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What Bothers Me Most about Christianity: Honest Reflections from an Open-Minded Christ Follower

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New York Times bestselling author ed Gungor offers a provocative look at the questions that bother not only opponents of Christianity but dedicated believers as well. with candor and good will, Gungor joins the discussion generated by the multitude of atheistic books currently in the market and offers a thoughtful, reasonable response.

In What Bothers Me Most about Christianity, Pastor Ed Gungor owns up to the valid criticism that affronts ...

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What Bothers Me Most about Christianity: Honest Reflections from an Open-Minded Christ Follower

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Overview

New York Times bestselling author ed Gungor offers a provocative look at the questions that bother not only opponents of Christianity but dedicated believers as well. with candor and good will, Gungor joins the discussion generated by the multitude of atheistic books currently in the market and offers a thoughtful, reasonable response.

In What Bothers Me Most about Christianity, Pastor Ed Gungor owns up to the valid criticism that affronts Christianity. With his trademark sense of humor and unabashed honesty, Gungor explores the ten most troublesome aspects of Christianity, addressing questions such as:Why does a loving God allow evil to exist in His world? If the Christian church is so good, then why have so many horrible acts been committed in its name? Why was God so harsh to His children in the Old Testament?

Maintaining that having faith is not intellectual suicide and that mystery is an essential quality of the Christian belief, What Bothers Me Most about Christianity opens up the forum for amicable discussion between thinking people on both sides of the debate, from aggressive atheists to unswerving Christian believers. Gungor maintains that balancing faith and reason is indeed possible and that devoted Christ followers need not shy away from asking the tough questions. As he guides readers through these fundamental issues, they will find that their honest wrestling will actually bring them to a deeper, more mature understanding of faith.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"When I first heard the title, What Bothers Me Most About Christianity, I was a bit leery, because quite frankly, I am most grateful to be a Christian! But I was delighted to discover that Ed Gungor upholds Christianity while honestly addressing many of the misconceptions about the Christian faith. In a way that speaks to our post-modern culture, Ed Gungor takes these misconceptions, one by one, and systematically addresses them from a Christian perspective." — Jerry Newcombe, D. Min. - TV Producer / Author

"I love this book! It's a lot easier to give pat answers to questions people aren't asking than to wrestle honestly with the questions they are asking. Thank you, Ed, for wrestling with honest questions. I highly recommend it for people who wrestle and think!" — Bob Roberts, Author, Glocalization: How Followers of Jesus Engage a Flat World

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781416592556
  • Publisher: Howard Books
  • Publication date: 6/2/2009
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 1,400,226
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Ed Gungor is the author of the New York Times bestselling book, There Is More to the Secret, as well as several other books. Lead pastor of The People’s Church in Tulsa, Gungor also makes regular media appearances and speaks in churches, universities, and seminars nationwide.

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Read an Excerpt

A HIDE-AND-SEEK GOD

it bothers me that God is intentionally hiding

I believe in God most of the time. But I have moments when I wonder if I'm wrong; times when I have a taste of doubt in my soul. Faith is a tricky business. Those of us who embrace it live our whole lives for someone we've never seen, and we believe in things we are convinced of but cannot prove (at least empirically).

This could easily be resolved if God were visible. It bothers me that he isn't. I mean, come on, it would be such an easy matter for God to appear as God every once in a while, in ways that are undeniable. It would sure clear up some matters and show folks who's right (I love being right). I especially feel this way when believing in God gets me labeled as a "crazy" by those who claim that faith in God has as much value as belief in the Easter bunny or tooth fairy.

I wish every person could have a peek at God, even if only once before the person dies. I'd even vote yes for people to see God while they are kids and then, when they come of age, to stop seeing him. Then they could wrestle with whether he is real or imaginary. That would be better than his being invisible. But invisible he is, and he's invisible on purpose.

Judeo-Christian thought has a rich tradition concerning the "God who hides." God loves to hide; he loves to tuck himself so completely into the backdrop of life and creation that many completely miss his presence. Isaiah comes right out and says it: "Truly you are a God who hides himself." The Bible records that after Jesus' resurrection, he was with two of his disciples who knew him well, yet "they were kept from recognizing him." Jesus' own disciples had no clue they were walking along the road with the resurrected Christ. He was hiding. God also hid from the biblical patriarch Jacob, who exclaimed, "Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it." God often told Israel, "I will...hide my face." The psalmists repeatedly lamented how God was "hiding" from them.

But it gets worse than God's hiding his presence. When it comes to his message, he cloaks it in obscurity, making it fairly inaccessible. In one of Jesus' prayers he said "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned." What's up with that? Even Jesus' disciples didn't get what was going on: "The disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about." When teaching the crowds, Jesus would say, "If you, even you, had only known...but now it is hidden from your eyes." He claimed, "This is why I speak to them in parables: Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand." God often hid the meaning of his message from people.

After Jesus departed and the apostles began to teach about faith, they alluded to this conspiracy of hiddenness. Paul wrote, "We speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden." The apostle repeatedly called the gospel a "mystery" that "was kept hidden in God"12 only to be "revealed" at a special time to a special group of people.

WHAT'S THE POINT?

Any thinking person has to ask, Why would God hide? If, as Paul said, God "wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth," why would God hide from people or make his message obscure? The whole notion seems counterintuitive. But as I've wrestled with this question, here are the best guesses I've encountered as to why God functions this way.

