The Biggest Objections of "The Unchurched"
Understanding the Mind of the Unchurched
A few years ago, CBS kicked off a television series called Joan of Arcadia following the lives of Joan Girardi, her police chief father, her somewhat overbearing mother, her geeky younger brother, and former football star older brother who is now paralyzed. In a memorable scene in the beginning of the season, Joan's mother leaves DMV after picking up some information about driving for the handicapped for her recently disabled son. A priest stood on the sidewalk soliciting donations. As Mrs. Girardi kindly declined, the priest said, "God bless you."
Mrs. Giradi stopped in her tracks, contemplating the simple blessing she just received, wondering how it is that she could be blessed when her son just lost his ability to walk for the rest of his life. She turned to the priest and retorted, "How do you know?"
After a brief exchange between the two about God's existence, Mrs. Girardi concluded, "I don't think I could believe in God or blessings until I have some serious questions answered."
"Well, for starters, if God is so loving, why does he allow us to suffer?"
As we share our faith with unbelieving friends, neighbors, co-workers ... even strangers, we will often hear the same objections as to why they don't want to believe in or put their trust in God. "Why does he allow people to suffer?" "What about evolution?" "How do I know which religion is right?"
Last weekend my wife's cousin came out to visit my wife and I at an out-of-town training session I did for youth workers. After the training session she started asking us spiritual questions. "How do we know the Bible is the same Bible that the original authors wrote? How could God expect someone on an island, who has never heard of him, to follow him?" She wanted answers.
Group Publishing just researched the biggest questions teens have about God. They published a book titled: The Top 13 Questions About God: Intense Discussions for Youth Ministry. The 13 questions included: Why Does God Allow Suffering?, Why Would a Loving God Send People to Hell?, Which Is Right: Evolution or Creation?, How is Jesus Different from Mohammed and Buddha?, and How Was the Bible Written?
Similarly, Lee Strobel, in his book Case for Faith lists the top eight problems people have with God. He calls them THE BIG EIGHT. Some of Lee's biggies were: If there's a loving God, why does this pain-wracked world groan under so much suffering and evil?, If God cares about the people he created, how could he consign so many of them to an eternity of torture in hell just because they didn't believe the right things about him?, If Jesus is the only way to heaven, then what about the millions of people who have never heard of him?, and If God really created the universe, why does the evidence of science compel so many to conclude that the unguided process of evolution accounts for life?
Gleason Archer, renown defender of Biblical inerrancy, lists the 20 Most-Asked Questions about Creation, Evolution, & the Book of Genesis on his web site www.answersingenesis.org. This list of questions, mostly dealing with creation questions, includes Does God Exist?, and What about arguments for evolution?
ChrisitianAnswers.net is a worldwide evangelism, education and discipleship ministry of Films for Christ (also known as Eden Communications). They partner with many other Christian organizations doing research. Their research found top 10 contemporary questions about God. Some of those were again: Is the Bible true?, Why do innocents suffer?, and Does archaeology verify the Bible?
On his web site www.bigquestions.com, Grenville Kent also researched the top 10 questions people would ask God. Some of those questions were: Why Don't You Stop Pain and Evil?, Who Was Jesus?, Did you Create the World?, and Did you write the Bible?
Then there is Josh McDowell's book, Answers to Tough Questions Skeptics ask about the Christian Faith. This book deals with every doubt or question one could think of about God or the Christian Faith. Some of the big questions he tackled were: What about those who have never heard?, Why does a good God allow evil to exist?, Does the Bible allow for the theory of Evolution?, Does archaeological evidence prove the Bible?, and How do we know that Jesus ever existed? Jonathan's Top Six Objections of the Unchurched
In my work with youth over the last two decades and in my research for my recent book "Reaching Unchurched Kids," I found many of the same objections. In both teens and adults, the top six objections that "the unchurched" seem to have about God are the following:
- Why does God allow the innocent to suffer?
- Why would a loving God send people to Hell?
- How do we know the Bible is true?
