What do I think of David McAfee’s book? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
I was told about this book a few days ago and decided to look and see what I could find out about it. I saw it wasn’t too much on Kindle and I had some Amazon credit so I decided to buy it. How would the author go about disproving Christianity? What I had read already indicated to me that McAfee could be a cut above many of the other atheists that are writing today so I was eager for a challenging case.
I’m still eager for one because I definitely did not find one here.
What I instead found was someone decrying fundamentalists and yet who is practically twice as fundamentalist as the opposition he wishes to go against. It’s another case of someone who thinks “I’ll sit down and read this book from another culture, time, place, and language, and assume that it is to be read exactly like a modern 21st century Westerner would read it and of course, since this is the so-called Word of God, there is no need to consult any works that are actually scholarly so all I’ll do is just quote what the Bible says and I don’t even need to have a bibliography in here then.”
In fact, McAfee’s whole case never comes close to disproving Christianity. At the most, he could have possibly disproven a literalistic version of inerrancy. He never gives an argument against the resurrection of Jesus. It is as if he has this mindset that if one contradiction can be shown to be found in Scripture, then we can safely say that the whole thing is false. I know people who do have this kind of mindset and as you can imagine, yes, we call them fundamentalists. I could grant that every contradiction claim that McAfee raises is valid and I could still say Christianity is true and do so very easily.
How does McAfee define Christianity at the start?
Christianity, for the purposes of this book, will be considered the organized belief system based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth and utilizing the Old and New Testaments of the Bible as the Literal Word of God.
And right there we have our first problem, as the literal word of God. What does literal actually mean? The real definition of literal is actually “According to the intent of the author.” What literal means today is what I prefer to use the term “literalistic” for. You read the text in a just straight-forward fashion and assume that what it means to you is just what the text means. In reality, this is really a rather post-modern way of reading the text. Unfortunately, McAfee will stick to this methodology. Oh he will talk about consulting Bible scholars, but he will never mention who they are and I suspect his definition of scholar is about as fluid as that of Ken Humphreys, which would be something akin to someone who can argue their case well and use the English language well.
McAfee also tells us that we do not have proof for many things, so that is where faith comes in instead of logic and reason. McAfee is off on many points here. To begin with, there are many things we do not have “proof” of, but most of us do not take them seriously. We would think it bizarre to believe otherwise in fact. I do not have proof that we are not living in a computer simulation. I do not take that claim seriously. I do not have proof that during the night I was transported to an alternate universe where everything is practically the same. It could have happened, but I do not think it did and I would be crazy to spend serious time today thinking about such a scenario. We do not need proof in many areas. We just need justifiable reasons to hold to a proposition and no justifiable reasons for doubting it.
Of course, faith is always a favorite. McAfee could have bothered to do about five minutes worth of research and studying what Christians really mean by faith, but hey, if you’re setting out to disprove Christianity, you don’t have time to do serious things like research. Just repeat the same tired old drivel that is always said. I, on the other hand, do have time for research. Let’s pull up a real scholarly resource and see what it says about faith.
“These terms refer to the value of reliability. The value is ascribed to persons as well as to objects and qualities. Relative to persons, faith is reliability in interpersonal relations: it thus takes on the value of enduring personal loyalty, of personal faithfulness. The nouns ‘faith’, ‘belief’, ‘fidelity’, ‘faithfulness,’ as well as the verbs ‘to have faith’ and ‘to believe,’ refers to the social glue that binds one person to another. This bond is the social, externally manifested, emotionally rooted behavior of loyalty, commitment, and solidarity. As a social bond, it works with the value of (personal and group) attachment (translated ‘love’) and the value of (personal and group) allegiance or trust (translated ‘hope.’) p. 72 Pilch and Malina Handbook of Biblical Social Values.
Now McAfee could answer that he hears Christians using faith the way he sees it used all the time. He would be right in that, but the misuse of a word does not count against its true use. After all, those same Christians who use it that way are prone to define atheists as wicked and godless people who live with no morality and only care about themselves. Of course, even atheists should say that not all atheists have been saints and some of them have been wicked people who only lived for themselves, but a misuse of this word that is common does not mean that that is what the word means and certainly not what the word meant to its original audience.
Now of course, McAfee must show us that
The Bible is meant to be taken as the literal word of a flawless Lord.
That is an important thing to demonstrate. So how does he do it? Watch and see as you are about to be amazed with a stunning display of Scriptural interpretation.
John 10:35 If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken—
2 Peter 1:21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
Revelation 22:19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.
Well geez. That should settle it. You should all realize by these verses here that the only way to read the Bible is in a literalistic sense.
That is, unless you actually read the verses and really think about what they argue.
What does the first have to say? It says Scripture cannot be broken. It says nothing about how to read it. In fact, there were plenty of ways to read the text in the time period of Jesus. There were plenty of ways to read the text afterwards. You think someone like Origen would have accepted that we are to read the text in a literal sense every time? Of course not.
