Monday, November 02, 2009

Book Review - "The Misunderstood God" (Darin Hufford)

Title: The Misunderstood God (the lies religion tells us about God)
Author: Darin Hufford
Published: CA: Windblown Media, & NY: Hachette Publishing, 2009.

There are two things that caught my eye as I read this book. The first is the subtitle about religion spreading lies about God. With a cover image that resembles Michelangelo's famous "Creation of Adam" work of art, it seems like another book heading toward controversy, just like Dan Brown's work on the Da Vinci Code.The second is the publisher, Windblown Media, the company that published the bestselling book: "The Shack."

The essence of Hufford's book is that God is love. Anything that reflects the anti-thesis of love is definitely not God. Using 1 Corinthians 13 as a guide, the author breezes through 16 aspects of love and how God is to be understood. Misunderstanding God is essentially failing to see God possessing all of these attributes.

Using his extensive experience with people, Hufford begins by stating his unequivocal love for people. He then accuses preachers for tainting God's good name by making God sound the opposite of what 1 Corinthians 13 reads. He claims that some preachers use fear to put people down, instead of using love to build people up. For instance, love is patient meaning God is patient. Yet, some preachers go to the extent of scaring people into thinking that God's patience may one day run out. Hufford uses the same formula for all the 16 attributes. He first lists the lie. Then he restates God in terms of the love passage. Throughout the book, he gives the reader a generous spread of personal examples and his ministry encounters with people. He concludes by connecting the picture of God touching man through love.

My Comments
Indeed, if Hufford is correct about other preachers telling 'lies about God,' he makes himself vulnerable to accusations that he is telling 'lies about man,' particularly preachers.  In reading the book, I cannot help feeling that he has an axe to grind. In the process, he can be perceived as swinging to the other extreme, which is not good either.Hufford's book is extremely lacking in biblical exegesis. He base his entire book from an experiential beginning and uses the 1 Corinthians 13 to prove his point. Strict Bible scholars would have accused him of eisegesis (reading into the text). Indeed, the context of 1 Corinthians 13 is to mend bridges between warring factions within the Church at Corinth in the first century.

I believe the audience of the book is for groups of hurting people who needs love and encouragement, instead of multiple religious talk that appear too impersonal and harsh. I feel that the title alone is not accurate. The manuscript reads more like untangling misconceptions of man toward man, rather than man toward God. I think the subtitle is a more accurate depiction of the book's message.

The book is easy to read. It is a good reminder for man to show love and understanding toward one another in the household of faith. Unfortunately, I feel the book is too lopsided toward a lovey-dovey faith, to the point that there is also another aspect of love. Tough love as we are told like speaking the truth in love.

My Rating: 1 star out of 5.



Robin said...

Hi, Conrade,

Interesting review - I really appreciate that you took the time to express a respectful disagreement with this book.

In light of your basically fair-minded comments, I was slightly surprised to see the 1 out of 5 star rating. It read more like a 2- or 2.5-star review - more gracious than that sad little "one" you offered at the end. Call me sentimental, but I'm sympathetic to the heart that sincere authors put into their work. So I feel the really bad ratings are best reserved for books lacking in any redeeming value. And in the text, you generously gave due credit for what merits you saw in this book. Of course, it's your review, and your choice of stars, so please forgive me if I've overstepped.

Anyway, one thing that really stood out to me was the fact you are concerned with sound principles of interpretation. So I thought you'd enjoy this quote from John MacArthur: "The Reformers used the expression scriptura scripturam interpretatur, or ‘Scripture interprets Scripture.’ By this they meant that obscure passages in Scripture must be understood in light of clearer ones. If the Bible is God’s Word, it must be consistent with itself."

If Hufford uses this very well-respected method, it makes sense that he would choose to read the 1 Corinthians 13 passage in light of 1 John chapter 4, which plainly states (not just once, but twice), "God is love." The logic here is not in any way fallacious. If God is love, and if 1 Corinthians 13 describes love, then it is reasonable to read 1 Corinthians 13 as a description of God's character. (Paul's description of love is not normally considered "obscure" - but it's obvious that too few people seem to understand it clearly enough to put it into practice, so it may well be more obscure than we'd like to admit.)

Anyway, the Bible says God is love, and the Bible defines love very clearly. This is very helpful in getting to know God better and follow Him more faithfully - I know it has made a huge difference in my spiritual life.

One really ironic thing about "tough love" is that it always feels quite noble to the one expressing it, but it is not often received in the same spirit. You mentioned that Darin seems to have made a point of calling out religious leaders' error in misrepresenting God, as if he had some grievance to air. (He doesn't say that all preachers are guilty of bad theology, by the way.) If Darin's love is tough, and if it is true that at least some preachers have grossly misrepresented God to their trusting congregations, then Hufford's indictment is a Godly example of the very tough love you yourself admire.