- How do we explain evolution?
- How do we know Jesus was God?
- What about people who've never heard about Jesus or God?
What are the answers to these tough questions? And if we answer them, are people going to immediately give up the sin in their life and turn their life over to God? Let's quickly look at the answers to "the top six." Then we'll look at what I think is "the real objection." 1. Why does God allow the innocent to suffer?
This question is probably the biggest objection that the unchurched have about God. Why does God allow evil in the world? or Why does he allow suffering ... especially the innocent babies and children? Barna, in his Omnipoll survey, asked "If you could ask God only one question and you knew he would give you an answer, what would you ask?" The top response, offered by 17 percent of those with a question was, "Why is there pain and suffering in the world?"
One thing we must realize when tackling this issue is that we can't begin to fathom God's ways? God is so big and so much wiser than us. It is almost humorous to try to think that we would be able to understand so great a being.
Romans 11:33 reads:
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! So often we try to fit God in a nice, small, understandable box. God doesn't fit in a box. And frankly, I don't want a God that is simple enough that I can understand. I want a God so wise, so much beyond me that I know he's looking out for me and taking care of my every need.
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
And Isaiah 55:8-9 reads:
"For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,"
declares the Lord.
 "As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Yet the question is still asked, "Why does God allow bad things to happen." Peter John Kreeft, PH.D. in Strobel's Case for Faith states, "How can a mere finite human be sure that infinite wisdom would not tolerate certain short-range evils in order for more long-range goods that we couldn't foresee?" (32) What we shortsightedly see as painful might be just what we needed for the greater good.
I'll never forget when my son Alec was two years old and he knocked over a lamp. The hot bulb of the lamp struck his face and hand on the way down, giving him second to third degree burns. The doctor looked at the wound and determined that he needed to "debread" away the dead skin on his hand so that Alec would heal properly, have full movement of his hand muscles, and not bear the scar for life. The nurse placed Alec in a little papoose, strapping his arms and legs so the doctor could get to the wound and scrape away the dead tissue. After a needle in the arm, the doctor began scraping ... and the screaming began. I'll never forget the look on my little boy's face as he gazed into my eyes like I was betraying him. "Why would you let this doctor torture me like this?" It was incredibly tough to hear, but I knew it was the best thing we could do for him.
God is looking out for our best. Sometimes we just don't know what that is. And sometimes it's better for us to just trust in Him that he knows what's best.
The other factor we have to consider is the fact that true love provides the opportunity for choice, a chance to accept or deny that love. "The Bible says that God is a God of love and He desired to create a person and eventually a race that would love Him. But genuine love cannot exist unless freely given through free choice and will, and thus man was given the choice to accept God's love or to reject it. This choice made the possibility of evil become very real." (McDowell, 166)
A loving God must allow bad things to happen. The only alternative would be a giant puppet stage where we all simply follow the tugs of our strings.
Suffering isn't foreign to our God. God himself experienced the ultimate suffering when he became man and paid the ultimate sacrifice for us. So many of us whine when we lose our job or when our stocks go down. And many of us have experienced incredible loss, even losing someone we love. God understands what that is like. He lost his son. Jesus suffered for us, so that we could be joined with him eternally.
Fortunately, the suffering in this world is nothing compared to the glory we will have for eternity in heaven if we choose to follow Jesus. Mother Teresa said, "In light of heaven, the worst suffering on earth, a life full of the most atrocious tortures on earth, will be seen to be no more serious than one night in an inconvenient hotel." I might disregard that statement if it weren't from a person who witnessed and experienced a lifetime of suffering.
2. Why would a loving God send people to Hell?
This question treads the same ground as the prior question. People try to grasp the logic of God and all of his ways. And it's understandable, because our emotions are stirred when we think of losing someone, especially forever. We feel like it must be unjust for someone to be in pain for eternity.
