Life's Biggest Questions: What the Bible Says about the Things That Matter Most

Life's Biggest Questions: What the Bible Says about the Things That Matter Most

by Erik Thoennes

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781433526718
Publisher: Crossway
Publication date: 06/23/2011
Pages: 176
Sales rank: 1,171,299
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

Erik Thoennes (PhD, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is professor and department chair of biblical and theological studies at Biola University and a pastor at Grace Evangelical Free Church in La Mirada, California. Previously hetaught at Wheaton College and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He is the author of numerous articles and several books. Erik lives with his wife, Donna, and their four children.

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CHAPTER 1

WHAT ARE LIFE'S BIGGEST QUESTIONS?

"The unexamined life is not worth living." — Socrates

Everyone wants a meaningful life. There is nothing more human than wondering what that means. Even in days filled with shallowness and countless distractions, when the light goes out at the end of the day and you lie in bed staring at the ceiling, you aren't human if you don't think about what it all means. But a meaningful life can be found only by asking good, honest questions. Good questions get to the foundational things that everyone wonders about. Humans in every generation and culture have always asked questions such as, is there a God? What is a human being? Is there such a thing as sin and, if so, can anything be done about it? Is there life after death? Even if you try to ignore questions like these, all it takes is an inquisitive child or the death of a loved one to bring life's big questions back to the surface. Asking questions assumes there are answers and that they can be found. But many today wonder if objective truth may be found, or if all we have are personal and cultural conventions. Even if absolute truth does exist, can we break out of our limited perspectives and discover it? Many increasingly think we are all left to ourselves to make truth up as we go and there is no way to know what is true or false, right or wrong, good or bad, worthwhile or empty. The Roman governor Pontius Pilate seemed to foreshadow our growing contemporary cynicism about truth when he asked Jesus, "What is truth?" before handing him over to be unjustly murdered (John 18:38).

Into this mounting confusion, uncertainty, and despair, Jesus Christ breaks in, declaring that he is "the way, and the truth, and the life ..." (John 14:6) and that he alone can bring life that is abundantly fulfilling and eternally significant (John 10:10). He is the one who restores peace with God and brings the answers we long to know. He not only provides the answers we long for, he is the answer. The Bible is the primary source for knowing Jesus and the answers he taught. While many acknowledge the wisdom and goodness of Jesus, it is also vital to realize that he viewed the Scriptures as God's Word and the foundation for answering life's greatest questions. This book is an effort to clearly and concisely present those answers. If you aren't really sure what Christians actually believe or if you've been a Christian for a long time but want to solidify the foundation of your faith, I hope this short book can accomplish both of those goals.

GETTING TO THE POINT

This paragraph gets to the bottom line of what Christians believe. The Bible is inspired by God and is centrally about God and what it means to have a relationship with him. God has always existed as one God in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He has always been revealing himself and communicating everything we will ever need to know to live profoundly meaningful lives. The basic story line of the Bible reveals a loving and holy God who created everything just as he wanted it to be as an expression of his excellence and beauty, and he declared everything very good. At the pinnacle of his creation God made humans in his image, which means they are more like him than anything else. Human purpose is found fundamentally in relationship with our Creator, depending on him for everything, honoring him, and seeing all of life as an act of worship of him. "Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created" (Rev. 4:11). Tragically, since Adam and Eve's fall, all humans are born in rebellion against God (Rom. 3:10–12). God rightly judges this sin, and we incur his wrath and sin's penalty, which is death (Heb. 9:27). God loves mankind so much that he will not let us settle for anything less than satisfaction in him as our greatest joy. He provides a way of escape from this judgment by sending the eternal Son of God to become a man so that he can represent us in his perfect life, sacrificial death, and victorious resurrection. Christ unites divine and human in himself so that he can become the only mediator between a holy God and rebellious humans. "For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit" (1 Pet. 3:18). The forgiveness humanity so desperately needs but is unable to accomplish is achieved by God himself through the person and work of Christ. When the Holy Spirit uses the Word of God primarily through the witness of his church to reveal God's awesome character, sinners see their need for a Savior and repent and trust Christ for forgiveness and a restored relationship with God as Father. All the obedience and righteousness of Christ becomes theirs through their adoption into God's family. Holy Spirit– enabled conversion leads to Holy Spirit–empowered growth in holiness and love, along with identification with God's people in the church until Christ returns to take over his creation once and for all. His return will bring the final defeat of sin, death, hell, and all that competes for his honor so that tears and sorrow will be no more for God's redeemed people.

That's what the Bible and this book are fundamentally about — in one paragraph. It all boils down to the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is how God restores sinful people to himself. The rest of this book unpacks this story in more detail in the hope that you not only understand the Christian faith better, but more importantly, that you may know and love the God who made you in his image so that you may live an abundantly joyful and eternally significant life.