We see the same with 2 Peter. All it tells us is that Scripture came from God. It wasn’t just people making things up. Note also that both of these passages would apply to the Old Testament, although you could argue that Peter might have included the Pauline writings in there. One would think that McAfee would have gone with the classic use of 2 Tim. 3:15-16, though even that passage does not give any indication as to how the text is to be read. Also, keep in mind that contrary to what McAfee thinks, Christianity does not stand or fall on inerrancy. I can point McAfee to several devout Christians who are orthodox in their doctrine and do not hold to inerrancy.
And as for Revelation, McAfee thinks that this applies to the whole of the Bible. While one could argue that, I think that just as compelling a case can be made that John is writing about only the book of Revelation. Again, the point is that all McAfee has shown is that the Bible does claim to be from God. What he has not shown is that it is to be taken in a literalistic sense and the evidence we have of the time period shows that it was not. Now McAfee could say he doesn’t go by extra-biblical information, but if that is the case, then first off, he is confirming that he is a fundamentalist again, and second, why is he writing this book then? Is this book not extra-biblical information?
To see a bad argument like that above is incredibly ironic when you see a statement like this later on in the book.
“For an idea as important as religion, it is a shame that Americans (and people around the world) simply take what they are taught from family at face value as opposed to studying, questioning, and learning about multiple religious traditions in order to make an informed decision regarding how, if at all, these organized belief systems will play a role in their own lives. I often ask Christians who received their religious ideologies from family whether or not they acknowledge the statistical assumption that if they had been born in, say, India—to Indian parents—for example, they would probably be affiliated with a denomination of Hinduism instead of the Christian tradition which they now consider to be the absolute Truth, though they would likely hold these religious beliefs with equal or rivaled fervor”
Well Mr. McAfee, I am not one of these Christians. I have read the holy texts of other religions and regularly read books that disagree with me. I interact on a regular basis with atheists and other non-Christians. So far, I haven’t seen anything that really shakes me and judging by the quality of your book, it looks like the atheist side is getting even worse in its argumentation, which is really what I expect. If you just start off with the assumption that you are rational and logical and the rest of the world is not, then you really don’t think you need to do much research in the area of religion.
Not too long after writing something like that, McAfee shows he has not followed his own advice by saying
Morals do exist outside of organized religion, and the “morality” taught by many of these archaic systems is often outdated, sexist, racist, and teaches intolerance and inequality. When a parent forces a child into a religion, the parent is effectively handicapping his or her own offspring by limiting the abilities of the child to question the world around him or her and make informed decisions.
Had McAfee done the study that he talked about, he would have known this is not a biblical position. I do read many Biblical scholars. I do not know one who argues this position. In fact, most Christians today accept some form of Natural Law theory from what I see. Has McAfee ever read J. Budziszewski? Has he ever read R. Scott Smith? These are the Christian scholars in the field to be interacting with and that’s just a start. There are several several more? Or, is McAfee content with taking on the weakest version of his opponent that he can find and thinking that he has defeated the strongest?
Furthermore, all parents are going to raise up their children to believe some things. This is inevitable. I could just as well say atheists are prone to raise their children to think religion is something that only foolish people believe and that they expect better from their children and thus, the children will not grow up questioning atheism. I do not doubt some atheists do this, but I suspect not all would. I have no problem with atheist parents raising their children up and teaching them atheism. I have no problem with Muslim parents raising their children up to believe in Islam. If you believe something is really true, you should want to pass it on to your children. At the same time, let them research. Let them question. That is the best way to learn.
But of course, McAfee just sees this all through a fundamentalist mindset.
Now we go to Christianity in America where he says “The Constitution also guarantees the freedom to be governed by a secular political system, commonly known as the separation of church and state. This simply means that our government should be free of religious influences in order to avoid a nation oppressed by a religious majority much like the one that our Constitution’s framers had escaped.
I had no idea this was in the Constitution!
It’s so incredible. I mean, I just went and looked at the Constitution itself. I did a search for the words separation and didn’t find it. I looked for church and didn’t find it. Religion only shows up when it talks about the freedom of religion. I could have sworn that it came really from a letter that Jefferson wrote to the Danbury Baptist Church
and that in this letter, what was really meant was that no one would be forced to belong to any church to be a citizen of the United States and the government could not force anyone to be of a particular religion. I never thought it meant that there should be nothing religious in government, especially since so many of our founding fathers were Christian. I also was sure Jefferson still had a worship service in the White House the following Sunday and that Congress was still opened with prayer, but hey, McAfee says this is in the Constitution and the government is to be free of religion, so who am I to question?
McAfee also argues that many of the early settlers sought to destroy any of the Indians who refused to convert because they had to fulfill their God-given destiny. Is this possible? Could be. I do not doubt horrible things were done to the Indians, but McAfee needs to show this. He has given no documentation of this whatsoever. He has cited no scholars of history. Again, I am not saying that he is wrong, because that is not the area that I study principally, but if he wants me to think that he is right, he needs to give some research from a bona fide historian, and not a fellow new atheist who has no credentials in the field.