In the book A Case for Faith, J.P. Moreland says, "I think people should try to set aside their feelings ... The basis of their evaluation should be whether hell is a morally just or morally right state of affairs, not whether they like or dislike the concept. And it's important to understand that if the God of Christianity is real, he hates hell and he hates people going there." (172)
God doesn't want people to reject Him. He wants people to let go of their sin and turn to Him. He even gave us a free ticket to do this through Jesus Christ. Regardless of our past, we can simply let go, and cling on to Jesus, spending an eternity with him.
Ezekiel 33:11 states:
Say to them, 'As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?' God wants us all to spend eternity with him. It's as if he has invited us all to a party - a party with one requirement: come naked! That's right. Don't bring anything. We can't cling on to our career, our status, our good looks, our possessions, our skills, our talents ... we need to let go and come to him.
God doesn't send anyone to Hell. People cling on to the temporary things of this world despite God's pleading that we let go and come to him. And those that do reject him, reject him for eternity.
3. How do we know the Bible is true?
Much of what we refer to in conversations about God and his authenticity is from the scriptures. But how dependable is that argument if we can't defend the reliability of the scriptures that we quote?
If I asked 10 different authors to go into different rooms and write their "two-cents" on a debatable issue like religion or politics, what is the probability that all ten would come out in total agreement. Now take 40 authors and try the same thing.
The Bible itself is a miracle. There are 66 books of the Bible written over a period of about 1500 years by more than forty different human authors from different backgrounds and careers. Each book was written with its own specific purpose and it's own specific relevance. However, among the diversity there is unity. From Genesis to Revelation, the diverse books of the Bible make up one single work written by one unifying author- God himself.
But we know the Bible is true for more reasons than just a unifying theme. Archaeology supports scripture. No one has ever made a discovery that disproves Biblical claims. In fact, the opposite has occurred. People often claim that the Bible must be false because they haven't found evidence of a certain place mentioned in the scriptures. But numerous examples of archaeological finds have surfaced, refuting those very claims. For example, "... two of the cities mentioned in the Bible, Sodom and Gomorrah, have been for many years considered mythological. However, recent excavations at Tell Mardikh, now known to be the site of Ebla, uncovered about 15,000 tablets. Some of these have been translated, and mention is made of Sodom and Gomorrah." (McDowell, 34)
But how do we know that the Bible we have today is the same one written years ago? To answer that, we must take a look at how the scriptures were preserved and copied for centuries.
A scribe was a Jew who's profession was copying the word of God, a task that was given the highest devotion. Until the mid 1900's, the earliest copies of the Old Testament Hebrew scriptures we had were from 900 A.D. These were known as the Masoretic texts because they were written by the Jewish scribes known as the Masorites. We can tell how accurate the texts have been since that time by comparing different copies and seeing if there are any differences or errors. Little or none are found, verifying how accurate the scribes were, and how skillful they were at writing and proofreading.
But the question turns to pre-900 A.D. times. How do we know that the scribes were accurate before then? In 1947 the world found one of the most incredible archaeological finds of the century. In the caves in the valley of the Dead Sea, some scrolls were discovered in ancient jars. These scrolls were from a Jewish group that lived at a place called Qumran from about 150 B.C. to A.D. 70. This group of Jews spent a good amount of time studying and copying scriptures. Apparently they were afraid of Roman invasion, because they hid their scrolls in jars, hiding them in the caves west of the Dead Sea.
A goat herdsman in early 1947 accidentally stumbled on the scrolls and soon more scrolls were found in nearby caves. This discovery included many of the earliest copies of scriptures we have to this date, including the whole book of Isaiah and pieces of almost every other book in the Old Testament.