SCRIPTURE MEMORY AND MEDITATION

"I came that they may have life and have it abundantly." (John 10:10)

Questions for Application and Discussion

1. How do you explain the universal human inclination to ask big questions about the ultimate issues of life? Do you think ultimate answers exist and that we can find them? What are the big questions you've pondered the most?

2. Where have you tended to go to find answers to big questions? What is your primary source of authority (e.g., reason? gut feelings? religious leaders/institutions? majority opinion? parents? Freud? Marx? Oprah?)? When you need to determine what is true and real, how do you determine which authoritative voices are trustworthy?

3. What kind of authority do you think the Bible deserves to have in your life? What authoritative influence has it had in your life? Why do (or don't) you allow it to have authoritative weight in your life?

4. hat has been your impression of the Christian faith before now? What has influenced you to come to this impression? What do you hope this book will help you with the most?

For Further Study

The brief summaries of the doctrines of the Christian faith found in this book are good starting points for deeper study and reflection. To that end, recommendations of key resources for further study are provided here and at the end of each chapter.

Craig, William Lane. Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008.

Craig, William Lane, and Chad Meister, eds. God Is Great, God Is Good: Why Believing in God Is Reasonable and Responsible. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009.

Keller, Timothy. The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism. New York: Riverhead, 2008.

Lewis, C. S. Mere Christianity. San Francisco: Harper, 1952.

Moreland, J. P. Love Your God with All Your Mind: The Role of Rea son in the Life of the Soul. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1997.

_______. Scaling the Secular City: A Defense of Christianity. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1987.

Sproul, R. C. The Consequences of Ideas: Understanding the Concepts That Shaped Our World. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2009.

Wells, David. No Place for Truth, or, Whatever Happened to Evangeli cal Theology? Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1993.

CHAPTER 2

DOES GOD EXIST?

"The worst moment for the atheist is when he is really thankful and has nobody to thank."

— Dante Gabriel Rossetti

The question of God's existence seems like a logical place to start to answer life's biggest questions. So, you might think that the Bible starts here and makes it a major priority to argue for God's existence, but it doesn't. Rather, it assumes God's existence from the first verse to the last. It also assumes that God has revealed himself in such obvious ways in creation and human experience (Rom. 1:19–21) that to deny his existence would be foolish (Ps. 14:1). The Bible tells us that because of God's personal nature, he must reveal himself if we are to know him personally. God has revealed himself to us in two ways: through special revelation and general revelation.

SPECIAL REVELATION

The Bible is God's written revelation of who he is and what he has done in redemptive history. Humans need this divine, transcendent perspective in order to break out of their subjective, culturally bound, fallen limitations. Through God's written Word, we may overcome error, grow in sanctification, minister effectively to others, and enjoy abundant lives as God intends.

GENERAL REVELATION

General revelation is given by God to all people at all times. This revelation is found both in the external creation (Ps. 19:1: "The heavens declare the glory of God ...") and in internal human experience (Rom. 1:19–20: "What can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse"). General revelation shows several of God's attributes, such as his existence, power, creativity, and wisdom; in addition, the testimony of human conscience also provides some evidence of God's moral standards to all human beings (Rom. 2:14–15). Therefore, from general revelation all people have some knowledge that God exists, some knowledge of his character, and some knowledge of his moral standards. This results in an awareness of guilt before God, as people instinctively know that they have not lived up to his moral requirements. Thus, in the many false religions that have been invented, people attempt to assuage their sense of guilt.

But general revelation does not disclose the only true solution to man's guilt before God: the forgiveness of sins that comes through Jesus Christ. This means that general revelation does not provide personal knowledge of God as a loving Father who redeems his people and establishes a covenant with them. For this, one needs special revelation, which God has provided in his historical supernatural activities, in the Bible, and definitively in Jesus Christ.

ARGUMENTS FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD

Arguments from External General evelation

The Cosmological Argument. The cosmological (cosmos = world) argument starts from the existence of the world and argues for an ultimate cause (i.e., a Creator). The existence of anything requires a sufficient cause for its existence. This is a basic assumption of science itself, and there is nothing in all creation that does not follow this principle. The world itself must have a sufficient cause because it gives absolutely no indication of being either eternal or self-created. Basic presuppositions of science and logic go against either an eternal or self-generated world. This leaves us with the need for a sufficient cause that is eternal, self-existent, and outside of creation to explain the world's existence. The Bible teaches that God miraculously created the world out of nothing, which is the most plausible explanation for how we ended up with the world as we know it.