Allowing Faith to Be Faith

Perhaps God hides because he has chosen to establish a relationship with humanity through the pathway of faith. In order for faith to be faith, God must remain invisible and unprovable to the senses. If God could be seen as plainly as the sun or experienced as unquestioningly as gravity, faith would not be required. God's existence would be an undisputed fact.

The pathway of faith insists that relationship with God is a matter of human free will and not forced or involuntary. Faith can only exist in freedom, where we can choose to believe or not to believe. Because God uses faith as the only modality for connection with him, any relational connection between us has to be the result of choice or free will. As I wrote in the Introduction, if we aren't honest about the tensions in faith, problems emerge.

Christian theology sees God as almighty, all-knowing, and everywhere present; and yet, he respects the right of those he created to disregard him. He only wants authentic relationship with us, so he honors our right to ignore him. Authentic relationships require choice. Forced friendships or shotgun weddings do not constitute real relationships. But the choice to discount God would be impossible if God were visible. Why? Because God's presence is ubiquitous — he is everywhere interacting with us, in everything from holding creation intact, to choosing when and where we would live, to causing all the good we know, to giving us "life and breath." Only invisibility affords us the choice to ignore God. Because he is invisible, we have the option, via faith, to leap past that invisibility into a relationship with him.

Maybe this conspiracy of hiddenness is like the hide-and-seek game children play. God hides; those who want to find him, look for him. Scripture tells us well over a hundred times to "seek the Lord"19 or to "seek his face." Perhaps the call to "seek" God is a call to this hiding game. It seems that God has rigged the game so that the persistent, dedicated seeker always finds him. God promises to those who seek him, "I will be found by you." Jesus adds, "Seek and you will find." The notion that God is playing hide-and-seek with us is fairly scandalous, yet amazingly brilliant. Maybe this is why faith is partially fun. For me, it's both bizarre and fun to have a relationship with a Being I have "found" but can't see.

The Romance of Belief

Another possible justification for why God hides is that faith involves more than the rational mind; it also involves the heart. Whenever you address matters of the heart, you must push past mere intellect. God's hiddenness requires that faith rest on more than intellectual interaction. Trying to connect with someone unseen messes with your reasoning faculties. To pull it off, you have to plunge deeper into your soul and engage the "what if?" and "maybe" pockets of curiosity within the human heart. Only when this curiosity ascends can a heartfelt "seek" dawn, leading to the heart-transforming "find."

This rumors the enterprise of falling in love. Boy notices girl; girl notices boy. Eyes meet. Interest rises. There's often an unspoken hint of excitement. Why? Because there is hiddenness in the mix. The obscure dissimilarities between the sexes elicit curiosity in the person with an open heart, and curiosity is a great motivator for pursuing a relationship. Some won't go there — it's too irrational, potentially painful and disappointing — so they face life alone. To be sure, relationships have an intellectual component, but they are not just intellectual. They also transcend the rational mind. By the time a man and woman decide to enter into something as serious as a marriage vow, they have shot way beyond the function of intellect. Their wills, their emotions, their imaginations, the part of them that trusts — all these aspects of who they are must weigh in. One could say that entering committed love involves the whole person. And when you give yourself totally to another person, risk emerges. You wonder: How will it change me? Will I be happy? Will I get hurt? Am I being foolish? Wagonloads of scary questions; lots of hiddenness. But the risk, the irrationality, the uncertainty, the hiddenness make love, love. Same goes for faith.

Something about the love between a man and a woman mirrors the love relationship we are to have with God. Paul claimed that the romantic relationship is "a profound mystery" that speaks of "Christ and the church." Somehow the clues of God's existence catch our eye, and we suspect he may be real and even reaching out to us. We feel a rush of excitement and anticipation. The idea may have some rationality in it, but it is also submerged in hiddenness, uncertainty, and irrationality. We choose either to keep seeking or to drop the issue. That choice is a critical one indeed.

IN GOLDILOCKS FASHION

Though God is invisible, he leaves us clues that point to his existence. He drops hints of his activity all around us. But they are only hints. As you study the biblical record, you see that God loves to spill his life into the world through subtle, almost unperceivable ways. Unless you are actively looking for him, you will most probably miss him.

As silly as it sounds, there is a Goldilocks way in which God sneaks around our world. Let me explain. In the children's story Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Mama, Papa, and Baby Bear came home one day only to discover that someone has been eating their porridge, sitting in their chairs, and lying on their beds. It wasn't until the end of the story that they found out it was Goldilocks.

I think God, in Goldilocks fashion, gets involved with our lives before we notice him. As the Creator and Sustainer of all life, he metaphorically messes with our porridge, sits in our chairs, and lies on our beds. Though we can see and feel the results, we don't get to actually see him till the end of the story. The essence of faith is the human commitment to seek the clues until they lead us to the Hiding One. We may only find him metaphysically or spiritually, but find him we do indeed. James wrote, "Come near to God and he will come near to you."

NOT LEFT TO CHANCE

What's provocative about God's hiddenness is that God doesn't scatter his clues in the world and then leave it to chance as to whether people will notice them. He guarantees we will. Scripture claims God has predisposed everyone to notice the clues, that on some fundamental level, God has made the clues to his existence "plain to [everyone]." On some intrinsic level, God places an internal awareness within every person born into this world that there is something more, something transcendent "out there." God has rigged the human heart to notice clues that cultivate a suspicion that there is something otherly to be sought and experienced. Paul said that even those who have never heard the good news about God have this inner awareness "written on their hearts." In this way God makes true his claim, "I was found by those who did not seek me; I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me."

