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: