Clark claims that the identity of Jesus is the central
question of our lives. It is the question around which all others orbit. Was he
born of a virgin? Was he truly the son of God, and yet fully God himself? Many
believe he was a teacher, leader or revolutionary, but they aren’t convinced he
is really God. People often already have an idea of who God is and can’t fit
Jesus into that, or they already have an idea of who Jesus is and can’t fit God
into that. We learn who Jesus is through the Scriptures, by hearing what he
teaches, but by also acknowledging he demonstrated his claim as God through his
actions. Being born of a virgin, living a sinless life, performing miracles and
ultimately, being resurrected from the dead are all demonstrations of his deity.
Clark summarizes that facing the problem of God is about far more than getting
the right information for ourselves; it’s about a transformation of ourselves.
Jesus has real power to create new life and new desires and new futures for
Jesus not only claimed to be God by what he
said, but also by what he did. What truths of Jesus’ life support his deity?
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is at the
center of Christianity. What do you believe about the resurrection of Christ,
and why? What evidence do you have to support it?
In what ways have you been skeptical about
Jesus’ claim to be God? What encouraged, or discouraged your belief in this
Some argue that Jesus never said the words “I am
God”. How would you acknowledge this, and yet argue that he did claim to be
Clark provides examples of 4 primary arguments or pushbacks to the resurrection of Jesus. In your own words how would you refute the following:
Jesus didn’t really die on the cross.
The body of Jesus was stolen after his death.
The disciples went to the wrong tomb and that is why it was empty.
The disciples made up the resurrection as a “copycat” from another popular myth.
Many argue that Jesus was a great moral teacher and did many kind things, but was not God. If you knew someone today that claimed to be God, and you knew they were not, why would you accept anything they did or taught to be of value? Would you not conclude that they were either a liar, or a lunatic?
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Christianity claims that Jesus Christ alone connects humankind back to God, and that no other religion or worldview can provide the things we are looking for. Clark acknowledges how many people hedge their bets by supporting “any” possible path to God. Our culture today assumes if someone’s beliefs are different or critical of someone else’s, that they cannot not tolerate one another. But the reality is we can coexist with whom we disagree, while still defending their rights to that belief and work toward common goals in the world. The concept of exclusivity exists in many religions, not just Christianity. And it is illogical to accept that multiple religions are true, when they directly contradict one another. Clark asks for people to weigh facts and ideas against one another in order to find the view of life that is consistently true, makes sense of the world, and produces measurable improvement in the lives of those who believe and practice it, as well as those of society as a whole.
Why is the exclusivity of Christianity such a difficult
and polarizing topic?
In what ways is Christianity inclusive, while
holding to an exclusive means of salvation?
Is it ok to disagree with someone’s beliefs, but
still work alongside them to achieve a common goal? Do you have examples from
your own life you can share?
Many believe that there is more than one way to
heaven. What are the dangers of this? What are the dangers of communicating
acceptance and support to someone who believes this?
How would you describe the difference in
cultural pluralism and metaphysical pluralism?
Clark writes, “While we can fight for people’s
rights to say what they believe, we do not have to conclude that what they
believe is true.” Do you agree with this statement? Does it cause you to think
differently when you hear someone voicing a belief different than your own?
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Studies show the top 3 reasons people reject Christianity are that “church people” are seen as anti-homosexual, judgmental or hypocritical. People have connected past wars, torture, murders, slavery and other horrific acts, done in the name of Jesus, with the position and purpose of God’s design and calling for His church. The church is a place for the imperfect, but many who attend and represent Christ, don’t have a real relationship with Jesus. And many who do, do not live a lifestyle counter to cultural norms. True Christians must have beliefs coupled with lives that are God-honoring. In the book, Clark tackles past violence and intolerability by those professing faith in Jesus. “The Bible calls us to judge the truth of Christianity by the life of its founder, Jesus Christ himself, not by the lives of those attempting to follow him, because in him and him alone will you find someone worthy of trust and imitation.”
Take a few minutes as a group and share what portions of the book or the Sunday morning message were most impactful to you? How has what you’ve heard re-shaped the way you think
In your own experience, how has the poor behavior of Christians impacted your belief about Christianity, and its’ beliefs as a whole? What culturally encourages the thought that Christians are to be “perfect”?
