4 out of 4 stars
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This is a review of the book "Who Told You That You Were Naked?" written by William E. Combs.
The title of this book intrigued me when I first saw it. For a Christian believer, the events that transpired in the Garden in Eden after the creation of mankind are completely fundamental to a sound understanding of humanity, the advent of Jesus Christ and the state of the world. The book promised a “refreshing re-examination” of events that took place in the Garden. I read the book in one sitting to get an overall impression, then re-read it again more slowly to “chew the cud”, so to speak, and was gratified that it certainly lived up to its bold claim. This is not a quick and easy read. It requires the reader to engage seriously and think carefully, an approach enhanced by the author’s practice of ending each chapter with a series of study/discussion questions, most of which do not have “easy” answers. Having said that, this is a book that would likely appeal primarily to Christians, particularly those who already view the Genesis account as more than merely allegorical, and non-Christians who are comfortable with thoughtfully examining a viewpoint that may be some way removed from their own.
The book explores the origin of creation, our first parents, their interaction with God, the presence of the serpent in the garden, the tragedy in the Garden of Eden and the consequences and effects on all of us as descendants of Adam and Eve, as well as how we live today considering all of this. Combs looks at several key Christian concepts, drawing on his own experience and observations and puts forward some thoroughly interesting propositions about death, sin, life, and redemption, particularly taking issue with several commonly held Christian views of sin, death, etc. He writes quite convincingly, and I sometimes found myself surprised by how well his arguments resonated with me.
His engaging method of interspersing fictional narratives with a more serious discussion of biblical truths worked quite well for me. Personal narratives, even if fictional, are able to retain my attention in ways that sustained theological expositions struggle to. The narratives are fictional in the sense that they are not explicitly articulated in the Bible; however, they are eminently plausible, and the imagination employed is commendable. One thing that jarred with me is that some of the dialogue attributed to God seemed to be a little too formal if used in actual conversation. For example, on page 19 in Chapter 1 the [fictional] words that God speaks to Adam and Eve (in God’s Plan for the Newlyweds) do not sound natural if these were actually used in conversation. They would, however, fit well with the speaker reading from a script or a prepared speech. Did the author deliberately use this to convey a sense of formality and gravitas as far as God was concerned? While it is a minor detail and does not detract from the overall effect, I thought that could use some more editing.
One of the key Christian views that Combs takes issue with is the consensus among most mainline Christians that death only appeared on earth because of the fall. This is a natural consequence of the doctrine that death – physical death – is a punishment for sin and not part of God’s creation that he viewed as good. The book questions the concept that death was not part of God’s original creation. It is a highly interesting idea and certainly quite plausible when one considers the related question that Combs raises– why would God tell Adam and Eve that they would “die” in eating the forbidden fruit if death was unknown to them? How would they even understand the idea of death if creation had no concept of death at all? It certainly flies in the face of the idea that death is “not good” and, therefore, could not have been part of original creation. There is much food for thought here. If death existed prior to the fall of man, then what does the Bible in the New Testament mean by death entering the world through Adam? Combs does not definitively answer this, in my opinion, but he leaves the reader with one more question that to wrestle with in their own walk of faith.
Combs also notes that God actually makes no mention of sin at all when He confronted Adam and Eve with their actions in the garden, but He does bring it to the attention of Cain when He sees his heart full of anger towards his brother Abel and God. The book explores the various nuances of brotherly interaction that culminate in the awful crime of Abel’s murder at the hands of his brother, suggesting that sin is rarely as simple and straightforward as many think it is (or think it ought to be!). The book goes so far as to suggest that the consequences that God pronounced on Adam and Eve should not be viewed as punitive but redemptive – including their banishment from the garden. This certainly goes against mainstream Christian belief which considers that Adam battling thorns and thistles, and Eve bearing children in great pain are punitive consequences of their rebellion, which have been passed on to us. The argument that these consequences might instead have redemptive and life-giving effects for us today are well worth considering in light of the Scriptures themselves and the problems that have plagued humanity for centuries. Vox populi is not necessarily vox Dei! Embracing our humanity, instead of cursing it, as that which God has given to us for our good is certainly more liberating than the alternative. I do wish that the book had explored this a bit more in the context of something like slavery. Would the history of slavery have been different if society – the Christian world, in particular - had viewed labour not as a curse but as a blessing? One almost wishes that Combs would consider exploring this in future.
I read the book using the Aldiko Book Reader on an Android mobile device. The editing was generally excellent but there were a few formatting quirks that showed up on this particular display. For example, any passage of Scripture that has been quoted and reproduced in the book appears in a single column in the middle of the page(s) that it covers. This jars with the layout of the remainder of the text and I recommend that the publishers give due consideration to formatting displays within eReaders.
Overall, this is a highly theological book that is written to stimulate thought specifically within a Christian theological context. It will not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for those who are keen to explore further the great Christian concepts of life, death, sin, redemption, humanity, and relationship with God, this is a well-written work and I commend it to your attention. It is not exactly revolutionary, although it may be held by some to be controversial, I found it engaging, articulate, reasonable and encouraging. The purpose of a book is to make one think, and Combs has certainly challenged me to think more carefully about beliefs that I hold. I highly recommend Who Told You That You Were Naked, especially to Christians, and rate the book 4 out of 4 stars.
Who Told You That You Were Naked?
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