Tough Topics: Biblical Answers to 25 Challenging Questions

Tough Topics: Biblical Answers to 25 Challenging Questions

by Sam Storms

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Overview

Designed to shed biblical light on thorny issues, this book answers 25 of the toughest questions Christians are often too afraid to ask.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781433534935
Publisher: Crossway
Publication date: 04/30/2013
Series: Re:Lit Series
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 640,874
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Sam Storms (PhD, University of Texas at Dallas) has spent more than four decades in ministry as a pastor, professor, and author. He is currently the senior pastor at Bridgeway Church in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and was previously a visiting associate professor of theology at Wheaton College from 2000 to 2004. He is the founder of Enjoying God Ministries and blogs regularly at SamStorms.com.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

Is the Bible Inerrant?

This book is entirely devoted to providing what I hope will be biblical answers to hard questions people ask. What you or I may prefer to be true or what may or may not make us feel comfortable or what appears to our judgment to be fair or unfair simply doesn't matter. When we say we believe in the inspiration, inerrancy, and authority of the Bible, we are making known that the only answers we will embrace to troublesome questions are those found in Scripture. It seems only appropriate, therefore, that we begin our journey together by asking: Is the Bible in fact inerrant? Are the answers that it gives us always true? Can we trust what the Word of God says on any subject on which it speaks? So let's get started!

By What Authority?

There is no more critical issue in life than that of authority. In other words, by what standard, or on what grounds, and from what source, and for what reasons do you believe something to be true and therefore binding on your conscience (beliefs) and conduct (behavior)?

Authority for the Christian is thought to come from one of three sources. For some, primarily Roman Catholics and those in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, the consensus of the church as expressed in its traditions and creedal formulations is the authoritative guide to God's will. Hence, as far as these folk are concerned, "What the church says, God says." A few would insist that the individual is the final authority, such that the Bible and the church are little more than resource materials to assist each person in making up his or her own mind on what is true and authoritative. Thus, they conclude, "What my own spirit says, God says."

I hope that you are among those who embrace the third option. According to this view, the Bible is the final authority for all matters of faith and life. Consider how this is stated in the Westminster Confession of Faith: "The supreme judge by which all controversies are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture." Thus, "What Scripture says, God says."

It is for this third option that I will contend. The first paragraph in most local church doctrinal statements affirms belief in the inspiration and authority of the sixty-six books of the Bible. How could it be otherwise? For apart from a belief in the authority of Scripture, we would have no way of knowing with any certainty whether any of the remaining doctrinal affirmations is true or false. If the Bible is not the sole, sufficient revelation of God himself, how could we possibly know that God is a Trinity of coequal persons, or that the second person of that Trinity became a man in Jesus of Nazareth and died for sinners and was raised on the third day? Simply put, the inspiration and authority of the Bible is the bedrock upon which our faith is built. Without it, we are doomed to uncertainty, doubt, and a hopeless groping in the darkness of human speculation.

But do we have good reason to believe that this book, the Bible, is different from Plato's Republic or Shakespeare's Hamlet or any other human composition? Why do we believe that the sixty-six books of the Bible are divine revelation and authoritative for belief and life? There are any number of reasons, drawn from historical, archaeological, theological, and experiential resources and arguments (perhaps chief among which is that the Holy Spirit has borne witness in our hearts that Scripture is God's Word). But we must also take into consideration that Jesus himself clearly believed in the inspiration and authority of Scripture. Being a disciple of Jesus entails not only doing what Jesus did but also believing what Jesus believed. It is impossible to accept the authority of Christ without also accepting the authority of Scripture. To believe and receive Jesus as Lord and Savior is to believe and receive what he taught about Scripture.

Clearly, then, the question What do you think of the Bible? reduces to the question What do you think of Christ? To deny the authority of Scripture is to deny the lordship of Jesus. Consider the people and events of the Old Testament, for example, which Jesus frequently mentioned. He referred to Abel, Noah and the great flood, Abraham, Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot, Isaac and Jacob, the manna from heaven, the serpent in the desert, David eating the consecrated bread and his authorship of the Psalms, Solomon, Elijah, Elisha, and Zechariah, and so on. In each case he treated the Old Testament narrative as a straightforward record of historical fact.

