A book that addresses questions that Christians supposedly do not want to be asked (I say ask away), Mark Mittelberg writes a very informational book called The Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask (with answers). I purchased this book at an event in 2017 in a local church. Mittelberg hosted this event alongside a longtime friend of his, Lee Strobel.
Strobel actually writes the book’s foreward. In it, he makes some pretty big claims. First, he calls the book “an antidote for spiritual vertigo”, the term being “a queasy sense of disorientation, and even panic that can overtake us when a critic challenges the core of our faith in a way that we cannot answer” (pp. vii-viii). To say a non-Bible book is an antidote for an undesirable state of being is quite a claim. Second, he states “Mark’s analysis is always cogent, his answers are always thorough and accurate, and his heart is always inclined toward people sincerely seeking the truth about God” (p. viii). Although this is a big claim, it is easily refutable if it can be proven just once that Mark was guilty of non-thorough answers, a heart inclined toward people who may not sincerely be seeking the truth about God, or a lack of cogency (or convincingness) in his analysis for any book he has ever written or any presentation he has ever given, among other things. Finally, Strobel, speaking of Mittelberg, states you “won’t find a better teacher to help train you to confidently yet humbly engage in conversations with spiritual seekers” (p. ix). Like the first two claims, this claim is also a mighty one that essentially idolizes Mittelberg. While I am sure Strobel is well intentioned in his speaking well of Mittelberg, the huge claims are outrageous and thus easily refutable.
After a short section of acknowledgments, Mittelberg gives an introduction that outlines three things that can help in best equipping someone to “have a right response for everyone” (pp. xv-xix). It is worth noting that Mittelberg places much emphasis on the NLT, which is not exactly the best translation. Furthermore, his paraphrase of Matthew 28:19-20 is very different from what the Scriptures say (p. xix). Here is Mittelberg’s paraphrase:
“In the Great Commission, Jesus tells us to go into our world and to tell people about him (which will naturally include answering their spiritual questions) and to encourage them to become his followers (see Matthew 28:19-20).
The actual text, however (and I am using the NASB translation, which is better than the NLT), says something vastly different:
19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Obviously, Mittelberg’s paraphrase falls far short of what Scripture actually says. The Great Commission is not just about telling people about Jesus and encouraging people to follow Him; it involves making disciples of all nations, proclaiming repentance and the forgiveness of sins in His name (see also Luke 24:36-49). Mittelberg’s description is no different than if I were to tell and encourage people to be consumers of a great drink called FitAID. I do not like to make Mittelberg’s description look like a joke, but when one compares his paraphrase to what the Scriptures actually say, there is a huge difference that simply cannot be ignored.
Mittelberg concludes his introduction with a word about the book’s purpose and motivation, which are both sound (pp. xix-xx). After concluding the introduction, Mittelberg begins addressing nine questions that Christians (supposedly) hope nobody will ask them. Each question gets its own chapter. Furthermore, each chapter follows a very similar structure. First, Mittelberg lists the question alongside a personal story that does a good job of illustrating both the question itself and its significance. Second, he answers the question rather thoroughly, as Strobel noted in the introduction. Third, Mittelberg gives both a summary of the answer and tips for talking about the chapter’s subject matter. Finally, the chapter concludes with some group discussion questions. This organization enhances the book’s understandability and its simplicity.
The nine questions addressed are as follows:
QUESTION ONE: What makes you so sure that God exists at all — especially when you can’t see, hear or touch him?
As Mittelberg addresses this question, there are a few things worth noting. First, he does not capitalize pronouns referring to God. Some debate whether or not this is a legit issue. Second, he claims that Paul and “other biblical writers” appealed to experience as something hard to argue against (p. 5). He cites Acts 26:12-16 as his evidence for the “Paul” citation. However, he gives no evidence for these “other biblical writers” he mentions, thus making his point here weak. Third, he seems to approve of the “Big Bang”, which no less than one website labels as secular. Finally, while he does use Scripture in his answering of the various questions, he seems to downplay its effectiveness when he says the following as he wraps up the chapter under the “tips” section of it (p. 25):
Refer to the Bible’s teachings in talking about your faith, but realize that many people don’t accept its authority or truthfulness — especially those who question God’s existence. Its message can still have power, but look to other sources of information to reinforce its truths (as we have in this chapter, with science and philosophy).
