“Half Truths: God Helps Those Who Helps Themselves and Other Things the Bible Doesn’t Say,” by Adam Hamilton. Published by Abingdon Press, 2016. This review refers to the Kindle E-Book edition.
If you’ve read more than a few of my blog entries over the last couple of years, you’re no stranger to the fact that I am very unhappy with the direction of Christianity in America, or at least what people refer to as “Christianity.” In my opinion we’ve largely turned away from the message of Jesus in favor of some weird kind of Conservative political orthodoxy that has nothing but disdain for the poor and sick, that constantly seeks to exclude others from the Kingdom instead of include them, and seeks power to dominate others instead of serve them. I think a lot of this results from a fundamental misreading of scripture, or at the very least projecting our modern day causes onto the teachings of the Bible largely because we don’t understand what it truly is, and what it was meant to be. From these misunderstandings and projections arise several statements, classified as half truths, that we use to prop up our incredibly damaging, discriminatory beliefs or at the very least damage other believers in their walk with God.
Adam Hamilton, a Methodist clergyman and pastor of the largest mainline church in the country sets his sights squarely on some of the most damaging “Half Truths” in his newest book. As usual, he makes a powerful case for his point of view using not only scripture, but history and historical context as well. He does so in a very down-to-earth, easy to read manner that keeps readers engaged. I read the whole book in three sittings.
Hamilton tackles 5 of these “Half Truths” in the book. See if you’ve ever heard, or perhaps even uttered, any of these supposedly Christian maxims:
“Everything Happens For a Reason”
“God Helps Those Who Help Themselves.”
“God Won’t Give You More Than You Can Handle.”
“God Said It, I Believe It, That Settles It.”
“Love The Sinner, Hate The Sin.”
My guess is that a few of the people who read this will look at some of these and say, “Wait, doesn’t the Bible say….?” or “That statement is meant to comfort. How can it be damaging?” Hamilton methodically breaks down these common Christianisms and shows that the Bible “doesn’t really say that” and that these can be incredibly damaging.
Take a family who loses a bright, loving teenager to a drunk driver, or perhaps a family who brings a child into the world only to have her die hours later. Can you honestly look those parents in the eye and say “everything happens for a reason?” Seriously, what reason could God have for blessing parents with a new baby and snatching it away after a few minutes our hours? What reason could God possibly have to let a drink driver kill a young teen or mother of three? Why would God send Hurricane Katrina to kill the elderly and disabled in the Lower Ninth Ward? Hamilton does believe that God can make good things arise out of these circumstances, but to say that these things happen according to His will or that God wouldn’t let it happen if we couldn’t handle it is utterly absurd and not biblical.
“Love The Sinner, Hate The Sin.” This is often said by Christians who are actually trying to be more inclusive. I confess I’ve uttered it myself. However, since when did Jesus say it was ok to call other people sinners? I seem to remember Jesus saying something about taking a log out of your eye before you take a speck out your brother’s. Yeah there it is, in Matthew 7:5. (News Flash: You’re never going to get the log out of your eye, so don’t bother with your brother’s.) Plus, since when did Jesus say it was ok to “hate sin,” and who gets to decide what’s a sin? I don’t think that’s in our job description.
“God said it, I believe it, that settles it!” Really? There are over 200 verses in the Bible that sanction slavery. Do you still believe in those? Heck, maybe some of you do, but come on now. Hamilton drops the mic quite loudly on that one.
“God Helps Those Who Help Themselves.” Guess what, it’s not in the Bible. While God does desire that we work hard in life and strive to be able to take care of ourselves, and others, Hamilton talks about the cold, hard, fact that many people are disadvantaged through no fault of their own, but have just been victims of circumstances. Our church is starting to participate in a service that will provide shelter to families who have become homeless after the parents or guardians have lost a job. That situation happens EVERY DAY in the United States. People lose a job or have a serious medical condition and lose everything. Of course this arises out of what I like to call “Puritanism on Steroids,” this belief that everyone who his poor or unemployed is just lazy. Many are disabled, elderly, or even mentally ill. Jesus calls us to help these people and all who are poor, not kick them to the curb because we can’t fathom giving up a dollar of what’s ours.
Of course these are just simple summaries of Hamilton’s points, but you get the drift. It’s another A+ effort from him, and I wish every Christian would read it (and some non-Christians too) especially in this messed up election year.