But, critics respond, perhaps Jesus was simply accommodating himself to the mistaken beliefs of his contemporaries. That is to say, Jesus simply met his contemporaries on their own ground without necessarily committing himself to the correctness of their views. He chose graciously not to upset them by questioning the veracity of their belief in the truth and authority of the Bible.

I'm sorry, but that's not the Jesus about whom I read in the New Testament. The Jesus of the Gospels was not at all sensitive about undermining mistaken, though long-cherished, beliefs among the people of his day. He loudly and often denounced the traditions of the Pharisees and took on their distortion of the Old Testament law in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus challenged nationalistic conceptions of the kingdom of God and the coming of the Messiah. He was even willing to face death on a cross for the truth of what he declared. In referring to the Old Testament, Jesus declared that "the Scripture cannot be broken" (John 10:35). Again, "It is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the law to become void" (Luke 16:17; see also Mark 7:6–13; Luke 16:29–31). He rebuked the Sadducees, saying, "You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God" (Matt. 22:29). When faced with Satan's temptations, it was to the truth and authority of the Old Testament that he appealed (Matt. 4:4–10). Note especially his words, "It is written." And Jesus didn't hesitate to deliberately offend the religious sensibilities of his contemporaries when he chose to eat and socialize with both publicans and prostitutes.

There is a tendency in some evangelical circles to drive a wedge between revelation (the transcendent Word of God) and the Bible (understood as man's written record of or witness to the Word). It is said that we cannot identify the words of Scripture with divine revelation. Rather, the words are the sacramental means or instrumentality by which divine revelation encounters or engages us experientially. The writings of Scripture are said to mediate the revelatory Word to us. But the former are not identical with the latter.

I believe, on the other hand, what Augustine meant when he envisioned God saying, "O man, true it is that what My Scripture says I myself say." Scripture is thus the "transcript of divine speech." In his article "Inspiration," J. I. Packer unpacks the significance of this principle:

Christ and his apostles quote Old Testament texts not merely as what, e.g., Moses, David or Isaiah said (see Mk. 7:10, 12:36, 7:6; Rom. 10:5, 11:9, 10:20, etc.), but also as what God said through these men (see Acts 4:25, 28:25, etc.), or sometimes simply what "he" (God) says (e.g., 2 Cor. 6:16; Heb. 8:5, 8), or what the Holy Ghost says (Heb. 3:7, 10:15). Furthermore, Old Testament statements, not made by God in their contexts, are quoted as utterances of God (Mt. 19:4f.; Heb. 3:7; Acts 13:34f.; citing Gen. 2:24; Ps. 95:7; Is. 55:3 respectively). Also, Paul refers to God's promise to Abraham and his threat to Pharaoh, both spoken long before the biblical record of them was written, as words which Scripture spoke to these two men (Gal. 3:8; Rom. 9:17); which shows how completely he equated the statements of Scripture with the utterance of God.

Let's begin by defining two critical terms: revelation and inspiration. Revelation is the activity of God by which he unveils or discloses or makes known what is otherwise unknowable to humanity. It is God making himself known to those shaped in his image. Revelation is what God does, not what mankind achieves. It is a divinely initiated disclosure, not an effort or endeavor or achievement on the part of mankind. Packer explains: "Revelation does not mean man finding God, but God finding man, God sharing His secrets with us, God showing us Himself. In revelation, God is the agent as well as the object." The God of the Bible, notes Donald Bloesch, "is not a God who is discovered in the depths of nature or uncovered in human consciousness. Nor is he a God who is immediately discernible in the events of history. ... For the living God to be known, he must make himself known, and he has done this in the acts and words recorded in Scripture."