One of the greatest truths revealed from this discovery was the accuracy of the texts we have been using for centuries. There was little or no difference between the 900 AD Masoretic text and the 150 B.C. Dead Sea Scrolls. For example, in one of the pieces of manuscript that contained Isaiah 38-66, scholars found the following:
"The text is extremely close to our Masoretic text. A comparison of Isaiah 53 shows that only seventeen letters differ from the Masoretic text. Ten of these are mere differences of spelling, like our ‘honor' or ‘honour' and produce no change in the meaning at all. Four more are very minor differences, such as the presence of the conjunction, which is often a matter of style. The other three letters are the Hebrew word for "light" with is added after ‘they shall see' in verse 11. Out of 166 words in this chapter, only this one word is really in question, and it does not at all change the sense of the passage. This is typical of the whole manuscript. (Little, 76)
The New Testament has also proved to be preserved well. More than 6,000 ancient New Testament manuscripts have lasted to our present time. The New Testament was written in Greek and was copied on two different materials: papyrus and parchment. Numerous copies of both have been discovered over the years. If we compare the New Testament manuscripts to other writings of the time, we have more copies and earlier copies than other works that have been readily accepted as authentic.
A ton of good research exists on these findings. For further reading, look at McDowell's Evidence That Demands a Verdict, or Paul Little's Know Why You Believe.
4. How do we explain evolution?
I've got a really cool watch. It keeps great time, looks nice, and fits my wrist perfectly. I can't help but respect the people that put that thing together. No matter how many times someone would hand me all the parts to my watch and even a set of instructions ... I don't think I could put it together. And any fool would know that if you put all those watch parts in a bag and shook up the bag, the watch would never put itself together. Just like I'm sure no one would argue that a tornado could blow through a junk yard and assemble the space shuttle.
My watch has a maker. The space shuttle has a lot of makers. And humans, much more complex that watches and even space shuttles, have a maker. Many people have tried to disprove creation. That's what evolution is - an attempt to disprove creation. Ironically, evolution is taught as truth and creation has been given the burden of proof for explanation. How convenient. "Evolution must be true," because we, finite humans, can't explain God.
Some people struggle with the fact that there is a God who "always was." When students ask me questions like "How could there be a being that always was? Everything had to have a beginning, right?" I sometimes ask them to look into the sky. I ask, "Where does the sky stop? I mean, if you took off in a space ship straight up, dodging comets, planets, moons, etc... when would you hit the end?" The students are usually quick to retort, "There is no end. It just goes on forever!" I ask them how that is. "How can it go on forever? You mean there is no end to it—it just keeps going? Doesn't there have to be an end somewhere? Or, if there is an end, is there something on the other side of it?"
The fact is, it's hard for our finite brains to understand something with no beginning or no end. But that's what God is - a being who always was. The being who started it all.
But what about all the evidence for evolution?
First, let's define evolution. Some people define evolution as change within a species or "developmental change." This doesn't contradict scripture. But others define evolution as "complex elements having developed from simpler elements" or "living organisms having sprung from non-living chemicals." This is contrary to the Biblical record of creation.
Then there is another theory called natural selection, commonly known as survival of the fittest. Even though this theory has some good evidence for species surviving and adapting, this theory tends to also convey that everything is getting better, contrasted with the Biblical idea that everything was created good. (Genesis 1:31).
The fact is that evolution contradicts some of the basic laws of science such as the second law of thermodynamics. That is that everything becomes less ordered over time, unlike what evolution teaches - that everything tends to get better or more complex.
Another problem with evolution is the law of probability which argues that there is no "chance" that life originated from nonliving matter. Sir Fred Hoyle, one of the world's leading astronomers and mathematicians said before the British Academy of Science, "The probability of life arising by chance is the same probability as throwing a six on a dice five million consecutive times." (Carlson, 55)
The biggest problem with the theory of evolution is the fact that it can't be proven scientifically, by fossil record, or repeated in a laboratory. Scientists argue that special creation (the change from a chemical to life) happened once, long ago, and evolution is just too slow to observe. As for the fossil record, no evidence exists to show slowly changing life forms. In fact, "What the fossil record does show is that in rocks dated back some five hundred and seventy million years, there is the sudden appearance of nearly all the animal phyla, and they appear fully formed, ‘without a trace of the evolutionary ancestors that Darwinists require.' It's a phenomenon that points more readily toward a Creator than Darwinism." (Strobel, Case for Faith, 92)
Despite the lack of proof, our society continues to teach evolution as if it were fact. Admitting the other possibility, might require a life change. And we wouldn't want that, would we?
