Category Archives: Reviews

Book Review: “Trusting Doubt – A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light”

I recently reviewed a book on Amazon, “Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light” by Dr. Valerie Tarico. (I have recently shared some of Dr. Tarico’s work on this blog, here).

I have to say that I didn’t like the book, and this is reflected in my review. In some of my own work, even though I might well present a dark picture of modern Christianity and even of some of its practitioners, I always nevertheless try to mitigate that darkness by giving a hopeful counter-argument of some sort. If this book produces such a counter-argument, then I did not read far enough to find it; I could only read about a third of the way into the book before I gave up for the sake of my own sanity. Also, bearing in mind that I feel like I am presently going into another ‘Dark Night of the Soul‘ (which is nowhere near as bad as it sounds!), if I had gone into such a Dark Night after having read this book, there’s a fair chance I woudn’t have come out the other side in one piece 😉 Actually, that’s not true; it is God Who carries the believer through the Dark Night (Ps 23:4, Is 46:4, Phil 1:6, Jude 24) but still I think I have made my point.

I would also say that I do not consider that my incipient Dark Night has influenced my perception of the book. As a scientist, I am well used to viewing things dispassionately and without letting my preconceptions influence my impressions.

Anyway, here is my review, for what it’s worth. It’s presented more or less verbatim from my review on Amazon (with a few extra bits added after further thought):

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light”
 – by Dr. Valerie Tarico.

I really wanted to enjoy this book, and having read some of Dr. Tarico’s articles on her blog, I looked forward to reading something with some substance and containing interesting, thought-provoking and ultimately upbuilding ideas. However, while I appreciated the clarity, forcefulness and honesty of Dr. Tarico’s arguments, I have to say that there is little to like in this book.

There are a few welcome episodes of dry humour, and a couple of ‘lessons learned’ where, despite the dark and hopeless conclusions she reaches at the end of most chapters, she does manage to salvage a few gems of wisdom and learning.

But, otherwise, the book would be more suitable for those who already believe There. Is. No. God. ; for those seriously considering leaving the Christian faith (and this book would indeed convince you to do so); or for Goths.

After a reasonably upbeat introductory section, the book rapidly goes downhill faster than a well-tossed anvil.

While Dr. Tarico rightly tears into the presuppositions and conflicting assertions of Evangelical doctrines, such as infallibility of scripture, original sin and the inequalities (racism, sexism and other prejudices) expressed in the Bible which are also enacted in today’s society by many Evangelicals, she also examines the rightness and ‘goodness’ of Jesus’s miracles, and even manages to conclude that because Jesus did not heal everyone, that in actual fact his miracles were cruel (she uses that actual word) because not everyone got healed, even if it’s just because they didn’t happen to be there as Jesus walked by.

Wait, what? Really??

Many of the author’s arguments against God being good are based on the premise of what would I do if I was God, which I’m not, and neither is she. We cannot presuppose that we know best. I have to say also that not all the arguments are based in correct axioms nor in logical presuppositions. I am not going to provide examples, because I don’t want to go back into this book again to find them, for reasons which will become clear.

There seems to be an underlying bitterness that everything in the world is not good, or, at least, a bitterness that Christians appear to try to explain away the fact that shit happens and life is full of it. In actual fact, however, everyone with half a mind asks life’s big questions, and nobody, not just the Christians, has the answers. So you can’t blame Evangelicalism for that.

Apart from a few upbeat anecdotes like ones about her grandmother, and even that story she then tears to pieces, there is nothing to rejoice about in this book. Even the good is denigrated and life is portrayed as empty, dark, bleak and hopeless.

I have to say that I got about a third of the way through the book before giving up in despair. The nihilism is simply soul-destroying, if you believe in the soul anyway. I am an upbeat, optimistic and positive person, but at the end of each chapter I felt like going off and drinking myself into oblivion, something I would never normally contemplate. Or maybe piling my car into a very solid tree or concrete wall. Except that my airbags would save my life. Damn.