This primitive knowing, however, doesn't mean we "see" the Hidden One or that everyone understands God in the way Christ revealed him in the Gospels. In fact, a story in the life of apostle Paul demonstrates how people can manifest an intrinsic knowing of the transcendent but not necessarily get the God story right.

Although Christ had never been preached in Athens, Paul said the Athenians were "very religious." The city was full of idols and idol worship. Their religiosity was evidence that God has conditioned all people to believe in something transcendent, and it was an indicator that God has rigged the human heart for faith (at least the kind of faith that elicits a curiosity for spiritual matters). Paul told the Athenians that God has always been with them; that he had "determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live." Paul was saying, in essence, that God was present and working in their pagan culture before Paul got there with the gospel. But he clarified that this working was incomplete and unclear without the addition of the gospel. He then pointed to an altar, which had been built to an "Unknown God," and he declared, "I'm here to introduce you to this God so you can worship intelligently, know who you're dealing with."

Paul is saying that the gospel message he preached was designed to bring clarity to who God is and to give instruction as to how God wants people to connect with him. But notice what else Paul asserts. He claims that whether or not people understand what is going on, God is always working in their lives — he is working in the life of every person, in every nation, at every moment. Many just don't know it is the God of the Bible who is working. Hence, they co-opt the God activity that touches them into their own manmade religious stories. Paul held that the Athenians' commitment to religious expression (as confused and false as it ended up being) demonstrated that God was working in them, prompting them so that they "would seek him" and "find him" because he was "not far from each one of [them]." Paul claims that all people are wrapped in God's care, that "in him we live and move and have our being." However, he firmly believed that until Christ is preached, people miss the point and head down false religious trails, while God's true nature remains opaque and shadowy to them. It is the Christian gospel that brings the religious impulse to fruition and salvation. The true God is found.

WHERE DOES FAITH COME FROM?

If seeing God is off the table, where exactly does faith come from? Why did humans begin to believe in God in the first place? When secularists enter the discussion about the origins of faith, they suggest that the idea of God is a human construct — we made him up. Atheist Richard Dawkins writes, "The proximate cause of religion might be hyperactivity in a particular node of the brain." Cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker suggests there may be a "God module" in the brain that predisposes us to believe in God.

Admittedly, both men dismiss faith as nothing more than an impulse across a nerve synapse. Okay. What if one day a scientist discovers that such a module exists? Would that prove God isn't real? No, it would not. The discoveries of how the brain functions didn't disprove the scriptural claim that God created humans to reason and think. Wouldn't finding such a module actually support the biblical claim that God put a spiritual interest or bent within every person? It would not disprove the existence of God; it would simply show us how God has "set eternity in the hearts of men" to begin with.

So, what becomes of the thing God set in the human heart — this possible module? That's entirely up to each person. Paul claimed some people respond with interest and openness to that inner awareness and begin a journey of faith and discovery that is lifelong and full of mystery and surprise. He said others suppress that knowledge because they are interested, not in surrendering their lives to a creator, but in keeping themselves the center of their own universe. Paul described this group when he claimed "not everyone has faith."

When Jesus was here, he knew that people reacted differently to the clues God placed in the world about the kingdom of God. He knew that while some would respond by seeking more evidence of that kingdom, others would blow off the idea completely. Of this latter group Jesus quoted a haunting song. He said,

We played the flute for you,
and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge,
and you did not mourn.

In other words, these folks would not respond to the clues left by heaven. In this same chapter Jesus talked about the cities he visited where he did miracles. He claimed that if the same miracles had been done in some of the ancient cities that were destroyed because of their rebellion, those cities would have responded to the message of God. The point? Some respond well to the way God tries to make himself known; others do not.

WHAT'S YOUR TAKE?

You and I have to decide what to do with the evidence we see in the world. Because God is invisible, all we see are hints of his activity. Based on those hints, we choose to believe or not believe. Mathematical genius Blaise Pascal, who lived in the 1600s, wrote, "If [God] had wished to overcome the obstinacy of the most hardened, he could have done so by revealing himself to them so plainly that they could not doubt the truth of his essence....There is enough light for those who desire only to see, and enough darkness for those of a contrary disposition."

Pascal was saying that people either see or don't see God, based on the direction of their hearts. So, if you are open to the idea of God, you will notice evidence that will encourage you to continue investigating the possibility of his existence. On the other hand, if you are of a "contrary disposition," you will only see evidence that satisfies your penchant not to believe in God. This means your view of the world — your way of interpreting the world and making sense of all its varied elements — inclines you toward a particular way of interpreting the evidence about God's existence. We all operate from a particular worldview. Let me illustrate.

Imagine coming across a man giving an outdoor speech one day in 1863. If you were a Martian, you would probably place little significance on what was going on. You'd likely assume that humans occasionally like to stand on big boxes and make sounds. If you were a child on the scene, you would hope the speech would be brief. After all, adults' words are always Charlie Brownesque, "Mwa, mwa, mwa, mwa, mwa." You wouldn't have gotten much out of it. But let's say you were a historian from the future. Listening to this speech by Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, would have definitely carried special significance for you.

Your point of view, what you think is really going on around you, impacts how you interpret events, what you make of life, and ultimately how you respond to it. So, what in the world is going on? What's your take? Is there a God? Is he controlling things? Or do things just happen on their own? What is the back story behind the events you see in the world? Your answer often depends on your worldview.

Jesus was praying shortly before his journey to the cross, " 'Father, glorify your name!' Then a voice came from heaven, 'I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.' The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him."