Much has been made of an alleged distinction between revelation as propositional and revelation as personal. Since God is himself a person, so some say, revelation cannot be propositional (or at least, not primarily so). Revelation is God making himself known, the event of disclosing his person to other persons. But Packer is certainly correct in pointing out that this distinction should not be pressed too far. He notes:

Personal friendship between God and man, grows just as human friendships do — namely, through talking; and talking means making informative statements, and informative statements are propositions. ... [Indeed] to say that revelation is non-propositional is actually to depersonalize it. ... To maintain that we may know God without God actually speaking to us in words is really to deny that God is personal, or at any rate that knowing Him is a truly personal relationship.

In other words, special revelation is a verbal activity, in the sense that "God has communicated with man by means of significant utterances: statements, questions, and commands, spoken either in His own person or on His behalf by His own appointed messengers and instructors." This does not mean that God is less active, less personal, as if he were nothing but a celestial lecturer. He discloses himself by powerful acts in history, encountering his people, showing himself gracious by redeeming them, kind by forgiving them, strong by delivering them, and so forth. The Bible "itself is essentially a recital of His doings, an explanatory narrative of the great drama of the bringing in of His kingdom, and the saving of the world." Let us not forget that faith is often portrayed in Scripture as trusting, often against great odds, what God has said (see Rom. 4:3; Gal. 3:6; Heb. 6:13ff.; 11:8–13, 17, 33).

The fact that revelation is verbal does not mean that knowing God is simply a matter of memorizing texts or cataloging doctrines.

But what the claim that revelation is essentially verbal does imply is that no historical event, as such, can make God known to anyone unless God Himself discloses its meaning and place in His plan. Providential happenings may serve to remind us, more or less vividly, that God is at work (cf. Acts 14:17), but their link, if any, with His saving purpose cannot be known until He Himself informs us of it. No event is self-interpreting at this level.

Again,

All history is, in one sense, God's deed, but none of it reveals Him except in so far as He Himself talks to us about it. God's revelation is not through deeds without words (a dumb charade!) any more than it is through words without deeds; but it is through deeds which He speaks to interpret, or, putting it more biblically, through words which His deeds confirm and fulfill.

Packer's point is simply this:

No public historical happening, as such (an exodus, a conquest, a captivity, a crucifixion, an empty tomb), can reveal God apart from an accompanying word from God to explain it, or a prior promise which it is seen to confirm or fulfill. Revelation in its basic form is thus of necessity propositional; God reveals Himself by telling us about Himself, and what He is doing in His world.

The notion of propositional revelation in no way denies the revelatory activity of God in events, in personal encounters, or in the dynamic and relational ways whereby he engages his people and makes himself immediately and experientially known to them (see Heb. 1:1). The "many ways" in which God revealed himself personally included theophanies, angelic visitations, an audible voice from heaven, visions, dreams, supernatural writing, inward impressions, natural phenomena, and more. But in each of these instances the divine disclosures introduced or confirmed by these means were propositional in substance and verbal in form. In other words, whereas not every statement or revelatory deed comes to us in strict propositional form, all do in fact presuppose a proposition on the basis of which a truth claim about the nature of reality is being made.

Another characteristic of revelation is that it is progressive, that is, cumulative. God has not revealed himself comprehensively at any one stage in history or in any one event. Revelation is a series of divine disclosures, each of which builds upon and unpacks or unfolds that which preceded it. Revelation moves from what is piecemeal and partial and incomplete (but always accurate) to what is comprehensive and final and unified. This contrast between the incomplete and complete, between the partial and the full, is not a contrast between false and true, inaccurate and accurate, but a contrast between shadow and substance, between type and antitype, between promise and fulfillment.

Inspiration, on the other hand, was the related process whereby God preserved the biblical authors from error when communicating, whether by his voice or in writing, that which he had shown them. The Holy Spirit superintended the writing of Scripture, that is to say, he acted to insure that what the human authors intended by their words is equivalent to what God intended (a process also referred to as concursive inspiration). Thus "each resultant oracle was as truly a divine utterance as a human, as direct a disclosure of what was in God's mind as of what was in the prophet's." The Spirit thus brought the free and spontaneous thoughts of the human author into coincidence with the thoughts of God.

