I recently received a copy of an intriguing book in the mail called Short Answers to Big Questions about God, the Bible, and Christianity. One of the authors, Dr. Clinton Arnold, is a friend and colleague of mine at Biola University. This father-son pair tackle some of the biggest theological questions raised about Christianity today, such as, “Is Hell a real place?” “Do angels and demons really exist?” and “Does God hate sex?” If you’re looking for an easy-to-read, insightful, and timely book that tackles these types of questions, then I highly recommend this book. To give you a sense of the content and approach of this book, the Arnolds answered a few of my questions:
SEAN MCDOWELL: There are quite a few apologetics books that aim to provide short answers to tough questions. What makes your book unique?
JEFF ARNOLD: Great question. We wanted to write a book that you could hand to your friend with questions about the faith and know that they will get a concise, credible, and compelling response. We also wanted this book to provide basic training in key theological and apologetic themes combined with an overview of what it looks like to live the Christian life. It’s hard to find resources that do all of this at once, but we were convinced of the practical value for a more comprehensive resource like this since it fits with the kinds of questions people are asking in real life. We think we have arrived at a unique blend of breadth, depth, and variety that will be really helpful to people.
CLINT ARNOLD: We also try to cover the key topics that would help ground new believers in the faith. As much as possible, we include and discuss the key passages from the Bible on each topic. We are hoping that churches find this a helpful resource for new Christian classes or mentoring relationships.
MCDOWELL: What was the hardest question to answer? Why?
CLINT: It is hard for me to single out one chapter because I struggled with all of them to get them trimmed down to our 1500-word limit for each. How can a seminary professor present the deity of Christ in 1500 words?! But I’m more convinced than ever that we need to be able to give concise and compelling answers on every doctrine and every topic. Sure, we can always go deeper, but we need to begin with a well-articulated overview.
JEFF: Oh, that’s easy—for me it was “Does God Hate Sex?” Our culture is currently holding a giant magnifying over this issue, so we had to be ultra careful to be completely faithful while also not unnecessarily ruffling feathers. And just as—if not more—importantly, we wanted to communicate the loving and positive message that the Bible clearly communicates in regards to sex too—not just what sex isn’t.
MCDOWELL: I love that you tackle the question, "Why Doesn't God Answer My Prayers?" This is a tough issue because it deals with both intellectual and emotional components. What are your thoughts?
JEFF: I think that so many of the barriers between people and the Gospel are primarily emotional ones; that’s why we wanted to incorporate as many of those into our book as possible, including the also highly emotional “Why Are There Hypocrites In the Church?”
I would start by avoiding phrases like “Pray harder,” or “Stop sinning,” or “Everything happens for a reason.” I find it helpful to focus instead on what we know to be true about God: he always hears us, he never leaves us, and he loves us far more deeply than we could ever love him. These basic truths go a long way. We likely won’t get an answer to all of our questions this side of heaven, but we can take great joy and comfort in what wedo know.
MCDOWELL: How did you come up with the various questions for the book?
CLINT: Most of the questions came directly from conversations we’d had in our respective classrooms and ministries. For me, there were two important sources. For many years, I led a team of people in teaching new believers at a large evangelical church in southern California. These were questions that came up regularly. I also used to serve as a columnist for a NavPress periodical called, Discipleship Journal. The editorial team had me write on key theological questions that the readership wanted the magazine to address.
JEFF: I get questions from my high school students all the time, but every summer I’m flooded with them at the evangelism camp called Unleashed that I’m a part of. Out on the beaches of Southern California, you get to hear from all ages and cultures, and you start to see patterns really fast.
MCDOWELL: Question 37 is, "Why Does God Feel Distant?" How to you address this one?
JEFF: Gosh, this one is so important—I know people who’ve left the faith because they couldn’t “feel God” anymore. Everyone is different, so we don’t claim to know the exact reasons behind every specific situation, but I think a few basic principles can help a lot. Our basic premise is that it’s normal and wonderful when we feel the high of a renewed relationship with God, but it’s also normal for that high to subside. You shouldn’t feel guilty if you don’t “feel” God; you can continue to fall more in love with someone even without a constant sense of euphoria. The desire to feel God can often become the goal rather than a meaningful relationship with God, so in all likelihood, the removal of that feeling could be a strong sign that you have matured in your faith to the point that it’s actually better for you not to rely on that same emotional high that you once did.
MCDOWELL: What are your hopes for how this book is used?
JEFF: I hope that this book can be the first thing (other than a Bible!) that Christians give their friends and family who are interested in learning more about the faith.
CLINT: What Jeff has said captures our vision for the book. But we also hope that churches find it a useful resource in helping new believers grow in the faith.