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Why "Tough Topics"?

When people ask me why I wrote the book Tough Topics: Biblical Answers to 25 Challenging Questions (Crossway, 2013), I can think of no better response than what I wrote in the Introduction.

Lucy and Linus are gazing out the window at a staggering downpour of rain.

“I’m concerned,” Linus says in a voice quivering with fear. “This could end up flooding our city, maybe even the whole world.”

“Not to worry,” Lucy responds with a confident tone. “God promised he would never flood the whole world again and he put the rainbow in the sky to prove it.”

“Thanks,” said Linus, with a sigh of relief. “That takes a heavy load off my mind.”

“Yes,” Lucy replies. “Good theology has a way of doing that!”

That is my aim in this book: to articulate good theology in order to put worried minds at rest. All of us are familiar with the sorts of problems and questions and doctrinal conundrums that plague the human mind and agitate the human heart, questions like that lingering in the thinking of Linus: “Will God ever flood the entire earth again?”

In my experience these past thirty-nine years of Christian ministry I’ve seen countless people worried and angry and fearful and just plain confused when it comes to some of the more perplexing issues that life poses and the Bible provokes, such as:

“Sam, is my baby in heaven?”

“Is it ever ok to divorce your spouse, and if it is, can I get remarried?”

“What about the heathen in Africa who’ve never heard the gospel?”

“My neighbor said I have to be baptized to be saved. Is she right?”

“If my friend goes to hell, how can I possibly enjoy heaven?”

“I’m so angry with my father. People tell me I should forgive him. What does that mean?”

“I’m afraid I’ve committed blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. Have I?”

“Do demons exist? What can they do to me? What can I do to them?”

“Is it ever ok to lie?”

“Will there be sex in heaven?”

These aren’t ordinary questions that yield to an easy or simplistic answer. These are among the most challenging subjects that people face. The failure to provide a good and biblical answer often leaves Christians in fear or guilt or confusion, and can occasionally erode their confidence in the sufficiency of Scripture to say something meaningful and satisfying. Tough Topics makes no claim to answer every question Christians ask. But it does propose to provide solid and Scriptural answers to 25 of them. Sadly, many believers walk away from church or from a friend or even from a pastor, frustrated that such issues are either answered badly or met with an “I don’t know,” or perhaps even ignored altogether. My aim in this book is to overcome that frustration by looking deeply, not superficially, at what Scripture says and deriving clear and persuasive explanations for these thorny matters.

The chapters vary in length, often in direct proportion to the difficult of the question they seek to answer. All are written with the educated Christian layperson in mind. In only a few places do I appeal to the original Greek text and when I do it is done in such a way that the person who only reads English can follow the argument.

My hope is that in providing the body of Christ with a resource of this length and depth that much confusion will be removed and hours of unproductive research can be reduced. In none of the chapters do I respond with a short or simplistic answer. My desire is that by looking deeply into the biblical text and by stretching our minds to explore every possible option we will walk away not only more informed about what the Bible teaches but also, and even more importantly, more in awe of the greatness and goodness of God. In other words, the ultimate aim of this book isn’t knowledge; it’s worship. By seeing more clearly how God acts and what he meant and why he responds the way he does I trust that we all will love him more passionately and praise him more fervently.

I suppose some might be tempted to conclude that the easy thing to do would simply be to say Yes, or No, or Sometimes, to the 25 questions posed in this book, and leave it at that. But that wouldn’t be of much help to you when it comes to knowing why the answer the Bible provides is what it is. If you never move beyond the shallow one-word response to the most puzzling and pressing questions in life, you will forever remain spiritually stunted and immature. And you will be of little to no benefit to others who approach you with their curiosity about these matters. Your grasp of who God is and how and why he does what he does would not be very deep or substantive.

The bottom line is this: We need to wrestle with the hard texts and the tough topics in Scripture. Only then will our thinking skills be honed, our minds expanded, our spirits enriched, and our hearts filled with joy and delight to understand the mysterious ways of our great God and Savior.

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