The Dishonest Church (part 2)

by Luke Muehlhauser on December 16, 2009 in Christian Theology,Reviews

Layout 1Last time, I introduced Christian pastor Jack Good’s book The Dishonest Church. Jack is sad and angry that church professionals have hidden what they know about the Bible and the Historical Jesus from the laity, and believes it will lead to defection from the church, as it did with me.

What damage does the Dishonest Church do? Jack writes:

The pastor-parishioner relationship is damaged… Clergy assume (mostly incorrectly) that church members are incapable of dealing with naked truth. On their side, parishioners have begun to suspect (mostly correctly) that their religious leaders are not playing straight…

The church member is hurt in faith development. Most church schools teach concepts of God that are, at best, appropriate for children…

The individual is hurt intellectually. Curiosity is stifled. A church that emphasizes establish creeds and dogma leaves no opening for the exploration of new vistas…

Youth feel betrayed… More than half of those who grow up in mainline Protestant churches will attend college. There they will encounter scientific information incompatible with the faith of their childhood. If they try to reclaim their faith by taking courses [about the Bible] they will discover jarring facts about the origin and development of scripture. Worst of all, they may go home on vacation and confront their pastor with their new knowledge, only to hear the pastor respond, “Yes, I knew all this all along.” Their sense of betrayal may require a long time to heal, if it heals at all.

Mainline Protestant denominations… are losing members at an alarming rate. One reason for this loss… is the failure of the church to invite mature and intellectually curious persons into a religious quest…

The Christian church… is losing leaders. Seminaries are… accepting students whose academic records would not win them admittance into other professions… Further, the percentage of seminary graduates who go into parish work is decreasing. Of those who become pastors, a significant number either drop out of parish work or become depressed because they want to drop out and cannot. My conversations with other clergy make me confident that one of the reasons for a high drop-out rate is the conflict between what they have come to believe and what they feel they can safely say in pulpits or church school classrooms… They have too much integrity to play duplicitous games with their congregations.

…A silent pact often exists between the pastor and the congregation… in which certain difficult issues are to be left unmentioned.

…Failure to discuss such sensitive issues is itself a half-lie. Half-lies are often more devastating than bold lies.1

Here’s the take-home message (in my own words):

Church professionals, please don’t be dishonest with the laity. We know you’re scared that your most narrow-minded and conservative members will work to make you lose your job. But your laity need you to take the high road and tell them the truth. A Sunday School Faith will not survive a world in which most of the young people get a college education and cannot be kept ignorant of science and history. Please tell your members the truth about the Bible, the Historical Jesus, and the mysteries about the nature of God.

  1. The Dishonest Church, pages 10-13. []

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{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

Aeiluindae December 16, 2009 at 7:54 am

This is why I love the church that I go to now. The pastor and people there are very intellectual and willing to discuss lots of thorny issues. We’ve had some sermon topics that are quite atypical, as a result, and very eye-opening. There is hope for us, yet.

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Mark December 16, 2009 at 9:59 am

First a note of apology. I originally landed on this blog and appreciated its docile and non judgmental approach. When the author proved me wrong and started posting judgmental articles that were short on experience and facts (but at the same time posing to be authoritative), I posted a lot of bombastic replies poking fun at his hypocrisy and immaturity, and posting under different pseudonyms in response to all the pseudonyms it seems he–or someone else–is posting under here.

Let me be clear: I wasn’t angry, I was having some fun with him.. you know.. heckling him a little like he heckles Christians and their stupid beliefs. Giving him a taste of his own medicine. I didn’t see the harm in that. I don’t think he, a bit of a comedian himself, would either.

Oops. I found out quick it’s all fun and games until someone starts heckling back. He took offense to my smart ass remarks and suddenly his usually docile nondescript pseudonyms came blazing to life with a flurry of expletives and vulgarity to stomp out any delusions I had about fair play here. One pseudonym even called on satan to rape me. :O YIKES!

OK. You made your point, Luke. You are the only one who gets to make jokes. Fine. I apologize for disrupting your act. It won’t happen again. I should have taken another approach anyway. I shouldn’t have sunk to Luke’s heckling level and retaliated with more heckling. I should have risen above the pettiness and simply just responded matter of factly to express my opinion. Guess I found out I have a little growing up to do myself still. :\

But that’s why today is so great: we get a chance to be better than we were yesterday. So, without further ado, and with the promise that I will try very hard to minimize the heckling going forward, I submit a matter of fact reply to this article:

Luke, You make it sound like all Christians are being held against their will by some Jim Jones-like cult. I have been a Catholic all my life and never once felt the church was “hiding” the “truth” about Christianity from me.

