When I read a book last summer by Jim Henderson on women in the church, I knew I liked his style. He asks questions not many people are asking and has a unique approach to spiritual discussions. I’d heard about his book, written with Matt Casper about Casper’s impressions of churches they visited across the country. (Casper is currently an atheist.) I’ve yet to read that book but couldn’t pass up the follow-up, Saving Casper: A Christian and an Atheist Talk about Why We Need to Change the Conversion Conversation. (I received a free digital copy of the book from Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for my review.)
In Saving Casper, the pair team up to talk about conversion–evangelism specifically. After the first book was published and the duo spoke at churches, people asked if Casper was saved yet. After all, he’d been hanging out in churches and talking with Christians. The book is the answer to the question, and I’m not spoiling anything by saying this: he’s not. Casper refers to himself as “currently an atheist,” and I find that phrasing refreshing. I don’t know that I would ever call myself “currently a Christian,” but I think realizing that beliefs and viewpoints can change over time is useful.
Casper and Jim talk openly about heaven, hell, grief, and friendship in the context of evangelism. It’s a fascinating look at Christianity from the outside, and I found myself laughing (with embarrassment) about how the church tries to reach people outside the church. Casper’s insights are refreshingly honest and–this might surprise you–sound a lot like what we read in the Bible.
His advice for people who are worried about family members who don’t know Jesus is this:
“Simply care about people–and let them know you care in terms they can relate to. Letting them know you care about how they’re doing today, rather than telling them your concerns about where they’ll spend eternity, is far more appreciated and endlessly more effective if you’re hoping to someday see that person ‘saved.'”
It boils down to relationships and listening, not scare tactics or fire-and-brimstone damnation. Casper describes it as the difference between a push and a pull. A push (believe in Jesus or you’re going to hell!) does exactly what it says it does–pushes people away. A pull, however, draws people in. It’s like radical love, serving people and listening with genuine interest to what other people believe.
Even as I reflect on the book, I know it’s not a popular message among evangelicals. But I think it’s fair to say that what we’ve been doing isn’t working anyway, so maybe it’s time to listen to some outsider perspective. Casper doesn’t tell Christians not to believe in God; he calls us out, saying if we really do believe in God, our actions should reflect it.
I may not agree with everything Casper says in the book, but he’s worth listening to because 1) he’s another human being and 2) he’s got a unique perspective on evangelical Christianity.
It wasn’t a quick read for me because I needed time to think about what they were saying. It’s a good–but convicting–look at the church in practice. And also full of grace. I’m not sure there’s another book like it.