The Teleological Argument. The teleological (telos = goal) argument starts from the nature of the world and argues for the nature of the Creator (i.e., a Designer). It starts with the creation and argues not just for a creator, but for a creator who is intelligent, personal, wise, purposeful, and powerful. This argument moves from the need for a cause of the world to the need to explain its amazing intelligent design. The world not only acts caused, it acts intelligently caused. There is regularity and order in the cosmos that demands a wise, intelligent creator behind it. As Voltaire said, "If a watch proves the existence of a watchmaker but the universe does not prove the existence of a great architect, then I consent to be called a fool." How can one ponder the solar system, DNA, the brain, an eye, or a flower and not say with the psalmist, "The heavens declare the glory of God ..." (Ps. 19:1); and, "I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made ..." (Ps. 139:14)?

Arguments from Internal General Revelation

The Argument from Personality. It's easy to recognize the radical difference between personal beings and impersonal things. Personal beings laugh, think, feel, decide, and reflect, and they are self-conscious. If there is no personal being who created the world, how do you explain the existence of persons? How could an impersonal, random process ever produce complex personal beings? Can the personal ever come from the impersonal? It seems obvious that no matter how much time or chance it's given, an impersonal process can never produce something personal. Therefore there must be a personal Creator responsible for humanity.

The Argument from Beauty. The understanding and appreciation of beauty is a universal human experience. Although there can be wide disagreement about what is and isn't beautiful, the understanding of beauty and the ability to enjoy it is common to all human cultures. How can you explain this universal aesthetic appreciation, apart from a divine artist who not only created beautiful things, but also created humans with the capacity to admire them? Natural selection or naturalistic explanations cannot account for art museums.

The Argument from Morality. All human beings have a deep inner sense of right and wrong. This "Law of Human Nature" has amazing similarities across cultures. Even those who claim to believe that morality is relative and socially constructed know intuitively that rape, or racism, or genocide are immoral, regardless of anyone's opinion to the contrary. Even though this moral sense gets suppressed and ignored, moral outrage and admiration for goodness are a constant assumption throughout human history. How can we account for this apart from a divine judge who created us and instills a sense of morality in humans?

The Argument from Meaning. All humans want to know that their lives matters. We all have a deep longing for significance and meaning that transcends mere animalistic gratification. Where does this universal human desire come from apart from a God who created us to have meaningful lives and instilled this yearning in our hearts? As C. S. Lewis said, "If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world."

The Argument from Religious Experience. Humans have been described as being incurably religious. Throughout history, humans have invariably had a sense of something bigger and beyond us to whom we owe our existence and worship. While there have been significant differences in how God has been conceived, there has nonetheless been a deeply religious bent to human experience. In spite of modern theories of the inevitable secularization of the Western world, these predictions have proven thoroughly untrue. While atheism may seem like it is on the rise today, it is important to realize that atheism is mostly the invention of a small number of modern, white, Western, urban males who seem to have lost a sense of their dependence and frailty before God. Even efforts to explain away the religious instinct, such as Marxism and Freudian psychology, end up replacing God with views of realty that sound very "religious." How are we to explain this religious instinct apart from a God who created us for relationship with him and a longing for that relationship? As Augustine pointed out, we are restless until we find our rest in the God who made us for himself.

EVALUATION

These arguments do not "prove" God's existence because he isn't a math equation or something you can put under a micro scope or discover through unaided reason and experience alone. These arguments present a cumulative case to doubt atheism and consider the claims of the Bible. When taken together, they give good reasons to believe that reality as we know it is the creation of a powerful, wise, personal Creator. The arguments do not, however, convince us of a God who loves us and is willing to forgive our sins and call us his children. They don't give us an understanding of God who revealed himself in Christ and will right all the wrong in the world. For that, we need to seek him in his Word, where he has revealed himself most clearly, personally, and powerfully.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Life's Biggest Questions"
by .
Copyright © 2011 Crossway.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

List of Figures 11

Acknowledgments 13

1 What Are Life's Biggest Questions? 15

2 Does God Exist? 21

3 What Does It Mean to Know and Love God? 29

4 How Does God Reveal Himself? 41

5 How Well Can You Know God? 51

6 What Is God Like? 57

7 How Do You Explain the Trinity? 71

8 Who Is Jesus Christ? 81

9 Who Is the Holy Spirit? 101

10 What Did Jesus Christ Accomplish? 111

11 What Is a Human Being? 129

12 How Does God Relate to His Creation? 139

13 What Is Sin? 145

14 How Does God Save Sinners? 151

15 What Is the Church? 159

16 How Will It All End? 165

Conclusion 173

Scripture Index 175

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“Dr. Thoennes is a masterful teacher. With biblical precision and profound understanding, he comes to grips with the most often asked questions about the gospel. The beauty of following Christ comes through with such clarity that the reader will want to fall in love with Jesus all over again.”
Robert E. Coleman, Distinguished Senior Professor of Evangelism and Discipleship, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

