Pastor and author Phil Moore is not afraid of plain speaking when it comes to exploring what the Bible says. Devoting many years to studying the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures, his passion is for people to discover the real Jesus through the Bible. I caught up with him to discuss some of the tough subjects that Jesus tackled in a way that can both surprise and offend us.
With Nicky Gumbel's Questions of Life still selling extremely well, why did you decide it was time to write Jesus Right Where You Want Him?
Well, first let me say that I think that Nicky Gumbel's book is really excellent. I'm not just saying that because he endorses my new book on the back cover – I've bought and given away many, many copies of Nicky's book, but it's precisely because so many people want books that answer their tough questions that I wrote another one. I suspect that people who are really interested in finding answers to life's big questions will read both books, and they will notice how different they are.
Different people have different questions. I know it would be much easier for us if they didn't, but the fact is that they do. We can't just have a one-size-fits-all way of sharing the Gospel with people. I wrote Jesus, Right Where You Want Him because people have really changed in the past twenty years. They are asking new questions, so I tackle questions Nicky doesn't – such as the issues of racism, homophobia, ISIS, the idea of a just war and the idea that we are better off without religion anyway.
Why do you think Christians today often shy away from debating with their friends?
1 Peter 3:15 tells us to "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have." I believe that Christians shy away from discussing their faith with their friends because they haven't prepared themselves for such discussions. Peter teaches us that, if we want to change this, then we need to study the big questions that people are likely to ask us. That's another reason why I wrote this book. These are the 15 big questions that people are asking, so Christians can treat Jesus, Right Where You Want Him as a primer to prepare them to share their faith with their friends.
You believe that Jesus tackled the issue of suffering in His own life – could you explain how?
You couldn't make the Christian gospel up. It's just amazing. What it teaches us is that God is more than a mere spectator on suffering. He came in person to suffer more than any human has ever suffered. When we are experiencing difficult times, we don't need a download of theological theory. We need to catch sight of the nail marks in Jesus' hands and feet. This is the question most asked by non-Christians as their objection to the Christian faith, and we needn't fear it. We do not believe in a God who tries to get himself off the hook for all the suffering in the world. We believe in a God who placed himself firmly on the hook for us. That's why it's called the Good News.
Do you think Jesus would agree to a certain extent with those who reject Christianity because they say Christians are a bunch of hypocrites?
This is one of the big changes in the public perception of Christianity during the past twenty years. Half a generation ago, people might not have believed the Christian message, but they at least believed that Christians were good people and that Christianity ought to be encouraged. Nowadays that has changed. There have been enough news stories about paedophile priests, banner-waving bigots and angry street preachers to make many non-Christians believe that Christianity is toxic and that the world would be better off without it. They particularly hate some of the hypocrisy that they see in the Church.
The good news is that so does Jesus. When we read the Bible, we don't find Jesus defending the Pharisees. We find him exposing their hypocrisy and warning that religion always goes toxic when it loses sight of him. We don't find him defending the men who wanted to stone a woman for her sexual sin. We find him taking her side and protecting her from their self-righteous outrage and bigotry. We find Jesus warning a Church that it makes him sick because it claims to follow him but doesn't.
That's why I'm trying to get across through this book. These questions aren't a reason for us to reject Jesus; they are a reason for us to go in search for the real Him. When we rediscover Jesus as we find him in the pages of the Bible, we find that he is the answer to all of our questions.
What would you say to somebody who wants to understand that journey in a single sentence?
I'd say that Jesus isn't how they imagined – hoping that they won't ask questions and working hard to sidestep them like a clever politician whenever they do. I'd say that Jesus is hoping that they will ask him the very toughest questions that they have so that he can answer them. I'd say that Jesus has put himself right where they want him and that now it's their move.
Phil's latest book Jesus Right Where You Want Him is available now.