Discovering God Study Guide

Printer Friendly and PDF
Author: 
Dennis McCallum

Introduction

This guide can be used either for individual or group study. We will address a group facilitator throughout and individuals can simply ignore the group discussion suggestions.

For each chapter, read the section in Discovering God first. If you are leading a group you must consider whether or not your members will do the reading outside the group. If you suspect members have not read the chapter, you can read either the chapter or relevant sections in the group by taking turns reading aloud. Then compare answers to selected study questions.

Chapter 1 The Stakes are High

  1. Discovering God begins with a metaphor of a party where everyone dies within three hours. How do you see this party fitting into the communication strategy of the book?


     
  2. How would you react to the suggestion by a non Christian reader that being ushered into such a party is unfair, and any God who would create such a situation should not be acknowledged?


     
  3. Aside from the duration of the party being different from the duration of our lives, can you think of any other differences or discontinuities between the metaphor and real life?

     
  4. For postmodern or relativistic readers, consider a person who refuses to believe in the reality of the deadly virus and insists that because his belief's are different, his fate will be different also.
     
  5. Do your friends have a strong sense of purpose in their lives? If so, what is it? If not, are they bothered by this lack? Should they be?
     
  6. As Christians, what is the purpose of our lives?
     
  7. A non Christian says, "A life doesn’t have to be eternal to be meaningful." How would you respond?
     

Chapter 2 Ways of Knowing

Making sense

  1. Many today, including Christians, doubt that reason can tell us much in the spiritual realm. What do you think?

     
  2. Can we deny the validity or the importance of reason but still stick up for truth?

     

Experience

  1. Can you think of any other area of knowledge that requires both reason and experience?

     
  2. Do you think some Christian doctrines such as the trinity are beyond or above reason? Can something be beyond human comprehension but still compatible with rationality?


     
  3. Consider the concept of a square triangle. Can such a thing exist? How do you know?

     
  4. Can you think of any illustration (other than the lost peanut butter jar or drug prescription) where reasonable faith is used?

     
  5. Does naturalism (e.g. atheism or agnosticism) require faith? Why or why not?

     
  6. If McCallum is right that no world view can be proved, can we really know anything? How would you differentiate between Christianity and any other opinion?


     
  7. Is the person who claims to believe in nothing at all actually believing in something? What about the person who says there are no universal truths?


     
  8. Name some things you know because of your experience.


     
  9. Name two things that cannot be known any way other than experience.

     
  10. One author claims that anyone who honestly turns to God and asks for an experience of his reality will be saved eventually. What do you think of such a claim?

Chapter 3 The Problem of Verification

God’s Chosen Method of Self-authentication

  1. What are the problems and the possible strengths for each of the following means of authentication for Christianity or any other truth claim?

    - The evidence of miracles:



    - The evidence of others’ testimony:



    - The evidence of historical reliability of the Bible:



    - Rational consistency with its own propositions:



    - Correlation between the claims made in a religious text and provable things outside that text (eg. in nature):



    - The historical argument for the resurrection of Christ:



    - The argument that Jesus must be true because I have experienced him in my heart:



    - The argument that God alone can tell the future course of human history, and has done so in the Bible:


     
  2. A non Christian says, "The Bible is a written document, and has been translated many times. Therefore, it probably contains unknown thousands of errors and we have no idea what was in the original." Respond.

     
  3. With the Bible, we have the proposition that God has spoken to the human race through the medium of a written document. What would some of the other possibilities be, and what weaknesses would they have?

     
  4. Can you think of a way God could have authenticated Jesus Christ, that would have worked better than his predictive prophecy method (not just for his own day but for today)?

     
  5. Do you know of other religions that have similar means of self-authentication?

     
  6. Do you have friends who believe Nostrodamus was a true predictor of the future? Nostrodamus claimed to foretell the future via astrology. Do you think the examples of his predictions given are persuasive?

