I bought this book because I live in the Seattle area and I've visited several Mars Hill Church outlets. I've found Mars Hill churches to be different (great music), successful, and for some reason I couldn't quite figure out, just a bit tweaked. So, I wanted their take on what Christains should believe, and I suppose I got it.
First of all, this book is not that long and it isn't dry. The font is very readible and the spacing of the text makes it a very low fatigue book to read. The writing is informal and conversational style. So I have no sympathy for those who think it's dry and stuffy.
Athough the printing and writing style didn't give me any headaches, the facepalms on the way through might have given me a concussion! I expected a lot of "you should" statements with little numbers referenceing hoards of bible passages, many taken out of context. But there was more than that, and I thought it best to mention specifics rather than generalities as others often do.
Here are some of my "facepalm moments".
Page12. Tertullian mentioned as being the first to use the word "Trinity", but the reader is not told that this is in his "Against Praxeas" letter, which can be doanloaded for free from many sites and explains the Trinity way better than chapter 1 of this book.
Page 14. The authors write that "Jesus is repeatedly declared to be God throughout the Scriptures by both others and himself, without apology or correction."
This whole "Jesus is God" meme that is used at Mars Hill goes against the vast majority (the "thundering chorus" to use the authors' terms) of Scripture in the New Testament where the word "God" explicitely or implicitely (as in Jesus being the "Son of God") means the Father person of the Trinity. "God" almost always is synonymous with "Father" in the New Testament. The exceptions are few and far between, and are often rendered differently among the various English translations, some preserving the disctinction between the Father and Son persons of the Trinity far better than others.
The NIV is very good at conflating "Jesus" with "God". Other transaltions either render these passages in a way that better preservers the distinction between the persons of Jesus and the Father, or they have footnotes for these difficult passages that show alternate readings which preserve the distinction. For example, Acts 20:28 reads in my NIV "Be Shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with His own blood". My NIV also has a footnote that says that many manusctips say "of the Lord" rather than "of God". The RSV says "...church of God which he obtained with the blood of His own Son." Somewhat different, right? Beware of authors who use what I call "one translation theology".
The authors also write on page 14 that Jesus was ultimately put to death for declaring himself to be God. I read the trial account of all four Gospels, and Jesus was condemned by the Sanhedrin for answering "yes" when asked if he was the Son of God. That is not the same as "declaring himself to be God." Look up the word "declare" in the dictionary and ask yourself if that is what Jesus did. To be fair, the authors go over this on page 222. This is a confusing book!
Then we've got the very special translation of Gen 1:1 that supposedly shows Jesus in this passage as the "firstborn" based on a translation of the Targum Neofiti, but when I downloaded an English Targum Neofiti it said "wisdom", not "first born". Go figure.
Then supposedly the term "Angel of the Lord" is synonymous with the Son person of the trinity based on Hagar's encounter with such an angel in Genesis 16. I never would have thought of that, and when I read that passage I still don't.
The chapter on the Trinity reminds me of that old "Mr. Plow" Simpsons episode where toward the end Homer is driving his plow up into the mountains to rescue Barney who is stuck in an avalanch. Homer drives over a valley on a one lane rope bridge that sways back and forth and has planks falling out of the bottom. Then he looks to his left and see a highway suspension bridge that he could have taken. To me, this chapter is the rope bridge, and the Gospel of John is the suspension bridge. Why not start where the Trinity is easy to understand and work backwards and forwards from there?
Once I survived the first chapter, I found these other gems:
Page 48. According to the authors, Jesus can say "not an iota, not a dot" of the "Bible" can be ignored!? Was Jesus referring to the NIV, NASB, or maybe "The Message"? There's a whole lot more than an iota difference between those! Or, maybe the King James Version. If it was good enough for the Apostle Paul, it's good enough for me! Jesus was referring to the Law of Moses, not "the Bible".
Page 49. According to the authors, "...there are no parts of the Bible we don't believe, don't like, or won't teach or preach or obey". Well, that explains why everyone greets one another with a holy kiss (explicitely commanded five times and by both Peter and Paul) at Mars Hill churches. Oh wait...they don't do that. I guess some parts of the Bible are more "plenary" than others. To be fair, this is addressed on page 74. Why not here? Wouldn't this have been an opportune place to discuss why we desregard explicit commands in scripture if they go against the grain of culture?
Page 65. The authors write, "Likewise, the New Testament ends with its final book, Revelation, telling us that no other books of the Bible are to be written after it." John must have known they'd put Revelation in the back of the Bible! Guess what existed when the end of Revelation was written, the book of Revelation, or "the Bible".
Page 156. The authors tell us that "The Bible speaks of some non-Christians who...do some "good" things." And the examples are all people from before there could be any Christians! How about Enoch? No there's a "non-Christian" who was good!
Page 158. That serpent! That authors write that the Serpent's work is pride and self-glory. He continues his war against God. The Serpent has demons, demon possessed people, false prophets...and...he's on the cover of the book!!! And, his head is not being crushed. He is alive and well on the cover! You can't make this stuff up!
Page 181. The authors write, "As decades, centuries, and millennia pass with little change in the world, it's easy for us to lose hope that things will ever be different." Wow! Talk about cynical! Little change in the world? Jesus set in motion a chain of events that blessed billions of people over course of the past two millennia. Study history much?