I don’t know about the church you went to, but at my church the dialog is very open and honest. In fact I attended a class at my parish two weeks ago and we spent the whole day talking about the many arguments for and against religion. There was no conspiracy, no withholding of information.

As for kids, my kids attend two different youth groups at our parish and both leaders discuss evolution, science, and all sorts of topics openly and honestly. In our home I teach my kids everything from Moses to Richard Dawkins. In fact they actually come and sit next to me as I am watching debates where atheists are completely burying their religion without inhibition.

One person’s experience does not a whole religion make. Just because you were evidently sheltered from the world growing up doesn’t mean all Christian kids are. It’s 2009. We have this thing called the internet and Wikipedia. I just finished a book by Bertrand Russell I downloaded for my Iphone this past weekend.

In closing, lest we forget, the pinpoint accuracy of the Bible is not a concern of most Christians. As much as atheists wish it were, the Bible is NOT a scientific document, nor was it ever intended to be. It is a SPIRITUAL document intended to teach mankind the ultimate origin of man, the fall of man, the horrific and beautiful sides of man, and most importantly the reconciliation of man with God.

There are two pieces of Scripture that don’t demand any further explanation, and they are the key teachings on which all other pastoral teachings are pillared, and those are: Love God and Love Your Neighbor as Yourself. Really, who cares about anything else? That is what Jesus stood for. That is what Christians are SUPPOSED TO stand for. The rest is truly academic.

Also, I invite all readers here to visit my blog and comment about the articles. You can heckle us all you like. Just no profanity or vulgarity, please.

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Lee A. P. December 16, 2009 at 10:35 am

“One pseudonym even called on Satan to rape me. :O YIKES!”

Bro, I don’t know what the hell you are talking about. Luke does not post as anyone other than Luke at this blog.

I am the sophomoric shit head that called for Satan to anally rape you with his jagged Luciferian ding dong.

You have to understand that Luke and many of us, me included, came from different faith traditions — Primarily evangelical/fundamentalist.

I like Catholicism as far as denominations go because they enjoy the occasional binge drinking session, which I respect. I like the tight nit family thing they have going on. My girlfriend is Catholic. They also accept evolution and modern science. Their weddings are fun (again because of the massive drinking parties afterwards)

Their discourage of condoms in Africa is abhorrent. At least they have a purgatory for some of us instead of sending non-believers straight to hell. But if you believe that a cracker and some wine magically transforms into Jesus’ body and his blood then I only have one question for you: How do you know that one of you are not chewing on the corner of Jesus’ asshole or his ball sack?

Hey, that may sound vulgar but I’m simply taking your doctrine of transubstantiation to its logical conclusion. So tell me, who is eating Jesus’ taint?

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Mark December 16, 2009 at 11:28 am

Why is your mind on things like anal rape? The visions you must have. Yuck.

Anyway.

I know free thought allows everything and anything, but for the sake of dialog can we keep the communication here just slightly above the sewage line? Doesn’t seem like like much to ask.

As for the cannibal implication, Jesus never asked anyone to literally drink his actual blood and eat his actual flesh. Jesus’ “body and blood” are not like your body and blood. They represent something far more magnificent in scope. When we consume “the body and blood of Christ” in the eucharist, we are entering into communion (unity) with the **SPIRIT** of Jesus Christ.. which is the spirit of **LOVE**. Christianity isn’t about the FLESH, it is about the SPIRIT.

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Mark December 16, 2009 at 11:32 am

Also, Lee AP. You said “Bro, I don’t know what the hell you are talking about. Luke does not post as anyone other than Luke at this blog.”

You seem very confident of this. May I ask: how do you know for sure this is the case? Have you physically *SEEN* the unique IP addresses of each poster, or are you going on *FAITH ALONE* when you say Luke doesn’t post as anyone else?

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Jeff H December 16, 2009 at 11:40 am

Lee A. P.: How do you know that one of you are not chewing on the corner of Jesus’ asshole or his ball sack?

Well, considering that there were many Catholic churches who claimed to have Jesus’ circumcised foreskin during the Middle Ages, I’m not so sure that they would really care. Lol.

