Matt Lyons (right) is a liberal atheist.
They met in architecture school several years ago. Jenkins, an author of two books about Christianity (including his latest, Buried Alive: A Discussion on Overcoming the Seven Lifeless Sins) and the founder of an organization called Relevant Spirituality NPO, is getting his PhD from the University of South Florida. Lyons is an expert on environmental architecture and lives in St. Louis.
The two friends reconnected to discuss the The Unlikely Disciple, Christian attitudes, and their contempt (shared, it turns out) for street-corner evangelism. Below, Jenkins’ recap of their phone call:
Lyons and I have a history of discussing theological issues. Although our discussions often turn into debates, we typically make an effort to see the bit of truth in one another’s opinion. As a result, an unlikely friendship has forged between two very different-minded people. I’ve also learned more from Lyons over the past few years than most of my Christian friends combined. So, when I first heard of The Jonah Project, Lyons was the first person who came to mind.
Even though we have busy lives, we each finished The Unlikely Disciple within days of receiving it. We found Roose’s writing to be surprisingly multifaceted, refusing to recreate caricatures of conservative Christianity. When we spoke, we each cited a number of favorite passages: “Although I don’t always believe in God, I believe in belief” (p. 284), “Working on masturbation when I have so many other flaws seems like putting fuzzy dice in a car whose transmission is falling apart” (p. 252), etc. The majority of our discussion, however, revolved around chapter 10: “The Workers are Few.”
Lyons wrote, “One of the things I found most frustrating occurred during Roose’s trip to Daytona Beach:
As we walk away, Claire sighs. ‘Well I think her soul is hardened, but at least we got to tell her about hell. That’s a start right?’ (p. 153).
“No, no it’s not a start!” Lyons responded, “It’s frustrating that so few evangelicals seem to understand telling people what you believe does not guarantee forward-progress. Forcing people to listen to your beliefs is more likely to drive them even further away – this is such a simple notion, but the people who spent their spring break at Daytona Beach just didn’t get it…. at all.”
I seem to agree with Lyons’ point. Even as a Christian I have a problem with brash and militant witnessing tactics. As Lyons pointed out, the common rationale seems to be that they “planted a seed.” It seems just as likely, however, that they planted a seed of resentment toward the very faith they’re trying to share. Since finishing The Unlikely Disciple, I’ve come to believe acts like this often do more harm than good. Although these people’s hearts may be in the right place, they’d be much better off loving their neighbor, refusing to judge lest they be judged, and – ultimately – taking the time to build true relationships. Like Lyons has with me; as I have with him. After all, Jesus said: “By this all men will know you are my disciples, if you love another” (John 13:35, NIV). It certainly wasn’t by insulting or bothering them during spring break.