A.S.K. – Real World Questions / Real Word Answers
David Robertson – Christian Focus Publications – Pages: 224
I’m not sure what to make of this book. There is so much to like, but also some significant problems. In some ways it is similar to its author David Robertson. Formally the moderator of the Free Church of Scotland, he was until recently the pastor of the Free Church congregation in Dundee, before moving to Sydney, Australia in summer 2019. He has done a huge amount of good in robustly engaging with our culture and defending (broadly) reformed Biblical Christianity. His move Down Under will be a great loss to apologetics in the UK. However, there are some topics on which I do not agree with him (such as the Bible’s teaching on origins and the age of the earth) and some of these emerge in the book.
What’s the book about?
The book’s aim is to give Biblical answers to 52 questions asked by teenagers from around the world – ‘Real World Questions’ with ‘Real Word Answers’ as the subtitle goes. The questions covered are very relevant and I’m sure will resonate with all teenagers thinking about Christianity and the day to day challenges of the Christian life. Each answer is based on a Bible passage and has recommended further reading, questions to think about and a short prayer. The book is attractively laid out and each question/answer is max 4 pages so it’s great as a quick reference. The answers themselves are written in an engaging style and are simple and accessible.
Is the book any good?
I’ve already hinted at this. Some of the answers are very good and very helpful, others are not. I can’t go through it answer by answer, but will give a few examples.
To begin with the positives:
There are some really good chapters such as the Q/As about the Bible (Q1), the gender of God (Q11), the Trinity (Q12), the mind of God (Q13), Same-Sex Marriage (Q33), Transgender (Q36), Exams (Q39), Christian Community and the Internet (Q42) and the Church (Q51).
On the more negative side:
The section on the Big Bang (Q7) is confusing and wrong. It’s always a great shame when those who generally stand firm for Biblical authority start to compromise on Genesis and its teaching on origins. In addition, the recommended further reading here is a book by John Lennox who also has a lot of good to say on many apologetic topics, but is well known for his long age, gap theory interpretation of Genesis [Note 1].
Another problem topic is Hell (Q18). The answer seems to cast doubt on eternal punishment even though it refers to such texts as Matthew 25:41, ‘Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:..’ (My emphasis).
I also have a problem with the answer on suicide (Q21); not with the overall answer (although this is not necessarily the orthodox Christian view), but with the claim that Samson committed suicide which I think is dangerous. Samson did something that was likely to end in his death, but his motive was to kill the Philistines not himself.
Finally, the answer on tattoos (Q46) is weak and unhelpfully refers to Revelation 19:16, suggesting that Jesus had a ‘tattoo’. In the context I found this offensive and verging on the blasphemous.
It’s also worth stating that a few of the answers are not really bad, but do have potential issues. For example, the answer on Hitler (Q29) could be read as denying original sin – ‘If the questioner is suggesting that God should not permit anyone to be born who would do evil – then would that not eradicate most, if not all of us?’ – I don’t think this is the intention, but the wording is loose. Another example is the answer to the Rich and Famous question (Q26) which focuses on the prosperity gospel. Absolutely the prosperity gospel has done huge harm and it should be called out as being a false gospel, however, I felt that this focus stopped the question being fully answered (especially for those not in the grip of prosperity gospel teaching but still focusing on money, fame etc.) There are a few bits like this and I think the challenge comes from trying to answer complex questions very briefly and very simply.
A final concern I have about this book is in the recommended further reading. I have mentioned John Lennox, but other suggested authors include John Piper, Tim Keller and Dietrich Bonhoeffer (amongst many I have not heard of). These authors have written some good stuff, but also have significant doctrinal flaws.
Should I buy the book?
There is much to commend this book, and I wish I could give it a wholehearted recommendation as such books are needed. However, unfortunately, this one has a few significant problems.
If you are a teenager thinking about buying this book I would urge you to be very cautious. There is quite a bit in it that could confuse you or even give you wrong answers (including in the recommended further reading). I hope it is not patronising to say that it needs reading with a lot of discernment, something which young Christians may not yet have on all these topics – surely by definition, this is why you want to read the book!
If you do go ahead and get it, I would suggest you go through it with more mature Christians such as your parents, your pastor or an older Christian friend you trust, who can help you pick out the good from the bad, the right from the wrong.
Note 1: The book recommended in my edition of A.S.K. is Seven Days that Shook the World; in fact the John Lennox book is Seven Days that Divide the World. I guess this is a typo. CMI have a helpful review.[A00119 – 03/10/2019]
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