At the end of every chapter, I thought, Oh well this must get better, after all I agree with a lot of what she says, so let’s keep reading. But no. The darkness and oppression are relentless. There is no place in this book for joy, no place for happiness, and even the spontaneous, joy-filled and free laughter of my severely disabled daughter watching something funny (in another room) seemed totally out of place in the presence of the cloud of darkness that seemed to emanate from this book.

There is no mention of life’s joys, the good things, the light, the scenery, people being nice for the sake of it, kindness, love and laughter. There is no mention of the tremendous good that Christianity has brought into the world, yes, along with all the horrific things it has done as well. The fault-finding of God in this book is unmitigated by any mention of his benefits. Indeed, it is as if the entire picture of God in this book is based entirely on the faulty image of Nasty God as espoused by the Evangelicals, and it doesn’t move on from there but stays down in the dumps. Instead of saying ‘Look the Evangelicals believe in this nasty God, BUT….’ , she instead goes on to explain why God, if he exists, is horrible just as the Evangelicals say, but giving her own reasons based on the bloodiness of nature and that life deals in crap on a daily basis.

No, this book is simply the apparently logic-based ranting of someone who has been damaged by Evangelicalism – as have I – and has gone on to get the qualifications and experience to be able to write an authoritative declamation against Evangelicalism, which undoubtedly deserves it!

But for those who want to see how someone else has approached the deconstruction of faith and come through, well, I didn’t get that far in the book so I don’t know if it has a happy ending, in terms of something solid and hopeful to take home at the end of the book. This book appears to have been written by someone in Fowler’s Stage 4 in the Stages of Faith (Google it) and has not yet come through to Stage 5. Like I said, the book may come through, but I can’t stand to read any more of it. I’m not afraid of logic; I am a professional scientist. I’m not afraid of deconstruction; I have gone through it myself. But it is possible to deconstruct one’s faith without destroying others’ hope too, something this book is more than capable of. But I also want to have a life, and I am not going to waste any more of my valuable time on reading this book of misery. Who would want to do that?

At the very least, the author could have given maybe a sneak preview. Like, hey, it all produces good stuff in the end, you’ll see. But in order to survive to that point, the earlier parts of the book need to have a little more upbeat stuff in there. Or maybe it does not in fact reach a good conclusion; maybe it stays dark all the way through. The occasional touch of humour, while welcome, is simply not enough to hold the reader in a place that is positive enough to encourage the desire to carry on reading. If you think things will get better, you might as well stop reading, because they don’t.

I gave this book a fair chance. I will be removing it from my Kindle, and cheering myself up by singing Python’s ‘Always look on the Bright Side of Life’. While still nihilistic, that song manages to put a funny and even positive spin on it. This book does not.

I did decide to give the book another chance, and actually dipped into later parts of the book to see if I’d misjudged it; to see if it does indeed get better later. It doesn’t. For example, the chapter on feeling the Presence of God, and how widespread it is amongst all types of churchgoers, I though would be great. Dr. Tarico begins the chapter on such a high note – like saying, ‘Look, folks, you believe you have a monopoly on God, well, you don’t, because other Christians feel that Presence too, no matter what their denomination’. And this is extremely admirable. But then it all gets shot down in flames as these ‘feelings of God’ are apparently essentially some sort of illusion or, I gathered, wishful thinking. Such a shame – but then I suppose it would appeal to some people who want ‘permission’ to deconstruct. But there is such a finality about each or Dr. Tarico’s conclusions that gives no room for further spiritual progress, at least in any mystical sense, and at least without having a whole raft of rational stuff to fight through. People in later places in their faith walk have learned to hold in tension the logical with the mystical. Neither stance gives a complete picture of reality, so to discount the mystical as illogical (which actually it isn’t; it’s irrational, which is a different thing) is to miss out on a whole slice of life.

