That was the question Jim Henderson wanted to explore. As a Christian author, he recruited an atheist, Matt Casper, to join him in visiting and reacting to attending twelve leading American churches. Their book, Jim and Casper Go to Church, documents their journey, first impressions, and the lasting impact their journey had on both. This spiritual odd couple found that the real value came from the open and authentic dialogue that developed as they talked, questioned, joked, and—most important—listened to one another.
Arguments about faith were not the answer. They found that debate is more about humiliating one’s opponent and defending one’s faith. It may make a Christian feel “right,” but arguments seldom bring others to a common faith.
Dialogue, on the other hand, is about inviting your new friend into conversations that warmly defend the space that faith occupies. Jesus was a master dialogist, an expert in inviting dialogue. He didn’t use power to overcome opposition. Jesus used kindness, story, and love to bring others willingly into a space that allowed others to encounter and to know him and God.
Standing for your faith and defending the space it has in your life as a believer, happens when listening trumps talk and thoughtful reflection trumps reactivity. There is something appealing about a church and a believer who is confident enough to be vulnerable and open to those who question or even attack their solid ground.
Never forget that the easiest thing to ignore and reject is one-way monologues about faith and politics. Invite people into true dialogue, and listen first if you truly wish to be understood.