The title is a bit of a misnomer – it’s not the questions that are avoided as much as the reasoning that leads to these answers. It’s a breath of fresh air to read something from two leaders who just want to follow God without all the hype and additional baggage that’s been piled on by the western church culture over the past few generations. Asking questions should lead to answers that eventually lead to even better questions. This book wins on that count.
Frequently Avoided Questions, by Chuck Smith Jr. and Matt Whitlock (copyright 2005, Baker Books), is a book that will find a prominent spot in my “here, let me let you read this” bookshelf. The premise is that of a conversation: the younger Matt props up the question the way those of our generation are doing, and the older wiser Chuck responds with an even-handed writing style that makes me want to have both of them at my table for coffee. Questions on the necessity of the Bible, the tradition of Sunday church, how evangelicals tend to break complex things down to simple manageable lists – these are great conversations that from my experience do not get started because we’re either scared of those questions, or scared of the answers.
These aren’t easy or pleasing answers, and there’s much to disagree with here. But that’s what makes for interesting reading and for good conversation. Take for example these thoughts from “Do I have to go to church?” :
“These churches often promise “community” but provide their members with nothing more than structured small groups. The promise seekers the opportunity to find God but supply them instead with programs (discipleship, membership, Bible training, and so on). The fact is, many churches, whether consciously or not, structure their small groups to control people.
“The control these churches exercise is meant not only to keep people coming back to the church building but also to prevent them from developing relationships outside the church that might lead them away from the church. Also they are designed to meet all the believers’ spiritual needs (or at least keep them too busy to do anything else) so that members will not attempt to develop spiritually on their own…” (p. 51, Chuck’s response)
As I read this, as a person caught up in what’s called a seeker-friendly church and who’s heading up the small group stuff at our particular campus – this hits me between the eyes and demands a response. I can’t shake it off and ignore it – those are valid points, and it’s ultimately a valid question. And that’s why I’ve got to give props to ths authors for putting this together. I’ve agreed with much of what they’ve written, including the excerpt above, but at times I’ve stood on the other side of an issue. Whatever my opinion and take, this book flows with grace and gentleness while also being firm about what’s at stake.
Ask the questions, and don’t avoid the answers. Want to borrow my copy?