Price, Robert. The Reason-Drive Life: What Am I Here on Earth For? (Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2006)
As a freethinker, the publications of Prometheus Books are well-represented on my bookshelves; Robert Price's The Reason-Drive Life may just be the best I've read so far. Written as "a direct rebuttal and alternative to" (p. 21) Rick Warren's best-selling The Purpose-Driven Life, Price's book is far more than a simple criticism of Warren in particular--or even of fundamentalism in general.
The Reason-Driven Life is full of interesting tidbits and mini-lessons in theology, the most interesting of which is Chapter 26, "Satan's Sunday School." In it, Price--a professor of both Biblical Criticism and Theology & Scriptural Studies--shows Christianity's debt to Zoroastrianism in the development of Satan's backstory. Much of what Christians "know" about the history and character of Satan (as with the Catholic-invented Purgatory) is either of extra-Biblical origin or the product of rather questionable Biblical interpretation.
Price weaves the stories of various Apocrypha (The Testament of Reuben, The Apocalypse of Moses) into his book, along with plenty of quotes from Eric Hoffer's The True Believer, Nietzsche's Thus Spake Zarathustra, and Hugh Prather's Notes to Myself. The scholarship serves Price's goal quite well, and leads him to solid critiques of Warren's pseudo-knowledge. Here are but two examples:
...let me remind you that Rick Warren is happy to quote from no less than fifteen different translations or paraphrases of the Bible. You know what that means, don't you? They are so different that he has a lot of shopping to do before finding one that will make the Bible appear to say what he wants it to teach. (p. 28)
There is only so far one can go plumbing the depths of the Bible when one reads it in the completely ahistorical, out-of-context manner Reverend Warren does in The Purpose-Driven Life. It is apparent he is utterly innocent of even the most basic facts of criticism. [...] What an irony that the fundamentalist champions of the Bible seem to care nothing for the text, but only for those doctrines and devotional "promises" they pry out of it. And when the Bible does not actually yield the requisite slogans and the desired devotional idiom, they will rewrite the text so that it does. (p. 348)
In a similar vein, Price's comment that "Rick Warren makes Robert Schuller look like Nietzsche" (p. 106) brought a smile to my face. Lest any reader accuse Price of nefarious atheistic intent, he goes out of his way to clarify his attitude toward the Bible:
I love the Bible. I have devoted my life to the study of it. I wrote one PhD dissertation on the various evangelical theories of biblical authority, and a second one focusing on themes in Luke and Acts. None of this means my views must be correct. But it does show I do not approach this sensitive topic as an opponent of the Bible. Just the reverse. (p. 226)
Also worth pondering are Price's rebuke to Brother Lawrence about "practicing the absence of God" (p. 122) and this passage on the "spirituality of beauty," which is my Quote of the Day:
Did you know there is a spirituality of beauty? It is what many cultured, secular people cultivate instead of overtly religious worship. It fills the same need. [...] There are certain poems that are a revelatory experience for me. The spine tingles and the soul marvels that words can be so associated. Great music awakens something within and stirs it up. Art causes you to transcend yourself, and that, in religious terms, is a reaching up of the soul to God. (p. 140)
All in all, Price's The Reason-Driven Life is a great read; I recommend it both to those who have read Warren's book and to those--such as myself--who have not.