Of course, there is also the complaint about homosexuality as if to say that the only reason we have for opposing homosexual behavior and redefining marriage is because of Scripture. There is no interaction with the fact that there are other reasons to be opposed. Of course, you could say that these reasons are wrong and you could say the motivations are really just “The Bible says so”, but that does not make the arguments go away.
The same follows with abortion. McAfee says that it is the right of a woman to choose to terminate a pregnancy while in a nonviable state, which he defines as not capable of living, growing, or functioning successfully.) Where does he get this definition? Right here.
Yes. McAfee couldn’t even be bothered apparently to go directly to the page itself where that definition is.
I am one who is willing to look. What do I find?
1: capable of living ; especially : having attained such form and development as to be normally capable of living outside the uterus—often used of a human fetus at seven months but may be interpreted according to the state of the art of medicine 2: capable of growing or developing
Okay. So my question is what is it about being viable that makes what is in the womb suddenly a human person? If we’re talking about able to survive on their own outside the womb, then by that standard infants and toddlers would not be viable. Should we think then that McAfee would support infanticide? Obviously not, though with atheists like Peter Singer out there, you have to wonder how far away that is. Think I’m making this kind of stuff up? Not at all. There are people out there who are defending an after-birth abortion idea. If McAfee thinks this is all religious indoctrination, then what is he going to do with the groups that are secular and pro-life, like the secular pro-life alliance?
McAfee also talks about extremist religionists. He says women have been killed, abortion clinics bombed, doctors attacked, and women denied medical care for having had an abortion. He goes on to say
This act of Christian terrorism is the same terrorism that we have been fighting against in the Middle East, but it is taking shape as a result of interpretation of Christian Scriptures, not Muslim texts.
Ah yes. We all know there is a wave of Christian terrorism going on in this country. One major difference is that Christian leaders and others normally universally decry these kinds of attacks on doctors and clinics and believe in showing grace to women who have had abortions. Women could easily plan on having a march down the street to raise what they consider to be awareness for abortion rights. Do you think they’d be as willing to do that in Saudi Arabia? Muslims are killing us because we do not accept their religion. That McAfee thinks these are exactly the same just shows how out of touch with reality he is.
McAfee also spends a lot of time arguing against the idea of eternal damnation. He has indeed a fundamentalist view of this as he goes to John 14:6 to argue his case.
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
Now before we get to the main point here, we must speak to yet another howler in this book.
“This verse is, however, only one of the many indicating the necessity not of moral behavior to be saved, but of accepting Jesus Christ—who, according to doctrine, is supposed to have lived thousands of years ago and for whose existence we have little to evidence, neither as a man nor as part of the divine Christian God-head”
If you want to really show that you should not be taken seriously in the world of New Testament scholarship, one of the best ways to do so is to claim Jesus never even existed. McAfee should realize he’s going against 99.9% of the scholars in the field. Now that does not mean that they are right, but it means you’d better have some strong evidence to make a claim like this. Of course, McAfee could say “Well of course they accept that. Most of them are Christians.” Really? Go to a meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature. You’ll find more than enough non-Christian scholars there. This is a group that elected John Dominic Crossan as their president in 2012. That’s the Crossan of the Jesus Seminar, hardly a friend of orthodox Christianity in any sense of the word. Does that sound like an evangelical or fundamentalist group to do that?
And no, saying the name of Richard Carrier does not answer the claim either. In fact, a search of his name at SBL still turns up nothing. He is not being talked about. He is not taken seriously at all. He does not teach at any accredited university. He is not recognized by the leading scholars in the field and there’s a reason for that. We might as well ask if McAfee thinks vaccines lead to autism.
But to get back to the verse cited, it does not mean what McAfee thinks it means. All we gather is that it is only by the authority of Jesus that anyone makes it into the presence of the Father. It does not mean an explicit knowledge of Jesus. Neither would a text like Acts 4:12 mean that. All that says is the name of Jesus is the one by which we are saved. By this, it does not mean a phonetic understanding, but authority. Simply put, no one will be able to come to God apart from the authority of Jesus.
Do we have examples of people who are said to be saved and yet do not know who Jesus is? Yes! We have a slew of them!
They’re called “Old Testament saints.”
These people were saved by the light that they had and living in accordance with that. Now why should I think it will be different for those who have never heard? It is as if McAfee is totally unaware that this is a doctrine of debate within Christian circles. Many of us do hold to a position that those who have never heard can be saved by living in accordance with the true light they can get from general revelation. We in fact see this in Revelation 7 where there is a great multitude from all over the Earth of every people group that there is. In light of this, much of McAfee’s complaining on this topic evaporates.
In this section, McAfee also argues that according to Christian doctrine, it is impossible to be moral without Jesus Christ. I would very much like to know where this is said. Now we would say no one can be righteous apart from Christ, but that is not the same as saying that no one can be moral. It’s almost as if McAfee decided to go to the most fundamentalist church that he could, just asked them what they believed, and then walked away saying “Well this must be Christian dogma. This is just what all Christians believe.” If he didn’t, then why does he not cite where these opinions are stated?
