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EPISODE 11: From a Godless World
Former atheist Stuart moved from a world without God to one where God changed his whole world.
Stuart's new book, Faith that Lasts: A Father and Son on Cultivating Lifelong Belief, is co-authored with his son, Cameron. They reconsider each myth in the light of the Christian faith and their own experiences. When our confidence is rooted in the good news of Jesus, our homes can be places of honest conversation, open-handed exploration, and lasting faith.
Hello, and thanks for joining in. I'm Jana Harmon, and you're listening to the Side B Podcast, where we listen to the other side. Sometimes we look at others, and we think, "They will never change their views, their lives, their decisions, what they believe." Sometimes we think to ourselves we will never change our views, our lives, our decisions, our beliefs. That certainly was the case for the majority of the 52 former atheists that I've interviewed. Two-thirds of them thought they would never change from being an atheist, much less become a Christian.
That begs the million dollar question: What would it take for someone to change their lives so dramatically? More than that, what did it take? What was the catalyst that turned someone so resolute against God to a place of openness towards God? More specifically, towards Jesus Christ. In my research, the catalyst was different for different people. There's certainly not one size fits all. For some, it was sudden. For others, quite gradual. For some, it was a crisis moment. For others, it was along the process of their life. It may have been prompted by existential dissatisfaction, looking for something more in life. For others, it may have been a quest to disprove religion or even to quest for truth itself. Still others, it was an unlikely spiritual experience. It may have been meeting a Christian for the first time who completely broke down their negative stereotypes of Christianity, someone who was intelligent and kind, and well, normal. Someone who makes Christianity look attractive, even plausible.
Each person's story is different. If you've been listening to these stories of change through this podcast, I would encourage you to begin actively searching for and identifying the catalyst, that thing or combination of things that moved someone towards considering another life-changing perspective.
Today's story is of a former atheist, someone, if you looked on from the outside, you would never in a million years think they would ever change, but change he certainly did. Not only did his own life dramatically change, but since his conversion to Christianity, he has spent his life helping many others see things differently as well. I hope you'll listen closely to his surprising journey to see if you can identify the catalyst that opened him towards another direction.
Welcome to the Side B Podcast, Stuart. It's so great to have you!
My privilege to be here. I look forward to talking with you.
Well, we're looking forward to hearing your story, but before we get into the story, Stuart, why don't you tell me a little bit about who you are, where you live, perhaps what you do?
Well, I am originally from Glasgow in Scotland and was raised in a non-Christian home. I became a Christian when I was just turning 21 in Glasgow in Scotland and then pretty much got involved in a call to mission right from the beginning of my Christian life, so I moved to Vienna, Austria, where I was working as a part of a team taking Bibles and literature into the Communist world at that time. I operated there for a number of years, and I actually met my wife, who was from America, Mary, on the team, was married in Chattanooga, then went back to Vienna, and both my kids, Cameron, my daughter Catherine, who works here in Atlanta, were born in Austria, where we lived for, in total, 20 years, so brought me to sunny Atlanta from Glasgow through Vienna, Austria, to this beautiful city of Atlanta.
It sounds like you've journeyed quite a long way in your life since atheism. Why don't we go back to the beginning and I guess this would be in Scotland. And why don't you talk with me a bit about what life is like in Scotland in terms of, I guess, worldview or view of God or those kinds of things that were in your world as you were growing up.
Yes, well the Scotland I grew up in—of course Scotland has a rich Christian heritage, but that's a long way off now. Many people would see Scotland today, and particularly as I was growing up, as very much a secular country. My dad was a product of the second world war in a sense. He'd been a young man in the Royal Air Force, and the home that I grew up in—my mother had actually fled Christianity. She had been raised in a very devout Nazarene home in a Holiness-type church, and she had chafed against the restrictions. She loved her parents but hated the restrictions of that kind of life, so Dad became a ticket out to her. So when they met, fell in love, and got married, really it was a new beginning for her, and so the home I grew up in was one in which there was kind of a religious background roughly because of Mom's background, but they had really chosen very much a kind of a party lifestyle in a sense. I don't mean that in an overt way, but I mean, drinking and smoking became a big thing to my mother, for some reason, and at the weekends, that was a big part of our household. And for me, growing up, in terms of ideas, it was very much the postwar years. Economics were a bit tight. And as far as Christianity went, there was very little presence of it, other than the symbols of Scotland. I never saw it as having any traction or relevance or value in my life whatsoever, and my interests were just more like a little boy, the usual kind of things of adventure and having excitement and fun, and that's pretty much the way it was until my teen years.
So you may have had some kind of cultural reference of God or Jesus, on a building somewhere perhaps, but it obviously wasn't in your home.
Yes. My grandmother was devout, and I really didn't like her because she had . . . . I guess I'd her hear quote Bible verses now and again, but I was kind of a raucous kid, and I think not a kid that stayed within the lines, which led to, when I became a teenager, then my parents saw me being drawn to a gang culture in the east side of Glasgow, so my dad, being at that time doing well in his business, bought a house on the west side of Glasgow, which is a more middle class area, and I hated it from day one, right from the beginning. As I went to the school there, I was just alienated and ended up skipping class most of the time, and then, as many young teenagers do in Scotland, I found my way to get alcohol. You know, usually if you hung around pubs, you could get some drunk to buy you booze, and I started getting drunk at an early age, so that really began a pattern that was to have kind of a sad outcome in my early teens, actually.
