Cover Image: Lies My Preacher Told Me

Lies My Preacher Told Me

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The title of this book is misleading - the chapters are about misunderstandings related to the Old Testament and not outright lies that come from a preacher sermons or a teacher's lessons. Further, the misunderstandings are mainly directed at people who are wholly unfamiliar with the Bible.  The author then argues against each misunderstanding, and while he does use both Old and New Testament verses to support his thinking, some of his arguments require leaps of logic.  For example, when he argues that God isn't "mean" or "very mean", he states that verses referring to the total destruction of a people group can't be considered genocide because some members of those groups still remain today.  With that definition, there was no Armenian genocide, the Holocaust wasn't genocide, etc.  

The book is a quick read, mainly because it just skims the surface of these misunderstandings.  I'm sure there are better books about the Old Testament, and actually reading the Old Testament would eliminate a lot of the misunderstandings discussed in the book.

Thank you, NetGalley, for the ARC.
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Oof. In a competition for most provocative title, Lies My Preacher Told Me just might take first place. It’s attention-grabbing (and following the trend of the bestselling Lies My Teacher Told Me), but it’s more about myths and mistruths than outright lies. For a lie, I think, the connotation is usually that deception is purposeful. That’s usually not the case for the concepts discussed here. Instead, Brent Strawn tackles some myths, misconceptions, and outdated assumptions that people may have been taught in church. The ten lies he presents goes like this:

•	The Old Testament is “someone else’s mail.”
•	The Old Testament is boring history.
•	The Old Testament is obsolete.
•	The Old Testament God is really mean.
•	The Old Testament God is hyper-violent.
•	David Wrote the Psalms
•	The Old Testament isn’t spiritually enriching.
•	The Old Testament isn’t practically relevant.
•	The Old Testament Law is a burden.
•	What really matters is that “everything is about Jesus.”

As you can see, the focus is really not on Scripture has a whole, but is pretty well contained to a particular misunderstanding of the Old Testament and its usefulness in the modern age. Some of the lies are more common than others. I’ve heard pastors that the Law was a burden, that it’s obsolete. I’ve heard critics of Christianity complain about the perception of the OT God as mean and violent. What I haven’t heard is that the Old Testament is useless, not spiritually enriching, not relevant, and so on. Now, they may have said that about certain portions of the Old Testament, but never have I heard it dismissed as a whole.

So my primary criticism is simply the setup and structure. This isn’t so much about countering lies from the pulpit as it is correcting common layperson misconceptions about the Old Testament. Some of the chapters could have been combined. Was a chapter on God being “really mean” and a chapter on him being “hyper-violent” both necessary? Some chapters fit the title but not the rest of the structure. “David Wrote the Psalms” digs into common historical inaccuracies, but doesn’t fit the focus on the Old Testament as a whole. (Also, it’s likely that David did write some of the Psalms…just not all of them.)

I don’t have much to say in the way of content. Strawn is conversational and engaging. He clearly has a love for the Old Testament and a strong desire to make sure that it gets taught correctly. It’s a simple, quick read as Strawn keeps his concepts clear and straightforward. But in the end, he keeps circling back around to the same things. One chapter says that the OT isn’t obsolete. A few chapters later, we’re reminded that it’s spiritually enriching. Then we’re reminded that it’s practically relevant. It’s the same concept over and over in different words using different examples. 