5. How do we know Jesus was God?
Luke 22:66-70 reads:
At daybreak the council of the elders of the people, both the chief priests and teachers of the law, met together, and Jesus was led before them.  "If you are the Christ," they said, "tell us." Jesus claimed he was God all through the New Testament. So if the New Testament is an accurate source (which above we determined to be true), then people can't claim that Jesus was just some nice guy, and NOT God. Because a nice guy doesn't tell people to put their faith in him ... and then leave them hanging. That would be cruel. Since Jesus claimed he was God, I must use C.S. Lewis' "Lord, Liar Lunatic" argument for who Jesus was. That argument argues that only three options exist for who Jesus actually was. He was either a liar, a lunatic, or who he claimed to be, Lord.
Jesus answered, "If I tell you, you will not believe me,  and if I asked you, you would not answer.  But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God."
 They all asked, "Are you then the Son of God?"
He replied, "You are right in saying I am." (NIV)
If Jesus was a liar, we'd probably see a history of dishonesty displayed in his life. Especially if his whole life was a lie and he was just some normal guy who couldn't save people. But if we investigate the life of Jesus, we see the opposite. We see a man who cared about integrity - a man who upheld the law.
Matthew 5:19 reads:
Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (NIV) And he even spoke strongly about integrity. In Matthew 5:33-37 he said:
"Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.'  But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God's throne;  or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King.  And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black.  Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one. (NIV) Finally, when the Romans interrogated Him and asked him if he was king ... that would have been a really good time to lie! But he didn't. He preached the same thing he had preached from the beginning of his ministry. He claimed that he was the Christ, the Son of God, the one who God sent. And those words got him crucified.
So maybe Jesus was a wacko! Maybe he could have very well claimed that he was Apollo the sun god, or claimed he was a bagel with cream cheese! (if they had cream cheese back then) If Jesus was a lunatic, his teachings would certainly have communicated some of that. We would most likely find great contradictions and inconsistencies in his teaching. But that is not what we find. We find such incredible wisdom and logic that, for centuries to follow, teachers, philosophers and great minds alike have studied and been challenged by his words.
That leaves one simple choice. Jesus is who he said he was. He was our Lord, our Savior, and the only way to God.
6. What about people who've never heard about Jesus or God?
In John 14:6 Jesus said, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (NIV)
Many people incorrectly conclude that since Jesus said he is the only way, he must be excluding the poor schmucks that never get a chance to hear about him. This just isn't true. First, it's against his nature. He clearly communicates through scripture (as we talked about in the "Hell" question above) that he doesn't want anyone to perish.
2 Peter 3:9 (NIV)
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. Second, God gives everyone an opportunity to hear. In Romans 1:19-20, Paul says:
"since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.  For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. (NIV)
God makes himself known to people. Yes, even that one guy that everyone brings up, who lives on an island and never hears anything about God or religion his whole life. God makes himself known to him too!
We see a good example of this in Acts 10:1-5:
At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment.  He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly.  One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, "Cornelius!" Cornelius knew there was a God up there and prayed to him, giving him honor and respect with his life. God made it so that Cornelius could learn more about God, sending Peter to tell him more.
 Cornelius stared at him in fear. "What is it, Lord?" he asked.
The angel answered, "Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God.  Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. (NIV)
God loves us and wants us all to come to him. Such a caring and loving God isn't going to allow geographics to stop someone from a relationship with Him.
The Real Objection
Earlier I shared how last weekend my cousin was asking questions about God. She really seemed to want answers. But something interesting happened with the conversation - something that made me wonder how much people really want answers.
My wife's cousin is a great person. She volunteers at a children's hospital once a week, volunteers with Habitat for Humanity, and attends church pretty loyally. But my wife and I never were sure where she was at with God. We figured she probably made a decision to follow him at sometime in her life. After all, look at all of her good works.
