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Why I Became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity
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227 of 261 people found the following review helpful
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Atheists are often accused of not taking Christianity seriously. If we would only read the bible with an open mind, we would be impressed with its wonderful truths, believers often tell us. And it is a fact that many (perhaps most) atheists don't want to bother with biblical or theological studies -- why should they? -- but this is not true of John Loftus. John has taken the claims of Christianity seriously, diving in with both feet (full immersion atheism!), unflinchingly examining the exact sources that believers urge us to ponder. What more do they want? When you read Loftus's penetrating analyses, you have no choice but to discard the truth claims of Christianity. Some might try to argue, nevertheless, that Christianity is useful -- but the most important question that can be asked of any religion is, "Is it TRUE?" Finishing John's book, I am now more convinced than ever that it is not. As a former evangelical preacher myself who can identify with the agony John was forced to endure as he methodically rebuilt his world view, I agree that atheism is not only defensible, it is liberating.
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302 of 354 people found the following review helpful
on August 25, 2008
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I have read hundreds of Christian Apologetics books. I have read all of Lewis, all of Schaeffer, all of Peter Kreeft, all of Dr. Geisler's books, including his encyclopedia A-Z twice, and his Systematic Theology twice, I have read Plantinga, McDowell, Craig, Ravi, Moreland, Holding, Swinburne, N.T Wright, Paul Copan, R.C Sproul, Van Til, Gary Habermas, Lee Strobel, David Noebel, Francis Beckwith, Chuck Colson, Nancy Pearcy, Chesterton, Stuart C. Hacket, Martin, Richard Purtill, Stephen T. Davis, Dembski, Behe, Johnson, Collins, Paul K Moser, and many other Christian Philosophers and theologians . I have also read all the top skeptic authors, so I am pretty familiar with worldview issues, and the arguments and counter-arguments from both sides. I can't imagine why someone would say this book is not worth reading, unless they're either uninformed or have some axe to grind. I would rather take the word of both top Christian Philosophers and Skeptics that endorse this book before I would listen to some disgruntled person reviewing it on Amazon (whom I suspect has not even read the book). There must be something very admirable about a book that can be granted endorsements form both sides!

Here is what Dr. Geisler said (who is considered the DEAN of Christian apologetics, and wrote the Christian Encyclopedia of Apologetics, along with 70 other books): "[John's book] is a thoughtful and intellectually challenging work, presenting arguments that every honest theist and Christian should face."

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Dr. Mark D. Linville, Christian philosopher and contributor to the forthcoming Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology: "Of the spate of books coming from the so-called "New Atheists" that have appeared in the past few years--Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris, et al--John W. Loftus's critique of Christian theism is by far the most sophisticated. Where, say, Dawkins might be found attacking a man of straw, Loftus understands and assesses the arguments of today's premier Christian apologists and philosophers. Evangelicals cannot afford to ignore Why I Became an Atheist."

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Dr. James F. Sennett, Christian philosopher and author of Modality, Probability, and Rationality: A Critical Examination of Alvin Plantinga's Philosophy: "Scholarly unbelief is far more sophisticated, far more defensible than any of us would like to believe. John W. Loftus is a scholar and a former Christian who was overwhelmed by that sophistication. His story is a wake up call to the church: it's time for us to start living in, and speaking to, the real world."

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Below are some endorsements from skeptics:

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Christopher Hallquist, president of Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison: "The Outsider Test for Faith chapter should earn Loftus a permanent place in the history of critiques of religion."

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Dr. Richard Carrier, author of Sense and Goodness Without God: "[John's book addresses] almost every conceivable argument for Evangelical Christianity in extraordinary and sobering detail. Every important aspect of intellectual Evangelical Christian belief comes in for critique, and often in more depth than you'll find in any other pro-atheism tome. Indeed, unlike, say, Sam Harris or Richard Dawkins, Loftus is a fully-informed insider who knows what he's talking about. He was fully immersed in making the very case for Christianity that he now tears down. He was trained by the best, is well-read in the field, and gets all the nuances that apologists accuse pop atheists (like Harris and Dawkins) of missing."

