Saturday, September 03, 2011

book review: Don't Check Your Brains at the Door by Josh McDowell and Bob Hostetler

Josh McDowell and Bob Hostetler have done a good job of taking the belief pulse of today’s teens. Don’t Check Your Brains at the Door: Know What You Believe and Why is their book for this age group. It identifies and refutes 42 commonly held beliefs about Christianity in an attempt to “…discuss common myths, many of which people accept without thinking, and evaluate them in the light of the Bible.” (Introduction - Kindle Location 184.)

The book is broadly divided into six subject sections: Myths about God, Jesus, the Bible, the Resurrection, Religion and Christianity, and Life and Happiness. Each chapter within those sections deals with one myth.

The short chapters have colorful titles with descriptive subtitles, making it easy to locate chapters by subject (e.g. “The Luke Skywalker God — the Impersonal Force Myth"; "Lily-White Jesus–The Racist Myth” etc.). Each begins with a captivating anecdote or example. The writing style is snappy and the authors come to their signature conclusion, “But that’s a myth” efficiently and without beating around the bush. Each chapter ends with a “Brain Food” section—a deeper look at what the Bible says about the chapter’s subject.

Don't Check Your Brains at the Door has a lot going for it. It does a good job of tapping into common perceptions and beliefs about Christianity. The anecdotes and examples that begin each chapter are interesting and pull the reader in. The authors cite a variety of supporting sources and illustrations, from the quotes of famous theologians to illustrations from sports and entertainment. The “Brain Food” section makes excellent use of the Bible, employing a variety of assignment types (reading, fill in the blanks, checking the right response, character analysis, story analysis etc.).

However, there were a few things I didn’t get. For example, I wondered why the authors chose the order they did for handling these myths. They began with myths about God and Jesus, which they debunked using, among other things, lots of passages from the Bible—and this before they established the credibility and reliability of the Bible, which wasn’t addressed till Chapter 9. It seemed that a more logical order would have been to deal first with the Relativity Myth (Chapter 18) to establish the possibility of the existence of objective truth, then the myths about the Bible to lay the foundation of the Bible as a possible purveyor of that truth, and then the other subjects.

I also wondered why McDowell and Hostetler used so many dated illustrations and examples. They cited lyrics of a song from “Jesus Christ Superstar,” a popular musical from 1971, took life lessons from Elmer Gantry, a character in a book written in 1927, and sports heroes from the ‘50s to ‘70s, and more. Though the illustrations were well explained, I wondered how modern kids would relate. Those old-fashioned illustrations, along with the often dogmatic tone, made the book seem a little like the attempt of a couple of boomers to set their grankids' generation straight.

Finally, I was disappointed with the superficial way in which some of these myths were supposedly debunked. The relativity myth was one. In our time of prevailing postmodernism—a philosophy foundationed on the absence of objective truth—the quoted witty words of C. S. Lewis were what the authors used to make their case:

"Whenever you find a man who says he does not believe in a real Right and Wrong, you will find the same man going back on this a moment later. He may break his promise to you, but if you try breaking one to him he will be complaining ‘It’s not fair’ before you can say Jack Robinson.

It seems, then, we are forced to believe in a real Right and Wrong. People may be sometimes mistaken about them, just as people sometimes get their sums wrong; but they are not a matter of mere taste and opinion any more than the multiplication table” – C. S. Lewis, Kindle Location 1174.

Of course they went on to buttress their conclusion with quotes about truth from the Bible, which is all well and good if the reader accepts the Bible as true; not so compelling if he or she doesn’t.

Those things aside, I can see Don't Check Your Brains at the Door being a helpful personal read for teens seeking to make the Christian faith their own, as well as a discussion instigator for parents and church youth leaders.

Title: Don't Check Your Brains at the Door: Know What You Believe and Why
Authors: Josh McDowell and Bob Hostetler
Publisher: Thomas Nelson - revised updated edition August 2, 2011, paperback, 208 pages, August 2011
ISBN-10: 1400317207
ISBN-13: 978-1400317202

(I received this book from Thomas Nelson Publishing as a free gift for the purpose of writing a review. This review was first published at )

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Violet Nesdoly / poems
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Elizabeth Young said...

Thanks Violet for the objective critique on this book. I found your comments well thought out and realistic. Thanks for a great book review!

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