The story claims the voice of God shot out of heaven. Some folks took the view that it really was the voice of God; others took the view that the sound was just thunder, a natural phenomenon. Why the disparity? Differing worldviews. Two people can observe the same evidence and walk away with two different accounts of what is taking place. People shoehorn what they see into the theological or philosophical frameworks they have already bought into. We all come to the party with some presuppositions; no one is exempt.

Some worldviews are based in a belief in God; others are not. Buddhism, Taoism, atheism, Marxism, and existentialism are examples of worldviews that are nontheistic. Worldviews can't be proven because they represent big-picture ways of interpreting and engaging with the world. The core beliefs of a worldview lie beyond anything resembling final proof.

Because this is the way things such as faith work, Jesus wondered if he would "find faith on the earth" when he returns. He wasn't being rhetorical. Jesus had no guarantee this world wouldn't go the direction of those in Noah's day where "The Lord saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time." The God who hides takes the risk of being ignored by a race governed by free will.

THE FUNCTION OF OUR PAST

Our capacity to believe in the notion of God is also shaped by our past. We all come from the land of broken toys, and because we do, we have issues with trust. It's not that we don't want to trust, it's that those in whom we have already trusted have wounded us: parents, friends, siblings, leaders, and so on. It only takes one or two disappointments before our "truster" (the thing that enables us to trust) starts to shut down like a laptop cycling into shutdown mode — it's still running, but it's not going to do anything but shut down.

If you have had a horrific past, faith will be more difficult for you. You may not respond to the clues of God's existence. Don't be too hard on yourself about that. I think God understands this. I think he's okay with the doubts that pop up as a result of what we have experienced.

A person who has been sexually or physically abused by a parent is going to find it hard to understand or feel trust or believe in God. It's not that he or she is not open, it's that the concept of God has been polluted. Parents always play a significant role in shaping a child's view of God. (Perhaps this explains the stern warning given by Jesus to parents about how they approach their responsibility as parents — see Mark 9:42.)

History's most famous atheists — John-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, Sigmund Freud, Bertrand Russell, Friedrich Nietzsche, Madalyn Murray O'Hair, and Karl Marx — all had difficult relationships with their fathers or had fathers who abandoned them or who died when they were very young. Perhaps this is why believing in a heavenly Father never stuck. Faith would have proved very difficult for them. Parents color our view of God.

The good news is that God will help disentangle this and empower a clean, robust faith within a seeking person's soul. But it will not happen apart from a willingness to struggle through the hurt, confusion, and doubt that such hard experiences foster. In the process, people must refuse to let personal feelings and experiences limit their view of God. Only then will they be able to sort through what God reveals about himself in creation, in healthy relationships with others, and, ultimately, through the sacred Scriptures. Not easy stuff.

BEING HONEST

God promises that he can be found by anyone, but as we've seen, there are some prerequisites. A significant one is a commitment to stay true to one's inner self — not the mature, self-made, adult self, but the simple, innocent, created-by-God, inner-child self.

Paul claimed that through creation itself "what may be known about God is plain to [everyone], because God has made it plain to them." In order to find the God who hides, we must be honest about the indicators that clearly point to his existence. As children, we had an inner suspicion that there was a God. Every child looks at the wonder of the universe and asks questions like, who made the flowers? or who put the stars in the sky? Children have a remarkable capacity to quickly, innocently, almost imperceptibly, orient themselves toward the rule of God. To the surprise of his disciples, Jesus taught that children are perhaps more capable of receiving and orienting themselves toward the gracious, renewing rule of God than adults are. Jesus said to his disciples, "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." As children grow and observe creation, they have a natural curiosity about what is transcendent. What one does with that curiosity is what's important.

Paul argued that creation has "God's invisible qualities" on parade in ways that are "clearly seen" and "understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse." The problem, as Paul saw it, was that "although [people] knew God," as children, "they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him." Somewhere along the way, they lose touch with that inner awareness and wonder about God. Paul claimed people will either stay in tandem with their God-given inner curiosity and continue seeking more evidence about God, or they will ignore it.

So, we interpret the evidence we observe in the world through the direction of our hearts. Jesus revealed the profile of those who are able to "see" the kingdom of God. They are "poor in spirit," "meek," "merciful," "pure in heart," a "peacemaker," and childlike. Jesus also said, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God," which means that those who are not pure — those who are too sophisticated to stop and give thanks to God — do not get to see him.

What is the difference between a heart that has the honesty to see God and one that doesn't? It's the difference between humility and pride. The Bible says it overtly, "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." The heart filled with pride will not find God, but those who are humble in heart will. When people are humble, open, and willing to admit their own poverty of spirit, the scales fall off their eyes and they begin to see God at work in their lives. Those with impure hearts, full of pride and self-adulation, form spiritual cataracts that blur their capacity to see God. There are no miracles, no divine interactions; just "thunder." The position of our hearts has everything to do with whether God ever comes out of hiding for you and me.

THE PROBLEM WITH PRIDE

There are some strong, very intelligent voices trying to persuade people to not believe in God or religion of any kind. In a pugilistic yet compellingly lucid fashion, highbrow atheists are raising their voices, claiming that faith subverts science, saps the intellect, and has proven to be harmful to our children and society as a whole. They claim faith is an irrational, pernicious, nonintellectual position that results in ignorance, intolerance, oppression, bigotry, arrogance, child abuse, cruelties to women, war, and the like. When you read the arguments this group lays out and look past their use of inflamed language and antifaith prejudice, you get the sense that they are reacting to all the evil that has been done in the name of God.