This was a strong idea for a book, but it doesn’t live up to the marketing and tone set by the title. The content of the book is then forced to fit into a mold that doesn’t quite do it justice. The result is a book that’s fine, but I’ve read a lot of other books—both on the relevancy of the Old Testament and correcting misconceptions in Scripture—that are better. If this is a topic you’re interested in, see Urban Legends of the Old Testament by Croteau and Yates instead.
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In "Lies My Preacher Told Me," Brent Strawn aims to dispel ten misconceptions of the Old Testament that are common amongst both believers and nonbelievers. As an Old Testament professor, Strawn often hears objections and comments about the OT that are either untrue or misconstrued. In the first mistruth, the author argues against the idea that the OT is reading “someone else’s mail” since we are not the original recipients of the text. Although the OT Scriptures may seem irrelevant to believers today, Christians are to receive the whole counsel of God which includes both testaments as God’s inspired word binding on all generations of believers. The next mistruth centers upon the complaint that the OT is a boring history book. Strawn argues that OT Scripture contains a number of different genres other than history and the selective recorded historical narratives are purposeful and enriching. Another common remark is that the OT is no longer binding given that the New Testament has become its replacement. The author points out that Jesus read the OT Scriptures as God’s Word and stated that He did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it. Although many OT traditions and stipulations no longer apply to Christians today, the OT is indispensable in that many NT concepts and content are inextricably linked to the OT. The next mistruth centers upon how the OT portrays God as being mean, violent, and angry. Strawn responds to this be highlighting that God’s wrath is the outflow of His divine justice to those who practice unrighteousness and demonstrates His great love for us to turn from our sinful ways. In addition, others may point to the acts of violence in the OT such as the Canaan conquests as being problematic and irreconcilable. Strawn purports that the violence God commanded was necessary in terms of carrying out God’s justice on sinners, limited in scope as opposed to outright annihilation in every circumstance, and do not serve as examples for Christian imitation as these acts serve as part of God’s redemptive plan in a specific time period. Next, the author shifts gears to address the issue of biblical authorship and other historical assertions that some people make to support their understanding of particular passages of Scripture. Strawn agrees that contextual and background information is essential to studying the Bible but the reality is that we do not have all the data to make irrefutable claims on historical facts. The next two mistruths are closely linked in that many Christians find the OT to be irrelevant to their spiritual and physical lives as opposed to NT teachings. Indeed, many of the laws, traditions, and narratives may seem distant to us but the OT is God’s written revelation for us to learn who God is and how He interacts with His creation in redemptive history. Moreover, there are some who see the OT’s statutes to be too restrictive and burdensome for contemporary Christians. On the contrary, Strawn points out that we are not told anywhere in the NT to abandon the OT Scriptures but rather to strive towards greater holiness of which both testaments are essential reading. The final mistruth is on the common refrain that everything in the Bible is ultimately about Jesus. Strawn finds this assertion to be distracting as the entire Bible is the revelation of the triune God of whom we are called to praise and worship. In most cases, the author provides intriguing observations, analogies, and examples to provide counterarguments against the mistruths. However, there are also places in the book where the author seems to not fully interact with the mistruth being addressed. The most significant example is the last mistruth which is that everything in the Bible is about Jesus. This is indeed an often-repeated refrain among conservative evangelical preachers encouraging believers to read the Bible through Christo-centric lenses. Strawn seems to suggest that those who subscribe to this perspective as having two issues. Firstly, this perspective elevates Christ over the two other persons of the Trinity and is unfaithful to the Christian belief in a triune God. On this point, the aforementioned preachers would undoubtedly disagree with being labelled as being anti-Trinitarian. Secondly, the author is painting adherents to this viewpoint as being ignorant to the fact that large amounts of Scripture does not directly or indirectly link to Jesus. Again, it would be farfetched to imply these pastors are trying to claim every single verse in the Bible to be at least a muted reference to Christ. I appreciate that the author is attempting to correct erroneous views of the OT; however, without fully engaging the perspective held by the other party, the exercise is more akin to utilizing straw man arguments rather than constructive dialogue.

I recommend this short book as a lighthearted yet important reminder to those who view the Old Testament as irrelevant or unhelpful to Christians today. It is tempting to try avoiding the OT for its passages containing bloody battles, outdated hygiene rules, or lengthy genealogies. However, Strawn illustrates by combating ten mistruths that the OT is part of God’s written word to us which provides vital spiritual nourishment and fellowship with the triune God. It is worth noting that the mistruths being addressed in this book have some element of truth in them or else such misconceptions would not prevail through multiple generations of believers. The solution to avoid falling into these traps lies in growing our appetite to read, study, and meditate on the whole counsel of God. To do so requires dedication and discipline in addition to constant prayer for the Holy Spirit to guide and enlighten our hearts and minds.

In compliance with Federal Trade Commission regulations, I was provided a review copy of this book from WJK Books.

