Book Review: Letter to a Christian Nation

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This is an old, old review. I’ve reproduced it for reference, and as an experiment. I hope it is still of use to someone! It originally appeared on my old blog, and is dated accordingly…

new-blog-book-review

This book review will be a little different to previous – I do not actually want people to read the book!

Sam Harris, a New York Times Bestselling author, and author of ‘The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason’, has written a slim volume, aimed specifically at American Christians, with the intention of arguing them out of their faith, it seems. It is a slim volume, less than 100 pages, but does not seem to have any really meaty engagement.

At the time of originally writing this review, the book infuriated me. Mostly on an ‘intellectual’ level. In terms of my personal response to the book, that will be dealt with later. There are a number of areas where Harris misses the point, or outright misrepresents the truth. The most important one, seeing as he focuses on the Bible, is his way of doing exegesis. Context is ignored, any sense of covenant history is ignored, and the ‘worst bits’ of the bible are held up as representative of the whole. This is a serious list of flaws!

Another area of weakness is with what Harris takes issue with. He rightly makes it clear that Christianity is a fragmented whole, but he then attacks the worst excesses of it as being representative of that whole. He switches between history and scripture in claiming to understand why people of faith did things. It is, to be frank, a bit of an intellectual mess. One would perhaps take less issue with the approach or the argument were it not so forcefully (arrogantly) stated.

There is one area, however, where this reader found Harris rather more agreeable. In addressing the so-called problem of suffering, the following is written:

‘liberal theology must stand revealed for what it is: the sheerest of moral pretenses. The theology of wrath has far more intellectual merit’. (pp48)

This is is a surprisingly scriptural premise! It reflects what some of my favourite atheists throughout the years have said – either God is God (and completely sovereign, in essence), or not. A watered down, process theology/liberal theology God, without the power or inclination to do anything, is pointless. Harris recognises this, and this came at a point I was about to give up on the book, so I was quite grateful!

So, two areas where the author could do better, one flash of insight, and now the two things I would like to say in response.

Firstly, thanks Mr Harris, for writing something that directly supports the doctrine of depravity – humanity, the religion of Christianity, individual Christians, have ruined the pure truth of the Gospel. As we would expect. This is what we must expect. This is why there is the Gospel, why we need God. There must be more than this – there is!

Secondly, the attitude towards God that is displayed is simply not reflective of a biblical attitude. The Sovereign, saving, gracious King of Kings is also our Father. Christians are his misbehaving, beloved, recalcitrant children. Do children understand everything their father does? No. Would a perfect father ever do anything for the sole purpose of damaging his children? No. God is that perfect father. God is the Sovereign, saving, gracious King of Kings. Both. Always.

I’ve since written more reviews, many of which are reproduced on this blog.

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