God’s word doesn’t return void (Isaiah 55:11). Furthermore, it is living, active, sharper than any two-edged sword, unbreakable, profitable, true, and completely without error (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:21; Psalm 19:7-9; 119:9, 11, 15, 104; Hebrews 4:12; John 10:35). Because of that, the Bible’s message will always have power; it is not dependent on another’s rejection of it. This may be a stretch, but Mittelberg, in this instance, seemingly downplays the significance of the Scriptures by placing greater emphasis on non-Bible information instead of the Bible itself. After all, the Bible is living and active. Therefore, its message will always have power (which is much more than simply “can”).
QUESTION TWO: Didn’t evolution put God out of a job? Why rely on religion in an age of science and knowledge?
In this chapter, Mittelberg addresses a few major building blocks of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution (pp. 31-44). Mittelberg also admits to accepting “some version of the Big Bang” (p. 44). It appears he calls God’s creating the heavens and the earth ex nihilo (which means “out of nothing” in the Hebrew) an explosion of some sort (p. 44). While the Big Bang may not be too incompatible with the biblical creation account, it still has its flaws. While I would like to highlight some questionable things said in the latter parts of this chapter, it is worth noting that Mittelberg mentions Matthew 28:19-20 in this chapter, as follows (p. 46):
…our goal, as we discussed at the beginning of this book, is to lead people to faith in Jesus Christ — not to change their minds about every conceivable questions or topic we might discuss with them. Even in the Great Commission, Jesus told us to “go and make disciples …baptizing them…teaching them to obey everything I commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20, NIV). Notice that making disciples comes first, then the ongoing teaching of those disciples.
As discussed earlier, MIttelberg had a paraphrase of the passage that completely fell short of what the Scriptures said. Now, he has rightly and accurately handled what the passage says. However, recall that Lee Strobel, in the book’s foreword, says that Mark’s analysis, in a nutshell, was always convincing, thorough, and accurate. The inconsistency shows that Mark’s analysis is not always accurate. Furthermore, it is far from convincing given the aforementioned inconsistency. While the inconsistency here is not exactly a poison pill, it is proof that Strobel’s claim, as noted earlier, is outrageous and easily refutable.
QUESTION THREE: Why trust the Bible, a book based on myths and full of contradictions and mistakes?
In a well-informed chapter, Mittelberg addresses some alleged Gospel contradictions. In doing do, he cites some good references for Christians to use. One of them includes a book I reviewed by Gleason Archer titled Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (p. 69).
QUESTION FOUR: Everyone knows that Jesus was a good man and a wise teacher — but why try to make him into the Son of God, too?
Mittelberg spends most of this chapter explaining who Jesus said He was, the evidence that Jesus’ claims are true, and the reasons for believing the reality of the resurrection (pp. 106-121).
QUESTION FIVE: How could a good God allow so much evil, pain, and suffering — or does he simply not care?
In addressing this question, Mittelberg gives seven “points of light” that help answer it (pp. 140-153). He uses both Scripture and other resources in addressing each point.
QUESTION SIX: Why is abortion such a line in the sand for Christians — why can’t I be left alone to make my own choices for my own body?
After addressing the importance of the issue of abortion, Mittelberg gives scientific answers, biblical answers and civic answers to the question (pp. 160-179). Mittelberg closes the chapter with the good news that Jesus died for all sins, including that of abortion (p. 183).
QUESTION SEVEN: Why do you condemn homosexuality when it’s clear that God made gays and that he loves all people the same?
Mittelberg addresses this question by both affirming God’s love for all people and affirming God’s model for human sexuality (pp. 192-202). He also, in an act of transparency, explains why he does not quote Scriptures that either speak of homosexuality or directly address same-sex behavior (p. 202). He does, however, “point out” the passages that “clearly prohibit same-sex practices” (pp. 203-207). On a strange side note, he says Jesus Christ “built vision” into the Samaritan woman of John 4:23-26 (p. 211). He even said Jesus had a vision for wayward people (p. 211). This emphasis on vision is strange. First, nowhere in Scripture does it say verbatim that Jesus either had vision for wayward people (or people in general) or built vision into people. While I am sure Mittelberg was not speaking of vision in a “casting vision” sense (with the quoted phrase not even being something that is biblical), it is disturbing to see that Mittelberg is seemingly reading into the text something that is not there. For context, I list John 4:7-38, which is the account of the woman of Samaria (I bold John 4:23-26):
7 There *came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus *said to her, “Give Me a drink.” 8 For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. 9 Therefore the Samaritan woman *said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” 11 She *said to Him, “Sir, You have nothing to draw with and the well is deep; where then do You get that living water? 12 You are not greater than our father Jacob, are You, who gave us the well, and drank of it himself and his sons and his cattle?” 13 Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.” 15 The woman *said to Him, “Sir, give me this water, so I will not be thirsty nor come all the way here to draw.” 16 He *said to her, “Go, call your husband and come here.” 17 The woman answered and said, “I have no husband.” Jesus *said to her, “You have correctly said, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; this you have said truly.” 19 The woman *said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet.20 Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” 21 Jesus *said to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman *said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us.” 26 Jesus *said to her, “I who speak to you am He.” 27 At this point His disciples came, and they were amazed that He had been speaking with a woman, yet no one said, “What do You seek?” or, “Why do You speak with her?” 28 So the woman left her waterpot, and went into the city and *said to the men, 29 “Come, see a man who told me all the things that I have done; this is not the Christ, is it?” 30 They went out of the city, and were coming to Him. 31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging Him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” 32 But He said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33 So the disciples were saying to one another, “No one brought Him anything to eat, did he?” 34 Jesus *said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work. 35 Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest. 36 Already he who reaps is receiving wages and is gathering fruit for life eternal; so that he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together. 37 For in this case the saying is true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored and you have entered into their labor.”
