41: Christian Insanity | Chap 1-2 of The Misunderstood God by Darin Hufford

This week John and Gregg discuss Chapters 1 and 2 from Darin Hufford’s book titled The Misunderstood God: The Lies Religion Tells About God.

We have mixed feelings about the book. Hufford makes some good observations about what doesn’t work in Christianity which is refreshing and yet also makes sweeping generalizations about how people feel and experience things we couldn’t relate to.

The general focus of Hufford’s presentation is that “we” (he uses that phrase a lot to refer to all Christians) have been lied to by our Christian culture about who God is and how he relates to us. Each chapter takes a look at different misunderstandings about God Hufford perceives.

Hufford suggests that the way we live and experience of God does not match the message Christians proclaim and that Christians live and act like their relationship with God is working when it’s really not.

Hufford asks a large audience if they are miserable in their relationship with God and many people raise their hands. This is a turning point for the way Hufford approaches Christianity.

John sees significance in Hufford’s revelation and re-orientation towards as he puts it “loving people” and how that changed the way he saw them and related to them. Gregg expresses caution around Hufford’s idea that, “you know what the gospel means by loving the people the message is for.”

Gregg suggests a better approach is, “No, I get the gospel message because I have been loved by God not because I’ve fallen in love other people.” Gregg sees the source of this love as coming from God–NOT from loving other people as Hufford states.

John likes Hufford’s observation that he changed his focus from “the message” and turned it instead to “the people.” This does seem like a good change in orientation.

John and Gregg conflicted on Hufford’s dramatic examples and analogies and yet appreciate the value he places on our experience of God and that it’s more than okay to question and examine them in light of who God is supposed to be and that that action is not mistrusting God. Gregg wonders if after bringing down the hammer to make a point, Hufford would be better served to back off a little and nuance some of the finer points.

Next the conversation turns to Christianity not being about “reward and punishment” and Hufford’s observation that it’s strange how fear is used as a tool to motivate Christians into a loving relationship with God.  John mentions reading Love Wins by Rob Bell and refers to parallels he sees in Hufford’s points.

This leads to reflection on how Christians handle tough ideas that don’t make sense by putting them in a “special God category” and classifying them as things that humans can’t understand. It’s possible an idea really doesn’t make sense and what is being espoused is “bad Christianity.”

John reflects on a recent experience of visiting a church and the new perspective he had as a result of not going for a long time–and that not necessarily being a bad thing.

Gregg suggests that when we go to church we aren’t always getting the “truth.” Just because you “hear something at church” doesn’t make it automatically true. Everyone on the inside says, “Look we are doing all the right things” and maybe they aren’t. Gregg believes that if you are pursuing Truth you will find God, even if you leave church or Christianity as you currently know it.

Gregg challenges John to collect the top 10 questions that you can’t ask at church or that would never be answered and believes they would make for an interesting podcast discussion.

We’d love to hear your unanswerable church questions or topics in the comments too. If you’ve read the book leave a comment letting us know if you agree with our observations or have something else to add to the conversation.

10 thoughts on “41: Christian Insanity | Chap 1-2 of The Misunderstood God by Darin Hufford

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  2. Eric Coleman

    You both talked about how concerned you were that Darin wasn’t explaining things correctly and how you felt he was alienating his audience and people wouldn’t get it. When you read the countless reviews however, it’s pretty obvious that the vast majority of people totally got this and were affected by this book in a positive way. Listening to you guys would have me believe that the book would go only so far and then miss the mark and people wouldn’t walk away radically changed when they should have. The reviews show the complete opposite taking place. Obviously there are the predictable reviews where people complain about Darin not using Scripture to back up his statements but other than that it’s pretty clear that people were changed and got this message.

    It just seemed like for every positive thing you guys had to say, you’d always follow up with 3-5 negative things. Ridiculous things! He talked about his heart being the center of God’s attention, and one of you made the point that God cares about “all” of us and not just our hearts. It’s like you took a beautiful statement and micro managed it, tore it apart and picked out whatever you could say that would disagree with it. It was a statement that didn’t even need to be confronted. You can always find something wrong with anything someone says. You both seem like really nice people so I know it’s not intentional.

