An upcoming national webcast for your church or small group and a new award-winning book feature answers to questions Christians are afraid they’ll be asked
My ministry partner Mark Mittelberg commissioned a Barna study to determine the spiritual questions Christians would most like to avoid. The results will form the basis of a March 10 training event that your church or small group can host via the web, as well as a book in which Mark offers pithy and insightful answers.
• Mark, your book does a tremendous job of offering great answers to the hardest questions that Christians face. Tell me how you determined which issues are the top challenges to Christians.
Thanks, Lee. The way we determined the questions Christians would rather sidestep was quite simple: we asked them! Specifically, we commissioned a study through George Barna’s organization in which they called 1,000 Christians and asked them what spiritual topics they most hoped would never come up in their conversations. Guess what? They gave us an earful!
It was out of their responses that we distilled the top ten questions most of us don’t want to talk about – and those questions formed the foundation for my new book, The Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask. I wrote it to combat the confusion and help believers feel more ready to share their faith with spiritually curious friends and family members.
• I know you’re really passionate about helping people gets answers to these kinds of issues. What drives your enthusiasm?
I believe – and more than that, I have seen – that unanswered spiritual questions are deadly. They kill the confidence of Christians, who then become timid and quiet about their faith, fearing being asked something they don’t know how to answer. More than that, these issues can fester in their souls, leading to doubts that over time can decay and even destroy their trust in God.
And equally serious, these questions and objections form what I call “intellectual roadblocks” for spiritual seekers, stymieing their willingness to give Christianity a real shot. They say, “I’d like to learn more about your beliefs, but how can I trust in a God who allows so much evil and suffering? Doesn’t he care? If he doesn’t care enough to stop this, why should I consider following him?”
• You’re right – that’s a great example of an issue that can hinder a person’s spiritual journey. I’m curious: was there one topic that the Barna survey highlighted as the “biggie” that Christians fear the most?
I expected that last issue – the problem of pain and suffering – to be the biggest, but though it made the top ten list, there were others that were higher. The top two were, “What makes you so sure God exists at all?” and “Why should I believe in heaven and hell?” Those became the first and last questions I addressed in the book – and will definitely be two of the topics we’ll speak on at our March 10 webcast.
• In a nutshell, how did you respond to those issues?
On the question about God’s existence, I started where many Christians end up – emphasizing that our experience with God is valid. In fact, I explain that one of the most important reasons you can offer concerning how you know God really exists is that you met with him this morning! But I didn’t stop with experience. I also explained some of the scientific arguments that have only gotten stronger in recent years, including the evidence from the existence of the universe (the cosmological argument), the evidence from our “just so” universe (fine tuning) and the evidence from morality (the fact that everyone has a moral standard that they carry around in their consciences, though they didn’t choose or ask for it, shows there is a Moral Law Giver who wove that moral conscience into the very fabric of humanity).
On the question about heaven and hell, my main response is to appeal to Jesus, who “came from above,” died and rose again. If anyone can tell us about life beyond the grave, it’s the one who’s been there (and who created us and knows all things). So let’s look to him to tell us what’s true about these matters – and then point our friends to that same reliable source.
• You’re the best practical apologist I’ve ever met. What’s your approach to answering questions from spiritually curious people?
I think the key is to understand and empathize with the person asking the question. The Bible tells us to be quick to listen but slow to speak. Far too often we’re tempted to spout out everything we know, without first hearing what the real issue is. We can be like doctors who write prescriptions before they examine the patient!
It’s far better to ask questions, to withhold knee-jerk reactions and to prayerfully seek God’s answers and wisdom. Then we will be ready, as 1 Peter 3:15 puts it, to give an answer, but to do so with gentleness and respect. And it’s that kind of a humble, empathetic attitude that will help the person open up to what will often be hard-to-hear truths from the Bible.
• Some critics say postmodern people don’t care about things like evidence for Christianity. But that’s not true, is it?
Based on what I’ve seen in the past decade and a half since I first started hearing that claim, the opposite is true! We live in an increasingly secular culture in which people don’t believe what we believe. Therefore, all the more they need the message of the Christian faith to not just be declared to them, but also defined and defended.
