A Great Review of Jack Good's Book: "The Dishonest Church"

"Andrew J. (Jack) Good, author of The Bible: Faith’s Family Album (Chalice Press 1998), is an ordained pastor of the United Church of Christ. Educated at Boston University School of Theology, the Maxwell School at Syracuse University (International Relations), and the Lancaster Theological School, Dr. Good has practiced his socially oriented theology in pastorates for over forty years. He has lived in villages in Pakistan and Bangladesh and has, through these and other experiences, formed a great respect for other cultures and other ways of worshiping God." Here's a great review of his book The Dishonest Church:

By David H. Miller on Amazon:

Jack Good is an ordained pastor in the United Church of Christ, retired from decades of preaching in New York and Illinois. In "The Dishonest Church," Good reveals that most of his fellow pastors in the mainstream American churches are systematically preaching from their pulpits teachings which they themselves know to be blatant lies.

Why the systematic lying?

The basic problem, Good explains, is a divergence during the last several centuries between what he calls "academic" Christianity and what he dubs "popular" Christianity. As early as the Renaissance, scholars such as Erasmus began applying the intellectual tools that were being developed in science, history, etc. to better understand, purify, and solidify their Christian faith.

By the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, an increasing number of scholars and intellectuals were coming to realize that Christianity could not actually be historically true. In the nineteenth century, the floodgates opened. From David Strauss's "Life of Jesus" to Albert Schweitzer's "The Quest of the Historical Jesus," scholarly research proved that the Bible was a crazy mish-mash of garbled history, Jewish mythology, and fantasies based on pagan stories of "virgin" births, resurrected savior gods, etc.

By the early twentieth century, F. C. Burkitt, in an introduction to Schweitzer's famous book, could confidently assert as an established fact among educated people, "Every one nowadays is aware that traditional Christian doctrine about Jesus Christ is encompassed with difficulties, and that many of the statements in the Gospels appear incredible in the light of modern views of history and nature."

How can it be that most Americans are ignorant of this?

Good opens his book with a telling anecdote:

"One of my clergy friends boasts of a comment he made in an interview with a pastoral search committee. A somewhat hostile member of the committee demanded to know if this prospective pastor believed in a literal virgin birth. My friend replied that his views on the virgin birth were the same as those of St. Paul. The committee member nodded approvingly, and the discussion went on to other matters."

As Good explains, his friend was counting on the fact that the members of the committee would be ignorant of the fact that nowhere does St. Paul make any reference at all to the virgin birth: scholars assume Paul had no acquaintance whatsoever with the doctrine. Thus, Good's friend, who did not believe in the Virgin Birth, could "honestly" claim to hold the same view as St. Paul!

Good adds, "Clergy tend to see such moments as victories over the benighted folk who occupy church pews."

So, are America's pastors and religious leaders simply pathological liars?

Much of the explanation, Good claims, is simply economic self-interest. He states that "my fellow professionals... are motivated by fear... clergy fear the loss of their jobs... These professionals... are killing the church by their lack of courage."

But Good also titles one of his sections "Pleasure in Power," declaring, "I fear that denominational officials and professional theologians perpetuate the present state of affairs because they have come to enjoy too much their role as sole owners and manipulators of the sacred symbols. Consciously or unconsciously, they leave their church members in a state of semi-darkness because otherwise they would have to share prestige and authority."

Finally, Good concedes that many of his colleagues honestly fear that the adults in their congregations simply lack the maturity to handle the truth and that telling the truth would therefore result in the destruction of Christianity.

The bulk of the book consists of Good's attempts to argue, based on his own experience, that such fears are groundless.

These attempts are unconvincing.

Good has managed to avoid lying to his own congregations, and his churches did not collapse. He concludes that his truthful form of Christianity can survive and even prosper. He argues that there are many "Christians in exile" whose orientation towards life finds "an especially luminous form in Jesus of Nazareth."

His view is short-sighted. There are certainly many Americans who suspect, or know, that the Virgin Birth and Resurrection did not actually occur but who nonetheless wish to be members of a "Christian" church. But is their desire really a result of any personal fascination or adoration for a purely human Jewish carpenter/religious reformer who lived two thousand years ago? Or is it more a matter of familial inertia and social conformity that makes it emotionally difficult for them to make a completely clean break with Christianity?

Good argues that the popular view of Jesus as "an adult equivalent of the child's invisible friend," always there to smooth over the difficulties of life, is untrue to the Gospels. On the contrary, "Jesus never intended to be an answer man. Instead of making human problems go away, he seemed intent on creating a new set of concerns. Through both words and example, he defined the requirements of discipleship... even to the point of joining him in crucifixion."

Yes, and some of us do indeed find this Jesus for grown-ups more inspiring than the Sunday-school Jesus of "Jesus loves me, this I know..."

But why make Jesus the sole or primary center of such inspiration? Why should such concern focus primarily on Jesus rather than on Socrates, Buddha, Tolstoy, the pagan martyr Hypatia (murdered by a brutal Christian mob) or scores of other thoughtful, courageous human beings throughout history?

The appeal of Christianity for rational, educated people who know the truth is simply nostalgia. If everyone comes to know the truth and there are no more "true believers," Christianity will fade away. Good's variety of "progressive" Christianity is simply a temporary rest stop on the road from orthodox Christianity to the final destination of outright atheism.