Anyway, I was thinking about this whole “hiding stuff from the laity” a little more, and I dunno really what to think. Sunday services in my own experience were often pretty dumb. The pastor takes a passage from the Bible, draws out three or five or seven principles from it (depending on how ambitious he is that week I suppose) and wraps it up with a lovely “Jesus loves you”, and perhaps an altar call if he feels like his sermon went over well….I mean, if he feels the Holy Spirit leading him to do so… But I get the feeling that the intent of other church events like Bible studies and such are meant to get more “in-depth”, so to speak. The only problem is that, with the churches I know of, most of these Bible studies are done by lay-members of the church who are not likely to know these things about church history, Biblical scholarship, etc. It seems like it would be a great place to learn these things, but the leader likely doesn’t know any more about it than the members do.

A couple years back, a Catholic friend of mine invited me to an “ask the priest” event, where we could write down our questions and stuff and he would answer them. It was an interesting event, and some tough issues got brought up, but the priest at least seemed to handle them well, and didn’t seem afraid to say some controversial (but honest) things. So perhaps the case is not entirely that the pastor is hiding information from people, but that he feels that the information isn’t as appropriate for a Sunday morning service. But then there’s no other real opportunity for it unless the pastor himself does a more in-depth “discipleship”-type program.

So I typed this and realized I had no point to it; I’m just rambling. So I guess I’ll stop lol.

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Evolution SWAT December 16, 2009 at 11:52 am

I would like to add that in Protestant churches it is also very common to hand out books “specifically designed to reach out to students at the college level” that are really at best written at an 8th to 9th grade level. My long respected pastor gave me “Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds” by Phillip Johnson because he thought I could use a ‘college-level’ book about the subject. That really, really had a powerful effect on me.

Also, the poor intellectual quality of books that are supposed to answer all the hard questions written by pastors of mega-churches (Lee Strobel, Timothy Keller, etc.) that are so highly recommended.

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Paul December 16, 2009 at 12:12 pm

On a complete tangent. I sometimes use IE8 when visiting this website. If anyone uses IE do you experience any temporary lockups or other issues. It is weird this site is the only one of which I frequent regularly that does this.

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Todd White December 16, 2009 at 1:22 pm

Is Jack Good still a Christian or did he become an atheist?

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Mark December 16, 2009 at 2:16 pm

Evolution SWAT: I agree you won’t find many modern Christianity books written at the machine level. I think this is because Christianity is becoming the feel-good religion of our time. People don’t want to hear what Jesus Christ is REALLY all about (strict observance of moral law and tireless service to others). They want get their Jesus on.

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Qohelet December 16, 2009 at 3:47 pm

Funny you should criticize some of Luke’s posts for lacking facts, your latest blog post is another “balloon boy” publicity stunt.

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Lee A. P. December 16, 2009 at 3:53 pm

Mark: Also, Lee AP. You said “Bro, I don’t know what the hell you are talking about. Luke does not post as anyone other than Luke at this blog.” You seem very confident of this. May I ask: how do you know for sure this is the case? Have you physically *SEEN* the unique IP addresses of each poster, or are you going on *FAITH ALONE* when you say Luke doesn’t post as anyone else?  (Quote)

You just accused Luke of aliasing as several different blog posters all the while admitting thats what you have been doing the past several days, and one of the blog posters you accuse him of being is me.

No I haven’t seen the IPs, have YOU? I know I’m not Luke though.

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Haukur December 16, 2009 at 4:17 pm

Lee A. P.: I know I’m not Luke though.

Hey, I also know I’m not Luke. We can trivially prove that if you still really think the opposite is possible, Mark. But kudos to you for returning to your original name.

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g December 16, 2009 at 4:33 pm

Less kudos, on the other hand, for claiming that what he posted is an “apology” when what it actually is is a string of insults with a half-hearted semiapology in the middle. More kudos, on the other *other* hand, for then actually saying something relevant to the article.

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Jake de Backer December 16, 2009 at 5:36 pm

Mark

I certainly, being amongst your more disparaging critic’s, am appreciative of your decision to indulge my request, i.e. stopping the nonsense. However, that was an awfully underhanded apology for reasons articulated by Lee and g. But being the good Christians that we are, I’m sure we can forgive you your blogging sins.

J.

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eheffa December 16, 2009 at 5:54 pm

Not to be too picky but this sentence is illustrative of the real problem:

“Please tell your members the truth about the Bible, the Historical Jesus, and the mysteries about the nature of God.”

The truth is that the Bible is full of glaring untruths and gross errors regarding natural History as well as the History of the Israelite people. The Historical Jesus may actually be nothing more than a myth made flesh. And lastly, whatever or wherever or whoever “God” may be, it does not appear that this collection of undated and largely anonymous writings that we call “The Holy Bible” has any information in it to illuminate the subject of “God”. Anyone of these notions, however true, essentially destroy the validity of the Christian Church. How would a local church accommodate these ideas without closing its doors?

