:: Tuesday, September 26, 2006 ::
The prof and the punk: Not-so-bad religion
Preston Jones is a history professor, an evangelical Christian, and a longtime fan of the ultra-socially conscious punk band Bad Religion. Greg Graffin, Bad Religion's front man, is an atheist with a Ph.D. from Cornell whose worldview comes through clearly in many of the band's songs. A correspondence between the two grew into an ongoing written discussion about what Jones calls "the 'big questions'" about life, God and other metaphysical matters.

Now, Jones has pulled that correspondence into a book, called Is Belief in God Good, Bad or Irrelevant: A Professor And a Punk Rocker Discuss Science, Religion, Naturalism & Christianity. Jones talks about the experience of the Christian-atheist dialogue in Lessons from a Punker Ph.D. posted on the Christianity Today website. (Link via Thunderstruck.)

The spirited exchanges between the professor and the punk rocker did not constitute a debate, Jones explains. "Debate is about winning, and that's important in many contexts. But I didn't care about winning. Nor did I care about 'listening' in the gushy, politically correct sort of way associated with people-friendly evangelism."
Mainly I cared about learning. I wanted to learn how Greg sees the world, and I hoped that he learned about a Christian vision of the world.

In the process I found my relationship with Jesus strengthened. Not because I was stretched intellectually by the challenges of atheistic materialism, in which (it seems to me) there's a lot more bark than bite. Rather, my relationship with Jesus was strengthened because my conversation with Greg led me to see some things more deeply.
Jones discovered why some of the perceptions of Christians as anti-intellectual are so critical to Christians' understanding of their place in the world.
Sometimes I'd hear radio preachers, and I'd wonder to myself what Greg would say if he were listening. "No wonder Greg thinks the way he does about Christians," I'd say to my wife, as we listened to a grown-up sermon that rehearsed things we'd heard since the third grade.

But then I remembered the short stories of Flannery O'Connor, where wacky people become vehicles for grace; and I thought about Evelyn Waugh's novel Brideshead Revisited (which Greg and I discussed), and the way God drew troubled people to himself; and I recounted the people who've had the greatest Christian influence on me—among them, a tobacco-chewing janitor and a patient in a psychiatric ward. And I remembered that Jesus said that only the sick need doctors. I remembered Paul saying that, whatever an evangelist's motives, it's good for people to talk about Jesus. So I concluded that I didn't need to worry about the preachers; I just needed to ask Jesus to find a way to meet with Greg.

In those months of dialogue I also saw the devastation wrought by the passion for pseudo-scientific theories on natural history among some Christians. Many of my students believe that six-day creationism is an essential Christian belief—that if the first chapters of Genesis can't be taken literally, then the whole Bible is a fraud. What tragic nonsense!

Before Greg and I corresponded, I didn't care. "You wanna believe the earth was created six thousand years ago? Whatever." But Greg helped me see that this kind of gaping ignorance promotes the perception that theologically conservative Christians are the enemies of learning.
There's much more good stuff in this description of the dialogue. If nothing else, maybe a few of the many theologically conservative readers of Christianity Today will get a glimpse of how others see them. Why not take a few minutes to read the entire article?

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:: Andrew 07:15 + ::
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