Page 197. The authors write, "The question of whether new-covenant Christians are under the Law of Moses is incridibly complicated..." Hey professor! Hey mega-church leader! Read about the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15. That makes it all very clear, at least for us Gentile believers.
Page 223. Here we are back on the "Jesus is God" meme. This is not typical Bible language. It's interesting that the Gospel of Mark begins with, "The beginning of the Gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God." These authors force me to hold "Son of God" and "God" in my head as meaning the same thing, but they do not. Why is this necessary? Why all the prooftexting and straining at scripture? Why all the one translation theology? Why is the exclamation of "doubting Thomas" when Jesus appears to him considered a doctrinal statement? Is was more like a freak out!
Page 276. The authors write, "The cross is something done by you. You murdered God incarnate". It is interesting to me that when I read the book of Acts I found who Peter held responsible for murdering Jesus. It's in Acts 2:23, Acts 3:15, Acts 4:10, Acts 5:30, Acts 10:39, Acts 13:27 and it isn't me, and it isn't anyone alive today. Also interesting is that when Paul went to the synagogues in all the towns he preached in, he didn't go in there and start accusing them of "murdering God incarnate". He didn't even do that before the Sanhedren in Acts 22, so why does pastor Mark Driscoll do this today?
Page 293. The authors write, "The early church stopped worshipping on Saturday as Jews had for thousands of years and suddenly began worshipping on Sunday in memory of Jesus' Sunday resurrection." But the two Bible verses the authors quote don't say anything about "in memory of Jesus' Sunday resurrection." In Acts 20:7, they met during the "first day of the week" and in the evening. The Jewish calendar has days starting at sun down, not sun rise. So this would be our Saturday night. One of the myths of "churchianity" is that immediately after Jesus' resurrection all the traditions of the modern church suddenly sprang into place and nothing has changed since. All I can say is study history.
You'll see this churchianity myth on page 307 where the authors just make up their own story about what it said in Acts 2:42-47,
Page 351. Cain and Able misinterpreted. In the story, Able is explicitely described as one who brought the "best" of what he had. Cain just brought some stuff that was not described as "best". Cain's jealousy started after God rejected his offering. (I wonder if these authors even read the scriptures they quote!)
Oh, and that "mutual indwelling" mentioned on page 350 to 351 is just something someone made up. Does it happen while I stand and "worship" while the awesome rock band plays so loud that I genuinely fear hearing damage, or while I watch the recorded sermon on the big screen TV? (At Mars Hill, you are "worshipping" if you stand while the rock band plays, but not if you sit while they play.)
Page 352. Here we have another part of churchianity mythology, and that's the idea of "corporate worship." The authors write that, "The New Testament is clear that God's people are to regularly gather for corporate worship." No doubt that explains why meetings are never referred to as "worship" in the New Testament and "worship" is never described as a meeting. Sure, we Christians need each other and we need to spend time together. They did that in the New Testament, and their was organization and leadership and purpose in those meetings. The requirement that the authors go on to list for "corporate worship" are what I hope all meetings of Christians would be like, "corporate" or not.
Page 377. The authors write, "Generous stewards are storing up treasures in heaven", and then they quote Matthew 6:19-21 where Jesus commands us to store up treasures in heaven rather than on Earth. This is directly after a paragraph were the reader is told to aspire to grow in financial giving to "our" church. It is interesting to me that the three passages (the same story in three of the Gospels) where Jesus links giving to the poor with getting treasure in heaven are not mentioned in the discussion of "treasure in heaven". Why is that?
Page 380. It's that electricity's fault that people are workin' too hard and are continually interrupted by technology! (Sometimes these authors' read like bible-thumpers from the backwoods of Whodathunkit Misery.) Yes, in the past generation people may be overworked, but I'll bet they got overworked before that electricity too! Perhaps pastor Driscoll and professor Breshears should quit usin' the stuff! But then, how would they play video recordings of pastor Driscoll's sermons over multiple mammoth flat panel screens simultaneously in all his churches? Maybe electricity is safe for the clergy, but not safe for us laypeople.
Page 396. According to the authors, "In the Old Testament, the tithe referred to God's people giving the first 10 percent of their gross income, also called 'firstfruits' to fund the Levite priests' ministery." Actually, the "firstfruits" and "tithes" were separate functions. The "firstfruits" were offerings made at the beginning of a harvest and had nothing to do with the "tithes". The Levites "tithed" a tenth of the "tithe" they received from the rest of the Israelites and gave it to the sons of Aaron. The sons of Aaron also got the separate "firstfruits" offerings. Oh well, what can you expect from a mega-church pastor and a professor of theology? Accuracy? Not these days.
So, because of the ruthless prooftexting; the conflating of Jesus the "Son of God" with "God" which does not clarify but confuses; some statements that show an almost profound kind of ignorance; churchianity myths all over again; the innacuracies; and the glaring omissions of crucial scriptures where I would think they should be, and finally that healthy serpent front-and-center on the cover, I've decided that this book is not a "reference" but really just a long, confused opinion piece. It does far better at cataloging what Christians should not believe than what they should. If this is the first theology book you've read, then congratulations. Now please do yourself a favor and read some more.