Godology, An Awful Book

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kevin.carroll

Puritan Board Junior
A few months ago I got an email from Christian George, complimenting me on my blog and asking whether I would be willing to write a review of his book, Godology, as well as do a giveaway of the book. He described the book as "Like J.I. Packer's Knowing God but more up to date."

I have to admit I was flattered. (I suspect now, however, it was a form letter, judging by the number of blogs that have written reviews and done giveaways of this book.) I did tell him that I would need to read the book before I promoted it, so if he wanted to send a copy and the giveaways with that understanding, I would be happy to review it.

While I was in seminary taking a preaching lab, we always knew the professor was getting ready to be highly critical when he began his critique by complimenting the preacher on his clothing. Nothing good followed, "Well, [insert name of poor student here], you are wearing a great looking tie..." The reason the professor did this was because he always wanted to say something positive to the preacher. The funny thing was, he only commented on appearance when there was nothing else good to say.

In the spirit of wanting to say something complimentary, let me say that Christian George has a great vocabulary and he uses it very well. He also is scrupulous about citing sources. As we live in an age in which the Internet has made plagiarism a snap, I appreciate that about him. Having exhausted my positive comments of this stinker of a book, let me turn to its actual content.

Godology is awfully researched.

It is not immediately apparent what Godology is even about (see below), but its shallowness is very apparent. George has 132 citations. Of those, 1 is a remark a classmate made to him, 8 come from addreses or sermons he heard while in seminary, 8 are personal comments, 10 refer to websites, 5 are from magazine articles (almost always Christianity Today), and four from movies or TV shows. That still leaves 101 citations from books, which on the surface seems impressive, at least until you start paying attention. It is then that you realize that of those 101 books, 59% of the citations are from page 100 or less and 36% of them are from page 50 or less! (17% of the quotes are drawn from secondary sources. He did not even bother to look up the original statements in their contexts.)

It is not difficult to imagine George with a massive pile of books around him, sitting at a library table and flipping through a book until he finds a soundbite, then exclaiming, "Ooooo, I like that one," then placing the book down and reaching for the next. It is almost amusing then, that on page 14 he quotes Packer in observing that "Christianity in America is three thousand miles wide and one inch deep." This book is similarly shallow.

Godology is awfully written.

As I noted above, George has a great command of the English language. He writes vividly, but he writes poorly. Firstly, the book is literarily awful. He meanders. While the chapters provide some structure to the book, paragraphs, at times even sentences, have little connection to the others around it. This leaves the reader confused at times, wondering what in the world George is talking about. He also needlessly (and irritatingly) dumbs down theology. On the back cover, Chuck Colson says that George speaks "in a language that young evangelicals will access." Perhaps, but these purported evangelicals should be educated, not accomodated.

George speaks about theology using metaphors and similies, but he uses too much of a good(?) thing. They never stop. The reader quickly grows weary of them and, in my case, irritated by them. You can only take so much "God is like a hot dog." (To be fair, George never uses that particular comparison...though he does devote an entire chapter to the notion that God is like chocolate!)

That leads to the fact that the book is theologically awful (as well as dumbing it down). Beyond becoming annoying, George's endless piling on of similes and metaphors quickly becomes irreverent, unorthodox, and even blasphemous. Consider:

Before cities were constructed or worlds created, God hung out with Himself. He was his own party. (p.18)

Admittedly, this is early on in the book, so my wrath was not yet aroused, but seriously, what is gained by likening the eternal, inter-Trinitarian fellowship to a party, especially when the party in question is the druken observance of Mardi Gras (which gives the first chapter its name)?

Describing the Trinity, he says,

"Like a three-way mirror, each person in the Godhead satellites the other--an eternal reflection."

It hardly overstates the truth that when you say, "God is like," the next words out of your mouth are going to heterodox and probably blasphemous to boot. God is like no one and nothing. That is why God demanded through Isaiah, "To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One." (Isa. 40:25)

But beyond that, what does George mean? A reflection is not the thing being reflected, so is he a modalist? I really want to believe that he is not, but the awful comparisons continue.

