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How to Host a Virtual Book Group

Tim Thornborough | April 23, 2020

I’m part of an all-male book group in the suburb where I live. It’s a mixed group with some Christians from various traditions, a couple of self-confessed atheists, and plenty of others who would not put themselves in either camp.

When we entered lockdown, I started to think of ways to have meaningful interactions with my home group, and with others from our small but delightful and imperfectly-formed church plant, which is in its early days of being. We’ve had quizzes and hangouts, coffee dates and prayer meetings, as well as the usual Sunday Stuff and home groups. 

But with the publication of Where is God in a Coronavirus World? I saw the opportunity to run a book group for people at my church that would help them both to cope with the questions, struggles and doubts they themselves might be feeling, but also to stimulate them to think how they might have this conversation with others. 

We had around 10 people in the group—I hand delivered free copies of the book a few days before—and we met on Zoom for just over an hour. It was a stimulating time as we considered the arguments John Lennox presents in the book, and particularly the compassionate way he speaks to people. Most, I think, ended up less fearful of a discussion on this subject. Everyone was helped and encouraged by the book. I am praying that a couple of people will take up the challenge to order 20 copies and try to repeat the exercise with a more mixed group of friends.

I am about to bite the bullet and email my regular book group with the offer. Perhaps, I’ll let you know how it goes in a future post.

Below are my question notes for a discussion with Christians. I’m developing one to use with a mixed or non-believing group that I will post after I have had my first such group meet.

Where is God in a Coronavirus World?

Where is God in a Coronavirus World?

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How belief in a loving and sovereign God helps us to make sense of and cope with the suffering caused by COVID-19.

Opening questions

  • Have you ever wrestled with, or had a discussion with someone on the question of evil and a God of love? How did it go?
  • Before you read this book, what did you think the basics of the Christian viewpoint on suffering were?

Book content

  • What is the important distinction John draws in this book between moral evil and natural evil? How are these two problems different for people?
  • What are some of the inadequate religious responses you have heard on this issue?
  • John makes three claims about pain in support of the view that it is not all bad (p 17-18). What do you think of these points? How could you articulate this viewpoint to someone who defaults to the view that “pain is bad”?
  • Suffering is central to the Bible: the fall; Job; Jonah; and in the teaching of Jesus. What are some of the answers that the Bible gives?
  • What is the argument that John makes from our own response and reaction to suffering—our instinct to good and evil; our empathy with those in pain; our desire to protect from harm; our indignation. Why does atheism have nothing to offer here philosophically? 
  • How would you phrase that winsomely in a discussion with someone who advances this viewpoint?
  • What kind of argument is p.35? Could God make fire that doesn’t burn? Is it an effective argument?
  • Judgment is necessarily involved in suffering. When is it legitimate to say something is God’s judgement or punishment? When is it not? How does Jesus answer to this question in Luke 13 help us?
  • John finishes with some advice in chapter 6. Which of these is most important for you to hear at the moment? Why?

To finish

  • What lingering questions do you have?
  • Is this a book you might think about lending/giving/talking about with someone else? Why/why not?

In Where is God in a Coronavirus World? Oxford mathematics professor John Lennox examines the coronavirus in light of various belief systems and shows how the Christian worldview not only helps us to make sense of it, but also offers us a sure and certain hope to cling to. Find out more here

Tim Thornborough

Tim Thornborough is the founder and Publishing Director of The Good Book Company. He is series editor of Explore Bible-reading notes and the author of The Very Best Bible Stories series, and has contributed to many books published by The Good Book Company and others. Tim is married to Kathy, and they have three adult daughters.

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