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FREQUENTLY AVOIDED QUESTIONS: An Uncensored Dialogue on Faith
Chuck Smith Jr. and Matt Whitlock
Baker Books
Christian Living
ISBN: 0801065437

Chuck Smith Jr. is doing exactly what his father did before him --- reaching out to young people in a way that makes the gospel relevant to their lives. But reaching youth today is dramatically different from what it was in the 1970s, when Chuck Smith Sr. was out in California launching what became the Calvary Chapel network of churches and making all us East Coast Jesus Freaks want to hitch a ride out there to join him. For one thing, Smith was pretty much "it"; we didn't have the Internet or any way of connecting without like-minded souls back in the day. His son is having a much better time connecting with young people, and one of the young(er) people he has connected with is YWAM worker Matt Whitlock.

Smith Sr. preached a message of radical transformation to the beat of rock music. Smith Jr.'s message is no less radical, but in this book there's less preaching, more listening, and a whole lot of not-knowing. The certainty of modern evangelicalism is learning to accommodate the uncertainty of postmodernism, and how that plays out in real life is modeled in the format of FREQUENTLY AVOIDED QUESTIONS. In response to the question that forms the title of each chapter, Whitlock offers his take on the problem the question poses based on his experience and that of his peers. Smith then responds to Whitlock from the perspective of one who has been on the journey of faith a bit longer --- but never in an "I'm older, so I'm naturally wiser" way. Smith is obviously grappling with the same questions, especially with regard to his ministry to postmoderns.

Some of the questions they discuss are those that many of us hear from the larger culture, that vast world outside evangelical Christianity: Why the Bible? Are Christians the morality police? Do good people go to hell? Other questions are those that many evangelicals have long wondered about but have often been afraid to ask publicly, for fear of being branded a heretic by the morality pol --- I mean, the leadership of their church: Do I have to go to church? Am I supposed to hate the world? Is it wrong to take a job in a bar?

I thoroughly enjoyed Whitlock and Smith's dialogue on these and other questions. Both were clearly trying to understand the other's point of view. Whitlock did a great job of trying to explain why these questions are so problematic for him and his peers, while Smith did an equally great job of analyzing the question and Whitlock's response in light of the Bible, church tradition, contemporary culture, and his own experience.

What is particularly appealing about the book is the grace that permeates the dialogue. Whitlock may experience the tension between postmodernism and what he sees in the church, but Smith has lived the history that has brought the church where it is today, and he is caught smack in the middle of that tension as pastor of a church that has a modern history and a postmodern momentum. It's to Smith's credit that he maintains such a commendable balance throughout this conversation, even though in his ministry he must feel as if a whole lot of factors are combining to throw that balance off.

The authors have tackled important questions that evangelicals need to think about and discuss among themselves, and this book can serve as a great springboard for those discussions. Let's hope there's a sequel that covers all those other important questions that we've been avoiding for far too long.


   --- Reviewed by Marcia Ford (misfit@marciaford.com)

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