I can only imagine that this breaks the heart of God. He loves these folks as much as he loves anyone else. The problem is, God has chosen faith as the road that leads to discovery of him, not human wisdom or intelligence. Faith demands a childlike, heartbased openness to spiritual reality. When a person ignores matters of the heart and chooses to believe what seems reasonable, he or she ends up shunning the spiritual. That person will never find God. Scripture says, "God in his wisdom saw to it that [people] would never know God through human brillance." God's commitment to faith as the pathway to spiritual discovery is clearly seen by his promise: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate." He commits to this even though it will "shame the strong."

It's not that God hates people who put their intellect first. Not at all. He is the one who gave us our intellectual capacity. It's that living by reason alone is a self-relying, self-sustaining enterprise, and faith is the exact opposite: it refuses to trust self in favor of trusting in God. In a sense, self-reliance is a rebellion against God. This is why those who hold reason sacrosanct end up seeing faith as folly and want nothing to do with God. Later, in our chapter on eternal judgment, we will see how a person's direction of trust is carried with that individual as he or she enters eternity. Self-reliant, proud people will want no more to do with God when they see his face than they do now when they don't. These are the ones John saw calling "to the mountains and the rocks" in the book of Revelation, crying, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne!" They don't want anything to do with God.

HIDING ON STEROIDS

When the heart is right, the hiding God will be found. God himself oversees this process. Jesus declared, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him." He goes on to say that a person can only have faith when he or she is "taught by God." He continues, "Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me." God does not force some to believe while making others doubt. The journey of faith is an interplay between God and the open human heart. Each plays a role.

God teaches about himself in bits and pieces. The secret for getting into this God classroom is simply longing for him, remaining interested and open to the possibility that he is there. Jesus says, "Those who hunger and thirst...will be filled." As a person hungers and thirsts, God comes out of hiding. God promises, "You will seek me and find me." But he adds the caveat that the seeker will only find him "when you seek me with all your heart."

God is so committed to the conspiracy of hiddenness that he goes into hyperhiding when people demand physical proof before they will believe. Some of the religious leaders of Jesus' day came to him and asked, "Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you." Jesus responded, "A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it." When Jesus was brought before Herod, Herod "hoped to see [Jesus] perform some miracle." Jesus didn't go there. At the cross folks gathered to see if Jesus would perform a sign that would prove he was who he said he was.59 Again, no proof was forthcoming.

In the gospel of Luke, Jesus tells a parable about a rich man who end up in hell and pleads with Abraham on behalf of his five brothers. He asks that someone go back to the earth from the dead in order to "warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment." Abraham replies, "They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them." But the rich man is positive that the historical evidence is not proof enough. He knows his brothers will not listen unless they have physical proof, so he says, "No, father Abraham,...but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent." Then Abraham shuts the discourse down by saying, "If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead."

This story is enormously significant in helping us understand how faith works. Those who won't follow the evidence in the world that points to God's existence will not believe anything that would serve as miraculous proof. The problem isn't with the evidence; it's with the orientation of the heart.

To make matters worse, if one is reticent about following the clues that point to God's hiddenness, God goes even more covert. Jesus' life showed us this: "Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him." So what takes place? Jesus said that in response to their unbelief, God made it so "they could not believe." Jesus said, " '[God] has blinded their eyes and deadened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn — and I would heal them.'"

Let's say I told you I heard a faint scratching in my ceiling and I believed squirrels had invaded my home. Then I asked you to help me catch them. You could either tell me I was crazy and yell that you need proof the squirrels are really there before you help me look for them, or you could shut up and listen to see if you can hear them. As long as you are screaming, one thing is certain: you will not hear any faint scratching. You will be deaf to the evidence that supports my claim.

The screaming mind of reason or the untrusting heart of the broken soul can preclude people from perceiving the evidence of God in our world. They're making too much noise. These people focus so much on the natural world for proof that they are oblivious to the evidence that is not seen with the natural eye. And God honors their right to stay in that state.

I'm not sure I get why this happens, and it is certainly a scary notion, but God either enlightens or blinds people's eyes to his existence in response to the condition of their hearts! If your heart is proud, you will be blinded. If your heart is humble, you will be enlightened. Paul wrote of those who "suppress" what God has made "plain to them." He said these suppressors "neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him," and as a result, their "thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened." Paul said because of the direction of their hearts, "God gave them over" to become "fools." In the end, pride destroys a person's capacity for spiritual hunger and perception.

But then it gets even more complicated. Even when a person is open to following the evidence to God, there is a point where the trail stops cold and the next step is uncertain. The early road of clue-based faith ends in a Thelma & Louise cliff leaping end — dare we go for it? Each person has to make a decision at that moment: Do I turn back or take the leap into the complete unknown? I wish we could follow the hints of God's existence like a yellow brick road of clues all the way to the face of God. Then God's existence would be provable to the rational part of our minds. But it isn't. We can make persuasive arguments for God's existence with a number of factors (for example, the design of creation, the range of human experience, the longing for transcendence in every person, and so on), but these arguments are not proof certain. We cannot prove God exists like we can prove that 2+2=4. At some point, we must embrace a different kind of faith, one based on revelation rather than clue finding. This kind of faith goes way beyond the interplay of observation and investigation. Revelation comes from the world of the supernatural. The good news is that faith based on revelation ends in an amazing encounter with the living God. But this kind of faith demands a significant leap over reason. Let's look at that next.

(Better buckle up, Harold.)