It’s also important to state that this says nothing about the importance of right living. All Christians agree that right living is important, but to judge that way could easily be arbitrary. God sets the standard Biblically as perfection, which is non-arbitrary. Peter Kreeft in The God Who Loves You suggests we consider what the alternative would be. What if God set up a point system. You have to have 1,000 points. All good actions you do gave you a certain amount of points depending on the action. All bad actions you did cost you some depending on the action. Would this not be totally arbitrary?
Instead, faith in Jesus is a way of saying you can’t measure up and you accept what God already did for you. Your works then determine how you will enjoy God in the life to come and your place in the full realization of the Kingdom. If you do not have that, God has one way to judge you. He judges you by your works. They have to be perfect. For those who have never heard, He will judge fairly. God knows how they would have responded had they heard and the way that their hearts were going. If McAfee wants to argue against the Christian concept, he must accept that the Christian concept is that God is fair in all that He does. It will not do to just assert that God is not fair. If God judges fairly, then there is nothing to complain about.
Of course, there is the idea of the problem of evil and for this, McAfee goes to the problem of natural disasters. Once again, McAfee seems happily oblivious to the fact that some scholars have written on this topic from the Christian perspective and even most atheist philosophers will tell you there is no logical contradiction between God and evil. Of course, they still think there is a problem of evil, but it is not in the same way. I have my own ebook on this topic that is a debate between myself and an atheist. Of course, I am not saying I am a scholar. For that, I can point to others such as looking at the book God and Evil or looking at Plantinga’s work on the case that was said to defeat the logical problem of evil. He could also consider the interviews I’ve done with people like David Wood, Greg Ganssle, and Clay Jones.
In fact, McAfee argues that God causes these disasters. Where does he go? Nahum 1:3-6
The Lord is slow to anger and great in power,
and the Lord will by no means clear the guilty.
His way is in whirlwind and storm,
and the clouds are the dust of his feet.
4 He rebukes the sea and makes it dry;
he dries up all the rivers;
Bashan and Carmel wither;
the bloom of Lebanon withers.
5 The mountains quake before him;
the hills melt;
the earth heaves before him,
the world and all who dwell in it.
6 Who can stand before his indignation?
Who can endure the heat of his anger?
His wrath is poured out like fire,
and the rocks are broken into pieces by him.
It’s hard to see that McAfee misses the apocalyptic language. Can God do these things? Yes. Does that mean God is the direct cause of all of them? No. McAfee does assure us that this is not a radical interpretation. Some of the most well-known Christian evangelists hold this to be the case! Of course, McAfee does not name who these evangelists are and if I should take them seriously as scholars in the field or not. He also says that they blame disasters like Hurricane Katrina on the sinfulness of the people living there. Oh sure, there were Christians saying this, but most scholars in the field who are Christians would not be. Unfortunately, media tends to cover the loud mouths the most.
Returning to the after-death, McAfee raises the question of what if two people cannot be happy without one another in Paradise? How can one be happy while knowing the other is burning in Hell? Again, this shows us that McAfee has not bothered to read Christian scholars. You could probably count on one hand among scholars the number who hold to a literal burning hell (Of course, a fundamentalist like McAfee will). Besides that, anyone who says they can only be truly happy with someone else there with them is practicing a form of idolatry. I certainly would hope that I get to spend eternity with my own wife, but I must realize the joy of being in the presence of God is far greater than being in her presence, and her absence could not overpower the joy of His presence. She would say the same about me.
McAfee also argues that God caused the death of His Son by making the Romans do the crime. Again, it is as if McAfee has read nothing on debates on free-will. I have no problem saying that God knew what the Romans would freely do to His Son and chose to use that. Also, any of them could have repented for their actions later on and received forgiveness. We know that in Scripture, a number of priests and Pharisees did in fact become Christians.
In looking at the origins argument. He has a Christian asking where the universe came from if not a creator. When asked why it had to come from somewhere, the Christian says “Everything has to come from something.” When asked where God came from, the Christian replies He didn’t come from anything. He just always was. The answer then is not everything comes from something so maybe the universe always was.
Could McAfee or any atheist please point me to the Christian scholar who is arguing that everything has to have a cause? I don’t know any framer a cosmological argument who treats it that way.
Also, I would be just fine with an eternal universe. What I want to know is not if the universe came to be, but rather how the universe is existing right now. Is it the cause of its own existing? That is the case in classical Christian theology of God. God has the principle of His existing in Himself because existence is His very nature. He is what it means to be. An eternal universe would not be a problem. Consider the case of having a man who has existed eternally in the same spot. He is standing in front of a mirror that has existed eternally. The mirror has eternally reflected the man’s image. Is the image in the mirror both caused and eternal? Yes.
