Honest Christianity: an inviting expression of faith

Its unusual title is the first indicator that Drew Cordell’s new book, Honest Christianity, will be a little different. Open the cover, and you find a second: endorsements from influential politicians, academic theologians, long-standing ministers … and ‘Rhett – agnostic’.

If there’s one thing our culture values, it’s authenticity. From the jump, Cordell’s book clearly attempts to present Christianity with compelling rigour and inviting vulnerability. This isn’t an apologetics trainer for Christians (although it wouldn’t be a bad one); it’s a book for those who want to wrestle with Christianity, sweeping nothing under the carpet and acknowledging the toughest questions. Here’s what stuck out to me.

Should we take the Bible seriously?

I must confess that I was sceptical when Cordell began this chapter by examining the archaeological evidence. I tend to think of archaeological evidence as relatively inconsequential – maybe even a little gimmicky. But in hindsight, this was the perfect choice.

By addressing claims that there is no archaeological evidence for big events in Christian history, such as the Exodus, the Babylonian exile and the characters of the New Testament period, Cordell engages in what you might call the non-fiction equivalent of ‘world-building’. By the end, it’s clear that we are not dealing with abstract myths and stories; the book’s enormous questions are matters of history. The setting is the real world.

With that established, Cordell moves on to demonstrating that the Bibles we have today accurately represent the original manuscripts. He provides helpful background on the history and method of ‘textual criticism’, with a knack for highlighting subtle but significant differences between the ancient world and ours.

Cordell’s calm and generous tone is reminiscent of Christian historian John Dickson.

Along the way, Cordell effectively shoots down a theory of the critical scholar Bart Ehrman, which had often bugged me. Ehrman argues that corruption may have occurred in the New Testament texts during the period between their initial writing (ranging between about AD 50-100) and the earliest dated copies we currently possess (around AD 200). After all, a lot can happen in a hundred years!

But Cordell provides immensely helpful context. Given the obsessive copying accuracy of the manuscripts we do have – both of the Judao-Christian Old Testament and the Christian New Testament, spanning thousands of years in total – surely it is fair to assume that copyists were similarly accurate during the one relatively short period from which we do not have copies, especially given the passionate concern of Paul and others for the careful preservation of the gospel.

Did Jesus exist? Who was he?

Again, Cordell begins by establishing Jesus as a figure of real-world history, then moves on to his ministry and death, methodically eliminating naturalistic alternatives but stopping short of calling this ‘proof’ of Jesus’ resurrection.

Here and elsewhere, Cordell’s calm and generous tone is reminiscent of Christian historian John Dickson.

“Even when one considers the improbability of the previous theories holding water,” Cordell admits, “to then arrive at a place where Jesus actually did what it is claimed he did still requires a massive leap, which is and should be hard for us to make.”

This is one of the great strengths of Honest Christianity. Both Cordell’s authenticity and the book’s structure constantly demonstrate why the reader should consider and care whether all this really is true. Cordell often starts with the implications, so that when he gets to the details the reader is thoroughly invested. In this case, having asked who Jesus is, Cordell gets to take his reader through a lightning-fast recount of the entire Old Testament context for Jesus’ ministry.

What do the miracles mean?

For its brevity, this is a fantastic account of the history of God’s covenant people. Having outlined Jewish history up to Jesus, Cordell portrays growing tension between imperialist Rome and the ‘thousand-year hope of the Jewish people’, so that the reader feels the full force of Jesus’ proclamation that neither Rome nor ethnic Israel will be victorious: the Kingdom of God will.

Similarly, Cordell’s outlines of the Old Testament sacrificial system and the concept of sin make it all the more dramatic when Jesus comes onto the scene as the great Passover Lamb.

Whatever their verdict, sceptics and seekers (as well as Christians!) will come away from the book with a vastly improved understanding of the framework and history of the Christian faith.

Is God a jerk?

In a book that deals with the heavy-hitting questions, Cordell couldn’t leave out the accusations of the New Atheists that God is a genocidal, misogynistic, homophobic proponent of slavery.

Having briefly and rightly noted that the New Atheists relied on objective morality to criticise Christians, without any leg to stand on themselves (and proving once again that Richard Dawkins is the most overrated thinker in history), Cordell takes each accusation in turn, often letting the Bible speak for itself, and demonstrating impressive vulnerability (perhaps even to the point of conceding some criticisms a little prematurely).

Cordell’s is exactly the sort of invitation we should be extending.

Cordell’s conviction on what he does consider non-negotiable issues is impressive, especially considering that much of his audience will not share these views. Being authentic is not just about acknowledging your uncertainties but also sticking to your guns, and Cordell should be commended for both.

Even for a Christian with a keen interest in the subject, Cordell’s book provided plenty of new material and reasoning, densely packed into a page-turner that I read in just a few days.

Cordell’s is exactly the sort of invitation we should be extending – generous in tone and uncompromising in the gospel; rigorous in argumentation and warm in delivery. In short, Cordell has succeeded in ‘telling the truth in love’.

Drew Cordell, author of Honest Christianity

Drew Cordell, author of Honest Christianity

Drew Cordell is the author of Honest Christianity: Why People Still Choose to Believe, and the founder of Honest Christianity. With an extensive corporate career in both London and Australia, as well as study in Theology and work in Christian ministry, Drew is adept at communicating Christian truths to persons from non-religious backgrounds in a dynamic and interesting way.

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