Friday, December 07, 2007

A recent book to be surprised that this agnostic was interested in: Jim and Casper Go to Church: Frank Conversation about Faith, Churches, and Well-Meaning Christians by Jim Henderson and Matt Casper. I think all Christians who have the urge to preach to non-Christians should read this book. Jim Henderson is a Christian, former church pastor and co-founder of Off the Map, which "helps Christians learn to communicate better with non-Christians, or as some of my more outspoken 'lost' friends put it, 'Off the Map helps Christians learn how not to be jerks.'" (I've got to support any organization with that aim!) Matt Casper, on the other hand, is a very well-spoken, outspoken atheist. And for this book, the two of them attended various churches and discussed their views of what went on in their services. (Off the Map runs a web site where anyone can do the same,

"Casper the Friendly Atheist" says a whole lot of the things I always want to say when Christians try to preach to me, and Jim asks for his reasons, leading to some really interesting discussions. Jim is a somewhat unusual Christian in my view (which perhaps is why he's willing to take a nonbeliever to church without trying to convert him) -- he makes a distinction between simply having faith in Christ and actually performing behavior that Christ would approve of, and he seems to believe that faith is not enough, that Christians need to do good on this earth and not just by trying to forcibly save people's souls.

The two visit Saddlebrook, the California "mega-church" of Rick Warren, author of The Purpose-Driven Life; the "Dream Center" and "Mosaic" in urban Los Angeles; another mega-church outside Chicago (Willow Creek); a medium-sized Presbyterian church and the more urban Lawndale in the Chicago area; a sort of casual church in the home of a friend of Casper's; offbeat "emerging churches" in the U.S. Northwest; Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church and T.D. Jakes' "Potter's House" in Texas. This is, as Jim points out, more types of churches than most Christians ever attend. So followers of Jesus might be interested in Jim's feelings on their own in this sampling of how Jesus is worshiped across the United States. (For that matter, non-Christians could find that interesting from an anthropological point of view as well; I certainly did.) But the person who wants to spread the "good news" of Christ -- well, honestly I think that person should let us non-believers alone to run our own lives. But for those who really don't feel they can give up on trying to "save" us supposedly "lost," considering the issues that come up between Jim and Casper will definitely reduce the likelihood of driving away the very people you want to attract. And that goes for attracting believers searching for a church that feels right to them, too.