"[O]ne of the best things that Loftus contributes to the field of atheist philosophy, which I think is required reading for everyone, on both sides of the debate, is his Outsider Test. Given that, and his thorough scope and erudition, I doubt any honest, rational, informed Evangelical can remain in the fold after reading this book. Even though any Christian could pick at bits, the overall force of his case is, IMO, invincibly fatal."

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Dr. John Beversluis, author of C.S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion: "No review can begin to do justice to an ambitious book of this scope or to the sustained theological, philosophical, scientific, textual, and historical critique of Christianity that it contains. Suffice it to say at the outset that I have never read a book that presents such a massive and systematic refutation of the claims of Christianity, and I have seldom read a book that marshals evidence (from such a wide variety of disciplines) and documents its claims in such painstaking detail."

"'The Problem of Evil' (chapters twelve and thirteen)...contain one of the most penetrating and no-nonsense discussions of the problem that I have ever read. Readers who have taken the outsider test and absorb the lessons to be learned from these searching chapters, pondering Loftus's excruciatingly gruesome examples of pointless and avoidable suffering, and who then return to the proposed solutions of theists like St. Augustine, C. S. Lewis, John Hick, William P. Alston, Richard Swinburne, and, yes, even Alvin Plantinga, will find them generalized, detached, and unconvincing."

"I can pay John Loftus no higher compliment than to say that his new book is reminiscent of The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine and The Life of Jesus Critically Examined by David Friedrich Strauss. He has done for the 21st Century what they did for the 18th and the 19th. It should be required reading for every Christian."

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David Mills, author of Atheist Universe: "John W. Loftus is to atheism what Tiger Woods is to golf, or what Babe Ruth was to baseball. Loftus has provided, in this superb and entertaining volume, the crown jewel of the new atheist movement. As much as I admire and enjoy Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens and Dennett, Loftus is, far and away, my favorite author on this riveting subject. Loftus' esteemed reputation within the freethought community is indeed richly deserved. But this book exceeded even my highest expectations."

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Dr. Hector Avalos, Biblical scholar and author of The End of Biblical Studies: "I truly enjoyed this book. Why I Became an Atheist combines a dose of Augustine's Confessions with a cauldron of unremitting rationalism to yield one of the most potent antidotes to Christianity on the market today. If there is such a thing as the New Atheism, then John W. Loftus is one of the standard bearers. Loftus is a former Christian evangelical apologist who became an atheist, and he tells us why in a detail and a depth worthy of the best atheist writers today. It is a well-written, informed, and potent critique of religion and Christianity."

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So according to top thinkers on both sides, people who say this book is not worth reading are dead wrong. You decide whom to believe.

I think this book is the best single overall refutation of Christianity written, especially at the accessible level. The book Loftus wrote before this one, was the first skeptic book I read that made me realize I could be dead wrong, and I was a very intellectually committed Christian, trust me. I was planning on becoming an Apologist myself. This new book is like his old book but on major steroids! Loftus has added an extra 240 pages of content! I think this book is superior for multiple reasons

1. Its scope and coverage is more exhaustive on issues crucial to Christianity then other books.

2. Mr. Loftus anticipate objections from Christian philosophers and theologians that most skeptics do not, due to their lack of familiarity with the other side.

3. The book packs so much in such a little space, it has amazing brevity and at the same time brilliantly dismantles many core Christian beliefs and deals with many central issues that are left out of other works.

4. The author's familiarity with Christian Theology and philosophy makes him much better at drawing fine and important distinctions that other skeptics miss, due to their lack of expertise of the other side.

5. The personal Deconversion narrative woven through out the book gives it an informal and personal touch that makes it more fascinating to read than other skeptical books. Plus he is the only skeptical author that I know of that was a highly competent Christian Apologist and Philosopher; this of course is another unique feature.