When assessing Christianity, it is best done by investigating its’ central teachings, and teacher, Jesus, and not it’s followers, the church. Why is this important for anyone looking further into Christianity to understand that the fact there are hypocrites in the Church, affirms its ability to transform lives?
Do you believe StoneWater Church is a hypocritical church, filled with hypocritical people? Are there conversations you need to have with leadership regarding your concerns? Are your positions based on the actions of individuals, or does the culture being displayed or taught not mimic the life of Christ?
When confronted with examples of horrible things
the church has done in the name of Jesus, what is your response? How do you
respond when people give examples of followers of Jesus living a life counter
to the teachings of Jesus?
Many take the position that Christians preach to
love everyone, yet they judge and distance themselves from those who do not look
like or act like they do. What is inaccurate about this perspective? Should
there exist the opportunity to both disagree with someone’s position, but still
show love? Share some examples of how this could be lived out.
Pastor Jeremy referenced “fakers” of the faith
in his Sunday sermon on hypocrisy. Why is it difficult to identify cultural
Christians from real followers of Christ. What queues help identify the
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“Any limit on our behavior is seen as a violation of our basic human rights as individuals. We believe we have the right to use our bodies in whatever way we want, and this is the ultimate expression of our freedom and our autonomy”, writes Clark. Because of this, our current, western culture has abandoned God’s design, and the Bible’s direction regarding sex. Sadly, the church hasn’t helped over the years as it has shared poor theology and added to the confusion. But God’s design is clear. Sex is good, is of God, is designed for marriage and in marriage, is temporal and pleasurable. Yet, we continue to move away from God’s design, and now are confused with sexuality, personhood, marriage and more. Sex, as designed by God and for us here on Earth, should be glorious and point “to the eternal delight of soul that we will have in heaven.”
Sex can be a polarizing topic both in the
church, and out. What do you remember being taught about sex during your
upbringing? Did the “church’s” view on sex play a role in what you were taught?
How has the cultural discussion about sex changed
in your lifetime? What is different today than in past years? Is our culture
moving toward or away from healthy sexuality?
In your best understanding, what is the purpose
of sex? What is admissible, and what is not?
For many individuals and couples, the topic of
sex is a reminder of serious hurt, frustration, disappointment and shame. In
spite of this, how is a healthy and robust sex-life God’s desire for your
How has sex in many ways become the ultimate
pleasure of our time? How might a Christian perspective oppose this narrative,
while still identifying sex as a wonderful gift to be enjoyed?
If good sex takes practice, what steps can you
take with your spouse to increase the frequency in which you practice, and
learn one another’s bodies?
What restrictions does the Bible place on
sexuality? How do sexual restrictions as biblically prescribed actually enhance
sexual pleasure, and not limit it?
On pg 169, Peggy Noonan shares our
misunderstanding that sexual freedom and acceptance will make us a healthier
species. In fact, she goes on to say that “as we’ve gotten more open-minded,
we’ve gotten more closed-hearted.” What point is she trying to make here?
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Clark outlines some of the obstacles people raise regrading hell. How can an all-loving God judge people? Why does God condemn people eternally for what they do in a finite amount of time? Why is it necessary for hell to involve a kind of torture (i.e., eternal fire, brimstone, etc.)? Or desire to not experience hell should never be driven by fear of hell, but instead, by love for Jesus. Jesus spent much of his time sharing about the love of God, but also the wrath of God. To deny the existence of hell is to deny the teachings and person of Jesus. He goes on to explain why he feels it is not easy to accept but necessary as well as just. He believes hell will not be the same for everyone, is not a torture chamber, but is a place of emotional, psychological, and relational suffering and anguish where we are allowed to be our own god and are allowed to sustain and provide for ourselves. “Hell is a place where Satan is punished. It is the culmination of his defeat by God, and God is sovereign over it, not Satan.” “Hell was originally designed for Satan, not people.”
Up until this point, what has been your
understanding of hell? How did that understanding motivate you towards, or away
Share what portions of the book or the Sunday
morning message increased your confidence that Jesus is a loving, tender
father, that also has created a repulsive place called hell?
