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Bethany House Publishers

Why God is not a schoolyard bully

2014 Books Issue | An excerpt from WORLD’s Book of the Year runner-up in popular theology

WORLD’s editors recently selected Books of the Year in three categories: popular theology, history, and analysis. One of the popular theology runners-up is How to Talk to a Skeptic: An Easy-to-Follow Guide for Natural Conversations and Effective Apologetics (Bethany House Publishers) by Donald J. Johnson.

In his apologetic approach, Johnson, the president of Don Johnson Evangelistic Ministries, doesn’t treat Christianity as a consumer good that meets a person’s felt needs. Instead, he stresses the truth and reliability of Scripture and how the Christian worldview makes the most sense of the life we experience on earth.

In the excerpt that follows, Johnson deals with the skeptic’s view of God as “a schoolyard bully who makes little kids give him their lunch money in order to feel better about himself.” Johnson explains that God’s motivation for His actions comes out of an overabundance of love, not cruelty or an inferiority complex. —Mickey McLean

Chapter 4: Love and the Meaning of Life

Christianity According to a Typical Skeptic

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“An Atheist Meets God” is a five-minute animated YouTube video that has been watched two and a half million times. In it, an atheist is run over by a bus and finds himself at the entrance to heaven, face-to-face with God. In the subsequent exchange, a petty, unjust, and angry deity explains why the skeptic will soon be thrown into hell: Even though the unbeliever was in fact a good person, because he did not praise and worship God and believe everything written in the Bible, he will be punished with eternal torment.[1]

In the previous chapter we learned how important it is to understand what the skeptic believes Christianity teaches. You want to know how she thinks the church and the Bible answer those big questions of life. In other words, you want to learn the Christian story according to the skeptic. “An Atheist Meets God” is a good example of what you will hear. Almost inevitably, this process reveals that the skeptic has a very ill-informed view of God’s purposes in creating and redeeming mankind. Indeed, her understanding of the Christian worldview will usually sound something like this (or at least pick up on some of the plot points mentioned here):

God seems to be some sort of egomaniac who created people to tell him how great he is. He apparently has some sort of inferiority complex or lack within himself that needs to be filled by people’s worship.

He also likes giving people silly and arbitrary rules and then punishing them unjustly for not keeping them. In fact, he even punishes people for the sins of others! For example, for some strange reason we are held responsible for Adam and Eve breaking that crazy rule about not eating apples.

After Adam and Eve fell, God made even more silly and arbitrary rules and rituals for people on earth to follow, threatening them with eternal torture if they couldn’t keep them, even though it seems there is really no way to keep them all. Also, these rules seem to change over time or be selectively applied to different people at different times or something—the whole rules thing is very confusing and contradictory.

The same goes for the nation of Israel. Apparently God chose a group of people to go wipe out other groups of people?

As for how to avoid hell, it does seem God is willing to let some people off the hook. Those who intellectually assent to the proposition that he exists or acknowledge that Jesus was God or repent or some such thing get forgiven of their so-called sins and get a pass into heaven.

God doesn’t give us any evidence supporting any of these claims other than to drop a book out of the sky that we have to accept on “faith.” In other words, we have to deny science and reason and every other means of gathering knowledge and just accept that the Bible is true, even though it is self-contradictory and teaches things that science has proven to be false (such as the age of the earth, etc.).

Those who somehow hear this message and believe (and most people in history haven’t heard it) will get to spend forever holding hands and singing low-quality praise choruses to God (eternal boredom is the prize) while those that never heard and all atheists will spend forever getting tortured.

To sum up this view, God is “cruel, vindictive, capricious and unjust.”[2] As Richard Dawkins writes,

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.[3]


1. Edward Current, “An Atheist Meets God,” YouTube, www.youtube.com/watch?v=urlTBBKTO68.

2. Thomas Jefferson, quoted in Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (New York: Mariner Books, 2008), 51.

3. Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (New York: Mariner Books, 2008), 51.

4. For example, see Alistar McGrath’s The Dawkins Delusion (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press Books, 2007). Along with his own critique of Dawkins, McGrath cites many others who are “embarrassed” by Dawkins’ theology.

5. Terry Eagleton, “Lunging, Flailing, Mispunching: A Review of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion,” London Review of Books, October 19, 2006.

6. Rodney Stark, What Americans Really Believe (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2008), 120.

7. Edward Feser, The Last Superstition (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press, 2008), 4.

8. Dawkins, The God Delusion, 15.

9. Jean Daniélou, God and the Ways of Knowing (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2003), 122.


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