"Like the Irish three-leafed clover...Like a mind, God is intellect, memory, and will--one system, but three functions. Like water, God is fluid, steam, and icicle--one substance, but three textures." (p. 19)

Sorry, but that is not remotely orthodox. The leaves of a clover are not the clover nor are the states of water, water.

George describes the outpouring of the Spirit as, "a tag team of epic proportion...He is our teleprompter...our energy drink." (p. 21)

Really? You can actually reduce the outpouring of the Spirit to something so banal, something so common?

Let me continue, Gentle Reader, with a litany of similar, irreverent and/or nonsensical quotes:

"My generation, 'the pilgrim generation,' is naturally more ecumenical because we have a universal faith at our fingertips." (p. 23)

Funny, I thought there was one Lord, one faith, one baptism.

"Glory shines, but it also bleeds...glory...had leaky veins." (p. 25)

What in the world does that mean?

"One day Christ...will parade through paradise and we will throw beads before His throne." (p. 26)

I am not sure that the well-known association of throwing Mardi Gras beads and women baring their breasts in public (whether or not it is an official Mardi Gras tradition, it certainly is a common place occurrence) makes for an apt illustration for eternal worship. Why not use the biblical language of casting our crowns before the Throne?

"Jesus Ninja" (chapter 2 title, p. 29)

Ninjas were feudal assassains and sabatouers. Again, is this really a good illustration of the person and work of Christ?

"[God] stretches His hammock from the Statue of Liberty to the Coliseum in Rome." [p. 30]

Admittedly, George is trying to use "hip" language to say things the Bible says, like, "Thus says the LORD: 'Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest?'" (Isa. 66:1) But why not just quote the Bible? Why use an image that suggests laziness, as hammocks do?

"[God is] also an anteater." (p. 31)

Uh, no he is not, and the suggestion is horrifying.

"Humans are not tall creatures, but we do worship a tall God. A venti God, if we're ordering at Starbucks." (p. 31)

Another example of trying to be cute, another example of (hopefully) inadvertant blasphemy. God is a spirit. He has no body and therefore no height. He certainly is NOTHING like a cup of coffee.

"Karl Barth, one of the greatest theologians of the twentieth century..." (p. 31)

Now there is a telling comment. I do not know a conservative theologian worth his salt that would call Barth great. Significant? Yes. Has to be dealt with? Absolutely. Great. I don't think so, Tim.

"And then God spoke...From the same throat came three chords--Father, Son, and Spirit--a holy harmonic." (p. 39)

More apparent modalism.

"Showing Some Skin" (chapter 4 title, p. 51) "...God showed some skin in the person of Jesus Christ." (p. 55)

Here George uses a well-known euphemism for immodesty and nudity as a description of the Incarnation. Is that appropriate? No. No, it isn't.

"Nicea (modern-day Turkey)" (p.52)

Another example of poor research. Nicea is a city, not a country.

"Journaling is a celebration of the incarnation." [sic] (p. 55, he makes a similar remark on page 57)

It is? How? He does not explain these odd remarks.

"A rugged, earthy form of Christianity is spreading through our culture--a new monasticism." (p. 57)

George seems to have a deep love for medieval Catholicism. More on this later.

"God...flickered to earth as a 100 watt Nazareth bulb...God-with-us became God-is-us." (p.65)

So suddenly I find myself questioning his Christology, too. Is he just trying to be cute or is he questioning that Jesus had two natures, united in one person? I cannot tell and he does not say anything to alleviate my worries.

"Holiness...is the lone Kit Kat bar in a bucket of Butterfingers." (p. 66)

What an utter affront to God's holiness.

"Holiness is a gradual process." (p. 66)

Uh, no, Mr. George, sanctification is a process. We are made holy instantly by the holy God who redeemed us. How did you get through seminary with such theologically sloppy language? (Note: His father is president of Beeson Divinity School, the school that awarded George's MDiv. Hmmmmmm.)

"Christianity is a movement of cooperation with Christ. We push; God pulls. This is a strange synergism, but step by step, row by row, we forge our way to holiness." (p. 67)

No, in a strange mystery, we cooperate with God's Spirit in our progressive sanctification. If you really mean holiness, then I suspect you are also not Reformed.

"Refreshment in the monastic traditions." (p.69)

Ok, so a modalistic, Apollinarian, medieval Catholic?

