The most recent issue of World magazine (June 18, 2005) contained an interesting item that got me thinking. The conservative publication, Human Events, asked a panel of 15 scholars to rank the 10 most harmful books of the 19th and 20th centuries. Included on the list were such “favorites” as The Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital by Karl Marx, The Kinsey Report by Alfred Kinsey, The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan and other volumes that make for unpleasant bedside reading.
Several years ago I was asked by my students to put together my Top Ten list of most influential books I had read. The list ended up going well beyond ten and can now be found on my website (www.SamStorms.com) in the Recommended Section (it is titled, “Meditations of a Bibliophile”). But no one has ever asked me for a Bottom Ten list! But since Human Events did it with respect to political, social, and economic books, I can certainly do the same when it comes to books on theology or related topics.
Not all my bottom ten are equally harmful. Some of them were written by wonderful Christian people who, I believe, love and honor Jesus as best they can. But that doesn’t minimize the deleterious effects of what they wrote. All of mine are of recent vintage, the oldest of which was released in the 1970’s. I decided to avoid mention of some obvious, older, and more overtly liberal works, with one exception, so that the list would make sense to the average Christian today. So, here goes. In no particular order, they are:
(1) “The Myth of God Incarnate,” edited by John Hick (Westminster Press). Although I said these were in no particular order, I’m compelled to put this profoundly anti-Christian collection of essays at the top of the list of the bottom ten!
(2) “The DaVinci Code,” by Dan Brown (Doubleday). Yes, it was a fascinating read (and yes, I will go to the movie). I actually enjoyed it, until I became aware of how many non-Christians imbibed it as non-fiction.
(3) “Recovering the Scandal of the Cross: Atonement in New Testament & Contemporary Contexts,” by Joel B. Greene & Mark D. Baker (InterVarsity Press). This frontal assault on the biblical doctrine of Christ’s penal substitutionary death is one that I will review for the website some time in the future. For the present, avoid it at all costs.
(4) “Beyond Sex Roles: A Guide for the Study of Female Roles in the Bible,” by Gilbert Bilezikian (Baker Book House). There are a number of well-written and competently argued (although not necessarily persuasive) books on the role of women in ministry from an egalitarian perspective, but this isn’t one of them.
(5) “The God Who Risks,” by John Sanders (InterVarsity Press). This is certainly the most consistent of all books defending Open Theism. That is why it is probably the most harmful in the way it undermines our knowledge of God’s knowledge.
(6) “God of the Possible,” by Gregory Boyd (Baker Books). I typically required this book for my course in theology at Wheaton, to be read alongside the excellent refutation of it by Bruce Ware (“God’s Lesser Glory” [Crossway Books]). Boyd is an excellent writer and his popular and easy to read defense of Open Theism accounts for its widespread (but unfortunate) influence.
(7) “A New Kind of Christian,” by Brian McLaren (Jossey-Bass). I chose this volume among many McLaren has written because it was the first in a series of three and is more responsible than the others for his widespread influence in the evangelical world. Being included on this list isn’t to say there is nothing of value in what McLaren writes. He has some excellent and stimulating ideas and his prose is superb. But I fear what Christians will become if they decide they want to be among the “New Kind” that he recommends.
(8) “Charismatic Chaos,” by John MacArthur (Zondervan). I have tremendous respect for MacArthur and cherish him as a brother in Christ. But this book is bad. It takes the worst in the Pentecostal-Charismatic world (and yes, there are some pretty bad things in that world) and portrays them as typical of charismatics in general. His arguments for cessationism and against the contemporary validity of so-called miraculous spiritual gifts is extremely weak. But I want to say again how much I appreciate most of the other books MacArthur has written.
(9) “Left Behind,” by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins (Tyndale House). O.K. No, I haven’t read it, nor any in the series. No, I don’t intend to. But I know what’s in them and they are more than deserving of inclusion on this list. The eschatological perspective they perpetuate is damaging to the Church and to individual Christian expectation regarding the future.
(10) “Healing and Holiness: A Biblical Response to the Faith-Healing Phenomenon,” by Sam Storms (Presbyterian & Reformed). No, this isn’t a joke. Neither is it a bad attempt at false humility. It’s simply a bad book. Forgive me for having written it. I suppose a good portion of what I wrote is o.k., but that doesn’t justify the rest of the nonsense I put forth in this regrettable effort to undermine people’s confidence in the healing power of God today. It’s out of print (thank God), so don’t write me asking for an autographed copy.
If I’ve offended you by including in this list your favorite author or if I’m in error for mentioning a book you found helpful, rather than harmful, I hope you’ll let me know so that, if possible, I might make amends. Having written one of the books on the list, I’m in a repentant mood right now.