Saturday, September 19, 2015

Hope After Faith: An Atheist Pastor's Journey by Jerry DeWitt (Book Review #76 of 2015)

Hope After Faith: An Atheist's Pastor Journey from Belief to Atheism

If you're looking for a book by a Christian pastor who researched all the arguments for Christianity and atheism, delved deep into science and philosophy, consulted with experts in biblical interpretation, and reached a rational conclusion that Christianity can't be true-- this book is NOT it. In fact, I'm skeptical Jerry DeWitt will remain an atheist just because he's been so gullible to change by a range of charlatans and seems to embrace the beliefs found in whatever book he happens to open. The lack of logic, introspection, and research in this book is truly frustrating. Richard Dawkins and others endorsing Jerry as some sort of hero for atheism is pretty sad because anyone reading this book should be repelled by his ignorance both about his prior faith and his current atheism.

The book is really no more interesting than if it had been a former professing Christian atheist engineer or accountant or politician who became the atheist-- and those happen every day. But attach the title "pastor" and I guess it sells the book. Really, DeWitt was only a "pastor" late in his career after he'd already decided the Bible was mostly mythical. Previously, he had been an "evangelist," a traveling itinerant preacher or a fill-in, hoping eventually to have his own church. There is very little "pastoring" in the book. My previous book review was for a book on biblical qualifications for the title of elder/pastor; DeWitt is lacking many, which is an indictment of the groups who thrust him into the pulpit.

Several other reviewers nailed it: it's hard to like a book that is so self-centered and lacked a decent editor to remove the mundane details like breakfast foods and DeWitt's first airplane ride (as an adult). This book is all about Jerry. Jerry gets mad at God for not answering prayers as Jerry wants. He gets frustrated with God not being who he thought he was-- rarely consulting with anyone else about his concerns. He's self-centered in how he describes the churches he preached at, criticizing the manners of those he encounters, criticizing every kind act anyone made toward him, the architecture of the buildings, how little they put in the offering plate, etc. In the end, when his wife has had enough of the drop-everything-on-a-whim life he lets her leave because "it was best for me." We're supposed to feel sorry for him in the end because his community won't accept him as an atheist. He never stops to realize that it's precisely because he spent years preaching at them not to trust or have anything to do with godless atheists. They're behaving exactly as he told them they should. Yet, he seems to completely lack any social thinking skills-- it's all about him-- so he sees this as unfair.

The danger of this book is that it paints a stereotype of the Christian church that atheists may love to believe but is far from the reality. There are no benevolence ministries, clothes closets, counseling services, soup kitchens, foreign aid, schools, small-group studies, or universities built in this book-- which leaves out a huge amount of what the Church has done for the last 2,000 years. Churches in Jerry's world are apparently places people go to get something in return for giving money or trying hard to live a "pure" life and never become biblically literate (more on that below). God is some sort of piggy bank that will dispense what you're looking for if you just shake hard enough-- sort of like a Green Lantern approach to faith and foreign either to the Bible or historical orthodox Christianity.

Jerry DeWitt's biggest error is that he is too self-centered to seek help from friends or potential mentors in this book, and that leads to even greater hardship and frustration. He's thrust into the limelight at age 17 and never gets any training. He just assumes he must be right, and when he makes contradictory decisions on his journey he doesn't understand why people don't follow. He wrote a piece for the Huffington Post about his "five step" journey from minister to atheist that makes no sense to anyone because the sources he cites are so obscure. Most people reading this have never heard of William Branham or the Branhamite cult, for example; most Christians are waiting for Jesus to return, not Bill Branham, David Koresh, or some other dead American who claimed to be a prophet. DeWitt comes across such random sources, believes them to be true, and embraces them until he exhausts any rationality and then abruptly moves on to something else. Also, the idea that every Christian exploring science and logic will abandon religion is also nonsense, as shown by the odd course that DeWitt lays out. Contrast this with Mike McHargue of the podcast "Ask Science Mike," whose story you can read here:
Or with former atheist philosopher Anthony Flew, or C.S. Lewis, or a variety of PhD physicists and philosophers who still subscribe to Christianity, etc.