"After Moses listened to God on the summit of Mt. Sinai, the Israelites had to bag his head because his face shined so brightly." (p. 72)

No, he veiled himself because the glory of God on his face was fading. (2 Co.3:13)

"The more [God created], the more He loved." (p. 77)

Suggesting that there is change or development in God?

"There are many taste buds on God's tongue...He doesn't just enjoy American burgers and fries...God eats Indian curry Chinese noodles, and Mexican enchiladas. He's no stranger to Belgian waffles, kung pao chicken, fish and chips, and spaghetti with meatballs. If God's [sic] never had a snowball from New Orleans, I recommend the jumbo Dreamsickle, heavy on the condensed milk." (p. 86)

Utterly, blasphemous drivel. Why can you not speak of God's redeeming people from every nation, language, and tongue? Why must you needlessly anthropomorphize God and then offer him advice? Like he needs any.

"Why does God get to be jealous and we can't? Because God is at the top of the food chain. Simple as that." (p. 91)

I understand what you are saying, but could you not have said it in a more reverent, less confusing way? God is not a predator, nor does he demand worship because he is stronger than everyone else, as your appeal to the food chain implies. He does so because he alone is God and there is no other.

"As actor Leslie Nielsen said, 'The truth hurts...Oh sure, maybe not as much as jumping on a bicycle with the seat missing, but it hurts!'" (p. 95)

Must we be crude, to speak about God?

"Art Hoppe had a point: 'If there's no God, who pops up the next Kleenex?'"(p. 105)

I fail to see what the point is, nor what place it has in this book.

"We sometimes see God as a reclining deity, uninvolved in the course of life. We cloak this concept as God's foreknowledge." (p. 108)

Clearly, someone does not understand the biblical ideal of divine foreknowledge. It has nothing to do with deism.

"It takes a ton of sewage to clog [God's] septic tank." [p. 120]

I cannot even begin to articulate how awful and blasphemous that statement is. Can you not just speak of God's longsuffering?

"God gave us Himself in three way: His Word, His Son, and His Spirit. [editorial comment: I wish he had stopped there!] We can also view it as His lips, His skin, and His heart." (p. 135)

More modalistic language. The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that this guys is heterodox regarding the Trinity.

"God has a sobering message for America: How high can I lift you before I lose you?" (p. 150)

So, is George suggesting God loses those whom he redeems? So now we have a modalistic, Apollinarian, Arminian, medieval Catholic?

The book concludes with this little gem:

"This book has been my exploration of God, my Jesus mud-wrap. Yet it's far from complete. The deeper I dig into God's attributes, the shallower [sic] I find myself. How can anyone describe the Indescribable?" (p. 160)

Shallow indeed. Keep digging, Mr. George.

Godology is awful in its recommendations.

In the book, George seeks to describe an attribute of God (ahem!) and then discuss a "spiritual discipline" that is supposed to reveal that attribute of God more fully. He seems to have fallen in love with medieval Catholic monasticism. Consider some of the things on list of disciplines:

* Silence
* Solitude
* Labyrinth walking (???)

He makes many approving remarks in the book about monasticism but even some of his more "normal" disciplines are expressed in bizarre ways. Consider his discussion of meditation (a biblical discipline, to be sure):

"Meditation makes the mundane things of life magical. Simple objects become gateways to God. A blade of grass points to God's creativity. A sheet of rock reflects his protection. Even the drippings of a leaky radiator reveal God's ever-flowing love. Meditation focuses our minds on a single subject--a poem, a picture, a leaf, a rusted bicycle wheel--and shows us Christ in the ordinary...Isolate a single object...wrap your mind around it. Engage it, observe it, apply it. Encounter it with your senses...lick it if you have to." (pp. 109-110)

I wonder if Mr. George has been meditating on toads. Maybe not.

When it comes to fasting, Geore approvingly speaks of a "digital fast." (P. 84) That's right, put down your IPod as a way of denying yourself. Deep.

He also suggests walking a labyrinth (like in a Cathedral, but you can make your own), admitting that, "For Protestants, labyrinth walking is a relatively new discipline." (p. 138) Evidently. I never even knew Catholics had done this in the past!