6. The author's non-abrasive style sets your book apart from many other skeptic books. He wrote the book in such a way as not to polarize the believer. The average believer would be much more likely to read this book than other similar books due to his respectful manner. This I congratulate him on.

7. The book strikes a great balance between high conceptual content and accessibility, a balance that is hard to achieve.

There are many other noble things about his book. But basically what I am saying is that I think Mr. Loftus has written by far the best single overall refutation of Christianity in print! This is the best book to give to a believer. If I could only pick one book for my Christian friends to read, this book by far wins no contest. If you're a skeptic you should buy multiple copies for your friends and family, and if you're a believer you should do yourself a favor and buy copies for yourself and your friends and start honestly examining the claims of Christianity from both sides. If you're wise you will buy and read this outstanding book! I give it my highest recommendation.
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86 of 106 people found the following review helpful
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John W. Loftus has written an important book that should be read by every Christian who cares about truth and reality. This is not the angry rant of some disgruntled former believer with an axe to grind. Loftus is thorough, fair and convincing. As a former Christian minister and apologist who became an atheist, he knows both sides of the belief question very well.

The insights and detailed information contained in this book make for enlightening reading. There is much for everyone, from believers who are courageous enough to think more deeply about their faith to nonbelievers who want to better understand the arguments Christians make in defense of their religion. I highly recommend this book.

--Guy P. Harrison, author of

Race and Reality: What Everyone Should Know About Our Biological Diversity

and

50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God
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32 of 38 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon January 5, 2009
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I've just finished reading three books on a common theme: losing one's (Christian) religion and becoming an atheist. All three are excellent, but each approaches the topic from a very different perspective. I thought I might review them all together, and post the combined review on each book at Amazon. I don't know if this is consistent with the Amazon review policy, but never mind.

The first book is Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America's Leading Atheists by Dan Barker. I was slightly put off by the subtitle: "How an evangelical preacher became one of America's leading atheists." After all, one of the key points about atheism - and one that we have to keep reminding theists about - is that atheism is not an organized body of belief, it's no more a religion than "bald" is a hair colour. So how can anyone be a "leading atheist"? Who's being led? However if one substitutes "prominent" or "influential" for "leading", we can let that pass. And Barker is certainly influential: he's co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, which is one of the most active groups working to uphold the Constitutional prohibition on church-state entanglement, and seeking to counteract the negative image of atheism in this country.

The second book that I considered was William Lobdell's Losing My Religion: How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America-and Found Unexpected Peace. Lobdell is an award-winning journalist who covered religion for the Los Angeles Times. After writing about many aspects of religion for many years, he finally decided to write about his own journey.

The last volume in this trilogy was Why I Became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity, by John Loftus. Like Barker, Loftus was also an evangelical preacher, but although the arc of his experience was similar to Barker's, the result is a very different kind of book.

Let me begin by saying that each of these books is really good, and deserves a place in the library of anyone who is interested in the contemporary debate between religion and atheism. I hesitate to rank them, or recommend one over another; nevertheless I find myself compelled to do so. Of the three, Lobdell's "Losing My Religion" is the most essential, for two reasons. First, he is an excellent writer, and his prose is simply a delight to read. Secondly, he concentrates on his personal experience in a way that I haven't encountered before in books by atheists. Both Loftus and Barker set out to tell their story and argue their case, albeit in different ways, and each draws on writers as diverse as Dennett, Wells, Price, Martin, Shermer, Carrier and Nielsen in setting forth their arguments. Lobdell just wants to recount his own story, and what he has learned from it. He's not interested in converting anyone, or scoring debating points. As he writes, "To borrow Buddha's analogy, I've just spent eight years crossing a river in a raft of my own construction, and now I'm standing on a new shore. My raft was made not of dharma, like Buddhism's, but of things I gathered along the way: knowledge, maturity, humility, critical thinking and the willingness to face the world as it is, and not how I wish it to be. I don't knopw what the future holds in this new land. I don't see myself crossing the river back to Christianity... [or] adopting a new religion. My disbelief in a personal God now seems cemented to my soul. Other kinds of spirituality seem equally improbable. Besides, I like my life on this unexplored shore."