Good forthrightly declares, "The lying must stop in all Christian congregations." Yes, even if the ultimate result is the end of Christianity.
Luke at Common Sense Atheism is reviewing this book as well beginning with Part 1.

8 comments:

Grace said...

I can't think of a greater sorrow in the church than these clergy who have basically left their ordination vows, and are using the structure of the institutional church to promote "unbelief." All this while accepting a pension, and a paycheck.

The honest atheists have more integrity, and common sense.

Your analysis is spot on. If the resurrection is myth, and the historical Jesus nothing more than a great teacher, or prophet, we are simply wasting our time.

ZDENNY said...

I think you should re-title this "The Dishonest Post"

My goodness John: How far will you go? You know that this article is blatantly false.

The evidence for the resurrection is overwhelming and over 75% of NT scholars now agree.

NT Scholarship has undergone a revolution. People like Strauss, etc.. are dead and irrelevant. In fact, they were irrelevant when they were alive.

Rob R said...

Oh good grief! So those who disagree with me on orthodoxy are dishonest. REally? Is this what it comes to?

Good's assesment of Christian Scholarship is also bit insular given that many scholars don't buy the modernistic assumptions that have disagreed with orthodox Christianity. It's rather ironic how modernism, an alleged unyeilding brave look at the truth is itself insular and leads to ad hominem attacks like this.

David said...

ZDENNY,

If over 75% of the experts in a given field agree that the evidence is "overwhelming", do you always agree with the scholars?

John W. Loftus said...

Rob, this is Good's experience as an insider to academia and leadership in church ministry. That is also Bart Ehrman's claim in Jesus Interrupted as well as mine. What experience in academia and leadership in church ministry do you have to discount this?

And surely you should know that the power of modernism is that it has brought us into the modern world, don't you? You share the modern mindset in everything except when it contradicts your faith. You don't see it that way but liberals like Good do. Agnostics like Ehrman do. And Atheists like me do.

stamati anagnostou said...

I would imagine clergy don't touch on these things because to them it doesn't matter. God is in control, and despite the falsities, he will prove it to be true in the end. I wonder if they really see it as lying, or as simply omitting difficulties and being faithful.

Rob R said...

post 1 of 2

I'm sure you're right. I have no doubt that people of all stripes lie to themselves and others and Christians of academia are no exception. And I shouldn't doubt that you and others have ran into that. And yet these are reflections of your limited experience and it is also a reflection of your interpretation of that experience. And I have no reason not to think that that interpretation isn't wrong plenty of occasions especially if it is applied blindly and broadly to all of orthodoxy and even all of conservative evangelicalism. Perhaps in your context of some conservative evangelical scholarship, dishonesty was rampant.

It's not just liberals and skeptics who think that broad sections of evangelical scholarship are lacking. There are orthodox Christians themselves, even ones who consider themselves evangelical who have found the quality of the scholarship sub-par. I know a professor who would go to the ETS and he recalled being appalled by the quality of scholarship and thought, and some of his friends asked him why he even bothered. He told them that he didn't want them to think that they had the corner on what evangelicalism was. He by the way was also a TEDs student who found his education their a little lacking. He went outside of evangelical academia to get his further education.

I know that evangelical acedmia can be insular and repressive of progress and the creativity that is necessary to intellectual freedom. this same professor was kicked out of his school for views that were too (in my estimation) cutting edge. He was orthodox, but evangelicals don't always care about that. And he isn't the only orthodox Christian to get the boot for promoting what he thought was truth. If one of the principal reasons for deception is for self preservation, it's doubtful for people with that sort of experience.

And yet, that's the limits of your experience perhaps molded by institutions that may unknowingly encourage dishonesty. But even what you saw, you can't really be sure that it was always dishonesty, that the person doesn't honestly believe what they say and truely thinks that it works. There's a bit too much of playing Freud which doesn't help the conversation. I've been accused of lying, (over a controversy within Christianity, not with an unbeliever) and it was just a desperate irritating cop out from someone who ran out of the intellectual resources to advance the discussion further. It just seems to me that this is also the case when people just can't imagine that others just don't think the same way as they do.

Rob R said...

post 2 of 2

You share the modern mindset in everything except when it contradicts your faith.

I think of myself as a post modern in the style of Nancy Murphy.

Why shouldn't we be skeptical of modernism that has as you said ushered us into the modern world with the bloodiest century that brought about the threat nuclear destruction, environmental descruction due to a lifestyle of the few that cannot be sustained indefinitely nor by the whole world, new ways of killing people from the very young to the very old and and everyone in between, new ways to be addicted and enslaved to substances.

The same modernity that has allowed the human populations to explode is the same modernity that has given us horrific means to chop down huge numbers of those populations.

Yes modernism has brought us much good as well as much evil and has often brought us moral confusion and power that has often been wielded with disastrous results. We middle class Americans have been insulated from many of the effects of the modern world and the apocalyptic fears of comfortable evangelical Christians are as never have been before more grounded in reality as we see that the end of a consumerist society is a very real possibility though at an uncertain distance. And our comfort means that our apocalyptic fears are greater than the apocalyptic hopes of Christians who suffer in the world in poverty and persecution that goes to unspeakable levels be it from the idealogy of yesterday under Islam or the modernism today inspired (even if imperfectly) by Marx.

Professor Loftus, to embrace modernism unquestioningly just because now we can microwave our food as we sit in front of the tube and then get the doctor with modern medicine to treat our lifestyle induced health problems seems to me a bit short sighted.