New York church makes space for non-Christians to ask questions

Church sucks, that's why men are bored there
Is church boring? How can you make it more interesting for people?

This is from the radically leftist New York Times, of all places.

It says:

When Craig Ellis was growing up, he picked up the sort of adventure book meant for a boy looking to serve God. The book, “Shadow of the Almighty,” told the story of Jim Elliot, a young American evangelist killed while doing mission work in Ecuador.

The narrative of this Christian martyr did for Mr. Ellis what a superhero comic might have done for his peers: It got him pondering purpose, struggle and sacrifice. The book also provided a model for how a Christian should spread the news of salvation while working in treacherous territory, at great personal risk.

Very little in “Shadow of the Almighty,” however, prepared Mr. Ellis for where he stood on a recent Tuesday, in a room with industrial carpet and a dropped ceiling at Redeemer Presbyterian Church on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, where people lined up on Sunday morning are more likely awaiting a table for brunch than taking communion.

Mr. Ellis, 39, welcomed the dozen men and women seated before him. “This is a space,” he said, “for people who consider themselves non-Christian and are coming in from the outside.”

His weekly sessions, called the WS Café in a reference to the neighborhood, are at a new frontier of evangelism, one that seeks converts among a fervent and growing number of atheists in this country. The sessions started in September as a push by Redeemer Presbyterian’s prominent pastor, the Rev. Tim Keller, to preach the gospel to skeptics.

How are they doing it?

By not quoting the Bible as if it were inerrant to people who don’t think it is. But using evidence from outside the Bible to explain what’s in the Bible.


On that recent Tuesday evening, Mr. Ellis, the pastor’s assistant, was sharing a lectern with the Rev. Bijan Mirtolooi, the assistant pastor for the 83rd Street church. In the chairs around them sat people like Frank Ying, 33, who works for a technology start-up. Brought up in the Dallas area by immigrant parents who had been raised amid the official atheism of the People’s Republic of China, Mr. Ying tried exploring Christianity with his high school classmates, even accompanying them to megachurches, only to be put off by their fundamentalism.

“You have all these questions,” he recalled. “And you have all these long, drawn-out conversations. ‘What do you believe? How much of the Bible do you take literally?’ And these people stop short and say, ‘You’ve just got to have faith.’ But I’ve always been more pragmatic, so that wasn’t good enough.”

Mr. Ying heard about Redeemer Presbyterian from a few acquaintances after moving to Manhattan several years ago. He dipped his toe slowly, watching a YouTube video of Dr. Keller in conversation with a journalist and a historian, emissaries of the secular world. By now, Mr. Ying is a regular at the WS Café, not because he believes, but because his doubts get heard.

Each session has a central topic, and on the recent Tuesday it was about why Jesus needed to be crucified. As part of framing a wide-open conversation, a list of quotations on the subject even included this zinger from Mr. Hitchens: “I find something repulsive about the idea of vicarious redemption.”

Mr. Ellis and Mr. Mirtolooi cited popular culture (movies like “The Revenant,” “Inside Out”) and real-life examples (the way a parent sacrifices free time to raise a child) in order to make palpable the concept of suffering leading to the remission of sin. Very deliberately, they did not lean heavily on Scripture.

“The difference with the Café is what you’re using as your authorities,” Mr. Ellis said later. “Typically, in a Christian class, the Bible is your authenticity. To this group, the Bible is just another book. You can use it, but it’s just one piece of the puzzle. You rely on those your listeners would find credible — scientists, philosophers, authors — and you show how Christianity makes sense.”

[…]The point of their exchange was not winning a soul now as much as keeping a mind open to the possibility someday. “Now I find that I’m very comfortable going to church on a Sunday, listening to the sermons,” Mr. Ying said. “I can explore more and not have religious people put down their foot and say, ‘This is how it is.’ ”

This reminds me of the conversation I had when I went to work for a tech start-up right out of college. You had to have a graduate degree to work in this company. I remember talking to a buy who had a PhD from Northwestern, and my boss who had his undergrad from UIUC and his Masters from Purdue. I had just answered one of their questions, and then apologized for taking the conservative point of view – hoping I hadn’t offended them. I said “I’m a fundamentalist”. And the PhD guy said, “you’re not a fundamentalist. You have your view, but you know all the other views, too”.

I think that in the workplace or in the school, it’s important to know all the other views, too. We don’t want to play into this stereotype that the secular leftists have of us. We should be able to sit still and listen, and put their view forward better than they can themselves. You won’t learn how to do that in church, though. Church teaches you to only be able to talk to people about your faith if they assume that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God (which it is, but non-Christians don’t believe that!) You have to learn how to speak to non-Christians effectively on your own, by reading and watching debates. Sad, but true.

3 thoughts on “New York church makes space for non-Christians to ask questions”

  1. True indeed. The parable of the sower and the seeds in action. Pre-evangelism, or “soil tilling” is often required before casting the seeds of the Gospel. The more secular, and post-Christian our culture becomes, the more we will need to till the soil.

  2. A couple of points:

    (1). I read an article, stating that 83% of people, who identified themselves as Christians, don’t even read their Bibles on a daily basis. There are so many churches that refuse to find ways to encourage people to read the Bible. There are even Bible schedules, which most churches refuse to mention or hand out to believers, that will help them read & study the Bible in one year or less (to pick up your own Bible schedule, feel free to go to this site:

    Side Note: There is a radio station in St. Louis, MO, 99.1 Joy FM, that was giving away free Bibles last week!

    (2). So many churches are engaging in the-make-everyone-(believers & non-believers)-‘comfortable’-with-the-Bible-preaching in order to attract new and keep old members (Too many churches have become retail centers by trying to please the customers-members-by any means necessary so that the customers would be glad to comeback again) in order to survive.

    It’s sad that we have come to this……

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