Monday, January 20, 2014

"Tough Topics" by Sam Storms: A Review

This book is entirely devoted to providing what I hope will be biblical answers to hard questions people ask. What you or I may prefer to be true or what may or may not make us feel comfortable or what appears to our judgment to be fair or unfair simply doesn't matter. When we say we believe in the inspiration, inerrancy, and authority of the Bible, we are making known that the only answers we will embrace to troublesome questions are those found in Scripture. (15)

Questions. We've all got them. Every pastor since Pentecost has had to answer questions. Many are repetitive and basic (where did Cain get his wife?), others require deep theological conviction (how can God be sovereign and humans responsible?), and some require pastoral care (what happens to babies when they die?). Thankfully there are resources out there that aide pastors and other Christians in finding the answers they are looking for. Sam Storm's book Tough Topics: Biblical Answers to 25 Challenging Questions is one of the most helpful books in this regard.

As the subtitle suggests, Storms, relying on forty years of pastoral ministry, answers 25 difficult, yet common questions asked regarding Scripture, Christianity, and theology. The questions are:
1 Is the Bible Inerrant?
2 What Is Open Theism?
3 Does God Ever Change His Mind?
4 Could Jesus Have Sinned?
5 What Did Jesus Mean When He Said, "Judge Not, that You Be Not Judged"?
6 What Is Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit?
7 Does the Bible Teach the Doctrine of Original Sin?
8 Are Those Who Die in Infancy Saved?
9 Will People Be Condemned for Not Believing in Jesus though They've Never Heard His Name?
10 What Can We Know about Angels?
11 What Can We Know about Satan?
12 What Can We Know about Demons?
13 Can a Christian Be Demonized?
14 Does Satan Assign Demons to Specific Geopolitical Regions? Are There Territorial Spirits?
15 Can Christians Lose Their Salvation?
16 Does Hebrews Teach that Christians Can Apostatize?
17 Will There Be Sex in Heaven?
18 Are Miraculous Gifts for Today?
19 What Is Baptism in the Spirit, and When Does It Happen?
20 Should All Christians Speak in Tongues?
21 What Was Paul's Thorn in the Flesh?
22 Is There Healing in the Atonement?
23 Why Doesn't God Always Heal the Sick?
24 What Is Legalism?
25 Are Christians Obligated to Tithe?
As would be expected from the pen of Sam Storms, each question is given a robust and thorough answer from Scripture. Storms willingly struggles with the biblical text without resulting to personal philosophy.  Thus, this is not a book about one author's opinion, but an author's best attempt at addressing these difficult issues from the pages of Scripture.

Storms admits at the beginning of chapter 17 that the average reader will naturally be drawn to his answer to some questions over others. The question regarding sex in heaven is case in point and his answer here serves as a helpful example of how Storms deals with each question. The context of the question regards how to interpret and apply Mark 12:18-23. There, Jesus suggests that in heaven we will not be married nor, like the angels, be given to marriage.

So what is the answer to the question? First, Storm says, if we define sex as maleness and femaleness, then the answer is yes. In heaven, we will be eternally male and female. Secondly, if by sex we are referring to our anatomy, then the answer is, again, yes. We will, remember, be embodied beings even in the new heavens and the new earth. Thirdly, and more directly, as it relates to sexual activity in heaven, the answer is no. Then why bother?, many ask. Storms writes:
The love that on earth could best be achieved in a marriage relationship between husband and wife will be so marvelously magnified that all of God's pole will experience it jointly. That woman in the hypothetical story the Sadducees told will be able to love her seven husbands perfectly, as they in turn will all love her perfectly, but none of them will live or love in the state of marriage. (226)
He later adds:
Allow me to put your fears and disappointment to rest. I can assure you that whatever physical or sensual pleasures one experiences in this life through sexual intimacy will be magnified and intensified apart from sexual intercourse in the next life. I don't know how God will do it, but I'm convinced that the joys of heaven, the happiness and pleasures of heaven, will infinitely exceed those on earth. (228)
Though I offer only a small snippet of Storms larger argument above, it reveals how Storm approaches how clear, honest, biblical, and pastoral he is throughout the book. Through it all, Storms provides a helpful, pastoral model for Christians to follow when confronted with difficult questions.

One area of critique needs to be addressed. Of the 25 questions, eleven of them regard matters of the Holy Spirit, charismatic gifts, and supernatural beings (Satan, demons, and angels). I am not surprised by some of his conclusions already knowing the author is a continuationists, but was surprised by the volume of charismatic questions. For the most part, I concur with much of what he argues regarding Satan, demons, and angels. Regarding spiritual gifts, my disagreement with Storms was already a given. In his chapter on the continuation of spiritual gifts, Storms offers 12 reasons why one should not be a cessationists followed by 12 reasons why one should be a continuationists.

In the end, however, so much of the book was dominated by these issues that Storm was limited in what he could address. Do we really need, out of 25 chapters, five chapters dedicated to Satan, demons, and angels? Could that not be more addressed, less thoroughly of course, in one or two? In terms of addressing great theological debates, only chapters 1 (on inerrancy), 2 (on open theism), 3 (on the immutability of God), and 7 (on original sin) are available.

Overall, however, this is a great resource for pastors and Christians to have on their bookshelves. No pastor, or Christian for that matter, should be unable to articulate the gospel and biblical truth when asked. Books like this go a long way at equipping us.

This book was provided for the purpose of this review by its publisher, Crossway Books.
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