Naturally, we have the look at the age of the Earth. Once again, you would think that McAfee has never read an authority in the field. He just accepts that the text has to say that the Earth is young. There is no interaction with Hugh Ross. There is no interaction with my personal favorite interpretation, that of John Walton. (Listen also to my interview with Walton here.) It’s for reasons like this that when I read arguments like that of McAfee, I just get further confirmation that atheists don’t really do research when they study religion. This despite the claim that McAfee says Biblical scholars and fundamentalist churches both say the Bible gives an estimation of between 6-7,000 years since Earth’s creation. (Never mind that this sentence seems to be phrased terribly in the book.) Really though? What Biblical scholars? Could he please name them? The vast majority I know of hold to an old Earth.
And naturally, there is the argument of why won’t God heal amputees. One reason that this doesn’t happen as often is that frankly, this is not life-threatening. It’s not pleasant I’m sure, but most of us can go on to live easily enough. Second, does McAfee know that this has never happened? Has he examined every case, or has he more likely just dismissed them? Has he interacted with a work like Craig Keener’s Miracles? (Again, my interview with him here. Has he demonstrated that this has never happened? Even supposing that it hasn’t, has he demonstrated that because of this miracles never happen? Not at all.
We finally get into contradictions. To begin with, McAfee speaks of a text that has been edited for thousands of years. It would be nice to see some scholarly citation of this. I suspect all he could point to is Bart Ehrman. Well Mr. McAfee, if you think Ehrman says this, then let me show you some quotes of his.
20. A lot of textual scholars have fretted about this as if it were a problem. The concern seems to be that if we can’t radically modify the original text, we have no business engaging in this line of work. This view strikes me personally as completely bogus. We can still make small adjustments in the text in places–change the position of an adverb here, add an article there–we can still dispute the well known textual problems on which we’re never going to be agreed, piling up the evidence as we will. But the reality is that we are unlikely to discover radically new problems or devise radically new solutions; at this stage, our work on the original amounts to little more than tinkering. There’s something about historical scholarship that refuses to concede that a major task has been accomplished, but there it is.
In spite of these remarkable [textual] differences, scholars are convinced that we can reconstruct the original words of the New Testament with reasonable (although probably not 100 percent) accuracy. Bart Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 481.
But hey, fundamentalist atheists have to have their myths.
Of course, we have one of my favorites. Jesus false predicts his own return. After some brief discussion McAfee says
There is no known resolution for this false prophecy put forth by Jesus.
Why yes, yes there is. It’s a simple one. It’s called orthodox Preterism. Jesus was not predicting his return or a rapture. The apostles asked Him about the sign of His coming. They had no concept of Him even leaving. Why would they think something about Him returning? They were asking about the sign of Him taking His throne. They knew the destruction of the temple would mean that a new thing was going to be taking place. Jesus spoke in the language of Old Testament destruction. McAfee could get some information on this if he actually read a book on the topic such as Gary DeMar’s Last Days Madness Keep saying there’s no resolution to it McAfee. Those of us who have studied the topic and written about it (See here and here for this are just laughing our heads off at this point.
We then come to the Genesis 6 passage that says that God is limiting man to 120 years. McAfee says most Biblical scholars agree that the Lord is limiting lifespan to 120 years. Really? Most? Who are they? Could you not name one? McAfee acts as if finding one person who goes beyond this disproves the text. First off, if McAfee’s interpretation was correct, this would be an approximation. It’s a generality. Second, I do not think it is even correct. I think God is saying there is 120 years before the flood (Oh by the way McAfee, had you read those scholars like I have suggested, you would know many of us think the flood was not a global flood but a local one). After all, the writer of Genesis has long life spans even after the flood. You can say he was wrong, but don’t make him an idiot. He then thinks this whole thing has to be a contradiction since the Bible also says that we are given 70 years in Psalm 90, perhaps 80 if we have the strength. Again, this is a generality. It is not a fault against Scripture if we live longer lives now because of better conditions.
McAfee also reads literally the statements about God’s feelings in the Bible. (What a shock. A literal reading of the text) Myself and others see this as anthropomorphisms. God is being described in ways that we can understand. I do not believe God literally has feelings that change since God does not change according to Scripture and according to the Thomistic metaphysics that I hold to. McAfee also thinks a perfect God should only create perfection, but why? Perfection is a difficult term. Only God is truly and absolutely perfect and He could not create a being like Himself because such a being would have to be eternal and uncreated. Again, McAfee has not interacted with any real scholarship on the issue.
McAfee also asks if God is a warrior or a God of peace? He’s described as both. Indeed He is! What’s the contradiction? One reason we can go to war is to get peace after all. There are people who are opposed to peace and using force to get their own way on their victims. We go to war against them so the innocents can live in peace. Suppose someone breaks into my house and is attacking my wife. This person has violated our peace. I pull out a gun, shoot, and kill him. You know what? I have taken a violent action, but the peace has been restored by eliminating the ones that violate the peace. Of course, if he has objections about God and supposed genocide, he is again free to go to scholarly works on the topic.