Chapter 4 The Time of Christ’s Coming Predicted

Daniel 9 is a remarkable prophecy, but some people steer away from it because it is complicated. Yet, as you can see from this chapter of Christianity: The Faith That Makes Sense, it is possible to summarize and simplify the passage enough to use effectively in evangelism.

Let’s look at Daniel chapter 9 and gain a better understanding of the background and basic interpretive issues:

  1. Daniel 9:1 dates this vision as being in "In the first year of Darius son of Xerxes." We have no record of Darius, but we know Xerxes well from history. Since Daniel says Darius "was made ruler" we can assume he was a viceroy serving under Xerxes, the new Persian ruler. Look in a Bible dictionary and find out when Xerxes conquered Babylon.

     
  2. Daniel says his reflection began when he read in Jeremiah the number of years for the Jewish exile in Babylon. (See Jeremiah 25:11) Considering that Daniel was taken into exile with the first group of captives in about 605 BC, (and remembering that years go down instead of up in the BC period) about how many years had passed since his capture?

     
  3. As Daniel prays and confesses the sins of the people, he also mentions the curse that Moses warned them about. Read Leviticus 26:33-35 in context. Their unfaithfulness had resulted in their exile, but somehow the "sabbatical year" was involved as well (see chapter 24:1-6). This link is important, because the Sabbaths of years in the last part of the chapter have this as their context. Read also II Chronicles 36:20-22. Here again, we see reference to the Jeremiah prediction, to Xerxes, and to the sabbatical years, of which 70 had apparently been ignored.

     
  4. In verse 24, Gabriel says God will allow the Jewish people 70 "sevens" or shabuim (from which we get the word "Sabbath"). Now you can see why the context dictates that these be Sabbaths of years, not of days. Now read the list of things the Jewish people must do to complete their commission. For each item, write one or more possibilities for what it might refer to.

    finish transgression


    put an end to sin


    atone for wickedness


    bring in everlasting righteousness


    to seal up vision and prophecy


    anoint the most holy
     
  5. In verse 25 some versions refer to the coming of Messiah, and others refer to "The Anointed One. In Hebrew this word is Meshiach, from which we get Messiah. Anointing the "most holy" (verse 24, NIV) could be a reference to the Messiah as well.

     
  6. We will not attempt to dissect the chronology of years here, although this has already been done in fms. Go over that section again, including the footnotes to make sure you understand it. Since the rebuilding of Jerusalem occurred in the 400’s BC, it should be clear that the coming of Messiah is about 483 years from some time in the fifth century BC. Without going into detail, this alone should make it clear that the fulfillment falls in the early first century. See the works referenced in the notes for more detail on the two main ways to interpret the passage.

     

Chapter 5 Isaiah's Remarkable Predictions

  1. Does it seem odd that God would fail to name the annonymous servant as the Messiah? What do you think of McCallum's suggestion that this was on purpose in order to conceal Jesus' mission at the cross? 

     
  2. Have the group read Isaiah 52:13=53:12. See how many features they can discern about the servant of the Lord.

     
  3. While you have Isaiah open, Jewish interpreters claim the servant in this passage refers to the Jewish people. Can you see any evidence in the text that this is not possible? 

     
  4. Considering 1 Corinthians 8ff, do you think Satan knew these servant songs were about Jesus? 
     

Chapter 6 This Has Never Happened Before

  1. Some people think the regathering of Israel is the most undeniable prediction of the future in the Bible. Can you see any possible weaknesses in this predictive scnario?

     
  2. What do you think of the possibility that the Jews made this prediction come true on purpose? What do you think of McCallum's 5 observations at the end of the chapter?
     

Chapter 7 The Biblical Message

  1. How would you define grace?
     
  2. Do you agree that grace is the heart of the biblical message, or do you see something different?

     
  3. What evidence can you think of for, or against, the biblical view on the nature of man? (Think of history, children, your own life etc.) 