At dinner I visited the bathroom, of all places. And while I was standing at the sink I had an incredible feeling come over me. Now, I'm not going to get all weird on you and tell you that I heard a voice or saw a face appear on the soap dispenser ... but I had an overwhelming feeling, a prompting, if you will, to share the Gospel with her. My first thought was, "Man, I'm never eating that appetizer again." But then I felt it again. So I quickly retorted to myself, "Yeah, right! She'll be offended. She knows this stuff. I better not say anything because she'll just feel condescended." But the feeling stayed. Furthermore, I thought to myself. "What if she gets killed on the way home tonight. Then you'll really feel guilty - and you'll never know if she was a believer."
So I went back out to the dinner table and we all finished dinner.
After dinner we talked for a long time and she asked even more questions. I tried to avoid the subject, because ... I really didn't want to share! Call me stupid- but I'm not scared of sharing the Gospel to 1500 jr. high kids at an event, but one-on-one Gospel presentations terrify me! They always have.
Finally, after running out of excuses to myself, I gave in. I knew I had to share with her. She had just asked me another question about different religions and their beliefs, when I finally just told her, "I know you've probably heard this before, but can I share with you what this all comes down to?"
She said "Yes, of course."
So I grabbed my digital camera and a bottle of eye drops from my pocket, and illustrated our relationship with God. "These eye drops are you. This camera is God. God loves us so much and wants a relationship with us." Then I put my shoe in-between the two objects. "But there's a big stinky thing that gets in the middle of God and us - sin."
I continued to share the Gospel plan with any object I could access. She listened to the message of grace and forgiveness ... and that's all she was looking for. Ten minutes later my wife, her cousin and I were on our knees as she prayed to God, asking him to remove the sin from her life and to take control of her life.
For her, the questions were simply objections to the bigger problem she had - the sin in her life that was driving her crazy. Once she saw freedom that Jesus offered, she accepted His free gift and was freed from the bondage of sin.
I asked author of Case for Faith, Lee Strobel about this when I interviewed him on December 5, 2000.
JONATHAN: ... In that book (Inside the Mind of Unchurched Harry & Mary) one of your points was that "people are morally adrift but secretly want an anchor." An encouraging point to those of us sharing our faith- because of the ramifications- "people want something more than the empty life they're leading- whether they admit it or not!" Yesterday you shared a similar point, revealing that, as an atheist, you felt like something was missing, but because you didn't want to feel guilty about your behavior, you used to use your atheism as an excuse for your actions ...?
LEE: Well I think that atheists ... in my experience, have some intellectual, and sometimes considerable intellectual issues involved with Christianity. But often those are used to mask underlying moral or emotional issues that, I think, were both true in my case. I think the questions I had intellectually were legitimate, but at the same time I used them, not as a platform to pursue truth, but a defense mechanism to keep Christianity away. So it didn't infringe upon my morals or cause me to deal with emotional issues that kept me away from God.
JONATHAN: Absolutely. So when you wrote that point about "secretly wanting an anchor," was that strictly from your life or did you observe people having this up front shell, but underneath feeling empty ... ?
LEE:Well, my friends in the newspaper business who lived very raucous, wild lives- as a person- I think really deep down inside, they were coming to the realization that this is not the path to happiness. That it was not leading them where they want to go. And yet they knew nothing else but to continue to pursue it. And I think down inside they were looking for some framework for their lives- some anchor for their lives. And, um ... some have found it and many of them haven't.
Many people have legitimate questions about God, both believers and unbelievers. But the biggest problem most of us have is the void in our life when we try to do things our way instead of His way. It all comes down to faith. The evidence is in God's favor. But it takes faith to ignore the worlds lies, to let go, and to cling on to Jesus - a step you'll never regret.
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. Loveland: Group Publishing, 2002.
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. Downers Grove: Scripture Press Publications, Inc. 1967.
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. Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1980.
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. Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000.
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. Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1993.
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. Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1973.