“Helpful, concise, accessible: this book will provide clarity and conviction for those looking for answers to the big questions.”
Josh Moody, Senior Pastor, College Church, Wheaton, Illinois; author, Journey to Joy: The Psalms of Ascent

“In clear, insightful and relevant ways Thoennes tackles some of life’s most bewildering questions. His treatment of the perennial dilemmas that have plagued inquisitive minds avoids easy clichés and unrealistic answers. Thoennes artfully and biblically turns the question marks of sincere seekers into exclamation points that undergird life with confidence and certainty. This book is a one of a kind resource among similar books that are either too light and unrealistic or too heavy to get our heads around. As such, it is a welcome arrival and an important read—the kind of book that you are happy to share with a friend!”
Joseph M. Stowell, President, Cornerstone University, Grand Rapids, Michigan

“Socrates’ well-known statement, ‘The unexamined life is not worth living,’ is an entirely appropriate start to Life's Biggest Questions. Stepping outside of one’s day-to-day existence to reflect on the big-picture questions is understandable and commendable. This book clearly, concisely, and thoughtfully presents answers from an evangelical Christian perspective. Thoennes is not only able to articulate Christian theology and history, but also help readers think through the implications for their own lives.”
Heather Campbell, Vice President, Atheist Coalition of San Diego

“A concise and engaging introduction to the core beliefs of the Christian faith that would be helpful both to followers of Christ and those who are investigating the Christian faith and want to understand what Christians believe. Not only does Thoennes show how these beliefs are rooted in Scripture but he also helps us see how they practically relate to the Christian life.”
Keith Johnson, Director, Theological Education and Development, Campus Crusade for Christ

“A thorough and accessible introduction to what Christians believe and why we believe it. Thoennes encourages believers and non-believers alike to examine their assumptions in light of biblical truth and to consider the life-altering implications of their beliefs. Life’s Biggest Questions is an encouraging, pastoral introduction to Christianity. Thoennes makes the case that all Christians—from the seminary student to the homemaker—will benefit from the study of theology, and that our lives are profoundly affected by a true knowledge of God. Reading this book has been an encouragement to my faith—bolstering and clarifying my understanding of truth and deepening my appreciation of God and his beautiful work of redemption. The discussion questions at the end of each chapter illustrate the practical significance of theology and will lead readers to fruitful examination of their beliefs and helpful applications of doctrinal truths. Small groups, churches, and individuals will benefit from Thoennes’ pastoral invitation to engage with the most important questions in life.”
Laura Rosenkranz, homemaker; educator

“It is refreshing to see a book that addresses our deepest concerns from a distinctively theological perspective. Professor Thoennes is a master communicator, and Life's Biggest Questions is marked by an accessible, interesting style. The book is filled with content and distinctively characterized by repeated examples of practical application. It is a fun read and would make an excellent text for a course in theology or Christian worldview.”
J. P. Moreland,Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, Biola University; author,The Soul: How We Know It’s Real and Why It Matters

“This splendid book provides clear and concise answers to life’s greatest questions. It is a perfect volume for intelligent truth seekers and Christians who want to build a firmer biblical foundation for their faith.”
Lyle W. Dorsett, Billy Graham Professor of Evangelism, Beeson Divinity School, Samford University

“People without questions may have deluded themselves into thinking they have all the answers. Being finite and fallen should awaken curiosity in the heart of any honest person. Thoennes does more than encourage the asking of questions. He directs readers to the Scriptures as a source of answers both wise and good. Furthermore, he cultivates curiosities to morph into questions that ripen into the rich fruit of wonder, awe, and eventually worship. I know this, because he is my friend. My life has been encouraged by his personal counsel as well as by this book.”
Jerry Root, Associate Professor of Evangelism and Leadership, Wheaton College; coauthor, The Sacrament of Evangelism; Associate Director, Institute for Strategic Evangelism, Wheaton College

“This is an easy read about profound truths. Thoennes’ book is bigger on the inside than it appears on the outside. He writes with elegant simplicity about biblical doctrine, with clear conceptualization and user-friendly prose concerning the basic doctrines of the Scriptures. Thoennes’ trustworthy, sturdy, and receptor-oriented writing puts the nourishment of the Word within the reader’s reach. It is a joy to think after him. Since our spirituality and relationship with God flows directly from our theology and our beliefs about God, Thoennes’ work will be of interest to anyone looking for a basic biblical foundation for soulcare and spiritual formation work.”
Betsy A. Barber, Director, Center for Spiritual Renewal, Biola University; Associate Director, Institute for Spiritual Formation, Talbot School of Theology

“I can't think of anybody better suited to explain the mysteries of the universe than Erik Thoennes. Life's Biggest Questions is a compelling read.”
Mark Joseph, author, Faith, God & Rock 'n' Roll; Columnist, The Huffington Post

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