     
  4. What sins are most characteristic of fallen humans?


     
  5. Why does the author think that the idea of works salvation implies that God is unloving or unwelcoming? Do you agree?
     
  6. Can you think of any religious system other than Christianity that does not teach salvation by works?

     
  7. McCallum cites Romans 3 and the phrase "the just and the justifier." What does this phrase mean? How could you explain it to a non Christian?

     
  8. Some Christian teachers and Christian-based cults mistakenly teach that works are either the main key, or an essential part of salvation. Who do you know that argues works salvation for Christians, and how would you counter such claims?

     
  9. Read the citations from Islamic, Jewish, and Catholic religious texts in the footnotes. All three of these religions are very important because all are theistic, just like biblical Christianity. Interestingly, all three come from a biblical tradition. Do you agree that the passages cited show that these religions teach salvation by works? Are you aware of any claims to the contrary?
     

Chapter 8 The Growing Case for God’s Existence and Nature

  1. This chapter and the next focus on arguments, not for Christianity specifically, but for the existence of an infinite, personal God. Surveys show that over 90% of Americans believe in a god or gods. What, then is the usefulness of this material?


     
  2. McCallum argues that any series, or arangement that can be shown to refer to something outside itself (like the language on the rock face, or any language or code) must be the product of design. What do you think of this claim? 

     
  3. McCallum tries to argue that natural selection cannot be invoked to explain the information needed to produce biologically useful molecules like RNA or proteins. Why did he argue this, and do you agree?

     
  4. Do you think the fine-tuning of the universe demonstrates design? Considering that improbable things happen all the time (like your mom meeting your dad and having you) why would this be different?

     
  5. What is another good illustration (besides the Taj Mahal) for the argument from design?

Chapter 9 God Evident Through Consciousness

  1. Why is the idea of a conscious mind with freedom of thought, creativity, etc. inconsistent with naturalism? 

     
  2. The illustration of the rocks spelling out "THE CANADIAN RAILWAY WELCOMES YOU TO CANADA" is a type of presuppositional argument. This kind of argument is helpful because it points out, not just what is likely or unlikely (like the argument from design) but what is consistent or inconsistent with one’s own presuppositions (or beginning assumptions). How could this be useful for witnessing Christians?


     
  3. Why is the man’s suggestion that they change their currency incompatible with his view of the rocks spelling Canadian Railways. . .?


     
  4. Postmodern thinkers claim that it doesn’t matter if they are inconsistent with their own presuppositions because everyone is inconsistent. Is this true?


    .
  5. Postmodernists also claim that consistency is nothing but a western test unknown in other cultures. Give some examples of inconsistency between truth claims and actions or views. Follow these examples:

    - A postmodern mother claims there is no such thing as objective truth, but chides her daughter for lying.
     
  6. Why, in your own words, is it impossible to devise moral norms based only on a material world with material creatures?

     
  7. Is there a difference between relative morality (morals relative to the individual or group) and no morality at all?


     
  8. As the author points out, the arguments in this chapter point to the existence of God, not exclusively to the Bible or to Jesus Christ. At the same time, we could argue that they to not point at all to eastern mystical, or pantheistic concepts of God. Why is this true?

     

Chapter 10 Becoming Involved in Christianity

This chapter is intended mainly as an invitation to receive Christ and a basic orientation for those who may have responded to Jesus while reading the book.

  1. What do you think of the sinner's prayer? Is it necessary, and if so, why isn't it mentioned in scripture?

     
  2. What do new Christians need to know immediately? What did the author think they needed? Did he miss anything?

     
  3. Do you think giving this book to a non-Christian would be effective? What else might be needed?

Chapter 11 For Further Reading: Objections to the Biblical Worldview

This chapter is easily the longest in the book, so if you are using this guide for group study, consider dividing this chapter into more than one week, or be selective about which questions you cover.