I hope this hasn't been too many arguments in one post. My wish was neither to attack nor divide, but to see how we might come closer to God and to each other, as His children. Wherever we seek to honor God's love and express it to each other, we must tell the truth in love, with gentleness and respect.

Thanks for your patience!

(Ephesians 3:14-19)

Roxann said...

I read the book too and what I out of it mostly was God is God and I am not and I don't have to "take care of Him" anymore; but what I do get to do is safely lean into Him...again I say, safely. And I know it has to do with Love, He is what Love is.

YAPdates said...

Thank you so much. Your words reflect a graciousness and honesty that makes me glad. I agree with a lot of what you say, especially the part that talks about the work put in by authors.

About the rating, I was resonating between 1 to 2 stars at that time of the review. At the same time, I was still reeling off the influence of the material I read, by theologians such as Miroslav Volf, NT Wright and CS Lewis, which might have affected my grading. Based on this, perhaps 2 sounds more reasonable. However, my conclusion below explains why I gave the final 1.

Again, with regards to Scripture interpreting Scripture, the problem becomes: which ones? That is why context and adequate appreciation of the historical background and tradition is important.

'Lie' is a strong word. It carries a connotation of bad and scheming character behind the people Hufford accuses of lying. Is that loving? I think the word 'misleading' is more appropriate.

You will find at the end of chapter 1, where Hufford writes about some people feeling that 'truth is a letdown, and this book will frustrate them to death.' Perhaps it is rhetorical. Perhaps, it is from Hufford's previous unhappy experiences. Yet, I am fearful that Hufford may have unwittingly painted himself as someone holding a 'higher truth.'

Can Hufford himself apply his own prescription on these people? If he can, then he will need to revise Chapter 1, or redeem it at the end. Even those people whom Hufford accuses of telling lies needs to be redeemed by sharing the truth in love. Truth sharing goes both ways.

Finally, let me give my take on 1 Corinthians 13. Hufford talks a lot about the 'clear words' on love (v1-8). For a book that claims to be following 1 Corinthians 13, alarmingly, he skips an important v9-12. After a heady-love-in-the-sky feeling about the merits of love, Paul brings us back down to earth to remind us we are still fragile, sinful and incomplete. If 1 Corinthians 13 is about God, can we then say v9-12 is about God being incomplete? So the very truths that Hufford claims is now standing on shaky ground.

1 Corinthians 13 is not an ontological document describing the facets of God, but about trying to unite 2 or more warring factions in the Corinthian church.

Essentially, Paul tells us that our love is at present incomplete. For anyone writing as if he has attained 'complete' love, he is lying to himself. Only Christ is Truth, and He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. He is the embodiment of love.


YAPdates said...

You say it well that 'God is God and I am not.' Indeed we do not need to babysit God. God can take care of himself, and the whole universe as well.

There is a difference between "Love is God," vs "God is Love." Scripture affirms the latter, not the former. Your words does lean toward "Love is God," but I am willing to interpret that that is not what you mean.

Love is OF God. Thanks for your comment.


Anonymous said...

Hi Conrade,
I think what Darins book did for me is to reinforce the fact of God's love. SO much of Christianity is bent on all the "do's" that we have to do to stay "in Him". 1 Cor. 13 had to be done by God first before He ever expected it of us. Religion is constantly making us feel and think that we have to be one way while God is another. Modern Christianity is as schizophrenic as Darin points out. When I think, " God is patient, God is kind", it changes it for me. When I think , "God is not rude or proud", that is amazing because so much "tough love" is so very rude and arrogant in the "church". If man is suppose to be a certain way with each other then surely God is that way first. I loved the book even though it wouldn't pass an exegesis test but it certainly brings God's love down to earth. In reading the book, I've lost the "pie in the sky" mentality of God being this great greektype god holding a lighteneing bolt in his hand waiting to throw it at one of us at any time.
1 Cor. 13 has become so much more real to me. I had always thought that if we were to be this way, God did too. Darin just finally put it to pen and pare.

YAPdates said...

Normally I don't respond to anonymous users. This case, I'm happy to make an exception for your case, as I sense a deep sense of honesty and gratefulness in you for God. You felt ministered to through the book, and I am happy for you.

I am most reluctant to say negative things about authors with good intention. I have got nothing to gain. This is especially so for a book that so many people have felt ministered by. For lack of a better example, and also at a risk of people calling me 'legalistic,' take a typical law court. Whether judge or jury, if the papers are not filed properly, a case can be totally dismissed on the basis of a technicality. We may cry and complain, but the judging panel cannot do anything about it. (I am aware some of you may be thinking 'grace,' but let me continue).

