“The Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask (With Answers)” – Book Review 1
When I posted on 12th January (“The Real Difficulties”) I mentioned some topics I wanted to address on the blog, and said “Once again, I have no qualifications for this. I’ve been reading the Bible for a long time; that’s all. I am partly looking for, and looking to share, assistance from those who do.”
So, in this context, I am starting a new category on the blog – Resources. This is for reviews. If I read a book, or find a website, of specific relevance to the problems I identified, this is where the comments go. Please let me know if you would like to contribute.
My first review, however, is of a book whose relevance may be tangential.
“The Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask (With Answers)” by Mark Mittelberg (Tyndale) is a book designed to help Christians share their faith by giving them information and confidence in the face of the hard questions atheists or sceptics may throw at them. I borrowed it from my son, and it does give the impression of being intended for young people (this is not a criticism). It has a foreword by Lee Strobel, author of “The Case for Christ” and other similar titles, who is obviously a close friend and colleague of the author. CS Lewis and Bill Hybels of Willow Creek are also quoted.
Mr Mittelberg looked at a nationwide (US) survey of questions Christians fear being asked, and set out to answer them. The questions he addresses are (paraphrased): What makes you sure that God exists? Didn’t evolution disprove God? Why trust the Bible? Why does Jesus have to be the Son of God, rather than just a good teacher? Why does a good God allow suffering? Why is abortion considered wrong rather than a matter of choice? Why do you condemn homosexuality since God loves us all? How can I trust Christianity when so many Christians are judgmental/hypocritical? Why should I believe in heaven and hell?
I was expecting to find this book annoying and simplistic, and in parts so I did. The writer’s approach is very standard evangelical (he concedes that Christians don’t have to be creationists, but he appears to be one), and he is hoping for his readers to be able to follow up a friend’s question by saying something like “Yes, do you know you agree with Jesus about that? Why don’t we sit down and look at some of the things He says?” which I really can’t see happening outside an Alpha course.
I am very very far from being able to comment intelligently on the two science chapters at the beginning, but I get the feeling that although good points are made most educated atheists would have come-backs. Being more interested in history and literature, I zoomed in on the chapter about the Bible. The author does not seem to recognise a difference between saying “the gospels are historical documents worthy of respect” and saying “we should believe everything the gospels say happened, no matter how bizarre, and accept that all the long speeches in them were delivered word for word, despite the absence of shorthand or tape recorders”. Both these statements may be correct, but they are not the same. (The Roman writer Tacitus is an important source of Roman history, but no one doubts that the famous speech he puts into the mouth of a British warlord in his book “Agricola” was made up by him as a rhetorical exercise.) To be fair, Mittelberg does go into more detail about evidence for the Resurrection, surely the key issue in New Testament reliability.
Similarly, if someone says “there are contradictions in the Bible”, I do not find it adequate to reply, “if you look into it, I think you’ll find that there aren’t any – look how we can with an effort harmonise the two accounts of the death of Judas, and to say there were two angels does not contradict saying there was one angel”. Apart from anything else, this treats inconsistency as purely a matter of facts, and ignores (apparent) inconsistencies in doctrine or approach.
However, there are a lot of good things in this book. The questions are taken seriously, the answers are not glib, the author accepts the impossibility of explaining suffering (as how could he not?), the referencing is thorough, and the approach is sensitive. The emphasis throughout is on listening carefully, responding honestly, admitting what you don’t know, and showing love and empathy. This is particularly the case with the chapters on suffering and homosexuality, where the author is aware of the damage done, and the pain caused, by thoughtless stereotypes and jokes.
Although the author believes in hell, he steps briefly but rather charmingly out of his ultra-orthodox box to say that although he was taught in Sunday School that all non-believers (the kind but atheistic old lady and Adolf Hitler) will be punished equally, he now thinks this is nonsense.
I think this is a useful book to have on your shelf for reference, and to see where people, including fellow-Christians, and even oneself, are or may be coming from. But it doesn’t have all the answers.
The PPI Blogger