don't know how, or just want to know the answers to uncommon questions about God in today's world.
This book has bible verses, questions of doubt why God makes things happen, and answers. The research that went into this book and was written in the way of today's world language. James starts out that it would be easier to have doubt when reading this book because, those that believe already have "a one mind".
I would recommend this book to anyone that doesn't believe that God exists. This is a book filled with alot of topics and answers that cover the reasons why God does exist, with details and explanations of why it is a true.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Baker Books. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255, "Guides Concerning the Use of Testimonials and Endorsements in Advertising.
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