Many question how this can be done. They contend that if God's control over what the biblical authors said was exhaustive, they must have written as mindless automatons. On the other hand, if their minds operated freely according to their own volitional creativity, then God cannot have kept them free from error. But this dilemma "rests on the assumption that full psychological freedom of thought and action, and full subjection to divine control, are incompatible."

The doctrine of verbal, plenary (i.e., complete, total) inspiration means that the words of the Bible are the words of God. This doesn't mean that God spoke every word himself, but that the words spoken by the authors of Scripture are the words that God desired them to speak in the revelation of himself. Thus there is no significant difference between the ultimate authority of God and the immediate authority of Scripture. "The authority of Scripture is the divine authority of God Himself speaking." Some argue that one cannot stand under the authority of the living Word, Jesus Christ, and at the same time stand under the authority of the written Word, the Bible. This is a false antithesis. Jesus Christ is the Lord of the Scriptures and in the latter the former is revealed and made known, and his will unfolded. To obey the latter is to obey the former. To disobey the latter is to disobey the former.

Inerrancy

The debate over whether Scripture is inerrant shows no signs of slowing down, much less going away. Among evangelicals, two views have dominated the landscape. Some embrace what has been called "limited inerrancy." One of the more able and articulate defenders of this view is Daniel Fuller. According to Fuller and those who follow his lead, the inerrancy of a book or piece of literature can be evaluated solely in light of the author's intention or purpose. Does the author fulfill his or her purpose in writing? If so, the work is inerrant. If not, it is not. The purpose of the Bible, they say, is to make us "wise unto salvation" (2 Tim. 3:15). The purpose of the Bible is not to make us wise unto botany or geology or astronomy or history. Rather, according to Fuller, the biblical writers declare that their purpose is to report the events and meaning of the redemptive acts of God in history so that men might be made wise unto salvation. By this criterion, says Fuller, the Bible is inerrant. It perfectly lives up to its purpose. It never fails to fulfill its purpose or intent of making the reader wise unto salvation.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Tough Topics"
by .
Copyright © 2013 Sam Storms.
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

Preface 11

1 Is the Bible Inerrant? 15

2 What Is Open Theism? 33

3 Does God Ever Change His Mind? 54

4 Could Jesus Have Sinned? 67

5 What Did Jesus Mean When He Said, "Judge Not, that You Be Not Judged"? 73

6 What Is Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit? 82

7 Does the Bible Teach the Doctrine of Original Sin? 91

8 Are Those Who Die in Infancy Saved? 104

9 Will People Be Condemned for Not Believing in Jesus though They've Never Heard His Name? 114

10 What Can We Know about Angels? 120

11 What Can We Know about Satan? 137

12 What Can We Know about Demons? 151

13 Can a Christian Be Demonized? 166

14 Does Satan Assign Demons to Specific Geopolitical Regions? Are There Territorial Spirits? 184

15 Can Christians Lose Their Salvation? 194

16 Does Hebrews Teach that Christians Can Apostatize? 208

17 Will There Be Sex in Heaven? 220

18 Axe Miraculous Gifts for Today? 232

19 What Is Baptism in the Spirit, and When Does It Happen? 252

20 Should All Christians Speak in Tongues? 276

21 What Was Paul's Thorn in the Flesh? 283

22 Is There Healing in the Atonement? 295

23 Why Doesn't God Always Heal the Sick? 303

24 What Is Legalism? 309

25 Are Christians Obligated to Tithe? 319

General Index 341

Scripture Index 351

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

Tough Topics offers every questioning person an opportunity to press thoughtfully into the Bible’s answers. Sam Storms is that rare guide we all are looking for—fair-minded, with no axe to grind. I cheerfully commend Tough Topics for your tough questions!”
Raymond C. Ortlund Jr., Lead Pastor, Immanuel Church, Nashville, Tennessee

