Recently I was contacted by Mike Morrell from Speakeasy to read and review books in exchange for absolutely nothing. Well, I do get a free copy of the books I choose to review and in return I’ve been told I can give my honest opinion of what I think. This could get interesting.
The first book up for review is “Why Be a Christian (If No One Goes to Hell)?“ by Daniel Meeter, pastor of the Old First Dutch Reformed Church in New York. Here’s the description provided from the book jacket:
Why Be a Christian (If No One Goes to Hell)? is a warm and friendly tour through the peaceful and positive features of the Christian faith, without judgment of other religions. The book is a practical and down-to-earth introduction for the curious, the inquirer, and anyone who wants to discover Christianity in a new light. It confidently clears away the ever-present and negative motivation for being a Christian: the fear of going to hell. The book argues that the conventional view of people suffering in hell is not part of the original Biblical faith, and that belief in hell is not required of a Christian today. Accessible, readable, and smart, this is the book to consult if you are shopping for a religion, want to develop your spirituality, or just want to know more about Christianity.
This description is spot on when it describes the book as a “warm and friendly” book and looks at the “peaceful and positive features of the Christian faith”. I can certainly see how I might have been open and welcoming of this book as I was moving away from the faith of my childhood, but now to be honest, I just find this book annoying.
The first three chapters of this book discuss the subject of hell and why the conventional view of it is wrong. The last fifteen chapters explain why you should be a Christian once there is no consequence of not being one. The author has failed to convince me of either.
As for hell, Meeter tells us that Bible doesn’t teach that anyone spends eternity in hell. That’s it in a nutshell. If you grew up with a belief that Christians go to heaven and everyone that doesn’t believe in Jesus goes to hell, well, according to Meeter you only got it half right. He says:
People do not “go to hell.’ When people die, they die. That’s all. That’s the punishment–God does not punish them any further.
I agree with the first part of that statement. When people die, they die. That’s all. I would add that there is no punishment since there is no evidence of God… and that’s really good news.
But beyond what I believe, I just don’t think Meeter has a strong case on this. Yes, he’s a theologian with a doctoral degree and I’m not, but how can he say unequivocally that his perspective on what the Bible says is any more the case than those that hold to the view that there is a literal hell. I don’t think he would say that in fact. I find the book wishy-washy and not wanting to offend anyone so whether I choose to believe what Meeter says or not, I’m ok. I find that annoying.
The largest portion of the book is bent on describing all the wonderful reasons for being a Christian once I’ve decided I no longer need eternal fire insurance. Some of the reasons to be a Christian according to Meeter are:
- To Be Spiritual
- To Pray
- To Save Your Soul
- To Be a Human Being
- To Deal with Guilt
- To Love Your Neighbor
- To Go to Heaven
As I read the book I found none of these reasons convincing. Mainly because Meeter writes with the conviction of a wet dish rag.
In the chapter entitled “To Be a Human Being” Meeter writes:
Why be a Christian? The answer: To be the kind of human being you want to be, the kind of human being that you’re supposed to be, the kind of human being God designed you to be.
Well I don’t need to be a Christian if I want to be the human being I want to be. I can figure that out on my own. And what does it mean to be the kind of human being I’m supposed to be? Who decides that? God? Which God?
Ultimately, Meeter shows his lack of commitment to the cause by writing the following:
…I am not saying that non-Christians are not human beings or that Jews and Muslims and Buddhists are not human beings. I am not saying this even about atheists and Red Sox fans. I am not saying that Christians are the only human beings, or even that we are better human beings. But what I am saying is that this is why we are Christians, to be human beings, or maybe I should say a certain kind of human being, the kind that reflects a particular image of God.
Let that soak in a minute. Read it again if you must. Now, ask yourself a question. Why should I be a Christian as opposed to a Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, atheist or Red Sox fan? Based on Meeter’s own words, I can’t find a reason.
So if you are a Christian who doesn’t like the idea that the God you believe in and worship is going to send your grandma who doesn’t believe in Jesus to hell, then get this book so you can feel better when you attend her funeral. If you are a Christian and don’t like the idea of having to recruit your friends and “evangelize” them since it makes you unlikeable at parties, then get this book. But if you find it really annoying to read a book that takes a position and then at the same time seems open to all other positions, then skip this one.
To my chagrin, the one thing I did learn in this book is that Red Sox fans don’t go to hell. I was holding out hope on that one.
UPDATE: I believe this was my first and last book review although I was asked to do so many times. The reason: I really didn’t enjoy reading any books I’ve received to review. They are poorly written for one thing. Secondly, people seem to be jumping through hoops harder than ever to explain why their version of Christianity is better than the rest.
Everything I read these days by Christians involves them trying to make their version of Jesus cool enough so that everyone else will believe in him. Don’t people realize that all they are doing is creating a God in their own image?