Author: Stephen M. Miller
Publisher: Bethany House Publishers
Date: April 8, 2014
[In accordance with certain rules created by the FCC, I am required to inform you that I received a complimentary e-book copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for my unbiased review.]
It took me less time to read this book than it did to figure out how to move it from Adobe Digital Editions on my laptop over to my Nook. And, frankly, it was more of a chore to do the latter than it was to do the former. I read this book in a roughly 3 hours and that is mostly because I was also using a new tool to make notes in the e-book (.pdf) version of the book I had received.
I want to be fair, and I will, but frankly…this is a strange book. I'm not sure if that is because it is still being edited (at the bottom of my e-book [.pdf] are the words 'unpublished manuscript'] which may indicate I merely received a rough draft and not a finished copy) or other reasons for which I will not bother to speculate. Here are a few of my complaints about this book.
First, it is absolutely scatterbrained. Simply put: there is a randomness to the ordering of the questions the author has decided to 'report' on and it simply makes no sense to do so in the way he did it. The reader is bounced back and forth between the Old and New Testament on nearly every other page. In my opinion, the book would have better served its readers if the author had merely started at the beginning of the Bible–Genesis–and wrapped it up at the end of the Bible–the Revelation. Or he had offered some grouping of the questions. Maybe a little background on who or why the questions were asked (as he notes they were collected from Christians and not Christians).
There was no balance to the book. Some questions received many pages of writing, others scarcely a paragraph or two. The pace was frantic and hurried.
Second, there were times in the book when the humor was a bit sophomoric. On page 90, for example, there is a bit of humor about a Jewish person. I'm not even Jewish and I found the humor offensive and racist. On page 48 there is a reference to 'Jewish male plumbing' which is also a bit immature. Perhaps it is in the author's personality to make such jokes, but I found them a little out of place in a book such as this.
Third, some of the questions are a bit banal. I wonder what the criteria was for choosing which questions were going to be addressed and which were not. Did the author and editors set up a room with whiteboards and dry erase markers and sketch out a thousand questions and whittle them down to a mere 100? Or was the author given carte-blanche approval to address what he wanted? Or did he address more than 100 questions and an editor whittled it down to an acceptable 100? I'm not sure how it was done, but some of the one-hundred 'tough' questions addressed were simply banal and do not require journalistic efforts to answer.
Take, for example, question 39: Psalm 44:23 says, 'Wake up, O Lord! Why do you sleep? Get up! Does God catch Zzz's?" I find it hard to believe that this is a tougher question than, say, 'How can Jesus make claims to be the only way to God"? Seriously, I could think of a hundred other questions that would be far better suited to ask and answer than many of the ones asked and answered in this book. Furthermore, it seems a bit odd to me the pick-and-choose method that seems to be employed in selecting which Old Testament laws were going to be picked apart in the book. In other words, I'm not sure there was a method to the madness except perhaps: we will choose parts of the Bible that are certain to 'punch a button.'
Fourth, no references. There are plenty of references in the book to bible 'scholars,' 'experts,' 'historians,' and 'commentators,' but none of their names actually show up in the book or in an index or in end notes (I think there was one or two times). I get that this is a popular level book intended to sell to a very immature audience, but failing to include, at minimum, a 'for further reading' or 'for deeper digging' page of references seems, to me, somewhat anathema. I cannot excuse this failure in a book that will most certainly be used by some as a reference point in debates.
I'm not sure what books he read in preparation for writing this book, but I'm not sure he has read enough. Continual use of phrases such as 'most scholars…' and 'most experts agree…' are too volatile to be taken seriously without reference points. We learn in early logic classes–seriously, we teach children in elementary school who take standardized tests to avoid multiple-choice answers that use words like 'most' and 'all,' and 'many'–that very few things are 'all' or 'most' and that it is best to shy away from them unless our proof is irrefutable. That said, I wish he would have at least included a few of the works he consulted and researched before writing these things because the scholars and experts I have read frequently disagree with the ones he seems to have consulted.
We can laugh about such things if we choose–and it might well be true that the author was trying to diffuse some of the more petulant attacks the Bible must endure from 'scholars' and 'experts' by showing that the two sides doesn't necessarily mean something is incorrect or a bald-faced lie. This could be the very reason why he began the book with the question, "What on earth do Christians mean when they say the Bible is 'inspired by God?'" (15; and probably the longest chapter in the book.) Maybe by addressing this question first, the author helps us understand his own point of view–a point of view we are rarely privy to, except the time when he points out that he and his daughter are, in fact, Good Samaritans (question 85).
It could be that the author is as orthodox as the Calvin or Wesley–whatever that means. He does claim to belong to a church with a well known preacher. He claims to be a Christian and yet the books comes off as a storyline from the X-Files, and when it's all said and done you are either Mulder or Scully, a mere christian who takes things on faith or an 'expert' who must have more proof to validate the Bible's stories.
There were some moments when I found the book to be highly enlightening. For example, making the connection between some young men being consumed by bears and passages in Leviticus 26 was very interesting and helpful (164). Another valid point came when he discussed issues surrounding being a citizen of God's kingdom and obsessing about our own (85). There were a couple of others too that I found insightful and for that I appreciated the book immensely.
There were also times when I was frustrated. For example, making a point about Jesus' resurrection and concluding with wondering 'if a spiritual body leaves footprints' is another cringe worthy moment in the book. I'm not sure if it is humor or if it is just terrible theology. And, finally, there was the obligatory (negative) reference to George W. Bush which many christian authors seem to sneak into their books nowadays (37). It's probably time to let it go.
I judge a book's value based upon whether or not I will read it again in the future. I have read The Count of Monte Cristo at least 15 times. I don't envision this book becoming a regular reference tool in my library. I'm sure the author is a nice guy with a super sense of humor, but this book just didn't work for me. He wrote in the introduction that he wants 'truth;' not cliches, not safety, not one-sided sermons. Yet reading this book left me thinking that he hasn't taken any side at all (which he admits to in the introduction). He is, indeed, Switzerland. Too bad.
He left me more frustrated than hungry.
Or maybe I just took him and the book too seriously.