Conspicuously absent in all of his recommendations is the promotion of the God ordained means of grace. Nothing said about the sufficiency of Scripture and our need to immerse ourselves in it. Nothing said about the Sacraments. Very little said about prayer. Nothing said about public and private worship. In the final analysis I am almost forced to wonder what god George is studying in Godology.

Finally, I am astounded that George was able to get J.I. Packer to write the forward to the book. Packer is an accomplished theologian and George...well, George is not. To be fair, I was warned. Packer says,

"[George's] expositions [editorial remark: a VERY generous characterization!] sting and stimulate simultaneously, in the manner of Tobasco sauce. Tobasco, of course, though loved by great numbers is not to everyone's taste...The title Godology gives fair warning of what is to come, and if you are not going to appreciate George's semi-pop idiom, you had best conclude straightaway that this book is not for you."

In conclusion, then, can I recommend this book? Not on your life. It is inane, irreverent, and irrelevant. Still, I reviewed it as promised. I have two copies to give away. If you are interested in one, so you can better educate yourself on how not to do theology, how dumbing down the discussion of God distances people from knowing God, or how to point people away from God by directing to means that he has not appointed, then let me know. I will be happy to send one to you. Otherwise in a week, I willl put them where they belong: in the trash.
 

Quickened

Puritan Board Senior
"Jesus Ninja" (chapter 2 title, p. 29)

I have to be honest... sometimes when i am posting "lol" i am not literally laughing out loud. In this particular case i was to the point i am sure i interrupted the conversation outside my window in the parking lot.

Thank you for your indepth review!
 

Romans922

Puritan Board Professor
Labryinth Walking???


Sounds emergent or emerging Church-LIKE. :)


Did you send the review to him?
 

kevin.carroll

Puritan Board Junior
Brian, I know it was funny, but my funny bone wasn't working by the time I finished the book. :p

-----Added 8/26/2009 at 06:00:30 EST-----

Did you send the review to him?

He only asked me to post it on my blog, so I did. I went the second mile and posted it on Amazon too. :lol:
 

Romans922

Puritan Board Professor
You need to send it to him as well.

Also, this is his biography from his website:

Christian George is a writer, speaker, and current PhD student. He and his wife, Rebecca live in the University of St Andrews, Scotland. Christian holds a Master of Divinity Degree from Beeson Divinity School and a Bachelor of Science from Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama.
 

PMBrooks

Puritan Board Freshman
Kevin,
I appreciate your comments on George's book. I know Christian personally, and understand a bit where he is coming from. Nevertheless, I will defend everything he writes in the book.

Let me offer a few observations:
-Christian tries to think like a conservative Christian, but expresses things in a postmodern way. Can this be done? To a great extent I think it is hard, however, he tries. He did speak at our church plant which has a number of young, postmodern students, and they enjoyed his "metaphors" a great deal.
-Dr. Timothy George is Christian's father, which probably explains his connections with some great theologians to gain endorsements.
-I do not personally feel comfortable with the many metaphors he uses to explain God, the Trinity, and other things. However, his goal is to lead those of a postmodern generation into a deeper experience with God.

I am not trying to make excuses for him, as I would not try to communicate orthodox theology with such use of metaphors. Nevertheless, it begs the question if how to communicate the great truths of the Word into metaphors that postmoderns (and those with no church background) can understand.

Thoughts?
 

Jon Peters

Puritan Board Sophomore
Very good review. Thanks for taking the time. This book has the makings of the next Christian bestseller (unfortunately).
 

CNJ

Puritan Board Senior
Thanks for taking the time to expose this book. I also commented on your blog.

Cordially,
 

Bald_Brother

Puritan Board Freshman
Godology, review on Puritan Board

I read part of your post earlier and wanted to get back to it to read the rest. I typed Godology in the search engine and came across the book review here.

I only link that to show you a different review on the forum. Honestly, I can't stand the way that people try to "make God relevant" through misrepresentation, and I think you did a good review. :2cents:

One question, though: Are you still doing the giveaway? :wink:
 

kevin.carroll

Puritan Board Junior
Kevin,
I appreciate your comments on George's book. I know Christian personally, and understand a bit where he is coming from. Nevertheless, I will defend everything he writes in the book.