When speaking about the virgin birth, he asks why it is only in Matthew and Luke when it was extremely important to later Christian teaching. So extremely important that for some reason it’s not mentioned in the epistles or Revelation. Of course, I do think it is important, but the central focus was resurrection. So why would others not mention it? Mark is giving the eyewitness account of Peter. Peter did not witness the virgin birth. (And to be technical, it’s not a virgin birth but a virgin conception.) Also, this teaching would have been something shameful to mention. Mary would have been seen as having a child out of wedlock and Jesus would be seen as an illegitimate child. One would hardly make up the claim of a miracle to avoid that. That would be implicating God. This is the kind of stuff a good Jew does not make up, and we have every indication Joseph and Mary were good and devout Jews. Again, there were scholarly works available to McAfee such as Ben Witherington and David Instone-Brewer.
McAfee also argues that Adam and Eve were the only two people on Earth, though there are again evangelicals that would disagree with this, such as Walton and N.T. Wright. He also says that Lot and his family were blessed despite the behavior of Lot’s daughters. I do not know of any further mention of Lot’s daughters. First off, to say Lot was righteous does not mean he lived a perfect life. Many great heroes made mistakes. It could have meant that, but it does not necessitate it. Second, there is no sign of blessing on Lot’s daughters. Their action is described but not prescribed. In fact, the children they gave birth to went on to for the most part be enemies of Israel.
McAfee also claims that Jesus being fully God and fully human is a contradiction. We are not told how but hey, let’s just take it on faith. He also says that many times Jesus separates himself and points us to Mark 10:18 with Jesus answering a rich man with “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” What McAfee does not realize is that in Jesus’s day, a compliment like that was often a trap. To take it would be seen as stealing honor for oneself. Jesus instead deflects the charge by pointing it to God and at the same time does not deny it for He is saying “You are saying I am good. Yet in your view, only God is good. Are you willing to put me on that level or not?”
We cannot go through every contradiction that McAfee cites, but we can look at a few. McAfee tells us that James says God does not tempt anyone, but God did tempt Abraham. No. God tested Abraham and there is a difference. He gave Abraham a choice as to how he wanted to go. Again, there is no real interaction with any writing on this topic. For all we know, all McAfee did was visit Wikipedia pages.
Jeremiah 3:12 says the following:
Go, and proclaim these words toward the north, and say,
“‘Return, faithless Israel,
declares the Lord.
I will not look on you in anger,
for I am merciful,
declares the Lord;
I will not be angry forever.
And 17:4 says
You shall loosen your hand from your heritage that I gave to you, and I will make you serve your enemies in a land that you do not know, for in my anger a fire is kindled that shall burn forever.”
Never mind that Jeremiah 3 gives a conditional based on repentance. Also, McAfee is still in his fundamentalist reading. Forever in this case is a hyperbolic statement meant to show the seriousness of the offense. Jews specialized in using hyperbole after all.
Can man see God? Again, the supposed contradictory verses are given, but no real interaction. McAfee never cites Biblical scholars. He never considers the text is talking about seeing God fully in His essence as He is. Myself and numerous others would say only Jesus has seen that, and all others got to see something else. For many of us, it was a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus.
What about who the father of Joseph was? There were at least four different options the early church had to resolve this. McAfee does not argue with them. My thinking is one of the genealogies is the genealogy of Mary and the other that of Joseph. Would the son born to them be called Emmanuel? Matthew is saying Jesus is a picture of God with us, which is also how the book of Matthew ends, meaning Jesus’s life is God with us. I’m also one who does not see the Isaiah account as a prophecy of Jesus per se, but one that was re-enacted by God in the life of Jesus in a greater and more powerful way.
What about the giants, the Nephiim, described in Numbers 13:33. Were they not destroyed in the flood in Genesis 6 since they were mentioned before that? It’s simply a comparative statement. Moses is saying that the people were saying the people seemed quite large.
Was the new covenant delivered through a mediator? Galatians 3 says so, but there is no mention of that in Exodus. Of course, McAfee is still a fundamentalist who seems blissfully unaware of the thinking at the time in Second Temple Judaism on passages like that in Exodus. McAfee says this has been studied extensively by Biblical historians and remains a mystery. Who are these historians? We are not told. The mediator is quite simply Moses. There is no contradiction in the text just because one does not mention angels.
He also argues that Judges 1:19 and the iron chariots shows that God is not all-powerful. This is not so. The problem was that the people were not faithful to go and fight because of those chariots and so God would not drive them out. McAfee thinks this shows the powerlessness of God and even includes Genesis 11 as an example since God has to go down and investigate the Tower of Babel. McAfee misses that this is a joke. The people are said to be building a tower so they can reach up to Heaven. This tower is so unimpressive though that God is said to “look down” so that He can see it. It’s nowhere near the glory of God. The language is that of a joke. “Oh sure. Let’s go down and see what those silly people are up to now. Isn’t it just cute?”
And of course, there’s mention again that the text has been substantially altered from its original state. Again, no evidence, just a statement of faith. (This must be learned about fundamentalist atheists. They are great people of faith. They will believe anything they read that is negative about the Bible without doing any of the necessary research or if they do read something, it is only what already agrees with them. Fundamentalists like to stay in a bubble after all.)