    When Darin asked the crowd in his conference if they had been miserable for the most part of their Christian lives, you both saw that as a “leading question.” Really???? It sounded to me like a simple question. I guess it all depends on how you look at it.

    I do enjoy listening to you. Just a few observations.


    1. John Poelstra

      Hi Eric,

      Thanks for continuing the conversation. For reasons we discuss over the course of a number of episodes, the book did not fully connect with me nor did I feel it had a convincing conclusion.

      I’m still wanting to understand your perspective more. What was most meaningful and helpful to you from reading Misunderstood God?


    2. Gregg Monteith

      Hi Eric,

      Thanks for your comments—we appreciate the chance to interact with listeners and I apologize for my delay in responding.

      So in my previous response I challenged you on the view that Darin Hufford’s perspective aligns with that of 1 John which, as you wrote, is about “the power of love in our lives here on earth.” I don’t think that’s the point of this epistle. Rather, I think its focus is to situate love as quintessential to the Christian God and thus an essential result of being in right relationship with this divine entity. I raise this in order to contextualize my response to your current comment: I need to offer you another challenge.

      In this comment you note that many people who have reviewed Hufford’s book (on Amazon, I’m assuming?) responded favourably and seemed to understand what he was aiming at, whereas John and I found his approach alienating. I have two thoughts on this.

      First, there’s a difference between presenting specific situations on the assumption that your audience can relate to them versus using those situations in order to derive general principles for your readers. So you (and at least 86 other people) were able to relate, more or less, to Hufford’s experience. I’m not surprised. But that was not at all my point. In fact, your logic plays against you: if the problem that Hufford identifies is so widespread then why does he have only 86 ***** reviews? He should have hundreds, if not thousands!

      I wager that Darin has so few ***** reviews, in part, for exactly the reason that I offered: globalizing one’s experiences (i.e., attributing one’s own experiences to one’s readers) can feel exclusionary and even alienating, whereas generalizing from one’s experiences to principles is inclusive.

      Second, there is clearly a big difference between the purported appreciation level of a book (i.e., the number of 5 star reviews it receives on amazon.com) and the validity / veracity of its content. So, for instance, where Darin Hufford’s book received 86 ***** reviews, Kyle Idleman’s not a fan has 901 ***** reviews.
      Yet I wager that most people who are “fans” of Idleman would find much of Hufford’s work problematic, if not downright unacceptable (such as his non-use of Scripture). If I’m right, there could be 901 people who see things Idleman’s way and 86 who agree with Hufford. Again using your logic (that because the “vast majority of people” favour an approach, it’s right), Hufford is wrong and Idleman is right!

      Hopefully my points are clear. On the one hand, Darin is not only favoring his experience but is applying it to his readers, and for all those who do not share (or share closely enough) similar experiences, this is alienating. On the other hand, the truth of a viewpoint is not validated by how many people happen to share it.
      And where it concerns the need to validate the truthfulness of a given perspective, this makes me think about your comment about “the predictable reviews where people complain about Darin not using Scripture to back up his statements.”

      How exactly should a Christian validate Darin’s claims about Christianity? Or better, how should Darin as a Christian present his readers with the validation of his claims about Christianity? Typically this is done using Scripture. Now I’m guessing that some of Darin’s reluctance to use Scripture concerns what might be seen as a rather widespread “misuse” of Scripture. But if this is the case, we have a problem.

      For how exactly should one respond to poor use of Scripture? With no Scripture at all? But how is this effective: for surely if the first use of Scripture is “poor” then there must be another use that is “better”? If yes, then why not use it to contradict the poor use? If no, then it’s not a “poor” use of Scripture because there is no better use! Instead it is a case of disagreeing with Scripture—of believing Scripture to be invalid. Thus I think that many who dismiss Darin for his non-use of Scripture are within their rights, even where Darin is making valid points!

      In either case, while I value Darin’s insights (e.g., that many people are miserable in their spiritual lives, and that our everyday experiences can offer significant insight into our relationship with God), I not only disagree with his approach (globalizing where he should generalize; understanding God’s love through loving others vs. being in a love relationship with God) but also with his conclusions (emphasizing love to the detriment of truth, as evidenced by replacing Scripture with—rather than complimenting it by—experience).

