Book Review: Luke Cawley’s “The Myth of the Non-Christian”

It was a great pleasure to buy a copy of Luke Cawley’s first book “The Myth of the Non-Christian: Engaging Atheists, Nominal Christians and the Spiritual But Not Religious” and read it over two or three days this Easter. It’s also a great pleasure to recommend it. Here’s why:

As I see it, the book’s main premise is this: that “non-Christian” is so broad and vague a term that it is almost entirely redundant as a way to describe or relate to a human being.

Yes, technically, if someone is “not a Christian” they can accurately be described as a “non-Christian” – of course – but in this book Luke is suggesting we can do much better than lumping all the “others” into one big pot of people who don’t believe what we believe.

Instead, Luke wants us to see people as individuals. He wants us to respect the nuances in people’s life stories, experiences and worldviews. He wants us to engage with people in a way that is relevant to them, that listens as well as speaks and that is not only faithful enough to bring the essential, age-old good news of Jesus to people, but flexible enough to do this with people of all backgrounds, by intelligently and sensitively adapting our approach.

And so he dives into a refreshing, funny and at times bizarre series of stories, interviews and insights to help us do just that.

nonStyle: Stylistically, I personally found it a breath of fresh air. Luke’s not predictable or stuffy, which means this book is an exciting book, it’s not heavy. And it means even just the first page of each chapter is either some heart-wrenching or curiosity-tickling encounter from his travels as an evangelist, or some odd story from his own history of asking big questions about God and life. It’s a fun book to read.

Impact personally: The result of reading it for me as a follower of Jesus was that I felt that the duty and privilege of sharing Jesus with other human beings around me was strangely do-able. Not in a “this has all the answers way”, but almost the opposite of that. There is no one way to do this! It’s speaking to people, listening, asking questions. It’s relating. It’s being real. Even I can do that.

Impact in terms of ministry: And as someone who is training students in evangelism with UCCF at the moment, it left me feeling a great desire to be MUCH more creative and at much more liberty in the different ways we try and reach people. I would love all my students to read it, but particular those who are at smaller, newer universities seeking to reach a quite different group of students than at a redbrick or collegiate uni.

You can get it here. And follow Luke on Twitter here.

Or if you’re in Birmingham, ask Kristi Mair, cause she’s got some copies. I think she knicked them off the back of a lorry.

Where is the Love? – clarification of my talk at AUCU’s Big Event

I enjoyed speaking last night at the Aston University Christian Union’s “Big Event” – amazing performances from Yvette and S.O among others.

The CU did a quite stunning job of putting on a varied and diverse event with singers, dancers, performing arts sketches and the mighty S.O! It made me smile that the event had brought these people together to think about the claims of Jesus. A fun night!

I just wanted to clarify something I said in my talk around the question “Where is the love?” as I’m aware that I may have been slightly unclear, or that some of the most challenging things I said may have left people open to a bit of confusion. Feel free to try this more readable description on the question of suffering and God and justice as well, but I’ve just tried to summarise what I said in this post to be a bit clearer on some of the points. I hope that’s okay!

What’s wrong with the world….Image

Just to remind, I began by acknowledging that all of us – regardless of colour or creed – can see that there’s something wrong with the world. Just as Will.I.Am cries out in the first lines of that song, so do we. I used provocative examples of this from my own experiences in Thailand around the child sex trade, and spoke also about 9/11, chemical weapons, Jimmy Saville, and “Christians” holding “God Hates Fag Soldiers” signs. I acknowledged that all of us – regardless of what we believe – find those things repulsive. Note that at least three of those examples of horrific evil are religiously motivated, and one of them explicitly “Christian”. I was careful to show that religion has caused it’s fair share of the injustice we all hate!

I then concluded that section putting into words my own thoughts and feelings, but that all of us have felt at one time or another; that with all of THAT going on in the world, the idea of a God – and more specifically, a God of LOVE – seemed RIDICULOUS to me.

I then shared that now, though, I am a Christian. A follower, a lover, a worshipper of that very God of LOVE – Father, Son and Spirit, revealled to us in the person of Jesus Christ. That’s a big shift and I asked if I could share how that came about for me.

My journey during that shift revolved around three questions. This is where I may have not been as clear as I could have, so please let me explain if I can.

1) What happens if you take God out of the equation

If we delete God, like an awkward facebook friend, by saying “There can’t be a God because of this suffering”, what happens?

a) The problem isn’t solved

9/11 still happened. Slavery is still happening. It doesn’t solve the problem.

b) A new problem arises

Because of the following three statements from leading Atheists about a universe with no God.

Richard Dawkins:

“The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.”
Christopher Hitchens:
“To the dumb question, ‘Why me?’, the cosmos barely bothers to reply. ‘Why not?’.”
Stephen Hawking:
“The human race is a chemical scum on a moderate-sized planet”

Which led us to our second and most important question…

2) Do we believe that is true?

What I acknowledged as clearly as I could was that of course NONE OF US believe that child rape is indifferent. Not one of us believes that Jimmy Saville’s victims when asking ‘Why me?’ should be told ‘Dumb question…why not?!’. NONE OF US BELIEVE THAT.