For Lobdell, the thing which provoked his crisis of faith was people: the yawning gulf between the ideals of a religion and the lives of those who practice and - especially - lead it. The horrific abuse of young people by Catholic priests, and the way it was covered up, refutes the claims of religion in many different ways. In particular, it challenges believers to justify theodicy (the "problem of evil"), as well as the Dostoievskian idea of religion as a bastion against the chaos of amorality. In contrast, for Barker and Loftus, the unravelling of their fundamentalist faiths was due to ideas: to the incoherence of religious dogma, and its incompatibility with science and reason.

Both Loftus and Barker were preachers. There are many distinct aspects to being a preacher: the performance artist, leading a collective act of worship; the scribe and teacher, explaining and interpreting the texts and practices of the faith; and the counsellor and confessor. All of these roles have roots in the shamanic and magical. As a believer, Barker was a performance artist, and he remains so in his newly found unbelief. He encourages the closeted skeptic, and fights fiercely for the rights of the non-religious. Loftus is a scribe: the apologist, the teacher. He was the defender of faith against its critics, and with the detailed knowledge that he acquired in this role, he has become the sharpest critic of religious apology.. Each of their books reflects the way that they interpreted the role of preacher.

Both Barker and Loftus seek to encourage those who seek affirmation of their skepticism or unbelief. Barker concentrates on the emotional, the social: "you are not alone", "you are not a bad person". Loftus focuses on the ideas, the dogma: the Bible is riddled with inconsistencies, the supposedly biographical accounts in the New Testament are demonstrably fictitious, the attempts by contemporary theologians to construct a coherent interpretation of the contradictory mess are failures, and so forth. If you have read some of the authorities that Loftus cites - Mackie, Martin, et al - I would still recommend his book, because he pulls all of the threads together in a compact and accessible manner. If you are unfamiliar with the literature, Loftus may be all you need. (Add Hitchens for spice, of course!)

I recommend all three books.
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49 of 60 people found the following review helpful
on October 23, 2010
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I was a Christian for 26 years, two of which I was on staff with Young Life Ministries, after reading this book I willfully set my "faith" down. This book helped me realize that my God was a myth and that the Bible was indeed a product of man and not God. When doubting Christians ask me what one book they should read, I say without hesitation, Why I'm an Atheist by John Loftus. I currently have two of my Christian friends reading his book and they are stumpped.
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69 of 87 people found the following review helpful
on April 11, 2011
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I find many things to admire in this book. First, it attempts to be comprehensive -- something of a "Summa Atheologica" that offers one convenient stop for those questioning a certain brand of Christianity. Second, the author's sincerity and passion do not seem to cloud his honesty: unlike a few other recent books by atheists, this one almost always fairly and thoroughly presents the positions it aims to refute. And the notes and sources have surely pointed me to other books I wish to explore, and for that I am glad I came across this one.

Moreover, I sympathize with the author's claim that Christians, and especially students at Christian colleges (or in church-run apologetics programs), should read a book like this one and confront these kinds of issues and arguments. In particular, I think evangelicals need to seriously ponder what Loftus calls the religious diversity and dependency theses, as well as his "outsider test." I've found that would-be soul savers tend to fall off their script when I suggest to them that if we'd been born in North Africa rather than North America, most likely they'd be telling me about the glory of Allah rather than the mercy of Jesus.

But despite these strengths, I wouldn't recommend that this be the book that Christians read for the sake of that confrontation.

First, it's mistitled. It should be titled, "Why I am No Longer a Conservative Evangelical," or even more pointedly, "Why I Remain No Longer a Conservative Evangelical." Loftus' arguments are almost entirely with that set, which is one of the few that has any investment in the apologetics he aims to refute. Roman Catholic, Liberal Protestant and Eastern Orthodox believers I've met would be entirely unfazed by this presentation: their faith traditions long ago shed things like inerrancy and historicity. (I would add that I've yet to meet a Hindu worried about the historicity of the Mahabarata -- they, along with Buddhists and Taoists have different bases for their beliefs not comprehended in this book.)

