Saving Casper: A Christian and an Atheist Talk about Why We Need to Change the Conversion Conversation by Jim Henderson and Matt Casper
Many readers will quickly know the authors of this book from their previous release Jim and Casper Go to Church. Jim and Matt’s new book entitled Saving Casper focuses on the way we talk about conversion in the church and the devastating ways we have pushed away atheists and other non-believers by our posture. Both Jim and Matt traversed the national landscape, meeting in churches and asking hard questions about faith, conversion, and life. The basic premise of the book and travel is laid out here in their words, “Part of what Casper and I are trying to achieve when we speak to a group of Christians is to help people move a little bit on their “judgment meter.” This capacity, while intellectually and often theologically uncomfortable, provides a way to stay connected with people who are supposedly our ideological enemies.” (92-93) One lady even asked Casper how to save a church after she grew to like him in many ways. This book is a real eye-opener in many ways because it brings out the worst in many believers’ attitudes towards atheists but also posits that there is a huge amount of room for connection.
Matt says at one point, “In my opinion, the church needs to go out to the people honesty and sincerely, saying, “What can we do for you?” What’s so hard about that? It gives the church what they want too: an audience with the unchurched and anyone outside their own church walls.” (119) The aggressive, domineering, you’re going to hell attitude does not bring about long term relationships and foster communication. I would also add that providing cultural goods (rock band, stage lights, showy stage presence) because that’s what the church thinks will bring people in often misses the boat too. Serving others, showing compassion are two of the twin pillars that Matt deems high on the list of connecting believers to atheists and furthering the conversation.
What I enjoyed also about the book is the way that Matt talked about the relationship between the extreme anti-theists (Dawkins, etc.) and the aggressive believers who taunted and baited Matt in his travels with Jim. Both sets of groups use anger, vitriol, and pejorative language to belittle the opposite side in an argument or conversation. Matt boils it down to certainty saying, “The problem I have with some atheists is the same problem I have with some Christians: certainty. You can’t unequivocally prove your beliefs, so c’mon, take it easy.” (101) Claiming that the other side of the debate is fully without merit or truth is a recipe for no conversation at all to take place. Instead, realizing that both belief systems require a certain set of assumptions and then building conversation based upon a shared understanding is more important than ramrodding a person. Matt is quick to point out that making the connection with people, seeking to listen more than fill the void, is a powerful way to gro
I would add that Matt and Jim’s understanding of how to relate to people of different belief systems is consistent with an understanding that people are made in God’s image. This image includes rationality, emotion, and wisdom. Effective communication and growth between two people naturally takes place in the respect and compassion they yield to one another. Compassion for others of differing views comes into being as we see people for their special status in the way that they were made.
Thanks to Tyndale Momentum/Publishers for the copy of this book in exchange for review.