When I was in college, I read Jim & Casper Go to Church. If you’re not familiar with the book, Jim Henderson hires an atheist, Matt Casper, to travel the country with him to evaluate various churches. Jim did this because he was interested in the unfiltered opinion of someone who is not a Christian. What would the atheist think about Church? One Casper’s frequent questions was, “Is this really what Jesus told you to do?”
After reading this book, most people wanted to know if Casper ever got saved. From that question, Jim and Casper wrote a sequel called Saving Casper: A Christian and an Atheist Talk about Why We Need to Change the Conversion Conversation. While the two did their book tour, Matt, as you can imagine, received his fair share of people telling him that he was going to go to hell. On top of that, many treated him as if he were an enemy to the faith. Meanwhile, he’s not anti-religion or antagonistic toward Christians, even though some atheists are. He is an open-minded guy who likes to engage with people of different faith systems and doesn’t rule out the possibility of some day becoming a person of faith.
What I find most interesting about this book, and the same about Jim & Casper Go to Church, is the way that Matt Casper is able to see through what Christians do and offer an outsider’s perspective of how we can engage better with people outside of our faith. So what is his advice? Don’t begin with the end. By that, he means Heaven and Hell. He writes,
It’s not that I think there is never a good time to talk about eternal salvation, but it may be one of the worst starting points you could choose if you’re hoping to connect with someone who doesn’t share your beliefs. Again, why start at the end? Don’t start with their death. Start with their life; start with the person; start with the here and now; start by focusing on friendship over witnessing.
Many Christians have a way of focusing on the afterlife and lead with that point. From his perspective, it’s an immediate turn off and really portrays Christians as if they are trying to sell something. Instead, Casper argues that we need to learn how to listen. We need to get to know people and care for the whole person and not just their soul. Rather than opening with Heaven and Hell like it’s a sales pitch, Matt offers this advice,
Instead, develop your friendship and simply show them how you live your faith. And though I don’t think anyone on earth can objectively say, “Here’s how it’s done,” I also know that each person can subjectively say, “Here’s what living the faith means to me, and here’s how I do it.” And that’s a perfectly good answer. Especially when shared among friends.
I think that this is fantastic advice. While Heaven and Hell will get some people thinking, Matt Casper has appropriately deciphered that faith is more about living than dying. Living in faith changes a person and their way of life.
While I don’t necessarily agree with everything that Matt Casper has to say, I do agree that by focusing only on heaven and hell we miss the greater picture of the Gospel, which is life changing and not just death changing. When we offer up the afterlife as a selling point, we are saying that we only care about what they believe when they die and not how they live or what happens to them during their life. I believe that this opens up a lot of questions about the evangelism and forces us all to reevaluate how we interact with people outside of our faith. This is a book you should read.
In light of this book, here are my questions for you.
- How do you interact with people outside of the Christian faith? Do you listen to them and respect them?
- What do you think is the best way we can express both a concern about life here and the life we are told is to come in a way that would not turn off someone outside of Christianity?
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Tyndale House Publishers through netgalley.com. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”