Christianity Answers

Article excerpt

Exposing Myths about Christianity: A Guide to Answering 145 Viral Lies and Legends by Jeffrey Burton Russell (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2012)

I am adding this book to my reference shelf on culture, politics, philosophy, and religion. I am putting it next to C. S. Lewis's Mere Christianity (1943), which presents the basis of Christian faith underlying denominations; David Bentley Hart's Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies (2009), an intellectual antidote to the so-called New Atheists (Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Sam Harris) and their caricatures of Christian culture and religion; and Dale Ahlquist's Common Sense 101: Lessons from G. K Chesterton (2006), illumining the wit and wisdom of the great writer of a century ago.

With a bibliography, a chronology, and both subject and person indexes, Russell's Exposing Myths about Christianity offers educated audiences a rigorous (and truthful) assessment of current and historical Christianity. The book is the latest of his nineteen volumes about Christianity, including a classic five-volume study of evil (his history of the devil). His latest works--A History of Heaven: The Singing Silence (1997) and Paradise Mislaid (2006)--are a joyous, light-filled history of Christian theology, art, and poetry about heaven. But it was in Inventing the Flat Earth (1991) that Russell explicitly anticipated the spirit of the current book. There he irrefutably debunked the notion that educated people in the Middle Ages believed Earth to be flat, a falsehood fabricated in the 1800s.

In the current book Russell again spreads his nets wide and deep. His catch of falsifiers and mythmakers and their untruths is portioned into eight bins: 1) "Christianity Is Dying Out"; 2) "Christianity Is Destructive"; 3) "Christianity Is Stupid"; 4) "Jesus and the Bible Have Been Shown to Be False"; 5) "Christian Beliefs Have Been Shown to Be Wrong"; 6) "Miracles Are Impossible"; 7) "Worldviews Can't Be Evaluated"; 8) "What's New Is True." Each bin contains different types of misrepresentations about Christianity and refutes them.

In section 1, Russell takes on the contention that Christianity is out of date and dying, pointing out that it is growing rapidly everywhere except Europe and North America. He goes on to disprove the accusations that it is superstitious, mythical, magical, and antiscientific. Section 2 rebuts a menagerie of blatant falsehoods, half-baked truths, and smears, including that Hitler was a Christian, that the Inquisition executed millions of heretics and witches, and that religion causes more violence than atheism. He belies charges that Christianity is racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, and culturally imperialistic. In section 3, Russell catalogs many secularist and materialist charges that Christianity is stupid: that it taught that Earth is flat and persecuted Galileo for arguing that it revolved around the sun, and that it opposed evolution in all its forms. Section 4 centers on the historical veracity of Jesus and the origins and development of the Bible. Section 5 treats numerous characterizations of Christian (Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant) beliefs and practices as well as metaphysical questions about God, dualism, soul, sin, and evil. In sections 6, 7, and 8 Russell refutes arguments that miracles, including the resurrection of Jesus Christ, are impossible; that any belief about truth and the good life is as good as any other belief; and that any idea, however bizarre and novel, cast up in contemporary Western culture supersedes the truth and beliefs of Christianity.

Russell is a historian with a healthy respect for the traditions of all cultures. Much of his book is animated by arguments with the whole spectrum of ahistorical contemporary discourse about Ch ristianity--popu la r, literary, arid academic. At various points he faces off against raw ignorance of historical and theological Christianity, and at other points against the rising tides of combative, militant secularism. …