What about babies born with disabilities in connection with Exodus 4:10-11? McAfee assures us he has talked with many Biblical scholars on this. Many claim that this is the work of the devil that causes children to be born with disability. Can God create people blind and deaf and undo that as well? Yes. Why are some allowed to be blind and deaf? Jesus gives an example in John 9 where it is for God’s glory to be shown in their lives. God often uses the disabled community to remind us all of the things in life that are extremely special. I know this talking to many parents who have severely disabled children.
Naturally, there is the story of Elisha and the bears. There is no mention that bears in the area would not have been moving that fast which shows these kids were trying to fight back against the bears seeing as forty-two were killed. There is no mention that these were likely not small children, but more young adults who were a sizable threat since there were at least forty-three of them there. There is also more than just mockery going on here. These boys represent rebellion against God and are telling Elisha to go ahead and disappear to. They want nothing to do with him and his message and essentially want to see him dead. McAfee knows none of this. It’s too bad those many Bible scholars he claims to have talked to couldn’t have told him anything about this. Of course, he could have bothered to do some research and read commentaries and such but hey, if you’re a fundamentalist, you just don’t do that.
Slavery comes up as well. There is no interaction with Ancient Near East studies on this. You will not find it explained that in Exodus, the slaves were just undergoing discipline. Slavery was largely voluntary as people had to bring in a living somehow and the owner was to be given the benefit of the doubt. Any serious injury resulted in the slave’s freedom which meant loss of income for the owner and loss of future income as his honor would have been tarnished and who wants to work for an employer like that?
Of course, there are the spoils of war described in Numbers 31:17-18. For these men who were supposedly obviously just keeping these women for sex, there is no acknowledgment that they had to have a week of purification. There is no acknowledgment that in Deuteronomy a woman was to grieve for a month over her family before being fully a wife. McAfee says they were captured for sex, but the text does not say that. Perhaps McAfee is just reading a view of women he holds into the text. Well if it’s not sex, then why spare the virgins? Because the virgins would not have been guilty of seducing Israelite men in Numbers 25. They would be spared because they were innocent.
It’s odd really. When no one is spared, God is mean and evil. When people are spared, God is still mean and evil. Heads, the atheists win. Tails, the theists lose.
We have also the story of the rich young man who is told that he must sell all he has and give to the poor. McAfee takes this as a command for all Christians for all times. It is not. It is just for this man who had an idol of wealth. We know this because Jesus regularly traveled with rich people who were his patrons and supported him. Every traveling rabbi had to have supporters like that. Jesus does not condemn wealth. He condemns wealth having us.
Sabbath breaking has to come up. McAfee shows no awareness of the great debates at the start of early Christianity. In reality, all sides in leadership would agree Gentiles did not have to become Jews completely, but at the same time James was not wanting to have zero connection with Judaism or make it that someone was looked down on for observing the Law. Since the theocratic nation of Israel was not in the same state, Gentiles were free to not observe the Sabbath. They were not under the Law to begin with. McAfee shows no interaction with these kinds of complex ideas and the view between the Old Testament Law and the New Testament situation. Once again, this is because he is a fundamentalist.
When we get to the story of the resurrection of the men in the valley of dry bones in Ezekiel 37, what is the commentary by McAfee? “This is considered to be an extremely absurd and radical idea to say the least.”
Well I guess that settles it. Yeah. We get by your worldview that miracles are absurd, but that is the very aspect under question. Should we embrace your worldview? It’s saying “You should embrace my worldview because your worldview has things my worldview considers absurd.” Okay. Well in my worldview, a universe existing by its own power is absurd. Therefore, McAfee should become a classical theist.
McAfee also goes to Luke 14:26 where Jesus says you must hate your own family to be His disciple. He says Jesus praises ignorance and separateness throughout the text. We are told even the most liberal Christian scholars cannot disagree with this fact. Who are these scholars? Again, we do not know. McAfee misses that Jesus is again engaging in hyperbole. He is saying you must be willing to forsake everything if you are to be a disciple of Jesus. You may not have to, but you must be willing. This is because the Kingdom of God is coming in Jesus and your relation to Him determines your place in the Kingdom.
He also writes about God’s condemnation of eating shellfish in Levitical Law and says “homosexuality is also said to be an abomination.” Homosexuality is part of the moral law and in fact repeated in the OT. Dietary laws are part of ritual law and not repeated in the NT. The passages on homosexuality show the nations around them were being judged for their wrong sexual practices. The other nations are never judged for dietary laws or for the Sabbath or anything like that. What’s worse is this is really simply bigotry on McAfee’s part. It is making fun of cultures that do have purity laws, without realizing that McAfee himself I’m sure has several. Does he ever use hand sanitizer? Would he be fine with me coming to his house and writing on his walls with permanent marker even though it would not carry and disease whatsoever? Perhaps McAfee should broaden his horizons and go to other cultures where ritual purity is taken seriously.
