5.13.2007

Christians, Atheists, and a Lot of Warm-Fuzzies

The Good

There has been a lot of discussion between atheists and Christians lately. A lot of this has to do with the highly polemical books written by atheists such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens. Of course, some Christians have not allowed those books to go unchallenged. American Vision recently published two books (Letter from a Christian Citizen by Douglas Wilson and The Return of the Village Atheist by Joel McDurmon) in response to Sam Harris' book, Letter to a Christian Nation. In addition to the book, Douglas Wilson has been doing some excellent apologetic work as he responds and challanges men like Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens. Be sure to stop by Wilson's blog or visit the online debate between Wilson and Hitchens.

The Bad and The Ugly

Unfortunately, not all the interactions between Chrisitans and atheists have been as helpful as Wilson's. Some Christians are more concerned with get warm and fuzzy with atheist, instead of challanging them to turn to Christ.

Honestly, I knew that this article ("Christians and Atheists Start a Calmer Dialogue") was going to be ridiculous before I even began reading it--but it was far worse than I imagined. Take a few minutes to read the whole article, but here are a few of the interesting--or should I say, sad--quotes. My comments will be in italics.

Mr. Henderson set out to learn how "the unchurched" respond to various kinds of worship services – what it is they find appealing and what leaves them cold. He began to pay nonbelievers $25 to go to a church and tell him what they thought.


This points us to a major problem in the evangelical world. Often, pastors and other leaders place more emphasis on learning from "the unchurched" rather than learning from God's Word. Do we really have to stoop to the level of paying people to tell us what they think about our worship services? The apostle Paul reminds us that "the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" (1 Corinthians 1:18). I would be willing to bet that the people Mr. Henderson paid told him something like this: "The coffee and donuts appealed to me, but things got a whole lot colder when that preacher started talking about sin and Jesus dying on the cross. Keep the coffee and donuts, but you better 'warm-up' the message!" Maybe we should have just listened to Paul. Granted, I wish that churches would rid themselves of needless, cultural baggage that unnecessarily pushes people away (i.e. expecting people to wear dressy clothes, take out their body piercings, etc.),but that is a far cry from what some church leaders have in mind.


Henderson also conducts interviews with men and women who are non­believers as an event at church and pastor conferences. Many Evangelicals "are obsessed with conversion," he says, and always speak of non-Christians as "lost."


How else should we speak about non-Christians? There are only two options: saved or lost. Okay, maybe we should just abandon the whole pesky issue of conversion anyway. I'm sure that it comes across as cold.

20 comments:

Helen said...

Honestly, I knew that this article ("Christians and Atheists Start a Calmer Dialogue") was going to be ridiculous before I even began reading it

So, if you wanted to say something to an atheist and he said "Wait - no need - I already know you're going to say something ridiculous" you'd say "Hey, neat, I can do that too!"

Eric M. Ashley said...

Helen, I am not opposed to listening or talking with atheists. I actually welcome the dialogue.

My statement about being ridiculous was regarding the particular approach advocated in this article.

I'll write more later, but I have an appointment now.

jim said...

You do your reformation fathers proud with your bias.

I'm certain that you will make a wondeful pastor.

Thank you for promoting our book we appreciate the mention and drwaing notice to it.

Helen said...

Eric wrote "My statement about being ridiculous was regarding the particular approach advocated in this article."

Hi Eric, you're entitled to your opinion about the approach. I just don't understand how you could know it was ridiculous before you even began to read the article.

Eric M. Ashley said...

Jim: I do not pretend to be unbiased. I only hope that you do not believe that you can neutrally approach the "facts" of any given situation, without any bias on your part. Do you believe that you are unbiased?

Each of us look at the world through an interpretive lense. We all carry presuppostions--you, me, and the little lady who rides around town with her little dog--we cannot escape them.

Also, be sure to send me a check for any sales that I helped generate for your book.

Helen: I did make a judgement about how I thought the article was going to be. Sure my first impression could have been wrong. I'm not afraid to admit that. I have been wrong many times before. Yet, in this case, I got what I expected.