Second, the book needs more memoir and less argument. Loftus' chapter about his own life is entirely too brief and underdeveloped. "Why" people convert or "deconvert" (now the popular term, I take it) is more a matter of heart than of head. That is, people "come to Jesus" or leave him -- that is, change their core commitments -- more as a consequence of trauma or a series of significant emotional events than they do from rational argument. Apologetics or rationalization follows to intellectually justify the consequent new commitments. If Loftus is interested in making more converts to his fold, he might be more effective by laying out his personal narrative and crises in greater detail (as William Lobdell does in "Losing My Religion," which I found compelling).

Third, this book really offers little that is new -- at least to me. Much of Loftus' criticism of the Bible, such as the problems of pseudonymity, barbarity, and superstition, I learned from reading "The Jerusalem Bible" when I was taking a "Bible as Literature" class in a public high school in 1973. The commentators readily owned up to all of these features of scripture (evident on first reading), but argued that there remained a spiritual sense to these texts that could be gleaned from reading them in cultural and historical context. Further, Loftus' arguments against natural theology don't go beyond what I learned in the Introduction to Philosophy Course I took in college back in 1977 (a course I now occasionally teach, as well, and I cover the same material).

I could still recommend this book as a fair introduction to why one might not wish to become or remain a conservative evangelical were it not for one additional problem: the book is not well written (and at a few points, is poorly written). While reading the book, I vacillated between giving it a three or a two-star review, and the caliber of the prose made up my mind. This author (I will not call him a writer) has some annoying tendencies. The most grievous, I think, is the practice of paragraphs that largely consist of quotations from other writers with very little context or connection. The result is that many pages of this book present a cacophony of voices that escape the control of the authorial voice. Loftus also has a penchant for frequent cheap typographical tricks like using all capital letters, boldface, or italics to create emphasis, all (like the many exclamation points littering each chapter) crutches for someone who doesn't know how to achieve the desired effect by writing a graceful sentence. And the many points where Loftus tries to make his point through strings of pseudo-rhetorical questions were just plain tedious. Before I was a quarter of the way through this tome, I was begging for one elegant turn of phrase, one bit of charm or wit, one striking sentence, some bon mot. Sadly, it never came.

A better editor probably could have cut 40 pages from this book by trimming these excesses (among other things).

This isn't a bad book; it's just not a particularly good one. The jacket blurbs that hype this book badly overstate its value. Indeed, if John Loftus is the "Tiger Woods" of atheism, as one blurb puts it, the sport is in trouble.

But he's not, and it isn't. I'd suggest Christians confront these issues through the works of Michael Schermer, another evangelical turned atheist, who is a more engaging (and concise) writer. For a more vivid and striking account of deconversion, I'd suggest Lobdell's memoir, mentioned above. And for a wider view of the world of religious belief, I'd suggest the works of Stephen Prothero.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
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As hard as it is to write an objective review of a religious work, I must do so now; this is a hugely important work, and one I feel that all people--not just Christians--need to see.

John Loftus is an atheist who rejected Christianity. Often, those who walk away from that faith are regarded as "not real Christians." They didn't do SOMETHING right. These deniers couldn't possibly have left because of some flaw in the message, so therefore they had to have left due to some flaw in themselves. It's an irritating ego defense that non-Christians hear often nowadays. Loftus puts the lie to the "No True Scotsman" fallacy here by demonstrating that he was indeed a very dedicated and real Christian--and still made the painful decision to walk away from it. Then he walks the reader through his reasoning. The message is very flawed, it turns out.