© 2009 Ed Gungor

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Table of Contents

First Thoughts ix

01 A Hide-and-Seek God: It bothers me that God is intentionally hiding 1

02 An Unreasonable Faith: It bothers me that reason alone doesn't lead to faith 23

03 An Evil World: It bothers me that God allows evil in the world 41

04 A Lone Savior: It bothers me that Jesus is the only way to a relationship with God 75

05 The Science-Faith Smackdown: It bothers me that science and faith sometimes seem incompatible 97

06 An All-Too-Human Church: It bothers me that so many Christians give Christianity a bad name 123

07 An Old Testament "Bully": It bothers me that God looks like such a bully in the Old Testament 141

08 A Misuse of Scripture: It bothers me that believers consistently misuse sacred text 161

09 A Torturous Hell: It bothers me that the Christian faith includes a hell 193

Final Thoughts: To Believe or Not to Believe 217

Acknowledgments 221

Endnotes 223

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Introduction

Questions for Discussion

1. Does it bother you that God is intentionally hiding? Why or why not?

2. Does it bother you that reason doesn't always lead one to faith?

3. Does it bother you that God allows evil in the world? What do you personally believe about evil? What role does Satan, people, or God play in it?

4. Does it bother you that Jesus is the only way to relationship with God? What about those who have never heard or understood the message about Jesus?

5. Does it bother you that some see science and faith as incompatible? Were do you think they intersect or collide? What do you do when science and faith seem to contradict each other?

6. Does it bother you that so many Christians give Christianity a bad name? What do you do when people bring up the negative reputation of Christians?

7. Does it bother you that God looks like such a bully in the Old Testament? What are your thoughts about the matter?

8. Does it bother you that believers constantly misuse sacred text? How do you approach scripture in your study life?

9. Does it bother you that the Christian faith includes a hell? Are you convinced in the literal or metaphorical view of the descriptions of hell?

10. Do questions about faith bother you? Why or why not?

Q&A with the Author

How writing caught my interest...

Probably the thing that got me thinking seriously about writing was a war movie I saw back in the 80s — I don't remember the title, but in the show the main character decided to focus his life on writing because he believed words could do the most to change how people think. The thought stuck with me and I started working on sharpening mywriting skills. It took me almost 20 years to get published, but writing is a dream come true for me.

What I love...

Now in my fifties, I've proven to myself that nothing I accomplish and no position I hold every really touches my soul — those things are sort of like fingernails. I feel things that touch my nails, but those touches feel sort of "distant" to my body. Attached, yes, but distant. So, the older I get the more I enjoy working on the things that really touch me: my bride of 30+ years, my kids and grandkids, my friends, and my God — my relationships are what impact my soul. I do love to work, but not at the expense of the people in my life. In theory, I always believed that to be true; I practice it now. Often, old guys are better guys — my wife, Gail, tells me that's happening with me. Thank God.

What was the spark that motivated you to write this book?

We may not like it, but faith is an untidy enterprise. It demands persistence in the face of uncertainty and doubt. Some mistakenly think faith completely eliminates the presence of doubt, and that if doubt is present, it is an indicator that you don't have faith. But I don't think that is true. For many people of faith, the idea of experiencing doubt at all makes them nervous. They view the questions that naturally rise in their minds in the presence of faith claims as evidence of a lack of faith, which surely disqualifies them from being authentic believers. I wrote What Bothers Me Most About Christianity because I don't think that is true. I think honest questions and doubt are the fodder of faith — that real faith has doubt and questioning in the mix. That means struggling with doubts and questions is not a lack of faith; it actually is faith.

What is the key thought you want readers to take away from this book?

Lots of folks try to make faith a black-and-white issue, but it's not. It is filled with complexity. When it comes to truth in general, most prefer black and white and resist complexity. Complexity is too colorful. We prefer doling out black-and-white conclusions. Telling people what seems so much simpler than telling them why. And safer too. Indoctrinating people into thinking and acting in certain ways is so clean, so black-and-white simple. Helping them internalize the why behind beliefs and actions, and letting them participate in a discussion on conclusions, is both cumbersome and potentially dangerous — they may conclude something different than we do. God forbid.

But in a 21st century, pluralistic society, knowing the beliefs and rules of our "in-group" will not win the day. We need to know why we believe what we believe as opposed to what others say. We need to be "out"-doctrinated — to be shown all sides of an issue, and given the grace and room to draw our own conclusions. In the short haul that may seem crazy and dangerous, but in the end, it is our only option if faith is to survive in the West.

Why did you choose to approach this topic, even though it may be somewhat controversial?

I'm part of a generation that touted, "Jesus is the answer." In a sense, we thought faith answered all the questions of our time and believed a questioning mind revealed you had not yet experienced faith. The apostle Paul penned, "Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask..." (Eph. 3:20). God can afford any question we can come up with. But many try to avoid the natural questions that come into the modern mind over matters of faith. We work to systematize everything: our beliefs, our experiences, our outcomes — we want to have a clear understanding about everything we say and believe. We no more appreciate mystery and questions than we do appendicitis.

But there are many things we believe that rest in the domain of mystery. I'm not saying we shouldn't try to figure them out, but after we try and still come up empty, we need to smile and be OK with questions. The Greek Orthodox Church speaks of apophatic theology, a theology that celebrates what we don't know about faith and about God. Paul said it this way: "Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!" (Rom. 11:33).

I'm no longer sure we had it right when we told people "Jesus is the answer." What if he's the question? What if the million-dollar-question is what are you going to do with Jesus and his claims? And what if faith is really about all the questions that emerge from that conversation?