I’m not saying that everyone approaches these issues like scientists, asking for the empirical data we have to back up our epistemic claims. But inevitably the question will arise: Why should I believe what you believe? To that, Peter would admonish us that we need to “be prepared to give an answer.”
Also, on a practical level, I’ve observed in the past ten to twenty years increasing levels of interest in intellectual information and answers – especially among young people. They’re most often the ones who pack out the auditoriums for the debates, classes, seminars and Q & A sessions we offer. In addition, as you know Lee, there’s an uptick in youth-oriented apologetics around the county. It’s only natural: their faith is being challenged, so they’re looking for answers that will really help.
• I’m excited about the March 10 event that will be telecast live to churches all over North America. What’s the format and which topics will be addressed?
I’m excited about this event, too – because I think it’s going to help provide answers and wisdom to tens of thousands of Christians on how to respond to these tough issues. Specifically, it will be a Saturday morning event, lasting three and a half hours, in which you and I will be giving crisp, 20-minute talks on several of the biggest issues that we as Christians face – all of which came out of my original Barna survey.
This will include questions about the evidence for God’s existence, Jesus’ claim to being the Son of God, how science and faith fit together, the reliability of the Bible, the problem of pain and suffering, the reality of heaven and hell, and others. We’ll also be drawing from your powerful book on tough questions – The Case for Faith: A Journalist Investigates the Toughest Objections to Christianity.
• Is this purely a training event for Christians or will churches be able to invite their community to it?
Our primary focus is on equipping Christians – with the goal of teaching entire churches and small groups – but we’ll do it in a way that will also be appropriate for inviting spiritually curious friends and family members. Our goal will be, as always, to do what Colossians 4:5-6 tells us: “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
• In addition to you and me teaching at this event, we’ll be featuring at least one special guest, right?
We’re still lining up our full team, but we’re pleased to announce that we’ve already secured Dr. Douglas Groothuis. Doug is a professor at Denver Seminary and a sought-after author and speaker. In fact, he just released his 750-page tour de force work, Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith. We’re going to have him speak on the critically important question: “Jesus was a good man – but why do you think he was also the Son of God?”
Additional guests will be announced soon. More information on the lineup, the issues we’ll be discussing, and details on how churches and small groups can sign up for this event is available at www.incastevents.com/questions:
• How would you like to see churches promote this event?
Like it’s the most important thing happening all year – because it might actually be! As we discussed earlier, unanswered questions can be deadly, both for us and for those we’re called to reach. So what could be more important than training folks throughout our congregations and communities with good answers to these important issues?
Who should attend? Well, young people! Middle school, high school, college – they’re getting hit with these issues at every level, and most of them are ill-equipped to deal with them. And adults in the church – they’re facing a fresh barrage of challenges to their faith at work, on the Internet, through books and throughout our increasingly secular culture. Many have never studied these issues and so they don’t know how to respond. Plus, visitors throughout the community, many of whom are curious about these topics, but don’t know where to turn for reliable information.
It’s also important for people to know that Incastevents, which is producing the event, will be providing free, downloadable tools to help churches promote it in a winsome way.
• Any final thoughts that you’d like to share?
We need to increase our sense of urgency. As that great Leeland song “Tears of The Saints” put it, “This is an emergency!” People are asking great questions and they deserve great answers. I hope that everyone reading this will start working now – while there is still time – to rally their church or ministry to host this event and begin promoting it to everyone they can. Together, we can equip many Christians and make a real impact!
Unanswered questions can be deadly, but we don’t have to fear them! It’s my sincere hope and prayer that the March 10 webcast and my book will serve to better prepare all of us to present truth in a patient and winsome way – one that will draw people to Christ.
For more information on how your church or small group can participate in the March 10 event, visit www.incastevents.com/questions.
Mark Mittelberg is also the author of Choosing Your Faith…In a World of Spiritual Options, The Reason Why Faith Makes Sense, Becoming a Contagious Church, and is coauthor (with Lee Strobel) of The Unexpected Adventure: Taking Everyday Risks to Talk With People About Jesus. After earning an undergraduate degree in business, Mark received a master’s degree in philosophy of religion from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
This article is drawn from Lee Strobel’s free email newsletter Investigating Faith. Each issue features in-depth articles about Christianity, faith, apologetics, and the Bible. Subscribe to have each new issue of Investigating Faith sent directly to your inbox!