Volume 7 Number 6

Review of Introducing God... the book
(Dominic Steele, Introducing God: meeting the God who loves us, Media Bible Fellowship: Annandale, 2006)

I was sent a copy of this book in order to review it on my blog. I'm afraid it's not the most glowing of reviews. I pray that I am not speaking out of some Aussie tall-poppy thing, nor trying to show off how different I am. I am totally supportive of the Introducing God thing and am sure that this book will be a saving blessing to many. However, here are my comments, for what they are worth:

1. Some general comments about evangelistic books

I don't particularly like them, and have not given them away much either. I read many of them when I first became a Christian back in 1997, some were painful, others were very influential. If My favourites, not counting the Gospels, are:

Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis
Escape from reason, F. Schaeffer
The Case for Christ, L. Strobel
More than a carpentar, J. McDowell
A Hell of a life, J. Dickson
Basic Christianity, J. Stott
A Fresh start, J. Chapman

It is a special sort of person who would read such a book as one of their first steps in exploring Christianity. They are often pivotal after the person has looked into Christianity a little bit already, and want something to chew over on their own.

This is one reason why I think it is a mistake to write 'evangelistic books' with the absolute outsider too much in mind.

2. Some general comments about Introducing God... the course

These can be found in an ancient version of Xn Reflections when it still just an email thing. I have put them in my blog archive.

3. Some general comments about Introducing God... the book

The book is good. It looks nice. The spiritual bios are really good. I was worried at first that they would all be people who were converted through doing the IG course, but that's not the case. The most heartwarming, and non-formulaic would have to be the charismatic-feeeling bio of Maureen Drummond in chapter 2 and the conversion in later life of Vince Williamson.

It's a straightforward evangelistic book. It would be good to give to non-Christians interested in finding out more on Christianity. In that way, it is a great blessing. But, since there are other great evangelistic books already out there, this one left me fairly underwhelmed. Dominic Steele is a great preacher, and the IG course is pretty cool. I don't think his sermons translate to great reading material. I think that rather than transcribing the sermons, it would have been better to write different material that would really work in print.

The book was deliberately written to pair up with the course. I was therefore struck by how they are almost identical, except for spiritual bios at the end of each chapter. The book refers to the course. I imagine it would be very boring to attend the course after reading the book or reading the book after the course.

I know, I know, it's probably deliberate, to make sure that people really get it. Hearing things in different media, learning styles and so on. But it still feels a little redundant if not patronising.

It would also be nice to have reflected some of the inventiveness of the course. Apart from images matching the text and discussion questions at the end of the chapters, there is little of the multimedia, community, postmodern sort of gimmicks in the book. It's a pretty standard little volume. And by the way, I didn't actually like the photos scattered throughout the book, it felt a little tacky to me.

Appendix: Little fiddly things

Dominic Steele introductory chapter

- The dating metaphor is introducing rather jaggedly on page 9. I think that it is a very helpful metaphor in explaining to Christians how to approach evangelism, but not so helpful when explaining the non-Christians experience of 'seeking'.

- Often there comments in parentheses made sentence read with clumsy informality. An example of this is also found on page 9.

How can we know God? introductory chapter

- Bible verses often appeared in bold. This seems unnecessary.

- I haven't chased this through carefully, but I think there was inconsistency in placing full stops inside or outside quotation marks.

- '15 years' should be written 'fifteen years' on page 16.

- Athens is introduced as city like ours, where there is a massive diversity of religions. We are then shown how, in addition to actual religions, sport and materialism also function as religions for many people. From this point on, all of Paul's critique of human religion is applied only to these metaphorical religions - materialsm, sport and selfishness.

This is inconsistent, unhelpful and even feels a little sneaky. The people of the West do have actual religions beliefs. God speaks against actual religious beliefs in Acts 17. The IG book even recognises that our world is full of religions - Islam, Buddhism and so forth. But when it comes to applying God's criticism of human religion, we retreat to the safer territory of metaphorical religion.

I think this is a common tendency in preaching. We assume that we have to apply the Bible's condemnation of idolatry to materialism and other 'religions'. I think it is a mistake to only go at these metaphorical religions.

- The verse numbers should be removed from sections of Scripture quotes in the book.

Chapter 1

'If we came about by accident, then we are purposeless. However, if we are made by a creator, then our creator gives us a purpose, a meaning, a morality, a right and wrong.' (24)

This teleological argument is a very powerful one for the existence of God. However in this common form of expression, it is not fully articulated. As it stands, this argument falls foul of the Eurythro's paradox:

Are things good because God says so, or does God say they are good
because they are?... if the former, good becomes arbitrary. If the latter, God is subject to a higher reality 'goodness'.

Being created by a god gives us relative, subjective purpose. We are meaningful as far as he's concerned. It is because we are created by the God who is good, valuable and meaningful in himself that makes us truly valuable.

- The quote from the Enuma Elish on page 25 is really helpful, but it isn't given the dignity of being quoted in the same format as the other quotations in the book.

Chapter 2

- 'Autonomy' is defined in a footnote on page 37 as 'a self-governing state, community, group or individual'. This is one definition of autonomy, but it is not the definition most often used in the book - including the sentence which has this footnote. It is most often used in its abstract, rather than concrete sense - 'the condition or quality of independence'.

- The illustration of sin on page 38 is quite unhelpful to me. The illustration is about ignoring speed limits and drink-driving legislation and setting my own standards. I think it is a muddy illustration. It seems to imply that the government is necessarily right in the limits it sets. For a somewhat irreverent Australian, comparing godliness to being a sensibile, law-abiding citizen doesn't enhance the horror of rebellion against God.

- Double quotations marks appear to be used inconsistently, see for example the double quotations marks around 'good' on page 39.

- The Christian cliche 'anger is not the opposite of love, indifference is' pops up on page 43. This is a sloppy use of language. Anger is the opposite of love. Love is postive concern. Anger is negative concern. Indifference is the opposite of all forms of concern. It's like saying
'death isn't the opposite of life, non-existence is'.

- 'What would happen if Rupert Murdoch was immortal?' page 45 asks. This is a distracting illustration. I am immediately thinking that sooner or later he would be ousted by another.

Chapter 3

There are a lot of family illustrations. Perhaps too many?

Chapter 8 (did I run out of steam?)

Hell is described in purely negative terms, as the horror of being cast out of God's presence. Although it feels awful to have to advocate for thinking of hell in stronger terms, it seems that you can't go past much of the active element of hell - God is present in wrath and judgement.

- Further, God's judgement is said to be because he 'respects our decision'. In a sense, of course, this is true. But it is pretty misleading language to use.