Let me offer a few observations:
-Christian tries to think like a conservative Christian, but expresses things in a postmodern way. Can this be done? To a great extent I think it is hard, however, he tries. He did speak at our church plant which has a number of young, postmodern students, and they enjoyed his "metaphors" a great deal.
-Dr. Timothy George is Christian's father, which probably explains his connections with some great theologians to gain endorsements.
-I do not personally feel comfortable with the many metaphors he uses to explain God, the Trinity, and other things. However, his goal is to lead those of a postmodern generation into a deeper experience with God.

I am not trying to make excuses for him, as I would not try to communicate orthodox theology with such use of metaphors. Nevertheless, it begs the question if how to communicate the great truths of the Word into metaphors that postmoderns (and those with no church background) can understand.

Thoughts?

I fail to see how modalistic language helps people know God. I fail to see how sexually suggestive language helps us know God. I fail to see how suggesting that God has a clogged sewage tank in any way helps us know God.

-----Added 8/27/2009 at 01:31:36 EST-----

I read part of your post earlier and wanted to get back to it to read the rest. I typed Godology in the search engine and came across the book review here.

I only link that to show you a different review on the forum. Honestly, I can't stand the way that people try to "make God relevant" through misrepresentation, and I think you did a good review. :2cents:

One question, though: Are you still doing the giveaway? :wink:
Yes. in one week I chuck therm. Send me ship info on my blog
 
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christianyouth

Puritan Board Senior
The digital fasting is actually a good idea. My youth leader challenged me to do that once, and it was a great opportunity to get closer with God.

And as far as solitude goes, I'm not sure what makes that a uniquely Roman practice. All throughout the Bible we see things like, 'And Jacob went out into the field to pray', 'at such and such an hour, Peter went up to the rooftop to pray', or we see Jesus teaching people to pray in solitude and not in public, "When you pray, go into your closet", and He himself actually demonstrated praying in solitude many times throughout the Gospels.

So what's wrong with digital fasting? What's wrong with solitude?
 

ewenlin

Puritan Board Junior
Paul Washer does a GREAT job of communicating the truth of the Word in his The One True God. This book (Godology) reminded me of Washer's book and what a contrast!

Thanks for the review!
 

kevin.carroll

Puritan Board Junior
Andrew, you would really have to read the book. He does not advocate solitude for the purpose of prayer. It's more sit on a rock and become one with the Cosmos. Very strange.

Carol, I never saw a comment on the blog. I have them set to moderate, so you might look if you actually sent it.

-----Added 8/27/2009 at 10:03:55 EST-----

Oh, and Andrew, biblical fasting is about denying our bodies something they need in order to heighten our sense of dependence on God, to demonstrate our humility on God, and focus our minds on God. I am fairly confident that IPods were not in the mind of the Savior when he spoke about fasting.
 

Marrow Man

Drunk with Powder
I'm not sure you were complimenting him here, Kevin:

As we live in an age in which the Internet has made plagiarism a snap, I appreciate that about him.

It almost sounds like you were saying he has made plagiarism a snap. :lol:

Also, what am I to deduce from this statement:

"Karl Barth, one of the greatest theologians of the twentieth century..." (p. 31)

Now there is a telling comment. I do not know a conservative theologian worth his salt that would call Barth great. Significant? Yes. Has to be dealt with? Absolutely. Great. I don't think so, Tim.

I'm assuming you were confusing father with son (ha! like a Trinitarian heresy!), but it almost sounds like you were addressing that to me! ;)
 

Classical Presbyterian

Puritan Board Junior
Since the self-publishing triumph that The Shack has experienced, every other two bit hack who ever wanted to get read will now try to do the same. We had be prepared--especially those who blog--to get a whole new wave of these trifles in our inboxes.

:drool:
 

kevin.carroll

Puritan Board Junior
I'm assuming you were confusing father with son (ha! like a Trinitarian heresy!), but it almost sounds like you were addressing that to me! ;)

Tim, in the inspired original, the quote "I don't think so, Tim" had a hyperlink to an article on the 90's sitcom Home Improvement. That was Al's famous quote, kind of like McCoy saying, "He's dead, Jim!"
 

