“That was more meaningful than any baptism in a church that I’ve been to.”
“There’s a feeling I get [there] I never got at church.”
“It was those moments when she realized that she didn’t need religion to tap into that feeling.”
I finished reading a helpful book yesterday, written by an atheist mother of three. With warm admiration for religion, she spent three years researching how she could raise her children to know the awe, belonging, and sense of “grace” that traditionally have attracted people to religion. Full of anecdotes from her own life and encounters with other searchers who have left the religion of their childhoods behind, I appreciated the opportunity to see my church, my rituals, and my beliefs through the eyes of all these kind, well-meaning dechurched people. I think the anecdote that will stick with me most described when the author tried to increase her seven-year-old daughter’s religious literacy by adding an illustrated children’s Bible to their bedtime reading routine:
She loves animals, so I chose the story of Noah’s Ark, figuring she’d be taken in by all those goats and giraffes and elephants lined up safely two by two in the hull of the boat. But I’d neglected to consider how Noah and those animals got there in the first place. I read the opening lines: “So God said to Noah, ‘I am going to put an end to all people . . . ’ ” My daughter stiffened . . . After two pages, she put her hand over the book. “I don’t want to read this anymore,” she said, her voice trembling. “God’s too mean.” The idea of a wrathful God was utterly alien to our children, and I realized I’d forgotten it myself. (pp. 83-84, Katherine Ozment, Grace Without God)
This kind of book reminds me of a quote from a Christian blogger: “Embracing the questions of unchurched people is a form of embracing them.” It also reminds me of Seminary President Paul Wendland’s words: “Yes, we want to be ready missionaries and eager listeners . . . Yes, we want to understand the cultural currents of our day. Love demands all these things. And we gladly offer it as a sacrifice of praise to our God.”
Three young pastors, a PhD-candidate biologist, and I are soon wrapping up our work on a book that’s all about listening to such outsider questions and searchings. Dr. Mark Paustian will be testing the book out in his new senior apologetics class next semester at Martin Luther College. Quick to Listen is the tentative title. Interwoven with interviews of and quotes from atheists, LGBTQ supporters, evolutionists, and Bible skeptics will be gospel-centered guidance on how Christians can better love and reach people with such viewpoints by better listening to them.
Please join me in praying that God would bless the Quick to Listen project and in looking forward to its release, which is planned for about a year-and-a-half from now.
Pastor Christopher S. “Topher” Doerr
Broad Reach Editor
Northwestern Publishing House