Are Christians afraid of conversation?

Since the publication of What to Do on the Worst Day of Your Life in March, I have given a few dozen interviews, mainly on talk radio, and I have noticed something that bothers me. These interviews have been pretty evenly divided between mainstream format radio and Christian format radio. Generally, the questions I’m given on mainstream radio are thoughtful, and at times challenging, leading to a lively and substantive conversation. Conversely, the questions I’m typically given on Christian radio are shallow and trite and I have to work at preventing the conversation from becoming glib. That may sound a bit harsh, but I’ll stand by it.

I’ve done enough of these now to form an expectation of how the conversation will go based on whether the format is Christian or mainstream (secular). A mainstream interviewer will usually want to ask me about the problem of pain and suffering in the world or may even challenge me with certain worst case scenarios (the death of a child is a typical example). Honestly, I welcome this kind of conversation. I like to talk about how, although the Bible does not give a simple (or simplistic) answer to the problem of pain, the Bible does present a God who is not aloof or separated from pain and suffering. Indeed the Bible speaks of a God who has become a willing participant in the experience of human suffering. And without exception I have found that when I talk openly and honestly about the problem Christians face in reconciling our believe in a good and omnipotent God with the reality of pain, suffering and evil, it has won the respect of the interviewer and has led to what I felt was an honest and stimulating conversation. What I typically tell them is that when we are in the midst of painful experiences what we need most of all is a framing story that can help make sense of what we are going through. I then suggest that the grand narrative of the Bible is the best framing story to make sense of human suffering and that in my book I have used the particular story of David’s catastrophe at Ziklag as a kind of structuring narrative for responding to our own catastrophes.

But generally things are different when I’m being interviewed by the Christian media (radio, television, print). I usually have to take the initiative to steer the conversation into deeper waters. Unfortunately, it seems as though my Christian compatriots assume I have written a glib “how to” book with simple, formulistic answers: Follow these ten steps and — presto! — everything will be fine by noon tomorrow. I deliberately promised myself that I would not write that kind of book. In fact, with each chapter I intentionally kept in mind the “worst case scenario” of a parent who has lost a child and vowed I would not write anything that would not be true for them.

But this isn’t about my “dumb little book.”

(I actually called it that in the introduction but my editor took it out. Ha!)

This post is about a question: Are Christians afraid of substantive conversation?

Of course I am obviously speaking in glaring generalizations, but I believe there is warrant for raising the question.

Have we so confused certitude with faith that we have nothing left to discuss?

Do we think we should have a simple answer for every misfortune that befalls the modern day Job ala his miserable comforters?

Do we think this is what faith is?

Do we think that because we have found the truth in Jesus Christ we have to act like we have the answer for every difficult problem in life?

I hope not.

Conversation. We need more conversation and less positing of platitudes. We need to be careful that we don’t reduce discipleship to learning the accepted slogans. Jesus did not commission us to go into all the world as sloganeers.

God is good. All the time.

Alright, I believe it. I believe God is both benevolent and immutable.

But still some conversation is in order. I mean, certain questions do come up.

Why do bad things happen to good people?
Why do babies get brain cancer?
Why is personal evil so powerful and pervasive?
Why is natural evil (earthquakes, etc.) so destructive?
Why did God order the extermination of the Canaanites?
Why have we been in the “last days” for 2,000 years?
Why isn’t God more obvious?


If we have any intention of engaging our culture with the claims of Christ we must be prepared to engage in substantive conversations with these kind of questions…because thoughtful skeptics and Christians alike will raise them!

I can honestly say I’m no longer intimidated by these kind of questions. And it’s not because I have simple answers (I don’t). But I have bothered to wrestle with these questions myself and I have discovered you can do so and emerge with your faith intact.

But pretending to have simple, glib answers to questions like, “Why do babies get brain cancer?” is not faith; it’s really the opposite — a cover up for fear.

So reduce your certainty and increase your faith.

Stop sloganeering and join the conversation.

If your faith is really substantive, a substantive conversation will do it no harm.

But if your faith is really just the chaff of pretentious certitude, well, the sooner that gets blown away, the better.

To lose your certitude may well lead to some bitter tears, but these tears are necessary for there to be a dawn of genuine faith. Peter was the picture of arrogant certitude before an authentic and tender faith began to grow in the place of his broken self-confidence. (See Luke 22:31-62)

Don’t fling slogans at a hurting world, join the conversation. Listen attentively, think carefully, speak honestly.

“Jesus Saves” is true. But it needs to be much more than a billboard pronouncement. It needs to be part of a thoughtful conversation. Evangelism by billboard pronouncement and bumper sticker sloganeering is not going to cut it in the post-Christian secular world of the 21st century. But at the same time I’m convinced there is great openness to the Christian faith in the context of a substantive conversation.

Well, anyway, I think this is the direction we need to head if we are going to do more than just recycle our own subculture.


PS: I realize that Christian media personnel who read this as part of their prep work for an interview are now going to ask the toughest question they can come up with…and that’s fine.

The painting is Conversation 3 (Skeptic) by Emily Tarleton