Loftus, unlike many apologists, cites his sources as he discusses the history of the faith, extensively tracks down the Bible's sources and how it was created, and relentlessly drives home point after point. I could spot no crack in his arguments. One very small example out of thousands: his discussion of the zombie uprising that supposedly occurred during Jesus' resurrection; why did nobody contemporaneous write a single word about it? Another: he speaks often of how people of other faiths are equally as convinced of their faith's superiority; this fact resonated with me.

He writes to a college-age reading level, but doesn't get into the real intricacies of logic. I hold a B.A. and am very well-read, and even so I had to re-read a few sections to understand what he was saying. But those who aren't educated in formal logic or rhetoric need not fear that this book will be way over their heads.

It's important to also note his "Outsider Test of Faith" holds up for just about everything, not just faith. I think Loftus could have gone further to apply the test to non-religious subjects. I also think it's worth noting that for Loftus, the choice appears to be either "Christian fundamentalism" or "atheism," forgetting that there are hundreds of other religions. It's a dichotomy that most people fall into, and it's not totally necessary.

I can't imagine someone being able to hold onto a faith of "milk" when this much "meat" is being presented. I think that what will emerge, for Christians, is a far more nuanced and balanced look at their religion, not necessarily their turning away completely as he did. This is a challenging book to read, but I really think that it's one that will spark discussion and inquiry, which are not bad things at all.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on December 1, 2009
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This is a good book that goes over a large number of arguments, in a relatively basic overview of each topic, with a large bibliography for those who wish to read more on a specific topic. I found myself disagreeing with the author on several points he made, however the book is written in such a way that I was able to understand his perspective, even if I didn't agree with it.

The book is definitely written at the level of a college textbook, so it might be a difficult or less enjoyable read for some. It is, however, a book that will make you think about the subjects he writes about.

To me, the one glaring omission is the lack of an index. A book of this type and size (over 400 pages!) would be much more useful as a reference if it was easier to refer back to the topics throughout the book. However, this omission should not preclude any person, atheist or theist, from reading this book.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on October 28, 2012
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This is an extremely useful book for anyone with an interest in the study of religion or theology. Loftus, who is trained as an Evangelical preacher and scholar, elegantly explains and deconstructs Evangelical apologetics. The book is nicely divided up by topic and argument for easy reference but it also is readable enough that you can just go straight through. It should be noted that the book is really only designed to address Evangelical arguments about the existence of God, so if your interest is something else, say Catholic theology, it would be less useful.

The arguments, both those Loftus makes and those he rebuts, are not always easy to understand, Loftus is right to suggest that the book is about an upper college level of difficulty. The only negative words I have about the text is that Loftus sometimes has more personnel reflections, these are useful so he isn't attacked ad hominem but can conflict with the academic tone of the work. I also felt that fonts and layout of the book looked a bit less professional than they could have, though I'm hard pressed to explain the exact reason behind this feeling.

I've recommend this book to several friends and classmates at divinity school and think it would be great to assign as a text in a religion course. Overall a necessary addition to the library of anyone with a scholarly interest in religion or anyone interested in current arguments about God's existence. I really hope that both theists and atheists read this because it certainly shows the current state of the debate and seeing that may prevent people from trotting out the same points again and again.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on April 21, 2012
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There are many other authors out there writing arguments against Christianity and religion; however, many of these authors are snide in their tone and make emotional arguments against religion and the Christian faith. John doesn't seem to go for the same "cheap shots" as I have seen in other books (e.g., the "flying spaghetti monster").

This book is not an emotional rant along the lines of "this is why Christians are fools" or "this is why religion is the source of all evil." While not unbiased, it does address the difficulties of Christianity in a way that is more sincere than I have seen in other books challenging the Christian faith. In other words, this wasn't written for entertainment value.

My only criticism (and the reason for 4 stars instead of 5) was that there were some cases where the book did not adequately acknowledge the stronger philosophical arguments for the Christian position on that issue.

I would recommend this for sincere, devoted Christians who are willing to face an honest challenge to his or her deeply held beliefs or convictions. It will either cause them to dig deeper into Christian apologetics (to find answers to John's challenges) and come up stronger or it will cause them to see the world differently.
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