How would you describe the relationship between
God’s characteristics of love and tenderness, as well as righteousness and
justice? Does one negate the other, if some are achieved through the means of
Clark shares how his own father and grandfather
who have died never openly professed their faith in Jesus. Have you had experiences
with death where you questioned someone’s faith? What emotions did you wrestle
with? What truths brought comfort? Did realities of scripture and that
experience affect change in your own life? How would you counsel someone else
in similar situation?
It has been said that Hell is an Old Testament principle or idea. How does Jesus’s frequent mention of hell, and its attributes change your perspective?
How would you describe hell to a 8 year old? What attributes would you use to describe it? Is it made of fire? Is God there? Is Satan in charge? Is it physical torture?
Do you believe people are forced into hell against their will? Philosopher J.P. Moreland contends that hell is a place for people who, given what is needed to belong in heaven, do not want to go to heaven. Thus, hell is the natural consequence of the choices people make. How does this statement affect you?
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Why is there pain and suffering in the world? Why should we devote our lives to a God who allows children to suffer? How can I believe in a God who says he is all-loving, and yet he allows a world with rape, murder, disease, terrorism and natural disasters? Is God willing and able to stop this, yet doesn’t? Does the presence of evil then lead us to believe the nonexistence of God? You feel these questions, you don’t just think about them. The Bible faces these tough questions head on and provides the most glorious answers. Clark tackles these questions and gives some great background to how other religions such as New Age, Hinduism and Atheism attempt to address them. Clark also contends that the existence of evil and suffering actually reveals God to us rather than disproving him. He shares how many people succeed because of suffering, not in spite of it. He also suggests that “the reason we struggle with this concept of purposeful suffering today in the Western world is because we see the point and purpose of life as happiness.” We find hope and understanding in Romans 8:28, “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.”
How has the problem of evil and suffering
affected your understanding of God? Is this an area that is difficult for you
to wrap your arms around? What emotions are stirred up in you?
Do you believe that both God and evil can
co-exist? Do you believe that God is all-powerful and all-knowing? Explain in
your own words how God can still be good if he allows evil in order to retain
free will in the universe or if it allows a greater good in the future.
What not to say – Can you think of phrases you
need to stay away from while listening to someone’s personal story of
suffering? What to say – What are some phrases that would be more helpful as it
relates to God?
Has there been a time in your own life where you
questioned the existence or goodness of God due to suffering you’ve
experienced? How have you reconciled the two?
You may believe that the allowance of some evil may lead to something good. Is there such thing as pointless evil where no good is ever comes from it? How do you reconcile that with the phrase “some of the greatest lessons we learn in life come through suffering”?
As Americans often strive for a life of happiness, how does this feed into the belief that God is nonexistent or not caring if suffering exists? Do you believe other nations look at suffering differently? Why?
On pg. 123, Clark writes, “The New Testament writers tell us that, yes, our need of saving was the occasion for God’s suffering on the cross, but not its only reason.” Do you believe God’s suffering tells us something more about God than just his desire to save us?
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Chapter 4 tackles many conspiracy theorists who have taken the position that Jesus never existed, was simply a mythical character created by the culture of the time, or at a minimum, existed but did not raise from the dead. Clark writes “Under the persecution of both the Jews and the Roman Empire, Christianity grew from a group of twelve disciples to over 33 million people in just 350 years, and by 400 AD, 56% of the entire population of the Roman Empire were Christians.” This tells us that those closest to the life and resurrection of Jesus may have been more likely to place their faith in Jesus than many people today. He shares that time has allowed the truth to be mystified in some way. What is most surprising, is this distortion hasn’t taken place with the most scholarly historians, but instead with those who do not take an honest look at the actual evidence that exists. Because of great evidence, we can know “that he (Jesus) was a real flesh-and-blood Jewish teacher in first-century Israel”, who was crucified and raised from the dead.
Take a few minutes as a group and share what
portions of the book or the Sunday morning message increased your confidence
that Jesus really walked on this Earth.
If “The Christ Myth” were true, that Jesus never
existed, or that he was not raised from the dead, what ramifications would this
have for Christianity? For humankind?
