Luke Cawley. The Myth of the Non-Christian: Engaging Atheists, Nominal Christians, and the Spiritual But Not Religious. Downers Grove: IVP Books, 2016. See here to buy the book.
Evangelical Christians believe in sharing the Gospel with non-Christians, in hope that they will believe in Jesus Christ. According to Luke Cawley, there are a variety of ways to do this because there are many kinds of non-Christians. Some are receptive to classic apologetics because they want to know if Christianity can answer tough questions and has a solid evidential foundation. But some non-Christians are not really asking those kinds of questions and may be more receptive to an approach that appeals to their heart. For Cawley, Christians who want to share the Gospel should try to identify where people are and to engage them in dialogue (provided they want to dialogue with Christians).
Cawley makes a lot of excellent points in this book. For example, he talks about the importance of Christian community. This can allow non-believers to observe that Christianity does not just work in books but is a lifestyle that people practice in real life. Cawley also talks about how faith in Christ can be a journey rather than a moment of decision. Cawley notes that this was even the case for Billy Graham (on some level), one who emphasizes making a decision for Christ.
The reason that I am giving this book five stars is that Cawley does not demonize or stereotype atheists, nominal Christians, or the Spiritual But Not Religious. He realizes that people in these groups are not all the same, and he tries to understand where people are coming from. He seeks to build bridges, not walls. He wants to hear people’s stories. A person could look at the title of this book and think that Cawley regards non-believers as witnessing projects in need of evangelical pat-answers. But Cawley rightly distances himself from that approach.
One evangelical view that has long upset me is the belief that atheists actually believe in God deep-down, but they choose not to believe because they do not want to submit to God. According to this view, the atheists’ problem is really spiritual, not intellectual. A lot of times, apologists seem to use this as a “Gotcha!” Cawley does not do that, though. He acknowledges that there are atheists who are angry with the God in whom they do not believe, for understandable reasons. But he also acknowledges that there are many atheists who are not angry and may actually be open to engaging in dialogue. Some atheists may even want to believe but find that they cannot. And what about those who don’t want for the Christian God to exist? Cawley does not judge them. He astutely notes that many of us cannot help how we feel. Instead of dismissing them, Cawley asks where the dialogue can go from there. For that alone, this book deserves five stars.
I rolled my eyes at some of Cawley’s apologetic arguments, while finding some of his arguments intriguing. But his approach is far from authoritarian. Cawley comes across as someone giving people things to think about rather than telling them what to think.
The book has a lot of interesting stories. I believe that things can work out constructively, from a Christian standpoint, as Cawley presents. But I have difficulty envisioning all situations working out that neatly. Atheists and other non-Christians have their own set of answers to the apologetic arguments of Cawley and others. It’s as not as if they haven’t thought through those issues. And, as Cawley knows, there are many Christian communities that are not healing places, or places that model how to follow Christ.
I cannot recommend this book enough. It is my favorite IVP book that I have read thus far. Perhaps the reason is that it exemplifies how I wished that Christians had treated me, when I had doubts, questions, and downright hostility towards Christianity.
I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.