I have actually gained something positive from reading the third of the book I did read. It’s this: up until now, I have had difficulty seeing the points of view of Evangelical Christians since I have moved out of their fold. Reading this book, however, has given me a new appreciation – because of the omission of this point from the book – of all the decent, honest and upright people in the Evangelical church, despite their mixed-up thinking, terrible ideas and their stifling, grey dogmatism. In contrast to this book, they really don’t seem so bad after all.

One final thing. If you are contemplating suicide, or if you are prone to depression, then in all seriousness, I strongly advise that you DO NOT read this book. It may well push you over the edge, figuratively or even literally.


“Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light”, by Dr. Valerie Tarico, is available on Amazon both as a paperback and as a Kindle eBook. The eBook was priced at GBP£7.46 at the time of writing. The link to the book is here.

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The Atheistic Theist

This is my Amazon review of an excellent book by Jeff Turner, whose work I quote a lot on my blog.

The book is called The Atheistic Theist: Why There is No God and You Should Follow Him’

You perhaps think it sounds like a daft title for a Christian book? Read on for clarification!


Jeff Turner is at the same time both extremely perceptive and also very good at expressing his ideas. I’d go so far as to say that he’s one of the clearest Christian thinkers of our generation; I’d even go so far as to say that he is a modern-day C.S. Lewis.

Jeff writes here with refreshing transparency, drawing on his own personal experiences; those of others; others’ ideas; the Scriptures; great Christian thinkers throughout the ages, from Augustine through Calvin, Luther, Edwards and into the modern era. He also quotes from several atheists including (among others) Richard Dawkins, Gene Roddenberry (one of my personal heroes!) and Christopher Hitchens, whom he feels have meaningful things to say in today’s theological dialogues. Indeed, I agree; if the Church only listens to herself, the result is a vicious cycle of inbred thinking with no clear critique or accountability. Jeff uses the atheists’ points of view to hold up a mirror to modern Evangelical theology, and the picture we see is most disturbing.

The idea of the title is that Jesus and the early believers were seen as atheists because they didn’t worship the ‘gods’ of their time, and could therefore be seen as ‘atheists’. In the same way, Jeff argues, we today have lost sight of the God of Jesus and replaced Him with gods of our own; gods created in our own image.

If you are a Christian who has questions about his faith, and about the logical inconsistencies you can’t ignore, if you’re honest, then this is the book for you. Alternatively, if you are an atheist, you might like to take a look too and see how Jeff Turner has addressed some of the points made by other atheists. You may be pleasantly surprised.

I love this book. So many times I have found myself exclaiming aloud, ‘Yes!!’ while reading it. Your thinking is challenged, your assumptions are challenged, but your faith will emerge all the more strengthened for reading this book; your vision of Father God will also take on new hues of grace truth and beauty, instead of those of vengeance and terrible judgement.

If you’ve never read a theology book before, then this one would be a good place to start. Definitely recommended!


Here is a link to buy the book from Amazon UK (and no I am not on commission!)

And here is the link for Amazon USA

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A Poke in the Faith – A Short Review

I just want to make another shameless plug for my friend David Matthew‘s book ‘A Poke in the Faith’. David is a scholarly man who is widely read in Christian literature, and indeed founded (and taught in) a couple of Bible schools here in the UK.

The book’s subject matter is exactly relevant for readers of this blog who can identify with my enquiries into the ‘boundaries of faith’. In the book, he describes how evangelical Christians are calling into question certain tenets of their faith (like I do in my blog), and explains how and why it is safe to do this.

He explains, in clear language, what dilemmas and problems are faced by Evangelicals who wish to preserve their faith but also have genuine questions.

His perspective is that of a helpful mentor who recognises the primacy – first importance – of the believer’s personal relationship with Christ, and he explains carefully how, so long as that relationship comes first and foremost, the believer’s entire faith does not need to come crashing down if some of its basic tenets are challenged. He likens this to a tower of wooden blocks in the family game ‘Jenga’: it is perfectly fine to prod and move blocks without bringing the entire edifice down, although he does in fact wonder whether such a tower is necessary in the first place.

