An Uncensored Dialogue on Faith
by Chuck Smith, Jr. and Matt Whitlock
Baker Books, 2005
by Marcia Ford
has it—or so I was once told—that a wine-tasting monk
used to roam about the Northern Italian countryside sampling each
vineyard’s offerings in search of the perfect wine. Once,
upon leaving a certain vineyard in the Asti region, he excitedly
wrote the words “Si! Si! Si!” on the establishment’s
roadside sign. Everyone knew his intended meaning: “Yes! Yes!
Yes!”—he had found the real deal.
not surprising that I remembered that story, which I heard decades
ago in a now-forgotten bar, very early on as I was reading Frequently
Avoided Questions. That’s because the
words “Yes! Yes! Yes!” kept flashing through my mind
as I turned each page. (Those words also escaped
my lips during an in-flight reading session, which prompted my seatmate
to inch toward the aisle and inadvertently bless me with more elbow
room.) The point is, I too had found the real deal.
first, to the authors. Matt Whitlock is a twenty-something faculty
member at Youth With a Mission’s University of the Nations
in Hawaii who has his fingers on the pulse of today’s society
and refuses to allow the religious establishment to handcuff him
to traditional ways of thinking and doing. Chuck Smith, Jr. is the
fifty-something senior pastor at Capo Beach Calvary in California
and, as his name implies, the son of Chuck Smith, Sr.
elder Smith founded the Calvary Chapel network of churches, which
grew out of a single congregation during the 1970s Jesus Movement
and helped save the lives and faith of countless young people—including
me. I’m now fifty-something myself, with a faith that more
closely resembles Whitlock’s than that of many of my generational
peers. Hence the resounding triple “Yes!”
Second, to the structure of the book. The authors begin by clearly
defining their terms and their purpose. They choose to think of
the Boomer-and-pre-Boomer period of the church (specifically, the
evangelical church) as “old school” and the current
era as “new school,” what others would likely call postmodern.
Their purpose is to discuss
the difficult-for-old-school and not-so-difficult-for-new-school
issues that create such a stark contrast between those two segments
of the body of Christ.
chapter poses a “frequently avoided” question that Whitlock
answers out of personal experience and the thinking of someone his
age. Smith then responds from his perspective, that of a Boomer
who grew up learning all the “right” answers to difficult
questions and who has had to grapple with the premise that there
are right answers in the first place.
for no other reason, I’d give the authors and publisher high
marks for the creative way they handled the structure of this book,
avoiding the awkward “I (Matt)” and “my (Chuck’s)”
constructions that litter too many dual-author books.
to the questions that form each chapter title. They range from broad
issues like “Why the Bible?” and “Where Is Your
God?” to specifics like “Do I Have to Go to Church?”
and “Is It Wrong to Take a Job in a Bar?” Out
of the 14 questions they pose, over the last 30 years I’ve
tussled with roughly…um…14 of them. And
so have lots of my evangelical peers, many of whom left the church,
and, more tragically, their faith in God when they discovered that
simply asking those questions brought condemnation from either the
church leaders or their fellow believers.
matter what the question, the authors’ responses highlight
the contrast between old-school certainty (or better, obsessive
need for certainty) and new-school willingness to live with uncertainty.
New-schoolers “are not interested in clarifying all mysteries,”
Smith writes, “because mystery itself is necessary for their
experience of the sacred and for evoking reverence.” What’s
more, he says, they are comfortable with chaos and a worldview that
isn’t necessarily logical.
contrast, old-schoolers believe that there is a clear biblical answer
for every question and that it’s the leaders’ responsibility
to tell people what they should believe, based on those biblical
applications. As a result, Whitlock writes, “Many young people
are being outfitted to fight battles that are no longer being waged
with weapons that are no longer effective.” In context, he’s
referring to the creation-vs.-evolution battle, but the principle
applies across the board.
here’s the value of this book. For readers from a variety
evangelicals will find themselves shouting “Yes!”
as I did, grateful that Whitlock and Smith gave voice to the questions
that have troubled them, possibly for decades.
old-school evangelicals, if nothing else, will get a better
handle on new-school thinking and may even find themselves challenged
to change their perspective on at least some of the issues.
will definitely come away with a better grasp of why some
Christians make such a big deal out of a subject like evolution,
which as the authors point out isn’t even an issue in the
evangelicals will likely just dig in their heels and become
more doctrinally rigid than ever, though I suspect they wouldn’t
even pick up a book like this, which is a shame.
Toward the end of the book, the authors describe the difficulty
they faced in paring down their long lists of frequently avoided
questions to a manageable number. After mentioning a few they had
to omit (my personal favorite: “If God is so awesome, why
is church so boring?”), they ask readers to send in the questions
that have proven to be problematic for them. Could that mean a follow-up
book is in the works? One can only hope.
To purchase a copy of FREQUENTLY
AVOIDED QUESTIONS, visit amazon.com. This link is provided as
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