I think that when people start gaining the understanding of how unreliable & bogus the roots of the faith really are, they find it more than a little difficult to play along with the rest of the Church game and take it seriously.

It’s Bible BS. Let’s get over it & try another way to make this planet a better place to live – for all of us.

-evan

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lukeprog December 16, 2009 at 8:33 pm

Mark,

I don’t think I once complained about the content or tone of your posts. I complained that you were dishonest in pretending to be 10 different people. You are free to say damn near anything you want here. And I didn’t even ban you for being dishonest.

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lukeprog December 16, 2009 at 8:36 pm

He’s still a Christian. Check his website.

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Todd White December 16, 2009 at 8:39 pm

lukeprog: He’s still a Christian. Check his website.  

Interesting. I like his suggestions. I hope they find a wide audience.

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Todd White December 16, 2009 at 9:13 pm

I will say though that there’s a slight discrepancy here (or at least there seems to be): Why would an atheist want to improve the church by promoting Good’s suggestions? Wouldn’t he want the church to retain its oppressive falsehoods so that once people learn the facts outside the church, they’ll abandon their faith completely? See my point?

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Edson December 16, 2009 at 10:53 pm

Mainline Protestant denominations are losing members at an alarming rate. One reason for this loss is the failure of these denominations to preach the gospel…and the real gospel…. to their congregants.

These denominations are too busy pandering to the destructive Christian critics, and recently, the evangelical lutheran church of America has succumbed to become an heretical cult with the appointment of gays to be leaders.

Jack Good’s thesis of “dishonest church” is a misplaced one. He, too, seems to be succumbing to atheist bullying tactics and as a response he blames the Church. There are so many Christians all over the world who are not in a good position to understand the deeper theology or scholarly aspects of the Bible but their lives represent Jesus best on the contemporary world. What will Jack Good say of Pakistani Christians, who despite having little to no deeper knowledge on Biblical Theology, are daily surviving the Faith against death in the face of Islamists?

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Haukur December 17, 2009 at 12:51 am

g: More kudos, on the other *other* hand, for then actually saying something relevant to the article.

The idiom you’re looking for may be on the gripping hand.

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Edson December 17, 2009 at 2:41 am

And there is this one from Jack Good:

“A silent pact often exists between the pastor and the congregation in which certain difficult issues are to be left unmentioned. Failure to discuss such sensitive issues is itself a half-lie. Half-lies are often more devastating than bold lies.”

I don’t think that Pastors remain silent to shun certain members who ask questions challenging Christian beliefs. But if Jack thinks Pastors need to do more than that, the pulpit is not supposed to be a place to preach doubts but to encourage Faith. Christian Apologists are doing a much better job than the Pastors would have done provided the nature of their job.

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Omgredxface December 18, 2009 at 6:53 am

eh, I find myself not caring if the church falls apart….how does this affect me as an atheist?

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Jeff H December 18, 2009 at 4:33 pm

Omgredxface: eh, I find myself not caring if the church falls apart….how does this affect me as an atheist?  

Unfortunately, this sort of “dishonesty” (if you want to call it that) likely has more of an effect than just making the church fall apart. If people remain ignorant of these facts about biblical scholarship…well, they’re likely to embrace the ignorance, and we all know what that can lead to. Yes, telling them the truth may lead some away from religion, but it may also lead others to cling closer to it if it’s not done in the right way. This information needs to be given by an authority that they trust – an atheist coming up and telling them is likely going to cause a flat-out rejection of it. If we can encourage pastors to tell their congregations this information, we are helping to create more informed religious people, and perhaps more irreligious people, both of which I think are good. And both of which affect you.

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Laura December 20, 2009 at 7:24 pm

Hey, I was pointed to here from my own blog. I’ve said the same thing: as a former minister’s wife, I was SHOCKED at how, despite the sheer number of apologetics classes I had taken, that nobody had ever said anything like what I learned in my conservative Baptist school’s basic Old Testament and New Testament classes. This is a big dilemma for ministers. To me, when you consider the lengths pastors go to to help strengthen people’s faith when it comes to defending themselves against atheism, it’s more than just an oversight. It’s deliberate. And I can testify that it is. I’ve had conversations with several ministers/ministry majors along these lines.

The bottom line, I think pastors should take more of a teaching role instead of a preaching role. When you preach, it’s one sided. When you teach, you actually INFORM your congregation of what’s in the Bible and how it came about, like it or not. I never understood how they think the God they believe in will be happy with them for withholding information, causing their faith to crumble all the more when they’re hit in the head with it later on down the road.