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I really wanted to like this book. The premise was one that has interested me for many years. As  pastor, I have seen many people struggle with the relevance of the Old Testament to their lives. Relevance often missed because of misconceptions about the Old Testament. But for seem reason the execution of Strawn's stated mission fell flat for me. I don't doubt his theological credentials, but he came across as smart-alecky and somewhat boring. He seemed to lack depth in his chapters, but that may be because of my own ministerial background. Laypersons might find the book useful, but I probably won't recommend it.
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What do you mean by "lies?" Aren't preachers supposed to be telling the Truth? How could anyone paint them as liars? Perhaps it is a marketing gimmick or a clever way to capture attention. I suppose that is so. Looking at the content, it is more about misconceptions or misinterpretations over the pulpit rather than flat-out untruths. Thankfully, the author explains right from the beginning that the title was merely to highlight ten controversial Old Testament "mistruths." Mistruths according to Strawn are about the Old Testament as:

1)    Someone Else's Mail
2)    Boring
3)    Obsolete
4)    Tales of A Mean God
5)    Hyper-Violent
6)    Putting David as sole author of Psalms
7)    Non-Spiritually enriching
8)    Non-Relevance
9)    Law an Impossible to Keep type of Burden
10)    That only Jesus matters

Each of these mistruths is explained and subsequently clarified. Following that there are questions for discussions, making this book a suitable one for group study. The first mistruth was deemed the most serious, which is the reason the author chooses to place it first. The second dispels the misnomer about the Old Testament being a boring history book. Perhaps there are boring preachers, but to call the ancient texts boring just because someone else preached on it badly would be doing the Old Testament injustice. Strawn points out the different genres of the Old Testament, besides history. He shows us that the Old Testament remains a vital part of Christian Life. He tackles the oft-mentioned comment about a wrathful God of the Old Testament, saying that divine judgment includes divine wrath. Having said that, readers should never see wrath in a lopsided vacuum. Never separate the judgment from the seriousness of injustice and sin by the many evil people in history. With regard to the violence in the Old Testament, readers also learn that violence is not limited only to the olden days. There is much violence happening today too. On David as author of psalms, Strawn points out that he is not the only author. Plus, our focus should not be on the author but the content. These and many more are dealt with and clarified. At the end of the book, the author gives a resounding affirmation on the validity and trustworthiness of the Old Testament, urging us to avoid accepting half-truths but to embrace the whole Truth, that the whole Word of God is edifying and necessary for our faith. 

My Thoughts
This is a creative way to highlight some of the misgivings and half-truths we hear about the Old Testament from time to time. Most preachers would probably not be saying that. In starting each chapter, I detect more hyperbole when the author was describing the mistruths. Sometimes, exaggeration can be a helpful pedagogical tool to enable us to see the distinction. Stretch it further and most of us would easily identify it as untrue. Having said that, what might be apparent to us in a book does not necessarily mean we will recognize it in real-life conversations. I have heard accusations of the Old Testament being irrelevant (Mistruth #8), as well as the Old Testament God, being a vengeful God (Mistruth #5). The point about some Christians saying that the whole faith is essentially about Jesus (Mistruth #10) would miss the mark of God's overall big picture. It is thus helpful for Strawn to show us that we need to see the whole Bible as God's revelation to us as Trinity. 

What I like about this book is how the author dispels misconceptions often communicated in ways beyond the pulpit. Frankly, I don't usually hear these from the pulpit, but more from misinformed Christians. This is especially so in a world of social media where individuals are increasingly painting themselves as expert commentators about the Bible. This makes books like this even more important as a way to clarify doubts and clear up any misunderstanding. I would want to add that for those who have never said any of these mistruths verbally, that does not mean they would not say it when they have the chance. At the same time, the things that one does not say in the past do not mean they will never say it in the future. Thus, Strawn's book preempts any future errors as well!

Finally, I feel that Christians need to study and appreciate more of the Old Testament. This book helps us toward that track. It makes for an interesting group study as well as a discussion forum too. Perhaps, this book is also a warning for preachers not to preach any of these "lies."

Brent A. Strawn is Professor of Old Testament and Professor of Law at Duke University. Previously, he served as the William Ragsdale Cannon Distinguished Professor of Old Testament at the Candler School of Theology and Graduate Division of Religion of Emory University. He is the author of numerous articles, chapters, and books, including “The Old Testament Is Dying: A Diagnosis and Recommended Treatment” and “The Old Testament: A Concise Introduction.”

Rating: 4.25 stars of 5.

