I am so excited to welcome author Russ Whitten to today’s post at Sweetgum Life! Russ is likable, humble, and has an easy-going personality and quick sense of humor. Not to mention, he is married to one of my dearest southern girl friends from college, Charlene! Russ’s book, Have You Ever Wondered: Christian Evidences for a Skeptical World, answers tough questions about God and life. Densely profound but incredibly readable, the book covers Christian apologetics as well as questions such as “What is the Meaning of Life?” and “Why is There Suffering and Evil?”
What is the Meaning of Life?
SGL: Hi, Russ! Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk with us at www.sweetgumlife.com!
Russ: Hi Stephanie, what an honor!
SGL: Have You Ever Wondered is very understandable book on the meaning of life and apologetics for the Christian faith. I think people need simplicity when asking tough questions—rather than confusing, scholarly literature.
Russ: Aw, thank you! There is a quote from C.S. Lewis that, oh, I just absolutely love. He said that to explain something simply, you have to understand it profoundly. So, that was my aim, because I struggled with these questions, too.
And certainly, our college students, when Charlene and I were in campus ministry, were coming to us with these questions. I just decided to really try to understand this profoundly so I could turn around and explain it simply.
SGL: What gave you the idea to write the book?
Russ’s Journey in the Faith
Russ: I grew up in a Christian home and during the college years, I had a falling away period, I’m ashamed to say. I really embraced the freedom of the college life and foolishly stopped going to church. And really stopped reading my Bible…I just felt the emptiness of being apart from God.
SGL: You actually felt empty?
Russ: Yeah. That was a wakeup call. I started going back to church.
At Auburn, I first began to understand who Jesus was and I absolutely fell in love with Jesus!
After college, I went to Jackson Hole, WY and lived out there. I learned to ski and enjoyed the outdoor life. Once again, that led me away from church.
I felt an emptiness again and started really going to church. For the first time in my life, a minister asked me to have lunch with him and then to study the Bible.
This minister said, “You have more questions than anyone I’ve ever met! You need to go to grad school!”
So, I went to David Lipscomb.
SGL: Did you go there so you could be a missionary?
Russ: I didn’t go there to be a minister. I was terrified of public speaking! (“It seemed God had other plans,” Russ says in a 2013 Destin Log article, “The Reluctant Minister.”)
Does God Exist? Can We Trust the Bible?
In his quest to study the Bible one-on-one with others, which is really what he wanted to do, Russ eventually went to Ukraine. By then, he had met his future-wife and fellow-missionary, Charlene, who put up a sign: Would you like to learn English and study the Bible? Russ says that 250 people came, glad to hear about the Bible after living under a forced-atheism regime for 70 years.
Russ: We decided to address two issues: God’s existence and Is the Bible a myth or fable?
The Ukrainian students were asking hard questions!
SGL: So you wrote a book?
Russ: I started writing in the Ukraine and started teaching the material. We got home and the same questions came from our college students. The work started developing from notes as sermons and lessons. This was my project at Oxford, and I spent the year working on it.
So overall, it took about 20 years to write.
SGL: It’s a work that I plan to pass on!
A Book Worth Sharing
Russ: The highest compliment came from Eric Strippling—and I get emotional talking about it—who has terminal cancer. He bought a copy for every one of his kids and gives it out over and over. It’s such a compliment. A man who may be closing in on life, and he knows his kids will have these questions one day.
SGL: I think this work will help a lot of people.
Russ: I just thought I was the only one with these questions and didn’t have enough faith, but great writers over the centuries have had these questions.
The Bible is not only true, but it’s logically compelling.
There’s a quote that I like to use from Christian lecturer Alison Thomas: “I almost abandoned my faith in college because I was not sure if the difficult questions people asked me about Christianity had satisfying answers.”
So really, that was the idea behind writing this book—the most difficult questions about Christian faith.
Russ Whitten has a bachelor’s degree from Auburn University and Masters of Arts in Religion from David Lipscomb University in Nashville, TN. From 2005-06, he studied apologetics at Oxford University. Russ served for 16 years as a college minister at the University of Florida and Colorado State University in Fort Collins.
He has performed mission work in Ukraine, India, Mexico, Ghana, and England.
Russ and Charlene live in Florida with their teenage son. Their adult daughter is an actress in New York City.