DeWitt admits he never learned how to read a Bible, only becoming "painfully aware" late in his life that it didn't just "drop from the sky" and actually "was written by human authors." This should not come as a surprise to anyone who claims to be a teacher of the Bible and it creates frustration for the reader as Jerry talks like he is among an elite few who have made this "discovery." When he gives up his faith in the Bible he points to one alleged contradiction-- the number of the stalls of Solomon's horses between 1 Kings 4:26 (40,000) and 2 Chron. 9:25 (4,000). There are a lot of easy explanations for this ranging from copyist error (the books were written at different times) to 4,000 stalls having chambers holding 10 horses each, etc. But my first response is "really?" Of all the things about the Bible he might have raised, this is it? Some detail that has no bearing on the meaning of the text at hand? And he never wants consults any of the volumes written on apologetics, I doubt he could explain the difference between a paradox and a contradiction. He has never learned Greek, Hebrew, history, philosophy, or any of the staples of the Western canon and orthodox Christianity that should be a staple of a pastor. He never seems to ask why the King James Version is the "only" version of his reading. Read some G.K. Chesterton, or C.S. Lewis, or N.T. Wright or William Lane Craig someone--anyone-- other than blindly follow a cult leader who claims Ephesians 2:20 is about him, for crying out loud. It's remarkable to me that DeWitt has the issue with Solomon's chariots but never examines there are a multitude of errors and logical contradictions in his new favorite books- including God is Not Great (which I have also read and reviewed).

“Skepticism is my nature;
Freethought is my methodology;
Agnosticism is my conclusion;
Atheism is my opinion;
Humanism is my motivation."
- Jerry DeWitt

There are contradictions in the above that speak for themselves, nonsense that he thinks sounds good.

I know of no biblical church that tries to hide behind history, and plenty of Christians are well read in the history of how the Bible was written and trained in exegesis and hermeneutics-- two words I think DeWitt doesn't know. If anything, this book is a scary reminder that there are groups claiming to be "churches" out there where errors have multiplied themselves tenfold precisely because they make some kid their leader based on his charismatic ability to speak. To DeWitt's credit, he avoids using the word "Christian" and uses "Pentecostal" instead, hinting that he'd agree with me that his experience is nothing like biblical Christianity. But he uses "mainstream Christianity believes..." in too many sentences before following with something orthodox Christianity does not teach (and no one I know adheres to or claims the Bible includes) for me to give him a pass.

I think DeWitt hides some ethical problems in this memoir. Towards the end, he takes on a pastoral role of a Korean Presbyterian church at the same time reading Joseph Miller has convinced him Christianity is mythology. Presbyterian churches require pastors to affirm the creeds of the church, which DeWitt-- if he was honest-- would not be able to do. Maybe he wanted to believe those things, but never did, so he likely lied in order to obtain and keep the position. He considers himself more enlightened than the congregation and continues the charade in order to "encourage" them.

Sadly, he doesn't discover "grace" until the end of the book and actually considers himself heterodox for embracing it. "The Gospel" is not a phrase you will read in this book. The gospel tells us that no amount of our own attempts to be holy earn us any favor with God; we can know God only because His son died for our sins and was resurrected (Jerry never investigates how the resurrection has held up under great historical scrutiny over the centuries). We are chosen by God not because of anything He has done, and He works things for His glory-- not our wishes. But perhaps because this grace is so contrary to the Pentacostalism he was raised with, he feels he has no choice but to leave. (If anything, this book will turn you off to anything with the word Pentacostal in it).

So, I took notes on the entire book but this review is long enough and I will simply save the details for myself. I give this book one star out of five. Poorly written, badly edited, self-centered, and not much you can learn from. If anything, you may find yourself yelling at the author to get an education; that may sound mean, but that's what it boiled down to for me. 1 star.

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