Remember that responding to objections to Christianity is not the heart of evangelism. In fact, we should only answer these common complaints after we have already clearly shared the gospel itself. We may find it all too easy to become side-tracked onto these issues and never actually come to grips with the gospel message of grace. On the other hand, after we have declared the gospel, we are obligated to give an account for our belief—that is, to answer honest questions to the best of our ability. This is why the book has been arranged with the objections at the end.

What about other religions?

  1. Your non Christian friend at work says, "It really kills me that you Christians think you are right and everyone else in the world is wrong. What arrogance!" How would you respond?

     
  2. A friend of yours is about to walk off the top floor of a 10 story building because he thinks he can fly. Would it be arrogant of you to intervene to try to prevent him from walking off? Why or why not?
     
  3. If I claim to have knowledge, am I being arrogant? What about Jesus, Paul, or Moses?

     
  4. While you may not think you are being arrogant when you claim to know universal truths, you may be perceived that way by postmodern hearers. What do you plan to do to minimize this problem?

     
  5. Again, when your postmodern friend hears you point out that Christianity and other religions contradict one another, she suggests that such contradiction is only on the rational level—the level of dogma. What really matters is an experience of the divine or a sense of the sacred. How would you respond?

     
  6. McCallum says, "Once we are prepared to say any religion is wrong and should be rejected, we must be prepared to reject all religion if necessary. Otherwise, why would we reject some but not others?" This could be a key insight. If true, it means that once our hearers denounce any religion as false, they have crossed a threshold where critical issues matter. We can now call on them to be consistent by going the next step and re-assessing all religion. How does McCallum attempt to bring people this threshold? How will you do so?

     

What about science and Christianity?

  1. Some people today view science as very authoritative, while others are skeptical of many findings in science. How can you find out what view your friend has? Devise some questions to ask regarding science.

     
  2. If we identify our person as one who views science as authoritative, what areas are most likely to be sticking points preventing them from coming to faith?

     
  3. McCallum says, "We should note first of all that the Bible's world-view is in harmony with the first principles of science in that both believe in the uniformity of cause and effect in a real material world." What do you think this statement means? Is it right, and, if so, what is its significance?



    Consider this statement by postmodern educator, Roberta Barba: 
    "The study of science and related technology often requires students to adapt to a white male culture, to an Eurocentric/androcentric world view. The basic assumptions of science, as it is taught to American children in textbooks, focus on male as opposed to female and on European as opposed to Eastern or African or South American ways of viewing the world." [Robertta Barba, Science in the Multicultural Classroom: A Guide to Teaching and Learning. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1995), p. 8]
    How would you respond to this quote? 

     
  4. Consider this diagram:

    On the left is a description of the world view known as modernism. On the right is a description of a world view known as postmodernism. For modernists, there is only cause and effect operating in the machine of nature. There is no room for the supernatural. For postmodernists anything goes, whether there is an adequate explanation or not. Postmodernists deny our ability to discern cause and effect, saying we really read our own interpretations into the picture. In the center is Theism (the biblical view). How does theism stand apart
    From Modernism:

    From Postmodernims:
     
  5. How much do you think Christains can agree with evolutionary processes in natural history? 


     
  6. Devise two short, general statements you would feel comfortable making to a non Christian in the course of a conversation about science and Scripture.

     

What about the existence of evil?

  1. Until recently, the problem of evil has been the number one avenue of attack against the biblical view of God. This argument still has great influence with some people, though more and more people are employing more relativistic defenses. Viewed this way, any relativist who throws up the problem of evil is indicating that he or she has run out of relativistic formulas and is falling back on older (modernist) methods—a good sign. At least such people are using reason and thesis-antithesis thinking in religion. With others, this argument occupies the center in their resistance to God. How will you tell which kind of person you are dealing with?
     
  2. What bothers you most about the problem of evil and what is your emotional reaction?


    Do you think you should share this reaction with a non Christian friend?

