Recently, I was interviewed for a National Public Radio program related to my new book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated.
It was a robust and spirited conversation, but it was the off-air dialogue that may have been the most revealing. The host and I continued talking after the program. He was among the “nones” himself, and was curious about the kind of church I led – particularly one that reached so many like him.
“So you must be on the liberal side, right? I mean, if you’re reaching people who are turned off to church.”
“Actually,” I said, “we would be considered more conservative in our theology. But there isn’t a legalistic or judgmental spirit running around. People feel very free to ask questions and explore things.”
The conservative thing threw him.
“So you take the Bible literally and all that?”
I knew where this was going. He had a pop-culture view of what it meant to believe the Bible, and an even worse understanding of what it meant to interpret it. Taking the Bible “literally,” to him, meant checking your brains at the door and being forced to believe the most wooden and clumsy of interpretations. Ones that even most Christians would reject.
But it was what he said next that was key:
“So tell me, what the &#*% is up with this idea that the earth is only six or seven thousand years-old?”
Yep, he dropped the F-bomb on me.
Let’s not get into young-earth vs. old-earth. I’m not a young-earther, but if you are, fine. Let’s not get into his use of language. You know you’ve heard the word before, so don’t give into false offense.
Here’s what everyone should get into: The “What the **** is up with that” questions.
Because they are the heart of what is churning around in the minds of those on the outside-looking-in at the Christian faith. They have so many “WT*IUWT” questions, and the essence of any conversation that might move them down the spiritual road will involve talking about them.
And without defensiveness.
It’s simply a cultural reality that they are genuinely incredulous that anyone would think like…well, a Christian. Or at least, what it means in their mind to think like a Christian.
So of course they are going to ask,
“WT*IUW not wanting two people who love each other to get married?
“WT*IUW thinking sex is so bad?
“WT*IUW a loving God sending someone like Ghandi to hell?
“WT*IUW…” I’m sure you can keep filling in the blank.
Answering the “WT*IUWT” questions is what lies at the heart of modern-day apologetics, the pre-evangelism so missing in churches. And it is missing. We’re so used to talking to the already-convinced that we have no intuitive sense of what it means to talk to someone who isn’t.
Maybe we’re just afraid of the questions.
All I know is that until you answer them, you can’t get to the greatest question of them all, the one they need engaged more than any other:
“WT*IUW the cross?”
James Emery White
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is now available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit www.churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.