TMG is an encouraging book. I find the many chapters of personal sharing and testimonies very enlightening. If the theological basis of the book is on 1 John 4:7, the book stands on firmer ground as far as God's character is concerned. However, Hufford chooses to put the word 'love' as synonymous with God. If that is the case, why didn't Paul replace every 'love' word in 1 Cor 13 with the word 'God?' We can infer God's character from the whole word of God, yes. Other parts of Scripture testify about the character of God. I can even say that 1 Cor 13 gives us an idea about God's character albeit in an indirect fashion. Hufford makes it too direct for comfort. My question, is 1 Cor 13 talking about God's person or is it asking people to pursue after these attributes?

This is the 'technicality' that I am talking about. 1 Cor 13 is not about describing God's Being (we call this 'ontological'). Other biblical passages do, but not 1 Cor 13. It is urging people to love one another according to 1 Cor 13. On the other hand, if the apostle Paul did not use 'love' and used 'God is patient, God is kind' I do not have much problem with Hufford's biblical usage. If Hufford is an ordinary lay person on the pew, I would not expect him to do exegesis. However, he is a famous pastor, and an influential speaker. That said, much is given, much is expected. He ought to make sure that his good stories are on sound foundations.

Next, we need to be consistent. What about v9-12 of 1 Cor 13? What do we make of v12 which talks about knowing in part? If Hufford is theologically consistent, he would have interpreted the whole 1 Cor 13 to talk about God's character. v11 talks about growing up. v12 talks about moving from imperfect to perfect. If this is about God, are we then saying that God is in a state of change from imperfect to perfect? That will create turmoil in our theology of God. So, if we fail to address this 'technicality,' we will be exposed. If in 1 Cor 13:1, "God is patient,' does that mean God is 10% patient now moving toward 100% patient later? If "God is kind," does that mean God is moving from 50% upward to perfection? If that is the case, we are talking about an incomplete God! So, my interpretation, from whatever you want to call it, 'exegesis' and all those jargon, is essentially a conscious effort to really understand the Word for what it says, not 'what-man-say-the-word-say.'

In summary, I love the results of the book, how people has been positively influenced. However, for all the good results, the theology is flawed. By all means, use 1 John 4:7-8, and draw inferences from 1 Cor 13, but do not try to use 1 Cor 13 to say what it does not exactly say. God is perfectly patient, yes, but other biblical passages say that, not 1 Cor 13.

If I can at least highlight some of the flaws, perhaps, Hufford can revise it to be an even better book. May I encourage you to love God and neighbour more and more.

Thank you.


OC3 said...

Hey I havent read the book & wont after listening to his podcast.
I definitely disagree with churchianty but this guy is a heretic & is dangerous & should be silenced. He is an ear tickler who lives off cheapening grace & selling books.

Manny Jack

Ransom said...

I actually know Darin personally and have listened to him preach for a couple of years. I would say that it isn't that he has an axe to grind. It isn't that he is lying about preachers in general. He is speaking from personal experiences and many I have shared with him and have had similar experiences in my own life. He was a pastor for many years at a major megachurch of the Assembly of God persuasion in Arizona. He and I have had long talks about the horrors going on on and off the stage in these places. I have to say from personal experience of my own, that he is correct in many cases.

Maria said...

Is it worth buying

Anonymous said...

I've gotten about half way through this particular book and I am finding that I cannot say that I find that much about it that is really redeeming. Yes, Mr Hufford does push the Love concept to the forefront, and we do need to understand the depth and breadth of God's love, but he doesn't even bother to try to answer tough questions that arise from the Bible on God's actions; such as the angel of death walking through Egypt or the camps of the Assyrians killing off 10 of thousands. He doesn't attempt to describe why God rained fire and brimestone on Sodom and Gommarrah or ordered Israel to wipe out the Canaanites. These are all acts of God and do reflect His character as well. Not as an angry God, but as a God who knows that judgement is also part and parcel of existence, holiness must overcome sin or sin will infect and destroy all.

God is Love. But God is also holy and He demands holiness from us as well. He has done everything to provide that ability to us, as well as provide a cover for us with the payment of the death of his Son. We cannot ignore the tough questions about God's character because it is only in answering those tough questions that we can begin to see the vast immense breadth and width of the characteristics of God. If we can understand all there is about God, then we do not have a true understanding of real God.

Sarah said...

Hi. I'm Sarah from the Philippines. I really want to read this book, but I'm unable to buy online. I can't find any hard copy here. Does anyone has ebook or epub of this? Here's my email I'm really hoping

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