Shouldn't we be guarded about truth (orthodoxy)?

Most of us appreciate the familiar. We feel safer. We generally believe the things told to us by the people we trust. Other opinions about truth-positions often feel dangerous because they call into question not only our beliefs on a particular subject, but also the in-group we are part of. However, it is instructive to listen where different Christ-followers (both living and from history) are coming from. Many issues of faith are not as clear as they first seem, and listening to each other broadens us in healthy ways.

It is definitely appropriate to disagree with other Christians after we hear the defense for their positions; it is just not appropriate to be disagreeable. We should have great difficulty with absolutism and accusatory language in our discussions, along with any willingness to dismiss the views of others as "compromise" or "of Satan." That kind of positioning is counterproductive, not prophetic. Planting flags and spouting over-simplistic tautologies cause us to fall short of doing anything transformational. It simply draws lines in the sand — not unlike political debates that are not about finding solutions and synergies, but simply serve to establish "us/them" identification markers. Always bad form.

How can we change the world?

It is evident that the church is walking into a dark night of deep cultural displacement. Our old hegemonies — the ways we influenced the world — are passing away. The old symbols of safety — big church buildings, political power, a Leave It to Beaver culture, and so on — are becoming more and more a thing of the past. What is needed in these coming days is a prophetic people, tethered to the vision of the kingdom of God through lively confession and prophetic praxis. By so living, we do a couple of things: 1) we show that the kingdoms of our world are less than they think they are; and 2) we embody our salvation in real time in real circumstances — we offer "salvation" to the kingdoms of the world. We need to be, as Paul puts it in Philippians, a politeuma — a robust, lively "colony of heaven" situated right smack in the middle of the chaos of pagan culture.

Remember it was Jesus who cried, "I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it." Notice who is supposed to be "gated" in Jesus' view. The church is not supposed to be inside a gated fortress..."holding on" till Jesus comes. We're supposed to be attacking the dark forces. God doesn't abandon cultures. He doesn't want us enclaved into gated Christian communities waiting for the return of his Son. He wants us to bring his salvation to the ends of the earth as his faithful few.

This means we are going to need to be able to deal with the honest questions that those outside of faith frequently ask. Questions about reason, church history, the why of evil, church history, etc. — these are vital questions for us to become familiar with in order to be a voice for God in this era.

Ed Gungor is a veteran pastor—currently pasturing the Sanctuary Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma—who has been deeply involved in the spiritual formation of others for over thirty-five years. He is the author of several books, including The Vow, Religiously Transmitted Diseases, and There Is More to the Secret, which landed on the New York Times bestsellers list. He is also a member of Springtime for Faith, a lay-driven initiative supported by the Vatican, and he travels around the U.S. and abroad speaking in churches, universities, and seminars. Ed and his wife Gail have been married thirty years.  They have four children and live in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Read More Show Less

Reading Group Guide

Questions for Discussion

1. Does it bother you that God is intentionally hiding? Why or why not?

2. Does it bother you that reason doesn't always lead one to faith?

3. Does it bother you that God allows evil in the world? What do you personally believe about evil? What role does Satan, people, or God play in it?

4. Does it bother you that Jesus is the only way to relationship with God? What about those who have never heard or understood the message about Jesus?

5. Does it bother you that some see science and faith as incompatible? Were do you think they intersect or collide? What do you do when science and faith seem to contradict each other?

6. Does it bother you that so many Christians give Christianity a bad name? What do you do when people bring up the negative reputation of Christians?

7. Does it bother you that God looks like such a bully in the Old Testament? What are your thoughts about the matter?

8. Does it bother you that believers constantly misuse sacred text? How do you approach scripture in your study life?

9. Does it bother you that the Christian faith includes a hell? Are you convinced in the literal or metaphorical view of the descriptions of hell?

10. Do questions about faith bother you? Why or why not?

Q&A with the Author

How writing caught my interest...

Probably the thing that got me thinking seriously about writing was a war movie I saw back in the 80s — I don't remember the title, but in the show the main character decided to focus his life on writing because he believed words could do the most to change how people think. The thought stuck with me and I started working on sharpening my writing skills. It took me almost 20 years to get published, but writing is a dream come true for me.

What I love...

Now in my fifties, I've proven to myself that nothing I accomplish and no position I hold every really touches my soul — those things are sort of like fingernails. I feel things that touch my nails, but those touches feel sort of "distant" to my body. Attached, yes, but distant. So, the older I get the more I enjoy working on the things that really touch me: my bride of 30+ years, my kids and grandkids, my friends, and my God — my relationships are what impact my soul. I do love to work, but not at the expense of the people in my life. In theory, I always believed that to be true; I practice it now. Often, old guys are better guys — my wife, Gail, tells me that's happening with me. Thank God.

What was the spark that motivated you to write this book?

We may not like it, but faith is an untidy enterprise. It demands persistence in the face of uncertainty and doubt. Some mistakenly think faith completely eliminates the presence of doubt, and that if doubt is present, it is an indicator that you don't have faith. But I don't think that is true. For many people of faith, the idea of experiencing doubt at all makes them nervous. They view the questions that naturally rise in their minds in the presence of faith claims as evidence of a lack of faith, which surely disqualifies them from being authentic believers. I wrote What Bothers Me Most About Christianity because I don't think that is true. I think honest questions and doubt are the fodder of faith — that real faith has doubt and questioning in the mix. That means struggling with doubts and questions is not a lack of faith; it actually is faith.

What is the key thought you want readers to take away from this book?