“Let’s face it, the church has not always done the best possible job at fielding the hard questions posed to it by both skeptics and members. In the case of the first group, skeptics end up discounting Christianity, dismissing it as irrational, head-in-the-sand religious fanaticism. In the case of the second group, members become frustrated with the Christian faith and often drift away from what they have found to be a shallow, inconsistent, and quite unsatisfying worldview. Sam Storms, is a leader whom has the Lord has wonderfully gifted not only to answer the tough questions, but also to provide an accessible resource for Christian leaders to be better prepared to engage skeptics and church members who wrestle with these issues rather than to rebuff them and discount their difficulties. Sam’s passion is to deal with twenty-five of the most challenging questions you will ever face, and do it in such a way that you become convinced of the answers and are prepared to offer help to others who face them as well. He accomplishes this goal, not by offering his own good ideas and the best of human counsel, but by relying on the wisdom of God as found in Scripture.”
Gregg R. Allison, Professor of Christian Theology, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; Elder, Sojourn Community Church; author, Sojourners and Strangers; Roman Catholic Theology and Practice; and Historical Theology

“Some questions about God and the Bible intrigue us. Others get completely under our skin and frustrate us. The chances are good that if a question is bothering you, you are not the first to ask it! Sam Storms draws on all his pastoral experience in this helpful book as he honestly answers questions some people like to avoid.”
Adrian Warnock, author,Hope Rebornand Raised with Christ

“Sam Storms’s Tough Topics is equally the work of a deeply concerned and caring pastor, and that of a thoughtful, seasoned, and biblically-saturated theologian. As I read this book, specific people kept coming to mind who would be helped greatly by one of more of its chapters—such wisdom, such balance, and such biblical clarity. Readers will likely differ at points with their pastor-theologian guide, but they will rise up and thank him for offering such wise counsel on such an array of difficult and important questions. There’s something here for everyone. Pick up and read, and see how faithful pastoral theology really does bless the church.”
Bruce A. Ware,T. Rupert and Lucille Coleman Professor of Christian Theology, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

“People are inquisitive by nature. It is the way God made us. We have all kinds of questions about Him. When people learn that I teach theology for a living, the first thing they do is begin to ask questions—tough questions. Sam Storms has given us an incredibly useful resource in his book Tough Topics. He has braved the minefield of some of the most difficult questions people have concerning God, the Bible, Church, and Christianity in general. What I like about this work is not simply its accessibility, but Sam’s gentle and balanced scholarship. When we have questions about God, this is no casual thing requiring the opinions of sages on street corners. These are serious questions requiring someone who is well versed in the Bible. Sam has always been one who I go to when I have questions. Now I have the book! And, as Sam says, the answer to these questions do not drive us to be puffed up in knowledge, they drive us to worship.”
C. Michael Patton, Founder, President, and fellow, The Credo House, Edmond, Oklahoma

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Tough Topics: Biblical Answers to 25 Challenging Questions 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
thesingleheart More than 1 year ago
Have you ever wondered... What "Biblical inerrancy" means? Or if there will be marriage in heaven? Or how about if Jesus ever got a pimple? Do I have to tithe? How about what happens when animals die? Sam Storms does his best to answer all of these questions, and more, in his book "Tough Topics."  I'm not sure if I really liked this book or not. It was one of those "I don't know, eeeh" books where I ended with the doubt in my mind whether this book was really, truly helpful or not. I liked how Sam answered the questions in a very fair and balanced way. A lot of people answer these questions with  their denomination in mind, or with some axe to grind with someone they disagree with. Although he revealed his views  in the introduction (views I'm almost opposite on), you wouldn't find him pushing an agenda or one view over the other  in the way he answered hard questions. In fact, he uses scriptures first, and expounds on the questions in delightful and refreshing ways.  I learned quite a bit about Israel's history, but apart from that, I knew a lot of the apologetic content before. This isn't a quick or easy book to sail through. It took me 3 days or so to finish it and I found myself having to re-read paragraphs to make sure I understood what Sam was "getting at." If you're insatiably curious about hard questions, this book will be helpful for you. If you're not serious about theology, you'll not find this book helpful.