This book has been provided courtesy of Westminster John Knox Press and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.
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There is no question that Brent Strawn’s “Lies My Preacher Told Me” will set many readers straight when it comes to debunking the myths that are often told about the Hebrew Bible. Brent’s brilliance, pastoral sensibilities, and sassiness comes through and will enlighten, challenge, and make some feel uncomfortable. An excellent and provocative read!
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This book is a great introduction into thinking about the Old Testament. It begins to reshape what has been taught over and over again. This book would be a great starter for someone entering a survey of the Old Testament class or someone deconstructing their views on Scripture. This book does a great job narrowing down on the importance of the Old Testament and how it relates in history, how it relates to the New Testament, and even how we understand it today. The book is short, simple, and has great questions to help guide a person through new levels of thinking. There maybe a slight theological persuasion of the author in how they title “the lies” and how they reply to “the lies” but that will be the case in any book designed around Scripture and Faith.  Overall this book was great for me it was reminders of my college and seminary experiences but for some it could be the first step in grasping the full story of God.
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Lies My Preacher Told Me takes ten misconceptions about the Christian Old Testament and, in short, clear prose, explains why each one of them is wrong. Strawn is an OT professor and scholar, and his teaching gifts come through in the way he structured each chapter and the book itself. I wish he'd expanded on the effects of each of these "mistruths" by describing how each particular scrap of bad theology harms people. He did this a bit in addressing anti-Semitism and white supremacy, but there's a whole lot more that needs to be said. 

I had some difficulty discerning scripture quotations from Strawn's prose because of the Kindle format and assume that on the page, it will be more obvious which is which. Also, most of Strawn's bible quotations are from the Common English Bible (CEB) translation. This is not a translation I or the people I teach are very familiar with, so I will need to use the book in conjunction with teaching on translations-- not a bad proposition, but something to keep in mind. 

This little book fits nicely in my library alongside Gordon Fee's "How to Read the Bible for all its Worth," Amy-Jill Levine's "The Misunderstood Jesus," and others that explode common misconceptions about the Bible in order to bring the richness and power of scripture to life. I will use Strawn's book in conjunction with the more in-depth books he cites. In particular, he draws much from Ellen Davis's "Wondrous Depth: Preaching the Old Testament." 

Thanks to NetGalley and Westminster John Knox Publishers for a free copy to review.
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Really solid book addressing many false misconceptions about the Old Testament.  Strawn covers 10 topics in this short book, giving a good start to further study, as well as a great notes section at the end with more resources about each topic.  He also writes to the lay person (though I know many clergy who would do well brush up on these topics too), without dumbing down the information.  The highlight for me was "Mistruth 4 - The Old Testament God is Mean...REALLY Mean".  Strawn addresses this topic from an angle I've not heard before, and gives clear and concise reasoning for his answer.  (Spoiler alert, God's not mean!)  I have not dedicated my career to the Old Testament as Strawn has, but have long felt the need for more OT study and application in church, and this is a great launch pad!

Two critiques:  1.  The title.  He spends some time explaining it in both the introduction and conclusion, but it still doesn't sit right.  Especially because he very quickly explains that he's not "really talking about lies", and then uses the term "mistruth" for the rest of the book.  I'm pedantic like that.  2.  I think he goes a smidge too far sometimes, including a reference at the end of the the chapter of Mistruth 4 (still the best chapter though!).  I will give credit where it's due though:  he also spends time acknowledging his biases, which covers a lot of the stretching.  Use this book as a start to your own study - don't just take his word as gospel (not that he'd want you to anyway!).  :)

Thanks to NetGalley for a free digital copy for review, all opinions are my own.
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A short and compelling series of "corrections" to mistruths that Christians are taught about the Old Testament. Taking from the format of Loewen's "Lies My Teacher Told Me", this book addresses 10 mistruths, including the myth of the Old Testament as a "boring history book". It is a light dive into difficult topics -theological and cultural. I would recommend to readers who are looking for an accessible writing on the Old Testament as it relates to Christian theology.

One thing of note, although it wasn't until the last chapter, Strawn does address why confronting these mistruths, and ones similar, is vital. He expresses, although briefly, the connection of biblical mistruths to white supremacy and violence. For more on this topic, I suggest "Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States" by Andrew Whitehead.

Overall, I recommend this book as it is accessible, quick to read, and opens the door for readers to further their learning on Christian theological topics that often make the Old Testament seem troubling.
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The title and subtitle of this book piqued my curiosity. Last year we finished reading through the entire Bible as a family (kids then ages 16, 14, 11, 9). My husband and I were raised in the church and have a good understanding of Biblical teaching. If there's a sermon cliche, analogy, joke... we've probably heard it. We really dislike it when a preacher takes a verse out of context in order to support their point. So I couldn't wait to read what Strawn had to say.

