Urban Legends of Theology: 40 Common Misconceptions, Michael Wittmer. Brentwood: B&H Academic, 2023. Softcover, 258 pages.
It was the days before the Internet. A friend was visiting and somehow the topic turned to sayings thought to be in the Bible, but actually aren’t. I mentioned “This too shall pass” as an example. This friend insisted that it is actually in the Bible, but she couldn’t find it. We didn’t have Google and we didn’t have an exhaustive concordance on hand to settle the question.
It happens more often that we think something comes from the Bible when it doesn’t. Or it can happen that we think a particular saying is in line with orthodox Christian theology when it isn’t. This book is all about debunking theological myths or legends. Here are some examples:
- Theology puts God in a box
- The Bible is our only authority
- Satan is tempting me
- I should never feel shame
- Jesus never spoke about homosexuality
- We should not be motivated by fear
Each chapter gives an example of someone promoting the legend. Wittmer mentions many popular figures, including Rick Warren, Brene Brown, Lauren Daigle, Will Smith, John MacArthur, and Oprah Winfrey. He unravels the legend, explains the biblical position, and concludes with a brief application.
Urban Legends of Theology says it delivers on 40 common misconceptions, but it actually does more. Wittmer has ten “mini myths” scattered throughout the book, as well as six “suburban legends.” The suburban legends are updated versions of the original. So, for example, in the chapter dealing with the legend “Doctrine divides but love unites,” Wittmer also includes this suburban legend: “Western theology builds fence while Eastern thought digs wells.” So you’re getting 56 myths busted for the price of 40 – not a bad deal!
Mike Wittmer is a monergistic (aka Calvinistic) Baptist. So, when I got to the chapter about children dying before the age of accountability, I had a certain idea of where he was going to go with it. I was wrong. On the question of what happens to the children of believers who dies in infancy, he writes: “The Synod of Dort conveys a pitch-perfect note of cautious hope.” While noting that he’s still a Baptist, he goes on to write: “…Acts 2:39 and 1 Cor. 7:14 give reason to think God extends his covenantal love to our children who die before they are able to express faith in Jesus.” That was a happy surprise.
I did find one spot where I think Wittmer has swallowed an urban legend of mission history. One of his “mini myths” is “Calvinists have no incentive to evangelize.” Here he repeats as fact a supposed encounter between William Carey and John Ryland. After Carey presented his plan for the evangelism of the world, Ryland allegedly said, “Young man, sit down; when God pleases to convert the heathen, he will do so without your aid or mine.” However, there is strong evidence suggesting Ryland never said this or anything like it. The story is likely apocryphal.
Urban Legends of Theology will up your discernment game – and who doesn’t need that game upped? The author writes with a light touch and the 4-5 page chapters will engage your attention. It’s a great read serving the cause of truth. And, in case you were wondering, “This too shall pass” is not in the Bible. It’s apparently an ancient Persian adage.
Originally published in Clarion 72.15 (November 24, 2023)