I had a college professor that always assigned one lousy book a semester to read. He claimed we needed to read stupid books so we don’t become stupid people. The reasoning was that stupid books teach critical thinking in a way good books never will.
Under his thinking, I grew a lot yesterday afternoon.
You see, every year I get a free book in the mail from a forgettable organization that specializes, I assume, in giving pastors free books. This is now the 4th book I have received from them and the other three were worth reading. They weren’t ground breaking but they were practical, helpful stuff.
This new book was a step lower. It might have been the worst book I have read in some time.
It was called “Growing God’s Church” by Gary L. McIntosh. Apparently Gary McIntosh led a research team that interviewed a bit over 1,000 new Christians and new church members. Their questions focused on how and why these people had come to Christ. The book was published to help pastors reach people better. On that premise, this should have been a book worth flipping through for an hour on a sunny afternoon.
However, very strangely, the book didn’t begin with the results. Instead McIntosh spent five chapters trying to argue that evangelism should be the only goal of the church. He retold the four gospel stories and Acts as if they were 1950s gospel tracts. McIntosh wanted his readers know not to be fooled by what Jesus actually said and did but to know that Jesus really just wanted to get us into heaven and recruit us to preach the 4 point Romans gospel. He even argued that the only reason Jesus showed compassion was because it was an incredibly effective evangelism means, not for the sake itself of compassion. Don’t be fooled. God isn’t love. God is evangelism. God only loves to dupe us into praying the sinner’s prayer.
His exegesis of the gospels was more the eisegesis type. Eisegesis is the frowned upon practice of taking your preconceived ideas to Scripture to find proof texts. McIntosh seemingly all ready knew that getting people into heaven was the most important thing and he did not want to be bothered by what the gospels actually say, just to know that Jesus agrees.
His most blaring example came from Luke. In Luke Jesus begins his public ministry in Nazareth by proclaiming that he will “make blind see, the lame walk, the lepers cleansed, the deaf hear and to proclaim good news to the poor.” (Luke 4:22) Then Jesus goes out and does almost exactly that to real life blind, deaf, sick and poor people. Later Jesus even sends a message to John the Baptist, pointing to the actual miracles he had accomplished as proof that he was the Messiah. Gary McIntosh brings this up and uses it to argue that Jesus only came to help the spiritually blind, lame, sick, poor and that Jesus didn’t actually care about actual blindness, this despite the fact that Jesus actually made blind men see. But McIntosh decided it was just metaphorical so it is. This is just one example of many I could cite.
The research was questionable too but, to be fair, all research is. For one, his sample size was too small and limited to a few denominations. He made some wild generational claims that I don’t think will hold true throughout lifespans. He points out gender and generational differences that were statistical ties but uses the fact that one was .5 higher to argue that everybody in that demographic are that way.
His main assertion in the second half of the book is that family members make the best evangelists. He argues we should nurture and use that. Ironically I do wholeheartedly agree and think his research does validate that. More than that he has some okay ideas about how to go about it.
Also, even though I loathed McIntosh’s eisegetical interpretation of the gospels, he still referenced a few verses that I had not thought of in quite some time. I have been studying the use of the word “glory” in John’s gospel and McIntosh quoted one of the “glory” verses I had not yet noticed and that verse at first glance does seem to support his thesis and not my own.
But those random useful snippets are not what made the book worth my time. It is incredibly easy to get stuck in the rut of only reading things that fit my preconceived notions. Most of my books come to me from the suggestions of colleagues in my own tradition. Those books are good but I sometimes wonder if it is a waste of time to read things that tell you everything you all ready knew.
In turn, it might not be a waste of a Monday afternoon to read a book from someone in a completely different theological tradition. He quoted verses I hadn’t noticed and suggested things I would not have thought of. Even though I disagreed with him, at least I now know why and how his tradition sees things.
In the end I might take a chapter or two to my outreach team to help them think critically about evangelism in our local community.
In my professor’s thinking we might have McIntosh’s stupidity to thank for the elimination of our own. Or maybe I am wrong about everything and he is right. We only find out when Jesus comes.
Until then, have a great Valentine’s Day!