Lots of folks try to make faith a black-and-white issue, but it's not. It is filled with complexity. When it comes to truth in general, most prefer black and white and resist complexity. Complexity is too colorful. We prefer doling out black-and-white conclusions. Telling people what seems so much simpler than telling them why. And safer too. Indoctrinating people into thinking and acting in certain ways is so clean, so black-and-white simple. Helping them internalize the why behind beliefs and actions, and letting them participate in a discussion on conclusions, is both cumbersome and potentially dangerous — they may conclude something different than we do. God forbid.

But in a 21st century, pluralistic society, knowing the beliefs and rules of our "in-group" will not win the day. We need to know why we believe what we believe as opposed to what others say. We need to be "out"-doctrinated — to be shown all sides of an issue, and given the grace and room to draw our own conclusions. In the short haul that may seem crazy and dangerous, but in the end, it is our only option if faith is to survive in the West.

Why did you choose to approach this topic, even though it may be somewhat controversial?

I'm part of a generation that touted, "Jesus is the answer." In a sense, we thought faith answered all the questions of our time and believed a questioning mind revealed you had not yet experienced faith. The apostle Paul penned, "Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask..." (Eph. 3:20). God can afford any question we can come up with. But many try to avoid the natural questions that come into the modern mind over matters of faith. We work to systematize everything: our beliefs, our experiences, our outcomes — we want to have a clear understanding about everything we say and believe. We no more appreciate mystery and questions than we do appendicitis.

But there are many things we believe that rest in the domain of mystery. I'm not saying we shouldn't try to figure them out, but after we try and still come up empty, we need to smile and be OK with questions. The Greek Orthodox Church speaks of apophatic theology, a theology that celebrates what we don't know about faith and about God. Paul said it this way: "Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!" (Rom. 11:33).

I'm no longer sure we had it right when we told people "Jesus is the answer." What if he's the question? What if the million-dollar-question is what are you going to do with Jesus and his claims? And what if faith is really about all the questions that emerge from that conversation?

Shouldn't we be guarded about truth (orthodoxy)?

Most of us appreciate the familiar. We feel safer. We generally believe the things told to us by the people we trust. Other opinions about truth-positions often feel dangerous because they call into question not only our beliefs on a particular subject, but also the in-group we are part of. However, it is instructive to listen where different Christ-followers (both living and from history) are coming from. Many issues of faith are not as clear as they first seem, and listening to each other broadens us in healthy ways.

It is definitely appropriate to disagree with other Christians after we hear the defense for their positions; it is just not appropriate to be disagreeable. We should have great difficulty with absolutism and accusatory language in our discussions, along with any willingness to dismiss the views of others as "compromise" or "of Satan." That kind of positioning is counterproductive, not prophetic. Planting flags and spouting over-simplistic tautologies cause us to fall short of doing anything transformational. It simply draws lines in the sand — not unlike political debates that are not about finding solutions and synergies, but simply serve to establish "us/them" identification markers. Always bad form.

How can we change the world?

It is evident that the church is walking into a dark night of deep cultural displacement. Our old hegemonies — the ways we influenced the world — are passing away. The old symbols of safety — big church buildings, political power, a Leave It to Beaver culture, and so on — are becoming more and more a thing of the past. What is needed in these coming days is a prophetic people, tethered to the vision of the kingdom of God through lively confession and prophetic praxis. By so living, we do a couple of things: 1) we show that the kingdoms of our world are less than they think they are; and 2) we embody our salvation in real time in real circumstances — we offer "salvation" to the kingdoms of the world. We need to be, as Paul puts it in Philippians, a politeuma — a robust, lively "colony of heaven" situated right smack in the middle of the chaos of pagan culture.

Remember it was Jesus who cried, "I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it." Notice who is supposed to be "gated" in Jesus' view. The church is not supposed to be inside a gated fortress..."holding on" till Jesus comes. We're supposed to be attacking the dark forces. God doesn't abandon cultures. He doesn't want us enclaved into gated Christian communities waiting for the return of his Son. He wants us to bring his salvation to the ends of the earth as his faithful few.

This means we are going to need to be able to deal with the honest questions that those outside of faith frequently ask. Questions about reason, church history, the why of evil, church history, etc. — these are vital questions for us to become familiar with in order to be a voice for God in this era.

Read More Show Less

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  • Posted June 13, 2009

    Well written guide to the tough questions about God

    What Bothers Me Most About Christianity by Ed Gungor is a valuable addition to the growing genre of books by staunch Christians discussing the hard parts of faith. Gungor translates his conversational tone as a pastor well into the medium of writing. Each chapter could easily be a sermon that parishioners would enjoy sitting through. He tackles some of the hardest questions Christians face as first they come to faith and then again through their faith journey: Why doesn't God just show himself? Why is the Christian faith so exclusive? What does a loving God allow evil in the world? These are questions that not just Christians struggle with, but the questions that anyone who wants to understand why Christianity is a relevant faith in today's post-modern world. Gungor begins each chapter by addressing exactly why the question bothers him and what the easy answer the world wansts to hear would be. Then he gets down into the hard work of pulling out Scripture to explain the questions that have haunted the faith for centuries. He answers each one believably and solidly, and while the answers may not always be easy, he is not afraid to face them and to encourage readers to face them as well. He also acknowledges that some questions just won't be answered this side of Heaven, and accepting that is a part of having faith. This well written book is a must read for anyone who wants to understand why Christians believe as we do or for Christians who still wonder just why God does some things the way He does.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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