When do you believe Jesus was born, and why do
we currently celebrate it on December 25th? Why do we assume there
were three kings at his birth? Why is it important to know scripture when
Clark writes “Historians continue to debate the
nature of Jesus, the exact date of his birth, what he did and taught, etc., but
they almost unanimously affirm that he existed.” Knowing this, why do you
believe so many have taken the position that he never existed?
What have you done, or what will you do, if
someone makes a claim that Jesus was not real? Do you pursue original texts, or
rely on secondary sources? What benefit does critical study play in developing
our faith position?
Can you imagine how Christianity could grow so
rapidly without the documented eyewitness accounts of the physical resurrection
of Jesus? Can you relate this to a situation in your life, where it would be
impossible to convince so many without eyewitnesses, and simply telling a
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Is the Bible historically legitimate or is it filled with folklore? Has the Bible changed over time? Does it contradict itself? How do we know we have something even close to the original text? Why have some writings been left out of the Bible? Do you really expect me to take every word as truth and not merely as a general guide to help me live a better life? Clark provides evidence that “the Bible is actually one of the most, if not the most, reliable and credible documents from antiquity.” He systematically tackles many of the toughest questions, including issues related to slavery, women and even polygamy in the Bible. Not only is it accurate, complete and true, the scriptures have power to speak. “And if we listen, and heed them and let them take us over, they will transform us, forever.”
What are the hurdles or questions you have had to confront in relation to the Bible, and why? Do you relate to any of the questions raised on pg 65? What issues do you hear most often from people regarding their hurdles with the Bible?
How literal do you believe the Bible is? For instance, was the universe created in 6 days? Was the entire Earth under water in the flood? Was Jonah in the mouth of a fish? Are there parts of the Bible that are difficult to accept?
Take a few minutes as a group and share what portions of the book or the Sunday morning message helped build your trust in the Bible?
Do you give the same weight or reliability to the Old Testament as you do the New Testament? Are there areas of the Bible you hold tighter to than others? Why is that so?
In developing your trust, or mistrust of the Bible, how much have you considered the historical scrutiny it has been placed under? Does this level of scrutiny render it more valid that other historical documents?
On pg. 80, Clark shares his personal experience and states, “I began to realize that there’s a world of difference between the Bible explaining what is happening and God affirming and encouraging what is happening.” Does this distinction help you with issues related to slavery, polygamy, the treatment of women and children, etc.?
Why do you believe it is easy for others to dispute the accuracy of the Bible, yet they accept other ancient texts with far less legitimacy? Is it simply a lack of knowledge, or an intentional decision to refute scripture as it would require life change to live out the Christian faith?
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Clark begins by stating “If we are going to believe in God, then we must ask what the evidence is for his existence. What proofs and clues are there that an all-powerful, eternal, infinite being actually exists?” His arguments are then categorized into two primary areas, the morality of people, and the order of the universe. In short, why do we have an innate desire to do what’s right, to lay down our life for people we love instead of doing whatever necessary to advance ourselves. “The very fact that something within us is repelled by racism, sexism, and unequal treatment of the poor and disabled begs the question that such convictions would have to come from somewhere, for they are not natural.” The chapter goes on to provide evidence against the Big Bang Theory, as well as evolution, and supports evidence of an intelligent design.
Take a few minutes as a group and share what portions of the book or the Sunday morning message where interesting to you. What was most “eye opening” as you heard and read about an intelligent designer.
On pg.58, Clark writes “The laws that govern
physical matter would need to exist prior to the big bang. They could not come
into existence at the same moment as the big bang itself or else they would not
do their work.” Based on your faith and beliefs, what existed first? When did the
laws of physics exist? Heaven? Hell? Angels? Jesus? Holy Spirit? Devil?
Theories and opinions regarding creation are
readily available today. How do you lead your kids, grandkids or young people
through the discovery process to determine what they believe is truth vs
theory? How do they do this while honoring God and loving people along the way?
Based on the information you’ve read in this
book, and the discussion that took place, do you feel your confidence in God
has increased? Do you feel you have more questions than when you started? What
is your next step with this new position? This may be intentional conversations
with your kids, other family, friends, co-workers?