McAfee also writes about the women keeping silent in 1 Cor. 14. What he does not mention is that there is some evidence first off that this is an interpolation. Second, if not, Paul is likely quoting a saying the Corinthians themselves have. Paul has already spoken in 1 Cor. 11 about a woman prophesying in the church so he has no problem with women speaking. He also had Phoebe deliver a letter in Romans and quite likely, she was the one then to read that letter. McAfee could have done what I did and actually talk to a Biblical scholar on this passage, such as my interview with Lynn Cohick on Jesus and Women. (Please note this McAfee. I not only talk to the scholars. I also present evidence that I have done so. I can also cite scholars. Maybe you should try it sometime.)
McAfee concludes this section by speaking of the Bible having very little historical evidence, without any interaction with writers like Blomberg, (and here as well), Bauckham, Evans, (and here as well), Boyd and Eddy, Hemer, or Keener. After all of this, he has the gall to say we must properly understand Christianity with:
in the case of Christianity, this consists of a strong knowledge of Christian history, modern teachings, and biblical lessons in context — which many Christians lack.
Those who can’t do, teach apparently.
In later writings in the book, he says he finds great comfort in having his view based on science and not faith. Again, no interaction with Christian scientists and a misunderstanding that borders at least on scientism.
He also asks why you’d claim to be a follower of
an outdated tradition that you do not understand
All that I ask is that you question the beliefs that were (most likely) implanted in your mind as a young child and hopefully research your so-called holy texts.
Well I have done that and dare I say I’ve done it a lot longer than you have and I would simply encourage you to do the same. As many have said, if you wrote something like this for a school, it would fail immediately due to a lack of a bibliography and lack of interaction with sources.
He also says amusingly that atheists should understand the Bible. Indeed, they should, but it would be nice if McAfee would lead by example. In that same section, he says the great flaw of all of these systems is faith, which is simply ignorance. Well if faith is ignorance, which we have shown it isn’t, it is hard to imagine someone having more faith than McAfee. Yet at the end of this, he describes himself as a religious studies scholar. Okay. McAfee, please show me what peer-reviewed works you’ve written at the field. Please show me your credentials in the field. Please show me the institution that has hired you as a professor of religious studies. Now you can say “But you are not peer-reviewed and not teaching in the field and you don’t have a Ph.D. at this point. Indeed! But I never claimed to be a scholar either and deny the claim when it is said of me. You have not done that.
There is also a section on Christianity and war. You will find the claims about the Crusades and the KKK and that Hitler was a Christian as well. For the Crusades, we await eagerly to see if McAfee has bothered to interact with someone like Thomas Madden. Does he not realize the Crusades were for the most part defensive wars after 400+ years of Muslim aggression? We also wonder why we should accept the KKK as representing orthodox Christianity in any sense. Finally, with Hitler, could he consider interacting with a work such as this one? Meanwhile, would McAfee be kind enough to explain to me the killing that went on under atheist regimes in Cambodia, China, and Russia?
In writing about religion in Canada, McAfee says he is able to write about the topic of religion from an objective point of view. Yes everyone, because we know that atheists hold zero biases in all that they write. It is only those Christians that hold a bias. McAfee goes on to say
“Because of this theism-laced political system in Canada, citizens (regardless of religious affiliation) are forced to endure not only the singing of a theist-based national song, but also Christian prayers before various federal events—including meetings for the creation of legislation”
The horror! The horror! Right now, Christians are being murdered for being Christians all over the world, but those poor Canadian secularists. They have to endure singing of a theist-based national song and then they have to hear Christian prayers! The terrible plight of such suffering that these people go through! Won’t you please come alongside these people who are suffering so much with having to listen to things that disagree with them? Please go right now and write to your Congressman and urge him that we must convince Canada to stop this great suffering right now!
In the end, McAfee is demonstrating to me the downward spiral that is going on in the atheist community. Atheist books are becoming more and more anti-intellectual and atheists are not doing really serious research and seem to think all their thoughts are gold because they are atheists. Now of course, this does not apply to all atheists. I know some atheists who will read this review and would read a book like McAfee’s and say “No. This is not me. I am just as embarrassed by this guy.” The sad reality is too many are not. If you are a self-respecting atheist and want your community to be taken seriously, then please do your part and beg people like McAfee to be quiet on these matters. Please tell people like McAfee to write actual books that show actual research where they actually interact with the other side.
Yet I am thankful. If atheism continues down this path, atheists will just grow more and more uninformed while thinking they are informed. They will leave themselves vulnerable in the long run in the marketplace of ideas. The response of Christians now is to be bulking up on what we do believe and learning it well as well as learning what atheists like McAfee believe. I seriously doubt McAfee will stop writing, but I hope he doesn’t. I want him to keep making material like this that will do further damage to the atheist community. He’s doing more service for Jesus Christ than he realizes.
A further review of this book can be found by Tyler Vela on his podcast and here. My own ministry partner has written on this here.