Not only does David explain why questioning these doctrines is not going to destroy one’s faith, but he also makes some recommendations as to how we can share our ‘changes of opinion’ gently with others. Throughout the book, David’s emphasis is on maintaining, not destroying, one’s faith and indeed building ourselves up, and others, in our faith through our questioning. Written with his easygoing and humorous style, and with David’s passion for building up the Body of Christ, this book is a real treasure-trove of goodness.

For people with sincere ‘faith questions’, I would indeed recommend this book as a reassuring, encouraging ‘manual’ full of helpful ideas which are so useful when going through our ‘heretic’ times such as those being experienced by many people these days. Reading this book will affirm you in your questioning and it will also provide encouragement and practical tips that are really useful in our real lives. And there is a ‘further reading’ list as well that includes many useful (short!) book reviews too.

The book is free; you can download it as a PDF or as a Kindle .mobi file, or an .epub file for other eBook readers.

There’s really no reason not to get this book and read it. I simply can’t recommend it highly enough.

Click the cover image below to go to the download page:

poke-in-the-faith

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Raising Hell

I’m currently reading an excellent little book called “Raising Hell“, by Julie Ferwerda.

I can’t recommend the book highly enough. I have been listening to Father on this subject for several months now, and the things I have been given tally up almost exactly with the things that Julie mentions in her book. And I’m still only a third of the way through it!

Here is my review of the book as I posted it on Amazon today:


“This is an extremely good, scholarly work written by a lady who obviously knows the Scriptures and knows the Lord.

“All the author’s teaching in this book is from Scripture, using the original meanings of the Hebrew and Greek words and concepts, and the teaching is applied into her considerations accurately and convincingly. If you are a believer who has always had a problem with your loving God being able to consign the people He loves to an eternity of suffering; if you are one of these people who constantly thinks ‘Oh I wish that Hell wasn’t true!’, then this is the book for you. In this book, the author examines the modern doctrine of Hell as seen in the Scriptures and as declared by the Church, and explains why it’s not the way we once thought.

“But you will have to approach this book with an open mind. If you believe that Jesus still speaks to His people today (John 16:12), then prepare to hear His voice in this book. If the doctrine of Hell has bothered you (and it should), then be prepared to have your thinking radically changed. Prepare to have the focus of the Gospel shifted to the heavenly things it should always have been on, rather than the horrible doctrines of Hell. Philippians 4:8 says, “…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things” – not Hell. And that is why this book sets you free; you will no longer need to think about Hell at all.

“But beware – this book will change the way other believers will perceive you. Because you will know the Truth, and the Truth will set you free, there will be those among your Church family who will be unable to cope with your freedom. But he whom the Son sets free is free indeed, and Jesus will indeed set so much of your mind free with this little book.

“Buy it. It will change your life.”


Oddly enough, but perhaps somewhat unsurprisingly, someone has also placed a one-star review which consists almost entirely of a completely irrelevant Scripture-bombing salvo. You might want to look at it and see if you can make any sense of it; I certainly can’t, despite my exceptionally high IQ (and exemplary modesty!).

Anyway, the book can be purchased from Amazon either as an eBook or as a paperback. The link for the Amazon.com (US site) is on the author’s website; Also, you can get a free PDF version of the book from the website too – click the logo below to go there:

raising_hell_header

You can find the book on Amazon.co.uk too – click here to do that

As Julie says on her site:

“Dare to question. What have you got to lose? “
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Saints in the Arms of a Happy God

I’ve been reading this book on and off for the last few months, dipping in here and there to read a little more of this revolutionary stuff.

In the book, which is ideally suited for mention on my blog – since I half-jokingly call it my ‘Heresy Blog‘ – its author, Jeff Turner, examines in detail the theology behind many of the presuppositions of (particularly) Evangelical and Calvinist theological ideas. He dares to ask questions, and challenge the status quo; something that many theologians – myself included – are doing in these days. We are asking the questions ‘why?’, ‘why do we believe that?’ and ‘are you sure about that?’ Questions that many Christian streams have ignored, brushed under the carpet or, worse, treated as forbidden questions – usually because they challenge the assumptions and power of those in charge. And this is exactly what Jesus did….

