–Daniel S. Ferguson
For those of you who don’t know, William Paul Young is the same guy who wrote The Shack, Crossroads, and Eve. He got a lot of questions about God because of his best-selling Christian novels, and Lies We Believe about God is his attempt to create a manifesto from his spiritual perspective.
You might ask what qualifies Young to write a theological manifesto. He has a degree in Religion from Warner Pacific College, where he graduated summa cum laude. He’s also a multinational best-seller. That may not sound like much qualification, but hey, it’s more than I’ve done. Getting a book published is a nightmare, so huge props there. (No sarcasm at all there. Really, I give high praise to anyone who can manage to get published.)
I was asked to review this book by my sister, who is very careful what she allows herself to read concerning faith. She only has so much time (essentially none as a businesswoman with four children), so she wants to make sure that she spends her time wisely by only reading Christian books that affirm and deepen her faith. That only makes sense.
With that in mind, and assuming you have a similar goal, this probably isn’t that book. For one thing, its provocative title is incredibly misleading. Averaging only seven small pages per “lie,” Young fails to demonstrate how any of the 28 statements he reviews are definitively false. He simply doesn’t spend enough time on them. In each case, he barely scratches the surface of forcing a person to think before he simply calls it a day and moves on. Truth be told, he might have sold five books at five lies each and spent real time delving into them, but as it is, he failed to convince me of much of anything in this manifesto.
So I would hesitate to call this a book about “lies.” It is, however, a book of questions. If he had simply framed his book around that notion, I would have a lot more respect for it. However, his desire to have a power-word on the cover muddles his writing and confuses his audience, who will be left wanting.
Don’t get me wrong; I want books like this on the market. I want there to finally be some real diversity of thought in the popular Christian marketplace. It’s been a while. But I wouldn’t hold this up as a great liberal Christian manifesto. It fails to be that on any level.
But it could be the starting point for one. I could see a liberal lion picking up this book and having a great idea and building a liberal Christian theological foundation from that idea. In that regard, this book helps, as a source for ideas. But that’s all it is: ideas. If you’re hoping for finished thoughts and thorough explanations and arguments, this isn’t the book for you. But if you’re looking for something fresh to stir up your brain a little and get some idea juice flowing, the Table of Contents is worth a flip.
Let’s take a look at the first two “lies” Young discusses.
Young’s Lie #1: “God loves us, but He doesn’t like us.”
In this chapter, Young espouses the difference between “love” and “being fond of,” which he attempts to distinguish for the sake of the believer. He’s not wrong that this is an important distinction. Young notes that many people feel that God loves them in the same way “Gramps” does, that he simply loves them because that’s in the nature of the relationship. For those people, because the love is “automatic,” they wonder if it’s active. They don’t wonder if God loves them; they wonder if they’re lovable.
Young relates that to the way that siblings often refer to each other at a young age. They’re told they have to love their kid brother, so when they’re frustrated, they say they love them but they don’t like them very much. And people fear it’s the same way with God. That when we frustrate Him, He doesn’t like us very much.
Young is right to point out that nothing could be further from the truth. God really is fond of you, even when you screw up.
The only problem with this chapter is that it doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the shame culture within Christianity. Young actually doesn’t even address it. He attacks the distinction between “love” and “being fond of,” but he doesn’t address the underlying emotional damage that’s caused the need for the distinction. For a good review of that, check out People of the Second Chance by Mike Foster.
Young’s Lie #2: “God is Good. I am not.”
Here, Young attempts to poke a hole in the common Christian doctrine known as “Total Depravity,” which states that human beings are inherently sinful and cannot redeem themselves from that sin on their own. Even though this doctrine and its name are often attributed to Calvinism (or “Reformed Theology”), you’ll find something like it is in almost all branches of Christianity.
As it should be. That humans have a sin nature and that we are incapable of resolving that sin nature on our own is a central tenet of the faith. That’s the whole reason for Jesus.
But Young’s point is that by starting at this doctrine, by starting our understanding of faith with the idea that we’re sinful, no-good messes, we negate the fact that we are lovingly created image-bearers of God with infinite worth. Young doesn’t deny that we screw up, but he emphatically believes that our understanding of faith shouldn’t begin with that, but rather with the truth about how much God loves us and wants to be with us.
In this chapter, Young stops short of directly attacking Total Depravity. Rather, he states that “God, who is only good, creates only good.” And that we should stop thinking of ourselves as worthless in anyone’s eyes, least of all God’s. Rather, God thinks we are worth creating and worth sending His Son to die for.
This is actually a pretty good chapter, worth the read. But again, it really could have been its own book. In fact, there’s a great book about this topic called What’s So Amazing About Grace? by Philip Yancey. Check that one out if this is a topic that interests you.
Again, if you want a book that asks great questions but doesn’t really answer them, this is the one for you. It’s a fantastic starting point for 28 different conversations. But don’t expect this book to finish what it starts. I really wish Young had included solid recommendations for further study in each topic. I honestly have no idea why he thinks he has answered any of the questions he asks in this text. That really goes to show just how much of an expert Young isn’t, but hey, he got a book published, and that’s more than I did today.
But as a conversation starter, this book, much like Young’s other books, is gold.