Notes from the Other Side

“The steady habit of correcting and completing his own opinion by collating it with those of others, so far from causing doubt and hesitation in carrying it into practice, is the only stable foundation for a just reliance on it: for, being cognisant of all that can, at least obviously, be said against him, and having taken up his position against all gainsayers—knowing that he has sought for objections and difficulties, instead of avoiding them, and has shut out no light which can be thrown upon the subject from any quarter—he has a right to think his judgment better than that of any person, or any multitude, who have not gone through a similar process.” (John Stewart Mill; On Liberty)

Christians and Conservatives may not like the term liberal because it has come to be linked with a welfare state, redistribution of income, and such monikers as “tax and spend” and when it comes to morals–“libertine.” However, the term liberal wasn’t always so sullied. Classical Liberalism emphasized individual rights, freedom of religion, and virtue. Mill was not a Christian. More like a deist. But he did understand and appreciate thoughtful, passionate debate. And one thing he realized was that the “confidence” in one’s belief entailed that one has listened to the other side of the debate. That is, he recognized that no one is really justified if they refuse to give their opponent’s arguments and rhetoric some attention. With that in mind, I offer a few books that give the sentiments and judgments of those on the other side of major debates in Christianity:

Theodore Drange offers two arguments against the belief in the “The God of Evangelical Christianity” in his book Nonbelief and Evil. Writing books that rail against Christianity is a cottage industry. I mean you can actually make enough to buy a cottage. However, I haven’t seen many books that take 9 chapters to argue specifically against Evangelical Christianity. That is worth looking at. It is also the first time I’ve seen a semi-popular book that presents an argument from Non-belief. Drange’s version is pretty original. He argues that the presence of so much non-belief is a good reason to think God doesn’t exist.

From theology to Ecclesiology (the study of the church), brings us to a couple of books whose titles are sure to cause double-takes as you walk by them in Barnes and Noble. The first UnChristian by Kinnaman and Lyons is a report about the way 20 and 30 somethings look at the modern church. Here’s a quote from a review:

Kinnaman, president of the Barna Institute, was inspired to write this book when Lyons (of the Fermi Project) commissioned him to do extensive research on what young Americans think about Christianity. Lyons had a gut-level sense that something was desperately wrong, and three years of research paints exactly that picture. Mosaics and Busters (the generations that include late teens to early 30-somethings) believe Christians are judgmental, anti-homosexual, hypocritical, too political and sheltered.

That’s from Publishers Weekly. McClaren emergent types will love this book as it gives them a target to show how the church is off track. However, whether its culture, post-modernism, or just complacency from the “kids these days with their music and their hair” we need to have an answer for these objections.

If you want a no-holds barred assessment of what an unbeliever thinks when he walks into a church Jim and Casper Go to Church by Jim Henderson and Matt Casper. Here’s a blurb again from Publisher’s Weekly:

… a pastor hires an atheist to help him critique several Christian churches throughout the United States. For the authors, however, this experiment was no joke. Henderson, a veteran Protestant minister, truly believes that evangelism requires listening to the good, the bad and the ugly about Christianity in order to be a better minister. So he hired Casper, an atheist copywriter and musician, to serve as “fresh eyes” and observe how a variety of Christians engage the Divine through worship. Their travels took them to a mission-minded church, an Emergent church and to Joel Osteen’s mega-church, among others. In the book, Henderson peppers his partner with questions about each service, and Casper comments on everything from preaching to music to the geographical location of the churches. The take-home point, which is simultaneously simple, profound and of great importance to Christianity is, “Why are there such glaring discrepancies among churches regarding what it means to be a follower of Christ?”

Very good question. Why are there so many discrepancies? It is worth noting that Casper, the resident atheist, seems to think the primary purpose of church is to take care of the poor. The bottom line of his criticism about giant TV screens, rock music, and all the fanfare that is modern worship is “Is this really what Jesus told you people to do?” Definitely something to ponder as we attempt to relate to the world.


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