The introduction starts off with "Lies Somebody Told Us about the Old Testament." The 10 chapters each deal with a different "mistruth," because the author believes (hopes) that they weren't intentional.
The Old Testament is "Someone Else's Mail"
The Old Testament is a Boring History Book
The Old Testament Has Been Rendered Permanently Obsolete
The Old Testament God is Mean... Really Mean
The Old Testament is Hyper-Violent
David Wrote the Psalms (and Other Unhelpful Historical Assertions)
The Old Testament Isn't Spiritually Enriching
The Old Testament Isn't Practically Relevant
The Old Testament Law is Nothing but a Burden, Impossible to Keep
What Really Matters is that "Everything is About Jesus"

Each chapter includes questions for discussion, making this a book that could be used for a small group - if you dare!

The book includes a suggested reading list at the end.
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You can feel the "teacher" coming to life inside every page of Brent A. Strawn's "Lies My Preacher Told Me: An Honest Look at the Old Testament," a well informed yet for the most part casual glimpse inside ten common "lies," or mistruths, about the Old Testament from perceptions of God's personality to the relevance of the Old Testament for Christians living today.

Strawn is one of the leading scholars in Old Testament and it's clearly a subject for which he feels great passion - after all, he's pretty much built his entire adult life and livelihood around it.

At barely over 100 pages, "Lies My Preacher Told Me" is a surprisingly brief yet extensive and informed analysis of Old Testament relevance and of the ten "mistruths" he chooses to approach with his writings here. Strawn writes in a very matter-of-fact way, though with light yet regular doses of humor, and "Lies My Preacher Told Me" and has a wonderful wisdom that makes difficult Old Testament passages accessible and understandable.

In essence, Strawn not only makes his argument but makes us understand his argument quite convincingly.

I can't deny, however, that I also wish at times that Strawn had approached "Lies My Preacher Told Me" a bit differently from a structural standpoint including the very title of the book itself. "Lies My Preacher Told Me" implies a level of controversy and conflict that never really exists within the book's pages because, at its honest core, "Lies My Preacher Told Me" isn't really arguing against actual lies or even mistruths - it's arguing against misperceptions and firmly held opinions often based upon an incomplete examination of the Old Testament itself. Strawn really starts to move toward this structure in the book's final couple of chapters, but early on "Lies My Preacher Told Me" feels like it's forcing itself into a gimmicky structure that needn't be.

Minor concerns aside, "Lies My Preacher Told Me" is a valuable text that accomplishes a couple of things quite beautifully.

First of all, "Lies My Preacher Told Me" beautifully makes the argument that we don't give the Old Testament its due. The Old Testament, as Strawn so concisely explains, is an integral part of the whole scripture and to deny it is really to deny scripture and how scripture is to weave itself into our lives and into our relationship with God.

Secondly, Strawn, perhaps more than anything, makes the Old Testament seem a whole lot less intimidating. As he argues in one of his "mistruths," the Old Testament isn't a way we're incapable of living but perhaps a way we choose to not live because we don't choose to live or or believe its applicability for our lives because it seems so absurdly weird and outdated. While Strawn's arguments are relatively brief, and I'd really say even introductory due to that brevity, they're clear and concise and offer a wholistic view of an Old Testament that we tend to view through a partial, inaccurate lens.

"Lies My Preacher Told Me" will be most meaningful for those active Christians who've grappled with the Old Testament and who've wrestled with Strawn's "mistruths." Strawn, who rather regularly admits he can be a bit too quick and pointed when jumping to his defense of the Old Testament, is pointed and precise in his arguments but he's also reasoned and patient and he ultimately has a deep understanding of why people have these common misperceptions.

"Lies My Preacher Told Me: An Honest Look at the Old Testament" is a wonderful little book that opens up the Old Testament in new ways and sheds light on how we can invite the Old Testament into our daily faith journeys and rather exactly why we should do that. Written with significant doses of humanity and from an abundance of knowledge and years of study, "Lies My Preacher Told Me: An Honest Look at the Old Testament" deserves a place on the bookshelf of anyone who wishes to live a complete, honest faith journey.
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Not super religious, but I do enjoy reading different viewpoints when it comes to holy scripture.  A short read that gives the reader a lot to think about.
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