Eric M. Ashley said...

Jim: I am assuming that you are the Jim Henderson from the article. Am I correct or incorrect? Well, if this the Jim from the article I have a few questions.

In the article it said that you devoted your life to "reimagining evangelism." I have no problem with taking different approaches when we are evangelizing. But what is the content of your evangelism, and what do you hope is accompished?

I do have more questions, but I'll wait to see if you respond.

Helen said...

Eric, Jim has written a book called Evangelism Without Additives (it was originally called AKA Lost), which explains his approach to evangelism.

I can understand you not wanting to pay for that if you're sure it will be ridiculous ;-)

Jim spoke about it on the Life Today show on May 1, 2007 - you can watch that online for free at

lifetoday.org/site/PageServer?pagename=tel_USCalendar_May07

You can also read a two part interview Jim did about the book, here and here:

johnsmulo.typepad.com/smulospace/2006/09/jim_henderson_i.html

johnsmulo.typepad.com/smulospace/2006/09/jim_henderson_i_1.html

(I took the beginning off the links in case blogspot's spam catcher is like the wordpress one I use and won't let comments through with three live links in)

If you're convinced Jim is wrong and his approach is ridiculous there probably isn't any point in taking time to watch or read them. And it seems like it would be a waste of his time responding to your questions. They could only be a one way attempt to bring him around to your superior way of thinking, right? You wouldn't be planning to learn anything from what he says, since he's wrong.

"be sure to send me a check for any sales that I helped generate for your book."

Interesting idea, but, no, I think we'll keep every penny to finance our satan-inspired endeavors.

Eric M. Ashley said...

Helen: It seems that you are really bothered by my use of the word ridiculous. (ridiculous-causing or worthy of ridicule.) When I used the word, what I meant was this: "I hope that this article doesn't cause even more ridicule or mockery to come to the Christian faith."

I am sorry that my word choice offend you so deeply. I didn't intend for it to do that.

Helen said, "and it seems that it would be a waste of his time responding to your questions. They could only be a one way attempt to bring him around to your superior way of thinking, right?"

Do not assume that you know what my true intentions were in asking Jim the questions. I really was interested in hearing about his answers to the two questions.

I never claimed to have a superior way of thinking. But I do believe there are wrong and right ways of thinking. We will have one of two ways of thinking...one of two minds: the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16) or the futile mind of the Gentiles (Ephesians 4:17). All our thinking must be guided by the Word of God because in Christ "are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Colossians 2:3).

So, if someone is trying to have their thinking (and their evangelism practices) shaped by the Scriptures, then I am ready to listen.

Eric M. Ashley said...

Helen: Thanks for the links. And also, I would actually read Jim's book, just in case you're wondering.

Helen said...

Eric, I realize I don't know your motives.

It seemed like you'd already made up your mind, based on the 'ridiculous' comment. Ridiculous is a rather inflammatory word but what struck me more was the way you prejudged an article before you began reading it.

I don't understand why you did that. How could you know what was in it?

On the whole it's surprisingly easy not to bring down more ridicule on the Christian faith. When people outside it are treated with respect they generally reciprocate.

Jim's approach to evangelism involves giving away something the other person wants (our attention: we listen and we care), rather than pushing a product on them they can't see why they'd want.

It turns things around so people outside Christianity actually enjoy their interactions with Christians rather than they're doing Christians a favor.

It doesn't matter how great a salesperson thinks his product is. If the buyer doesn't want it they only get annoyed the more pushy the salesperson is. Of course it doesn't help that the sales pitch is "you're a terrible person if you don't buy this" - which is the implication of "Buy my spiel or - literally - go to hell"

Helen said...

...so anyway, I have issues with traditionally practised evangelism: can you tell? ;-)

I hope you find the links informative and of course you have the right to disagree with Jim's views - and I'm sure you will if you find them unBiblical.

Eric M. Ashley said...

Thanks for explaining your concern Helen.