My conclusion here was not that atheists think children should be raped!!!! I hope the way I communicated throughout the evening showed that of course I don’t think that atheists are heartless people who don’t care about slavery and rape. I hope that was clear!

My conclusion, though, which in itself is very uncomfortable to hear I’m sure, was that it proves we are not REALLY atheists! Because atheism, in the words of its leading lights, should lead us to deduce that everything is indifferent, that we’re just scum – and yet NOBODY LIVES LIKE THAT OR BELIEVES IT!

I was not in any way trying to attack atheists.

But I was in a big way trying to attack atheISM.

It’s bleak, it’s harsh, it tries to tell my head to believe things that my heart could never believe! And neither can yours.

I’m not saying atheists love child rape!!!! I’m saying people who hate child rape are therefore not REALLY atheists – because atheISM says “we’re scum”, and there’s not one of us that really believes that.

In the face of this bleak worldview, we were left feeling quite uncomfortable and so I asked the third and final question:

3) What’s the alternative?

Here, I asked you: “What if….”

What if you weren’t stupid for asking what’s wrong with the world?

What if the world was never meant to be like this?

What if longing for someone to come and fix it wasn’t stupid?

What if that’s exactly what we should be longing for?

What if someone did come?

What if that someone was God himself in human form come to rescue the world – the world we all acknowledged needed rescuing?

What if you’re feelings of value and worth and longing for people to be treated right was not a trick or a lie but was because you and they were made by a stunning, bustling, vibrant, joyful God of love who knows the hairs on your head he cares for you that much?

What if he promises that one day he’ll come back and finish the job – perfectly restore the world and rid it of all evil and hurt and pain and injustice and tears?

Well…that’s Christianity! Where is the love? Atheism says “No such thing, just indifference” Jesus says: “I’m here. I came for you. You can have me!”

I hope that is a clearer description of what I said. I would absolutely love to grab a beer or a coffee or indeed ANY DRINK (!) with anyone who’d like to chat more, whether you’re in the CU or not. I’d love to know what you think too!

A thought on suffering

As a Christian, by far and away the most common question I get and the most common question I have myself is this: What about all the suffering?

This week a dear friend of mine lost their uncle. Recently some friends lost their baby. Just a few days ago a wonderful friend of ours heard her sister had been hit by a lorry. Life can be full of joy. But life can be quite the opposite too.

What are we to do with this? How are we to cope? What can we say to those who suffer?

Well, the answers are not quick. They are certainly not easy. Thus, we think, perhaps by taking God out of the equation, we can face it head on and get on with our lives? Well, here are some quotes I heard this week.  Take God out of the picture, and here’s where we go. Ready?

“The human race is just a chemical scum on a moderate-sized planet” (Stephen Hawking).

“Human beings are absolutely insignificant. We’re a cosmic joke” (Claire Rayner OBE).

“Some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice…[the Universe has] no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference” (Richard Dawkins).

What answer does atheism give me when my uncle dies, my baby dies, my sister gets hit by a lorry? “You’re scum. You’re insignificant. And while we’re at it, so are your friends and family. Some people get hurt. There’s no evil or good, just indifference, and you’re nothing more than a cosmic joke.”

Comforting.

Are you really going to say that to your suffering friend? Your family who have lost a baby? The car crash victim? The widow? Do you really, REALLY, believe that it’s all indifferent?

Take God out of the equation and you still have suffering. You still have pain. All that’s changed is that you can longer complain about it.

If you’re reading this as an atheist, I’m not saying you believe that your loved ones are cosmic scum. Honestly, I’m not. I’m saying you’re not really an atheist. Because if you hate suffering, if you feel the pain of tragedy and know it to be awful and wrong, then as far as Dawkins and Hawking are concerned, you’re illogical. You’re betraying your atheism.

The Christian has to think long and hard about these questions. Why does God let it happen? Doesn’t he love us? Is he not able to stop it? These questions are not easy. But atheism finds itself on no high ground here.

And so whatever you believe… we are left asking, what is the alternative?

Imagine… just for a second… imagine. What if…

What if you’re not insignificant. Imagine that the bubbling, fiery, inner hatred of suffering and pain that is in your very being is not illogical or stupid. What if suffering in your life is not “indifferent”?

What if God was not only real, but that he knew what it was to suffer? What if there was a God who didn’t say “unlucky” or stay far away on a cloud, unaware of our plight, but who came to earth as flesh and blood to be mocked, homeless, ignored, whipped and killed, to share in our suffering? And just imagine for a second, if this God showed himself as the one person who has not only suffered, but has BEATEN it, by rising from death?

What if he said to you: “Despite the way you’ve rejected me, I suffered for you. I know what it’s like. And more than that, I have paid for your rejection, and now I offer you, instead of death, LIFE. Life forever, with me, free from suffering, with the God who made you and loves you.”

Whether you believe it or not…Wouldn’t you want that to be true?

If you’re not a Christian, and you hate suffering, why not look into Jesus? Why not see if the claims of Christianity are not just wonderful but are actually true? Why not speak to a Christian friend. Why not?

And if you’re a Christian… we have a beautiful gospel. Far better than the alternatives. Won’t you share it?