      And this is exactly my point against Darin, that I reiterate through several podcasts: his approach seems well-intentioned and even insightful in places but it is fundamentally unbalanced. He places an emphasis on the “heart” and on love (rather than on the “head” and on truth) because he has seen the dangers that have come from over-emphasizing rule-keeping and the intellect within Christianity. Yet by failing to integrate love with truth, truth with love, he is not correcting but perpetuating this unbalanced approach: he has merely pushed the pendulum from one extreme to the other! And his conclusions suffer as a result.

      And here I would then return to your comment that we seem to be saying a lot of negative things about Hufford’s book, even what you mention are “ridiculous things” such as distinguishing between God loving our hearts and God loving all of us. You mentioned that this is “beautiful statement” that does not need to be “micro-managed” or “torn apart.” No, it does dismantling. Because it represents exactly what I have referred to above: my critique that Darin is replacing one extreme position with another. He is trying to solve a problematic use of Scripture by (effectively) abandoning Scripture, and to solve a problematic over-emphasis on the intellect by (effectively) replacing it with love. Same approach, same shortfall.

      As to your concern that Darin’s question was not “leading”? Of course it is. Non-leading questions are by definition “open-ended questions” whereas a leading question is either a) in the strict sense, a question that presumes a yet-unproved state of affairs (i.e., “Why were you beating your wife?”) or b) in the looser sense, a close-ended question that focuses / biases the listener toward a particular answer (i.e., asking “Have you been miserable in your spiritual life” versus “How would you characterize your spiritual life?”).

      In conclusion, you noted that by reading Darin’s book “people changed.” How were they changed? Have you read the Amazon reviews? The majority of the ***** reviews are 3 lines or less and, where they refer to change, they offer no real account of what this might entail or how it might have come about. Foreseeably, by accepting Darin’s view of . . . of what, exactly? I would be interested to know how this book has changed you, and what value you are attributing to it (and how this integrates with your view of truth in the Bible). If you are willing to share this, that would be really informative.

      Eric, I’m really glad that you wrote in, and you did so not once but twice. However, while valuing your perspective I must admit to not sharing it and, in fact, to believing that there are some very problematic aspects to perspectives such as Darin’s. As the podcast continues we will continue to aim at untangling problematic perspectives and diffusing dangerous ones in order that we may eventually have “cleared enough space on the table” to lay out a way of understanding Christianity and a presentation of what it is to be Christian that is both more understandable and more liveable. I hope that you continue listening and continue to engage with us as we make our way there.

      1. Eric Coleman

        Gregg, I suppose I should have expected a reply like this from you. I found myself shaking my head all throughout it. I’m not interested in debating anything with you. I’m also not interested in being your Darin Hufford so you can micro-manage and pick apart every word that I’ve written just as you seem to do with the authors you talk about. For someone who obviously believes he is the expert in communicating with people, I’m shocked at your actions. I’m a listener (one of the very few you have) and rather than read my comment and take if for what it was, you decide to pick apart every last letter and line.

        It’s quite silly of you to try to compare the number of amazon reviews that Darin Hufford’s book received with the number of amazon reviews Kyle Idleman’s book received, and then attempt to use that number as proof that your opinion is correct. Kyle Ildeman is a pastor of a church with over 22,000 people and he has multiple books out. Darin Hufford is not a pastor of a huge church so he doesn’t have the luxury of asking all his people to go on amazon and write a review. To compare one against the other is just silly. (and by the way, amazon isn’t the only place book reviews are written. There are hundreds of other sites with reviews)

        It’s like me making the point that you MUST be wrong about The Misunderstood God because I don’t see more than about 3 comments on your entire site under your podcasts, and those were from me.

        I think when you both get a little older you’re going to look back on these shows and feel really embarrassed. You sound so incredibly so arrogant, it’s difficult to listen to. You come across like young intellectual know it all’s. It’s tedious to listen to because it seems like every few sentences you come across another statement in the book that you disagree with and you present it as though you have a better and more proper way of saying it. You’re the wise ones but Mr. Hufford is the immature one who didn’t think things all the way through or deeply enough.