    Probably, failure to admit we feel troubled by this area will be interpreted as coldness or smugness on our part.

     
  3. Your non Christian friend says, "I can’t believe you would follow a god who creates a world where even babies suffer pitifully." How would you respond?

    Encourage members to draw on the approach in fms.

     
  4. McCallum claims that personhood requires freedom. Can you think of any other illustrations (besides the one with the robot) that show why persons must be free-choosing agents?

    Someone is murdered with a gun. Why do we send the person holding the gun to prison, but not the gun itself? The gun is a machine—it does what it is made to do, therefore it is not responsible.

     
  5. If we reject theism based on the problem of evil, what are the alternative explanations? Are these less dreadful or more dreadful than the biblical answer?

     
  6. McCallum claims there is no fairness in a fallen world. Have you ever wondered why a tragedy occurred? Have you ever suspected that you were being punished by God when something went wrong? How would you know if a tragedy were disciplinary or merely cause and effect?

    There is not definite answer to this question, which suggests we go easy on the theological explanations for tragedy.

What about atrocities committed in the name of Christ?

  1. Study the section on atrocities and accompanying endnotes. Were you aware that such things have occurred? Do you think McCallum may be exaggerating? Would you suggest to someone who pointed such incidents out that things might not have been that bad?

    This might help identify those who are in the grip of historical denial. The actual truth is far worse than McCallum has detailed here. Point out that these are not isolated incidents, but a part of the general pattern of church oppression over hundreds of years. Other religions are oppressive too, but this is hardly the point.

     
  2. McCallum says the rise in church atrocities is linked to the church’s move to remove access to Scripture from the laity. Do you agree with his analysis? Why would this connection work? How might popular access to the Bible serve to curb church abuse?

    As church leaders concentrate authority in their own hands, they set the stage to be tempted into oppression.

     
  3. Do you trust a clergy person to interpret the Bible for you, or do you feel responsible to come up with your own interpretation?
     
  4. Have you ever had a non-Christian hit you with this area (church abuse in history)? What would one say? What does McCallum say?
     

What about hell?

  1. Do you think people today are often willing to see God as a God of love but not as a God of justice? Why do you suppose this is?

    Surveys show that far more believe in God than believe in hell. But the concept of justice is closely related to the concept of truth and of moral right and wrong. As these concepts have been overthrown, justice becomes mere personal revenge.

     
  2. What bothers you most about hell?

    Hopefully, thoughtful Christians are troubled by hell. If not, perhaps they have not thought deeply about it, or have low empathy. We may be bothered, but we may not deny. We should admit we, too, are troubled in this area, but in the end, it’s not up to a vote.

     
  3. McCallum claims that common grace and general revelation are important concepts to consider when dealing with hell. Why?

    When God exercizes justice on those who are "without excuse" it suggests that people are not compelled to reject God, but do so after adequate "drawing" from him. Not all theologians agree with this view.

     
  4. Using Discovering God if necessary, describe the views of afterlife held by each of the following worldview:
    Atheistic:

    Pantheistic:

    Universalistic:

    Polytheistic:

    Postmodern:

    Biblical:
     
  5. McCallum says, "If we admit free will, we cannot deny responsibility." Why?

    See again the illustration of the gun above.

     
  6. He also asks, "Is it reasonable to think that I could create a new religion with tenets that please me, and feel that because I believe it, it will actually be true?" This has become a very important question because postmodern constructivists believe exactly that. How would you respond to the notion that "My believing something makes it true for me."

    Ask them why they don’t use that method when running their check book.

Thank you for reading Discovering God, and for working through this study guide. We hope God has used the study to enrich your life and strengthen your faith. You may have noticed that this book is priced low, so people can give copies away. Now that you have moved more deeply into the background issues raised in the book, you should feel more willing than ever to give the book to non-Christian friends and discuss their reactions to it. May God bless your efforts to spread His word!