Using the security of relationship with Jesus as a solid basis, it is actually perfectly safe to ask awkward questions. Those who dare not ask them are actually, sadly, those with a weaker faith because they feel that their faith may be threatened by new knowledge, or that they may be rejected by their fellows because they might have to concede that they actually believe something different. But surely that’s the nature of the walk of faith; you never really arrive at the end because you are constantly learning new things about God, and some of those things may contradict what you were so sure you believed earlier.

The title is a parody of the title of a famous hellfire-and-damnation sermon called ‘Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God’, by one Jonathan Edwards, an eighteenth-century American Revivalist preacher.

I’m sure that Mr. Edwards believed most sincerely in what he was preaching – he was indeed a humble, Godly and thoughtful man – but the ideas he espoused (along with those of a similar persuasion; we can’t blame it all on Mr. Edwards!) have caused significant shifts in humanity’s perception of the Godhead, His relationship to us (and ours with Him) and in the subsequent credibility of the Church and its major doctrines. In this book, Jeff Turner challenges many of the the deeply-held doctrines of modern Christianity which are supposed to be Scripture-based, but, Turner says, are in fact incorrect. The modern-day image of an angry God as presented by Edwards et al is nothing at all like the God Whom the writers of the New Testament knew. This book is a well-reasoned treatise on how God has been misrepresented down the years as an angry, implacable Dictator – and this is one reason why I write so much on just how good God is. I’m just so fed up with Him being dissed in this way. In fact I’ve quoted from ‘Saints’ before on this blog, in a similar context.

Anyway, I would like to let you have a look at a review of the book by my friend David Matthew; far better for a scholarly man like him to give such a good book a decent review. For what it’s worth, I concur with just about every point that David makes in his review.

Click the book cover image below to go to David’s review. There are also links on that page to Amazon (UK) where you can buy the book; at the time of writing, the Kindle version is only a couple of pounds.

saints in the arms of a happy god small

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The Shack

I have just finished reading what has to be one of the most revolutionary Christian books ever written.

Overturning the World’s and indeed the Church’s views of the nature and character of God, this book is moving, interesting, fascinating and exciting all at the same time. I won’t do any plot spoilers for you but I would strongly and heartily recommend you read it for yourself and see what all the fuss is about.

The author, William P Young, took a lot of flak for his portrayal of the Godhead in this gritty and down-to-earth story, mainly from the conservative wing of the church and the usual Pharisees. All the more reason, then, for you to read this. If your faith has become stagnant, if your view of the Triune Godhead of Father, Son and Holy Spirit has become somewhat jaded, then this is the book for you.

But I have a more personal testimony to give regarding this book. Some of you will have read my article ‘The Dark Night of the Soul’, and you’ll know that I spend fifteen years in the ‘wilderness’ being detoxed from all my incorrect attitudes towards God. In those fifteen years, God showed me a lot about His nature and His love, forgiveness and mercy. When I read ‘The Shack’, I was astonished to find that about 80% of the ideas that Young presents in the book were things that God had already spoken to me in my wilderness time. He’s already downloaded the stuff into my spirit, and as you can imagine, reading it in this book, almost exactly as I was given it, was quite an affirmation for me!

If your interest has been piqued, you will want to get hold of this book and devour it! I have placed links to the Amazon websites (UK and US) to help you get the book if you would like to use their service; you can get it on Kindle too.

Here are the links:

The Shack on Amazon UK

The Shack on Amazon.com (US)

Alternatively you can buy it direct from the project website, click on the picture below or this link to go to the site.

splash-shack

You may also find it useful to take a look at a review of The Shack by my friend David Matthew; there is also a review there of the companion book, The Shack Revisited by C. Baxter Kruger. Here is the link:

David Matthew’s review of The Shack and The Shack Revisited

It is my sincere hope that reading this book will transform your Christian walk. It has transformed the walks of all those whom I know who have read it.

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