        At least Darin Hufford can say that he wrote a book that caused thousands of people to desire a closeness with God in a way they never did before. I wonder what people think after leaving your site.

        I won’t be listening to you guys anymore because as I said, it’s really tedious. I just happened to stop by today and saw Gregg’s response and I couldn’t believe it.

        1. Gregg Monteith

          Hi Eric,

          I’m sorry to come late to your response: my email indications are not working and John is just back from holidays, and alerted me to your comment.

          In 1996 Barlow & Moller authored A Complaint is a Gift. It transformed the corporate customer service model by highlighting the common sense reality that negative feedback can be extremely valuable. In both my professional and personal life I take this perspective seriously and so I am sincere when I write: thank you for your response.

          Part of what John and I do, and John is meticulous about raising this each podcast, is wondering about how others view the material we are interacting with and asking for listener feedback. You left us two comments prior to this one, on July 12 and 14. John and I responded to both of those, so you had 4 response from us.

          I want to note something important: in three of our four responses we asked you pointedly to help us understand what was important to you about Hufford’s book. Both John and I thought that this was the most profitable avenue for discussion, and we’ve been trying to have that conversation with you. Yet it’s difficult to have a conversation about what is valuable to you about the book (you wrote that “people were affected by this book in a positive way”) without any sense of what this means.

          You made a number of critiques and I think it would be valuable to address two of them.

          First, you mentioned that we were arrogant. I see a distinction between arrogance and confidence. In terms of confidence, I do think that I have some reasons to be confident concerning the interplay between Christianity and real life, which is a big part of what Hufford writes about.

          Academically, I have spent 7 semesters studying at Swiss L’Abri and I wrote a graduate thesis in interpretation. with a focus on examining Christianity both experientially and intellectually. Personally, I have overcome severe childhood abuse (through lots of counseling), have been faced with significant religious and pastoral abuse, have suffered through deaths that amounted to manslaughter verging on murder, have reunited with my wife of 21 years to a renewed and satisfying marriage following a lengthy separation (against the odds, that clearly show that couples rarely reunite after such a period), and have managed to parent two fantastic children.

          In brief, I have devoted my life to working through these hard issues and in so doing have come to a place of great joy / peace with my understandings and experiences of the Christian God. When I experienced these very hard events I actually rejected Christianity, living for 7 years as a rather hostile agnostic. A big part of not only returning to Christianity but being very positively disposed toward it was rigorously assessing the nature and credibility of Christianity and its claims.

          So, second, I can see how my approach might come across as “micro-managing” or “picking things apart.” But it actually reflects the academic discipline of analytic philosophy and is part of what I hope everyone does when confronted with Christian ideas: rigorously assess their claims and credibility.

          We’re still interested to engage with you about why you find the book important. Sad to hear you won’t be listening anymore—we’ll be here if in future you want to continue the conversation.

  3. Eric Coleman

    I stumbled across this podcast and gave it a listen. I was a little surprised to hear that you guys had a hard time with Hufford’s idea that “loving people” is what brings understanding of the message.

    1st John in my opinion defines the power of love in our lives here on earth. “Everyone who loves has been born of God and KNOWS GOD. Whoever does not love DOES NOT KNOW GOD, because God is love.”

    I think this is the essence of what Mr. Hufford is writing about.

    You guys are fun to listen to, however I think you sometimes come across as though you’re constantly searching for something to disagree with. I feel like Darin hit a home run with this book and you two are spending a huge amount of time analyzing every possible defect in the bat. Don’t get me wrong; I still enjoyed it.

    You may or may not know this but it’s not by accident that Darin Hufford doesn’t supply a bible verse to back up his every statement in his writings. He talks openly about this on his podcast show.


    1. John Poelstra Post author

      Hi Eric,

      Yes, I’m aware there are no scripture references on purpose. I get Hufford’s motivation for doing it and I think it hurts the force of his message in the end. Gregg raises the nuances of this in subsequent discussions about the book. I’m not sure how many other episodes of us you’ve listened to. I think you’ll quickly find we are not fans of proof-texting or micro-quoting. Nor do we believe that quoting a verse from the Bible magically make something true.

