Friday, April 8, 2011

Review - When Christians Get It Wrong

I recently saw a book with a catchy title and started reading it -- "When Christians Get It Wrong" by Adam Hamilton. He makes some excellent points in the book, and does a great job at describing the need for humility among church leaders (well, all Christians). There are a number of things that some Christians do, say or believe that are increasingly aggravating - both for people outside and inside the church! He does a good job with the discussion of the relationship between Christianity and politics. The book is easy to read, and is clearly written by someone with the loving heart of a pastor. And yet, I found myself growing increasingly uneasy reading this book. Hamilton isn't saying our practice of the Christian message is wrong, but he's saying that on several fairly important issues that our doctrine is wrong, promoting alternatives which do not seem biblical.

Looking on Amazon the reviews were almost universally positive (clearly showing that the issues Hamilton addresses are very important and resonate with many people). Also it's recommended by several pastors and authors I respect a lot. I must differ with them. There are two other books I've read which also do a superb job at pointing out several perceived and real flaws among the church today. These are unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity... and Why It Matters and They Like Jesus but Not the Church: Insights from Emerging Generations. There is a very significant difference between 'When Christians Get it Wrong' and these other books. The goal of the latter is for Christians to practice a Christian message that is closer to what Jesus himself taught and lived. The flaws they identify are more with the practice (and arrogance) of many Christians. In Hamilton's book, he goes a step further and says that the actual teaching or doctrine of the church is wrong - not just their practices. Specifically he espouses distinctly non-traditional views on the topics of salvation (where he promotes a very inclusivist view, bordering on universalism), beliefs on homosexuality, and about the omniscience and omnipotence of God (in discussing why bad things happen). Whether the lack of orthodoxy in this book's teaching is a good or a bad thing will depend on the perspective of the reader - in particular on their view of the authority of Scripture. But it's important to note the major difference in approach that Hamilton takes compared to the authors like Kinnamon and Lyons or Dan Kimball in addressing the important ways in which Christians don't get it right.

When Christians Get It Wrong raises some critical issues, but it should be read with careful discernment.


Jill from Lancaster, Pa said...

I totally agree. My small group from church is starting to read this book. I read only the one chapter on homosexuality because I recently reconnected with a girl from my past who revealed she struggles with feelings for people of the same sex. Red flags were going up in my head as I read about his opinions on the Scripture and on his suggestions that homosexuality was perhaps not accepted in the culture of that time...but that it should be accepted today ( more or less). .I am not looking forward to reading the rest of his book now because I do not believe in his liberal theology and I am not interested in wasting my time supporting his book in any way. It should provide for some heated discussion in our group if nothing else. I was happy to read your review because many I had come across seemed to think this book was great. Not!

Larry Baxter said...

Jill, thanks for the feedback! I have no doubt that many will find this a great book; and less doubt that it will lead to interesting (even heated discussion). Personally, I think discussion would produce more light than heat around a book like "They Love Jesus but Not the Church" or "unChristian" which more focus on the way we live and how we are perceived by non-Christians. The latter books point the finger at us for the poor perception and sometimes lack of love (spot on), while When Christians Get It Wrong literally say we (and orthodox Biblical views) actually do have it wrong. Best wishes for your small group - tough subject!

Bill K said...

4thank you Larry & Jill for your in sights. Larry, could you be more specific about hamilton"s deviation from or misuse of scripture as to the view he espouses on homosexuality, and the omnipotence and omniscience of God? I follow your thinking as to how Hamilton's views on homosexuality differ from our"orthodoxy" but I am not sure what statements or passages in his book you are referring to as to his view of God's omnipotence and omniscience. Thanks. Bill K

Larry Baxter said...

Thanks for the question Bill. I don't have the book any more so will have to answer from memory. Hamilton espouses a view that I have since realized is known as "Open Theism". This view says that the future is inherently unknowable, even for God. He is omniscient in that He knows all that is knowable - but that does not include the future. So not only are things not foreordained, they are not foreknown. There are other evangelicals who take this view, but many would find this an odd concept not in agreement with Scripture.