Prior to reading this chapter or listening to
the message, how would you explain our society’s desire to live by a moral code
or a desire to “do the right thing”? In your own words, how do you explain the
fact that we as a whole are against murder, or racism, or other “wrong things”?
Many people believe that the creation of the
universe was simply a “lucky”, single occurrence (Big Bang Theory). Clark
shares a poker analogy where the odds of the universe being created consistent
with the Big Bang is equivalent to being dealt a perfect royal flush in poker
every hand, forever. Why do you believe so many people feel it is easy to
believe in the Big Bang, when they would never believe in the poker analogy?
If someone came to you and argued that the Grand
Canyon was created millions of years ago, how would you began to use your faith
in God to defend the creation story? What are other examples of theories people
share and we accept as facts when it relates to creation and the universe?
https://stonewaterchurch.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/SWC_Logo2018_whiteWEB.png00Morgan Farrishttps://stonewaterchurch.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/SWC_Logo2018_whiteWEB.pngMorgan Farris2019-09-09 12:24:162019-09-18 11:55:41Chapter Two: The Problem of God's Existence
In the first chapter, Clark tackles the widely held view that both the discoveries of science and the positions of the Christian faith cannot coexist. Someone must choose to either believe in science or commit intellectual suicide and hold onto a blind faith. Clark explains the dichotomy of the myth: “science is about thinking, evidence, and rational justification, while Christianity and faith in general are about evading evidence and clinging to nonrationality.” He not only works to dispel the myth that the church, faith and Christianity are NOT universally opposed to science, but that science was actually birthed from Christian beliefs. He leads us to believe that the continued advances of science will bring confidence to the Christian faith.
Take a few minutes as a group and share what portions of the book or the Sunday morning message where interesting to you. Have you changed your mind about something related to science or faith because of what you’ve heard?
Based on what you’ve been taught in the past, do you feel you have a larger knowledge base about scientific arguments FOR or AGAINST the Christian faith? Why is that?
Was there something specific in the reading or from the Sunday message that grew your confidence that God is real and the creator of the universe?
Hearing Christians provide scientific evidence to support the Christian faith may be new for you. What is most encouraging about being equipped with new knowledge?
What do you need to keep in mind as you share this new information with skeptics? What do you what them to think? What do you want them to feel? What is the role of the Holy Spirit?
Have you ever experienced a conversation with a friend or family member who scientifically opposed the Christian faith? How did you feel, and is there something more you wish you would have known?
Clark shares an analogy, that believing in the Big Bang Theory is comparable to accepting that someone could have been dealt a perfect royal flush in poker, on every hand, forever. Why do you think our culture accepts something as unlikely as this, before they would accept the idea that there is an ultimate designer (God)?
As scientists learn more, do you believe more people will turn to the Christian faith or fewer? Why?
What scientific questions do you still have regarding faith (creation, evolution, dinosaurs, etc.)? What do you feel can’t be explained by the Bible?
Read Romans 1: 19-23. How do you believe our culture today has become “futile in their thinking”? What have we decided to believe instead of the truth of scripture? As you continue to read Romans 1, what other cultural issues do you see as an effect of our “futile thinking”?
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StoneWater Church has created the following questions for groups as a guide for discussion. They have been based on the book The Problem of God by Mark Clark, as well as a sermon series at StoneWater Church in the fall of 2019. These questions are simply a guide to help you grow in your faith and gain confidence in the teachings of the Bible.
During your first meeting, we would encourage you as a group leader to spend some time getting to know everyone in the group. Below are a few questions that can help initiate conversation. You can also take a moment at the beginning of each subsequent session and allow someone different to share how they heard about Jesus and the Christian faith for the first time.
What were some key conversations, truths or experiences that led you to take the next step and commit your life to following Jesus?
What doubts or hurdles did you have to overcome or what questions are still waiting to be answered in order for you to make that decision to commit your life to Jesus?
If you had to complete this sentence, “My problem with God is ….?”, how would you complete it?
https://stonewaterchurch.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/SWC_Logo2018_whiteWEB.png00Morgan Farrishttps://stonewaterchurch.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/SWC_Logo2018_whiteWEB.pngMorgan Farris2019-08-29 16:24:282019-09-05 16:43:43Intro: The Problem of God