      Gregg felt a lot stronger about the “loving people” concept than I did so I’ll let him respond to that part.

      You touch on a sensitive issue for me and one that we’ve struggle with often, but don’t always share on the podcast. I’ve told Gregg more than once that, “I don’t want to be those two old guys up in the balconey on the Muppets.” I can see how we could come across that way when we take certain things apart.

      I really want to get to the bottom of what is true and helpful. It’s definitely not our goal to be disagreeable or pick fights. Some of the stuff we discuss and push against is stuff I’ve been given to help me know God better that doesn’t work. A lot of the time there’s something about the message doesn’t add up for me and I want to figure out why. Talking to Gregg helps me to do that.

      On other occasions it’s a message I’ve heard for too long about what it means to be a Christian that is bogus. My hope in having these conversations with Gregg and sharing them is the possibility they will help other people to think critically and aid in sorting things out for themselves.

      Perhaps the difficulty here is if we don’t all agree it’s a home run as an initial orientation it’s natural we’ll take different approaches to the material. What criteria would you suggest for determining when we’re (my words) “focusing too much on the bat and not rejoicing in the home run?” Great analogy, by the way.

      Could you spell out more what made Hufford’s book such a home run for you or which parts were particularly meaningful to you? I think that would help me better understand where you are coming from.

      Thanks for your observations and taking the time to leave a comment.


    2. Gregg Monteith

      Hi Eric,

      Thanks for your reply. I’m glad that Darin Hufford’s work resonates with you and I appreciate your points about love and loving in 1st John. My bare bones response is that while love is essential, love cannot “go it alone.” In other words, as I argue throughout the podcast and in my own blog, love and truth / truth and love, are co-central to the Christian God and to human being.

      From this I understand that any notion of love or loving found in the biblical text is always conditioned by the truth about love that is found elsewhere in the text, and is also informed by our experiences of love and loving (both with respect to God and to others, but critically it is when those experiences have been understood correctly and interpreted well, and again put in dialogue with the full scope of the biblical notions on a given subject).

      So from my studies the point of 1 John is not, as you write, about “the power of love in our lives here on earth.” It is about what it means to be in right relationship with God—specifically, it is about the result of that relationship, when rightly embraced. And this is precisely the bone that I’m picking with Darin Hufford. In other words, the context of 1 John is John’s gospel, it is the book of Romans, it is indeed the entire New Testament and biblical canon. And these texts situate love in a very particular manner: love originates with God, is communicated from God to us in purposeful yet varied manner, and love is to be our response to God. And then, and only then, is our love for ourselves and then our love for others rightly oriented, because it is the result of being loved by God (and loving God in return).

      Now can we experience love in our lives, divorced from any overt relationship with God? Do atheists, in other words, truly love their children? Of course. This makes sense from–and does not contradict–a Christian perspective because we believe that God is the creator, and we have been created with capacities and characteristics that allow us to live life well, which from a Christian perspective means firstly living life in right relationship with God. But love and truth are both the result of and the requisites to this “right living.” So this creational reality (i.e., that we can truly love each other) is part of God’s purposeful communication of God’s own love to us. But 1st John (and the biblical canon that contextualizes it) is saying something more.

      Specifically, we are dealing here with the reality of what it is to be in right relationship with God: how it happens and how we know that it has happened / is happening. And in both cases the biblical text is quite clear: this relationship originates with God. So can I have some knowledge and understanding of God’s love from my love relationships with human beings? Of course, because while it is different from human love, God’s love is also related to human love. Yet to say that this is how we know God’s love is clearly at odds with the biblical text: the Bible points to God actually loving us and us actually responding to that love as our means of understanding (and our reason for embracing) that love. And this is not what Darin is writes in his book.

      I’m glad that you’ve found us and I would encourage you to keep listening, because we are definitely “going somewhere.” In other words, we are on a trajectory that is moving through some of the more common, “tangled” presentations of Christianity toward a way of understanding Christianity and a presentation of what it is to be Christian that is both more understandable and more liveable. And due to the nature of this trajectory most listeners are going to need longer exposure to what we’re saying / doing in order to be able to understand (and then most accurately weigh up) how well we’re achieving that goal. I hope that you stay with us.


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