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Tough QuestionsThe Tough Questions series was produced with the conviction that spiritual truth claims can and should be tested. Religious systems sometimes considered exempt from scrutiny are not free to make sweeping demands without providing reasons why they should be taken as fact. Religious truth, and Christianity in particular, purports to tell us about the most significant of life's mysteries, with consequences alleged to be eternal. This is a grand claim, and therefore should be analyzed carefully. If questioning shows weaknesses in such claims, it only makes sense to refuse to place trust in flawed systems of belief. We contend God is not afraid of sincere questioning; in fact, it's a matter of historical record that Jesus wasn't. The Bible is not a secret kept only for the initiated few, but an open book, available for study and debate. The central teachings of Christianity are proclaimed to all, to the skeptic as well as to the seeker, like seeds cast freely in the wind. Two things determine if those seeds will take hold in you and bring life: first, whether the seeds are alive (true), and second, whether they are allowed to germinate so their life can be experienced (implanted). It is possible for any of us to believe error; it is also possible for us to resist truth. Using this set of discussion guides will help you sort out the true from the supposed, and offer a reasonable defense of the Christian faith. Whether you are a nonbeliever or skeptic, or someone who is already convinced and looking to fortify your faith, these guides will lead you to a fascinating exploration of vital truths. How to Use These Guides These guides consist primarily of questions to be answered in a group setting. They elicit discussion rather than short, simple answers. Strictly speaking, these guides are not Bible studies, though they regularly refer to biblical themes and passages. They are topical discussion guides, meant to get you talking about what you really think and feel. The sessions have a point, and attempt to lead to some resolve, but they fall short of providing the last word on any of the questions raised. You will be encouraged to bring your experience, perspectives, and uncertainties, and each group member will have to determine where he or she stands as the discussion progresses. We have chosen a group format for exploring these questions primarily because we believe people learn best in active discussion rather than passive listening. It was not Jesus' preferred style to lecture, although He did do that. The amazing thing as we read the accounts of Jesus' life is how many times He stopped and asked people questions. Of course, He had a message to convey, but He knew listeners listen best when listened to. Dialogue awakens the mind. It honors each person, even if the person has inaccurate ideas. It shakes out the theories and beliefs that seem plausible when we've consulted only ourselves, and holds them up to the light of outside scrutiny. When this process has been followed, people see their own errors and more readily give up weak arguments in favor of better attested facts. Your group should have a discussion leader. That facilitator can get needed background material in the Tough Questions Leader's Guide. It may very well happen, after some meetings, that group members are left with additional questions. This situation may be quite uncomfortable people often prefer to tie up all loose ends before dismissing but we hope the group will be open to letting the process of ongoing questioning lead to resolve. Try not to end every meeting with “Standard Answer #16” that doesn't really meet your need; instead, let the searching continue through the whole series (and beyond). Suggestions for Group Study 1. Read over the session before each meeting. Being familiar with the topic will greatly enrich your time in group discussion. 2. Be willing to join in the discussion. The leader of the group will not be lecturing but will encourage people to discuss their opinions. Plan to share honestly and forthrightly. 3. Stick to the topic being studied. You can't handle every tough question that comes to mind in one meeting. 4. Try to be sensitive to the other members of the group. Listen attentively when they speak, and be affirming whenever you can. This will encourage more hesitant members of the group to participate. 5. Be careful not to dominate the discussion. By all means participate, but allow others to have equal time. 6. It would be helpful to get a good modern translation of the Bible, such as the New International Version, the New American Standard Bible, or the New Revised Standard Version. We especially recommend The Journey: A Bible for Seeking God and Understanding Life, which has excellent notes for seekers. Questions in this guide are based on the New International Version. 7. Do some extra reading as you work through these sessions (see “For Further Reading” at the back of the guide). Jesus Said What? Christianity is Christ, and Jesus left us with a boatload of hard sayings. The central scandal of Christianity is that God would come among us at a point in history in a person, Jesus of Nazareth. The most baffling moment of Jesus' life is the cross that ignoble death, like a common criminal. In that place of weakness where all seemed lost, where the taunts of “Prove yourself, Jesus, and come down from there!” lash like the whip that flogged Him prior to crucifixion there, somehow, God was at His best, making His love more explicit than in a ten-thousand-page tome. That act of Jesus, presented as the ultimate defense of the love and justice of God, begs to be put to “cross”-examination. We believe there are satisfying, reasonable answers to the hard questions about which we all wonder. We invite you to use these guides to explore them with a small group of fellow travelers. God bless you on your spiritual journey!