The word “vision” is nowhere in that passage. Therefore, to say Jesus built vision into the Samaritan woman’s life is to essentially read into the text something that is not there (known as eisegesis). He certainly impacted the woman. However, to say He built vision into that woman’s life is a big stretch.
Finally, as Mittelberg closes the chapter, he cites Bill Hybels, a guy who turned “his back on God’s Word on same sex issues” (p. 214; this is very ironic given the chapter turns to God’s Word in addressing same-sex issues). Pastor Chris Rosebrough of Pirate Christian Radio notes here beginning at the 1:07:14 mark of this podcast episode how Hybels claims to hear direct revelation from God (which is bad), “disobeys God’s Word flagrantly” and twists Luke 5. Rosebrough is spot-on in his review. Mittelberg’s lack of discernment in citing Hybels is too glaring to ignore here.
QUESTION 8: How can I trust in Christianity when so many Christians are hypocrites? And why are Christians so judgmental toward everyone who doesn’t agree with them?
Mittelberg gives a few points in addressing the first question (pp. 228-235). However, like the last chapter, he also exercises a possible lack of discernment with his citations of David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons (p. 225). Based on the links provided, both Kinnaman and Lyons seem to be guilty of harboring false teachers such as Mark Batterson, Beth Moore and Christine Caine. While Mittelberg is thorough in addressing both questions, the lack of discernment in his citations increasingly becomes an issue at this point of the book.
QUESTION 9: Why should I think that heaven really exists — and that God sends people to hell?
Throughout this review, I have been mentioning the information Mittelberg gives in answering the questions. He certainly is thorough. Unfortunately, at this point, his credibility becomes shot when, once again, he shows a lack of discernment in a citation. In this chapter, he cites Dallas Willard, who is a false teacher (p. 252). Given Mittelberg’s lack of discernment (or perhaps lack of a filter; that may be a better phrase) that has manifested itself more and more with each passing chapter, I do not really care to know his opinions on any other questions he cares to address.
After the last “questions” chapter, Mittelberg concludes the book with chapter ten. In it, he revisits each of the questions (pp. 293-304). Furthermore, he writes “As Christians, we need not be afraid of the questions people ask, the objections they raise, or the challenges they may throw at us” (p. 304). He is correct here. After all, perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:17-18). While the fear spoken of in that passage pertained to judgment, a Christian has no reason to fear the questions of another; they will not lose their salvation if they cannot answer another’s questions pertaining to the Christian faith. They should, however, give a best effort in giving a reason for the hope they have, yet with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15).
The work Mittelberg put in this book cannot be ignored. However, the book hurts itself in no less than two ways. First, Strobel’s outrageous claims overpromise and underdeliver. After all, this review has refuted no less than two of Strobel’s outrageous claims. Second, Mittelberg’s lack of discernment (or filter) is too glaring to ignore. Guys who are as knowledgeable as him may be wary of the false teachers Mittelberg has cited. As a result, Strobel’s claim that you “won’t find a better teacher to help train you to confidently yet humbly engage in conversations with spiritual seekers” is bogus. After all, teachers who can both “help train you to confidently yet humbly engage in conversations with spiritual seekers” and have a filter of some sort when it comes to citing sources would qualify as better teachers than Mittelberg. I do not believe this book is a “total wreck” like this one. However, it is a book that needs constant filtering. There is some good information in here. However, if you can find a book that addresses the same questions but is by someone who is as knowledgeable as Mittelberg but has some kind of filter (instead of close to no filter at all), you would likely be better off getting that book than this one.