Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Book Review: 100 Tough Questions by Stephen M. Miller

Wow.  I have never felt more extreme in my ambivalence about a book.  In 100 Tough Questions About God and the Bible by Stephen M. Miller, there are some parts that I want to photocopy and carry around with me just in case someone comes up to me and starts asking questions and there are parts that I want to burn because the fact that someone wrote something that hideous on paper makes me want to scream.  As I said, extreme ambivalence.

The way the book is set up, Miller takes 100 of the tough questions from the Bible and attempts to answer them.  I agree with him that the questions he asks, such as "Are we supposed to believe people like Noah lived 900 years?", are some of the really tough questions.  And while the premise of this book is certainly admirable, the author is setting himself up for failure from the beginning.  The thought that really tough questions can even attempt to be answered in a mere 2 pages or less when scholars have been debating the questions for hundreds of years is ludicrous.

I don't usually write my reviews as a list of pros and cons, but this book is so "all over the place", I feel like this is the only way to review it adequately.

He's not afraid of the tough question.
He shows multiple points of view, even some of the least popular.
He brings in scientific and archaeological information into the discussion.
There are times when he admits that no one knows exactly.
Some of his answers, like the one on homosexuality or the one on bashing in the heads of babies, are unusually fair and spot on in their explanation.

The audience for this book isn't clearly established, so what would answer the questions for a Christian in doubt might not answer the question for an atheist, or vice versa.
He is often condescending to most Christians, writing them off on believing with blind faith or lacking reason.  It often got to the point of being completely offensive.
Often times he leaves out the potential, and very likely, explanation of a supernatural God doing supernatural things.
The fact that some of these questions are being asked would indicate that the person asking had bigger theological issues that needed to be addressed.

There are several things that could have been done to make this book much stronger.  First, an initial chapter about how historical and scientific evidence strengthens or weakens biblical arguments would have helped.  Next, it would have been beneficial if the author would have picked four or five specific points of view to focus on throughout the book.  For example..."this is how a scientist would answer.  This is how a traditional Christian would answer.  This is how a more liberal Christian would answer.  This is how a historian would answer.  This is how a literary scholar would answer."  This would allow the reader to track different views across multiple subjects and begin to make sense of the different thought processes, instead of giving the book the "buffet" feeling of just picking whichever point of view feels good.  Another benefit would have been to tie in faith more.  Why would a Christian believe something on faith?  Why does that fit into their logical framework?

Again, it is hard to say whether I recommend the book or not.  There are parts that I believe every Christian should read.  Then there are other parts that are so horrible, they are borderline blasphemous.  Regardless, this should not be your only text on difficulties in scripture.  Perhaps it is a nice accompaniment to a better written text.

I was provided this book free of charge by the publisher in return for my honest review.

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