Jon Peters

Puritan Board Sophomore
J.I. Packer wrote the forward? I remember when a forward by Packer was an automatic reason to buy the book. Now, not so much.
 

rpavich

Puritan Board Freshman
Wow...this book makes "the Shack" look like a Systematic Theology!

Thanks for a comprehensive review.

PMbrooks,

Let me offer a few observations:
-Christian tries to think like a conservative Christian, but expresses things in a postmodern way. Can this be done? To a great extent I think it is hard, however, he tries. He did speak at our church plant which has a number of young, postmodern students, and they enjoyed his "metaphors" a great deal.

that they "enjoy his metaphors" may be true but is that a reason to portray God in this fashion?


-I do not personally feel comfortable with the many metaphors he uses to explain God, the Trinity, and other things. However, his goal is to lead those of a postmodern generation into a deeper experience with God.


Just what IS a deeper experience with God? You mean "feeling more warm and fuzzy about God"?



I am not trying to make excuses for him,

but you are...

as I would not try to communicate orthodox theology with such use of metaphors. Nevertheless, it begs the question if how to communicate the great truths of the Word into metaphors that postmoderns (and those with no church background) can understand.


They understand English right? Do we REALLY have to say that God is like a bagel and cream cheese for them to understand or appreciate Him???

Not slamming you brother but....these are just my observations...
 
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PMBrooks

Puritan Board Freshman
Kevin and Robert,
Thanks for your interactions. I do not take any of your comments negatively. I believe they are excellent observations. Again, Robert, my intentions are not to defend his use of metaphors, but just show his motivations, since I do know him. Explaining is different than defending. I am merely stating what the motivations are behind his actions (in this case, writings).

I have to admit I have only read parts of the book, some parts that a friend showed me, and I do not know of the rest of the book. So, Kevin, I appreciate your thorough critique. This is why I only offered comments on his motivations, not necessarily on any particular phrasing.

Kevin, I do want to ask you a question: what do you mean by metaphors being "modalistic language"? Normally we think of metaphors as multiplicitous language, being able to convey multiple meanings. So, I would like to know what you mean by that.

Thanks!

-----Added 8/27/2009 at 04:44:03 EST-----

And, while we are talking about motivations, why do you think that Packer would endorse such a book? I get the sense from Packer's other writings that he might be offended by such use of language and metaphors.
 

awretchsavedbygrace

Puritan Board Sophomore
Kevin and Robert,
Thanks for your interactions. I do not take any of your comments negatively. I believe they are excellent observations. Again, Robert, my intentions are not to defend his use of metaphors, but just show his motivations, since I do know him. Explaining is different than defending. I am merely stating what the motivations are behind his actions (in this case, writings).

I have to admit I have only read parts of the book, some parts that a friend showed me, and I do not know of the rest of the book. So, Kevin, I appreciate your thorough critique. This is why I only offered comments on his motivations, not necessarily on any particular phrasing.

Kevin, I do want to ask you a question: what do you mean by metaphors being "modalistic language"? Normally we think of metaphors as multiplicitous language, being able to convey multiple meanings. So, I would like to know what you mean by that.

Thanks!

-----Added 8/27/2009 at 04:44:03 EST-----

And, while we are talking about motivations, why do you think that Packer would endorse such a book? I get the sense from Packer's other writings that he might be offended by such use of language and metaphors.

I dont think anyone is questioning his motivations. There are some sincere motivations on behalf of those who push blasphemous ideas, that doesnt nullify the lies there in. Post Modernist dont need hip terms and someone to feed their skepticism. They need some one to feed them sound theology, and make no room for that post modern thinking.
 

kevin.carroll

Puritan Board Junior
Not slamming you brother but....these are just my observations...


I think you are confusing my critique with someone who was defending the book in response to me. I have no use for the book, other than lifting it up as an example of how to turn post-moderns away from knowing God.
 

rpavich

Puritan Board Freshman
Kevin,
No...I wasn't referring to you....I put your name by mistake.... Sorry....it was in reference to someone else...

My apologies
 

proverbs31woman

Puritan Board Freshman
Wow, well thanks for the heads up, Im glad to see Christians are still examining their faith according to scripture. Very encouraging! :-D
 
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