Cross Examined: An unconventional spiritual journey by Bob Seidensticker
Cross Examined takes a closer look at the relationship between faith and arguments against Christianity through the lens of a story. The novel centers around Paul, a man who was taken off the streets into the ministry with Samuel, the senior pastor of The First Church of God in San Francisco. All the while this is happening, Paul’s fiancee is trapped in the ruins of the earthquake that has just taken place (set in 1906). The charismatic pastor, Samuel, is known for both his prophetic utterances but also his debating of serious issues every year at his own apologetics conference. The tale unfolds as Samuel sends Paul out to minister to a man named Jim, who had been holed up in his house for almost twenty years, bearing the pain of a lost love. Little does he know, Paul is stepping into the house of a man armed with the intellectual rigor to argue against Christianity but also one who knows Samuel.
I appreciated the way that Jim interacted with Paul in the book to refine his arguments for Christianity or find some better ones. At one part in the story, Jim engages the question of how the oral message of the gospels was transmitted by saying, “When I corrected your story just now, I was reading from a book – that’s our authority. There was no book when the Jesus story was oral tradition. When two people’s memories, whose was right”? (68-69). Paul has to hone his arguments in here at this point to really point out how oral tradition works, because Jim is quick to point out the holes in his argument. I like the back and forth of the argumentation in the story that pushes the believer to strengthen the argument for belief so it is logical and watertight. The difference between Samuel and Paul in the book is a chasm of one trying to find solid answers for the things of faith and the other reciting the old answers to the same questions. It takes some mental and moral imagination to be willing to examine the evidence and evaluate truth claims for any argument.
The story winds its way through some backstory into how Jim and Samuel knew each other from before and their apparent fallout. I find myself really enjoying the book and saddened as well. I enjoyed the book because this kind of thing really happens, the part in which one man struggles with their faith through engaging a person of a different persuasion and another is not willing to be humbled by his own faith. Secondly, another major point in the book was that often the most ardent followers of the Christian faith don’t examine their faith as stringently as they should and leave those with doubts on the sidelines. Yet, the very essence of faith is that you examine that same faith with all the rigor of a scientist, not bowing to arguments because they have been made before, but finding good scholarship that answers the question.
Lastly, I would say that although the engagement between Paul and Jim, and finally Samuel and Paul was rather one-sided. There was not much discussion about the merits of atheism or agnosticism. Furthermore, there was not much discussion about the rather prideful assertion that atheists point out deficiencies in the Christian faith with no moral ground to do so. Secondly, even in the discussion on orality, one can find very good resources that bolster the gospels and their trustworthiness by scholars of repute. Just because people’s memories were different, doesn’t necessarily lead us to believer that one was right and one was wrong. Different perspectives are elicited because people are looking through different angles.
I think this is a good story that focuses on the plight of faith and its critics. If you are willing to investigate the claims of your faith, and see how this makes a difference in conversations with others, this book will give you an example of how these issues play out.
Thanks to Bob Seidensticker for the free copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review.