I also believe that listening is a very important thing in regard to evangelism and life in general. There is certainly nothing unbiblical about listening!

And I do not approach evangelism like a salesperson for a number of reasons:

First, a salesperson has the obligation to convince a person to buy his product. Although I believe Christianity is true, and I do desire for others to know Christ and Him crucified, I do not have the ability to change a person's heart/mind. Only God can do that through the power of the Holy Spirit. But I do believe that I have the responsibility and joy of pointing people to Christ by my life and actions.

Second, salesman sale products. But Jesus is not a product. He is savior of the world!

Helen said...

A lot of what Jim is saying is - show respect and kindness by listening to people and taking an interest in them.

This is from a sermon I heard my pastor preach a few years ago:

Our job is to preach the gospel and trust God to use the gospel to draw many people to faith in Christ. When I preach, I never know how people will respond or who will respond. As I’ve told you before I’m in sales, not administration. But that’s true of all of us. We do the preaching and God does the drawing. When we do our part, God always does his.

(from
this sermon)

Eric M. Ashley said...

Taking an interest in people--with no strings attached--is so important. Since moving to our current home, my wife and I have had some wonderful opportunities to meet and get to know people who knew very little about Christianity. At no time did I feel like I had to pressure them to make a decision. Instead, we had opportunities to extend various kindnesses to them (i.e. lending them a car to use, giving them diapers for their children when they ran out, etc.), to eat with them, and engage them in conversations. Over time, this family asked to come to church with us, and they've been coming ever since. The husband recently came to believe in Christ. I do not tell this story to make my wife or myself look grand--we are just two servants of the Lord. But I said it to point out that I agree that we should approach evangelism from a more relational perspective.

And yes, the statement from your former pastor is the point I was emphasizing. One plants, another waters, but God gives the growth (1 Corinthians 3:7).

Helen, it seems when we lay our sarcasm aside, we can actually have a productive conversation. Thanks for staying around.

Helen said...

"Taking an interest in people--with no strings attached--is so important."

Exactly - which is what Jim advocates - which is why I wonder why you decided his approach is ridiculous before you even began reading about him.

" Since moving to our current home, my wife and I have had some wonderful opportunities to meet and get to know people who knew very little about Christianity. At no time did I feel like I had to pressure them to make a decision. Instead, we had opportunities to extend various kindnesses to them (i.e. lending them a car to use, giving them diapers for their children when they ran out, etc.), to eat with them, and engage them in conversations. Over time, this family asked to come to church with us, and they've been coming ever since. The husband recently came to believe in Christ. I do not tell this story to make my wife or myself look grand--we are just two servants of the Lord. But I said it to point out that I agree that we should approach evangelism from a more relational perspective."

Again we agree. Thank you for realizing that it's important to show kindness to people.

"And yes, the statement from your former pastor is the point I was emphasizing. One plants, another waters, but God gives the growth (1 Corinthians 3:7)."

I quoted it because he said he was 'in sales' but I did expect you to like what he was saying in general. He's not reformed but he's towards the reformed end of conservative; very big on teaching about the sovereignty of God.

"Helen, it seems when we lay our sarcasm aside, we can actually have a productive conversation. Thanks for staying around."

You're welcome.

I don't really like sarcasm but I don't always succeed at avoiding it. I'm working on it!

Eric M. Ashley said...

Helen, I admit that I should have looked at Jim's approach before criticizing him. (Jim, if you happen to still be reading this thread, sorry for jumping to conclusions before I tried to understand you. Forgive me.) If you want to know why I made a judgement about Jim before really understanding his position, then the answer is: sin. I sometimes have knee-jerk reactions, when I should pause. I'm still trying to be shaped by James 1:9- "Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger." My mouth sometimes outruns my ears.

Jim Henderson said...

Eric

You and I share the same challenge. I obviously reacted in my comments to you as well and apologize for impugning your motives. I let my mouth lead my mind.

No need for forgiveness from me - I am the same as you

Jim

Mel Steffir said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mel Steffir said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mel Steffir said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.