Empty Promises: The Truth About You,
Your Desires, and the Lies You’re Believing
By Pete Wilson
Thomas Nelson Publishers
10 April 2012
I feel like I always start these reviews with, “Well, I was interested and the book looked promising, but I was disappointed in the end and I just wanted something more.” Unfortunately, I fear that’s the case with Pete Wilson’s Empty Promises, too. And—pardon the play on words—this book just seemed like it was filled with empty promises.
For whom is this book actually written? From the title, it sounds like I should’ve been more convinced by the author’s argument/explanation (which is, simply put, that Jesus and the god of Abraham are the only way to true happiness) than I actually am now that I’ve finished it. Based on the content of the book, the title is misleading. It’s full of contradictions: Wilson states on one page that humans have no inborn desire for celebrity (and he writes it as though it’s obvious), and yet on the very next page he employs gender essentialism. (Wilson also oh-so-helpfully makes use of ageism and white guilt and infuriatingly misuses the word “jealous” throughout.) He writes that praying brings us closer to the god of Abraham, but beware because praying for prayer’s sake is actually a distraction!
Maybe I should’ve known that this book is for Christians because it was written by a Christian pastor and it deals with spiritual matters, but I was really hoping that it could speak to me, too. In that respect, I wasn’t disappointed, though the things I discovered about myself I doubt the author intended. The premise of Empty Promises is based on the idea that people inherently have an emptiness that only the god of Abraham can fill and that to (attempt to) fill it with anything else is not only foolish but also sinful. I discovered, then, that I don’t believe that people necessarily have an inner emptiness. (I believe it’s possible and certainly many people have feelings of deep emptiness, but I don’t think it’s inherent.)
In roughly the middle of the book, the author tries to debunk the idea that all love is conditional (ie: “If I do [X], God will love me”) and writes that the god of Abraham loves us no matter what, despite our sins and failures and that “adding to the gospel” is actually what makes us think that God’s love has limits/conditions. I discovered (it was quite the 3 AM epiphany, actually, no joke!) that all love is conditional, it’s just that the condition may surprise us. In this case, God’s condition is Jesus. “But God loves people who don’t believe in Jesus, too!” you say. Well, it’s possible (as anything is possible), but according to Christian scripture, Jesus is still the only way to God and everyone else is SOL/going to hell. Is that conditional, or not? You tell me.
“It’s just Jesus,” the author writes, and not “Jesus + _____________”. Is it really so obvious? No, I don’t think it is. Jews, for example, would say that Christianity “adds on” to Jewish scriptures. So, what “counts” as gospel, and what’s been added? Well, if you’re a Protestant, the Book of Mormon has been added. If you’re Jewish, the entire New Testament has been added! Not to mention that Wilson actually adds things himself later in the book: Jesus + patience, or Jesus + knowing [God's] word, or Jesus + keeping [God's] commandments, etc.
Empty Promises raised more questions than it gave answers, and I can’t decide if that was the author’s intention or not. At one point, Wilson asks, “What do you do when your religion isn’t big enough for God?” Now there’s a good question, and I didn’t even have to think of it myself!
DISCLAIMER: I received Empty Promises free from Thomas Nelson Publishers in return for a review of the book. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.