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lukeprog December 20, 2009 at 7:53 pm

Laura,

Minister’s wife to atheist? That’s one I haven’t heard yet, especially if the minister is still ministering.

I remember the Joshua Harris dating rules. I also remember writing prayers in my journal for my hoped-for future spouse.

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Laura December 20, 2009 at 11:13 pm

Well, it’s a LONG FREAKING story. I didn’t become an atheist until about a year after I left him, but I had to be almost there to have more fear of spending the rest of my life miserable than I had fear that God would punish me. I bopped around between liberal Christian and agnostic for about a year before I admitted my atheism.

And, oh, yeah, I had an entire BOX of letters that I gave that man on our wedding day. GAG me. I wish I still had it so I could snark at myself. ;)

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Omatix December 21, 2009 at 9:11 pm

So, on the topic of biblical scholarship, does anyone have a few good book recommendations for a “starter”? My background is that I’m atheist, but would really like a proper academic (but preferably readable) introduction to the kinds of basic things that that ministry students learn. And that I didn’t learn in church as a kid.

Preferably something fairly non-controversial, maybe with an evidence-based approach? I’d rather not be indoctrinated in either direction.

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lukeprog December 21, 2009 at 9:14 pm

Omatix,

Gregory Dawes’ Introduction to the Bible sounds kinda like what you’re looking for.

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Omatix December 21, 2009 at 9:20 pm

Thanks – that looks like a good jumping off point. I’ll check it out. Still open to more suggestions, too.

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Qohelet December 22, 2009 at 3:29 am

You can try downloading open coursewares on the bible. I strongly recommend the NT and OT intro from Yale University (http://oyc.yale.edu/religious-studies/). Very academic approach, neither too confessional nor too skeptical.

Then there are free seminary courses like the ones offered at Biblical Training (http://www.biblicaltraining.org), Gordon-Conwell (http://ockenga.gordonconwell.edu/ockenga/dimensions/) and Covenant Seminary (http://www.worldwide-classroom.com). Unlike Yale, they have strong evangelical biases. Nevertheless, they are very informative.

For books, I recommend Reading the Old Testament by Lawrence Boadt and Reading the New Testament by Pheme Perkins. You also need a good study bible. The New Oxford Annotated Bible is the academic standard, with the Harper Collins Study Bible a good alternative. The Jerusalem Bible/New Jerusalem Bible Standard Edition are also well annotated. Finally, there the free-to-download NET Bible with massive annotations.

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Garren February 2, 2011 at 7:32 am

Luke’s posts intrigued me, so I ordered the book and tried to read it.

What I was really hoping to find was a by-Christian for-Christians introduction to why many traditional teachings are either known to be false, or are at least very questionable. But no. It was written for seminary students and graduates who already know about and accept the problem. I would almost say it was also written for people like Luke who dealt with the problem by leaving religion, but Jack Good assumes rather than argues for staying with some form of Christianity.

So while the book does have great nuggets for other audiences — such as Luke’s quotes and Good’s useful labels of ‘popular’ vs. ‘academic’ Christianity — it would only appeal overall to very progressive/liberal Christians. No matter how I try, I still can’t see the point of that style of Christianity. The Dishonest Church only reinforced my negative view of (as I see it) holding onto ‘Christianity’ after realizing orthodox Christianity is false.

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jeff April 18, 2011 at 4:18 am

IMIRIh 41 BRING forth your IDOLS did they PREACH to you see they can’t speak they can’t DO ANYTHING all they do is cause confusion. spalms 115 and spalms 135 thier IDOLS are FALSE cant speak can’t hear cant smell and those that make them shall become like them. Jeremiah 10 they nail their IDOL down like a scarecrow it can’t move can’……t speak can’t move must be carried these are nothing but the WORK of CON men.john 10 jesus christ sais his sheep hear his voice and another voice thy will not follow and if another person tries to preach to them they WILL FLEE from him. jeremiah 5 the priests bear rule on their own authority what will you do when your judged my word is not inside them. Now here is the kicker john 5 son of man voice goes back in time mathew 16 jesus christ claims to be the son of man.‎1 cor2 mind of CHRIST preached internally and john 16 sais the spirit of truth comes in the future. Ezekiel 13 lying prophets of ISRAEL my word is not inside them saying god sais god sais god sais wrote hoping mankind would CONFIRM their WORDS. all of this is EASILY verifiable

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