So you really pushed against convention, it sounds like. You wanted to go your own way from an early age. I guess . . . . Did you find other friends? Or were you part of that gang culture? Or did you find other friends that reinforced that kind of dark lifestyle or party lifestyle?
Like kids do, you find the other kids who are the wild kids, so there was a guy in particular, this Ian Cassells, a friend and I. We teamed up, and he was the one that introduced me to Alice Cooper and some of these things, so there was music that was, at that time, it was that real youth rage kind of music, Alice Cooper being kind of there, and of course, the Stones and the Beatles were more in the background. They were classic groups, but this more angry rock. And then . . . so drinking and fighting particularly. It all led to a conclusion where I came home drunk one night and ended up getting into a major fight with my father, as he had seen I'd been drinking, and he actually hit me, and I . . . . All this pent-up rage towards him came out, so I had this knock down, slap out fight, which led to me then basically leaving home when I was 15 years of age.
Wow! What was that life like? Trying to survive on your own as a teenager?
Well, there was two pieces to it. First was the excitement of being on your own and having nobody to tell you what to do, but the other thought was of survival. I mean I didn't know how to wash my own clothes, didn't know how to cook my food, and I didn't realize the money that I was earning, which wasn't terribly much at that point, had to go to pay my rent and cover my costs, you know? But what it did do is it brought me into a world where I guess I was seeking a new family, and during that time, I ended up beginning to work in a dance hall as a bouncer. A guy that had invited me and we'd met in the shop I was working in. And that opened up a whole new world for me. This was the world of parties and girls, and I mean, a dance hall, when I say a discotheque, there were about 1,500 to 2,000 kids over the weekend, so it was a huge place, and I was part of the security team there. And yeah, that just brought me into a new way of just living for my passions and pleasures, really, you know?
So that was, in a sense, your life, just living for the moment, living for pleasure. Was that your personal philosophy in life? Just kind of eat, drink, merry, and then we die. Or-
Well, it grew to be that. I got recruited by a guy who was part of a car business but involved in Glasgow's darker side, and he wanted young drivers to drive cars from one place to another. I didn't have a driver's license, but I ended up working for him. And he took a shine to me, and I liked what it was. These were tough, hard men on the south side of Glasgow, and of course, I began to get trusted as a faithful lieutenant, so I was in that world, and things began . . . driving nice cars, earning a bit of money, beginning to do some stupid things, and yeah, my philosophy became . . . I mean, just being wild and free. I guess I can remember we'd have these drunken parties, and sometimes we'd buy so much beer and whatever, vodka usually, and we would joke that we'd drink till we passed out. Well, the only one that ever did, as far as I remember, was me.
So yeah, that was the world, and everything in that seemed that that was the trajectory. Just live for passion and pleasure. Also against my parents' middle class lifestyle, I was involved in a kind of criminal set and seemed to rejoice just that suckers lived by rules, and those of us who were the wise dogs just did what it took to get ahead, you know?
Right, right. Wow. It sounds like . . . I imagine, as a teenager, living in that world would be somewhat exciting, although a little bit dangerous, but I guess, as a young man, though, it seemed like you were living the life in your own way and on your own terms.
Well, we glorify all this today, Jana. I mean, I look at a lot of movies and things, that kind of stuff, and of course, that's exactly right. There was money. And I mean of course there were a lot of boring times and hard times and stupid times in the midst of it all, but the idea of thinking in your mind you're a tough guy and that you're making money and you're cool and all this kind of stuff. Well, then, in the midst of that, I was asked to help a lady, a married woman, who was living as the lover of a policeman and had got into some trouble. This guy was kind of extorting her, and I was asked, with my colleague, to help her out and see if I could get her money back from this cop, which I did, and this girl ended up moving in with me, so all of a sudden . . . She was 23 years old. I was then 18, 19, and I had this beautiful girl. She wanted to live with me then. Driving cars. And I thought everything was pretty cool. So I had achieved what I felt was kind of a nice status in life, and I was pretty happy with the way things were at that point, you know?
Right, right. Wow. So with achieving this nice status—you had a girl, you had a job, and you were getting along—so there was really no sense or even thought of God of in your life. We there any kind of spirituality or interest in anything? Or exposure to? Or anything like that during this time?
There was some very dark stuff. This was around the time—I don't know if you remember Peter Blatty film The Exorcist?
Well, I had some friends that were occultists. At least that's what they said they were. I didn't really believe it, but I'd gone and saw that film, and I have to say, it really freaked me out. It scared me, and I don't know why. I mean, I didn't believe in God, so I thought, but I certainly seemed to believe in the devil, and then, with my colleagues one night at a party I was having in my apartment, these guys . . . a couple of them went off in another room with some of the girls, and they were supposedly doing some kind of a seance thing. Anyway, something did happen. Something happened. I remember there was a sound like a cracking on a window. The whole place went very cold. And everybody got freaked out. And in fact, the party came to a sudden end, and this big friend of mine, Big Stuart. I was Little Stuart; he was Big Stuart. He was absolutely freaked out. I'd never seen someone so scared in all my life. He said, "Something's happened here," and one of our friends was a Catholic, so we commissioned him to go and find a priest and come and do something in the house, which the priest laughed at and didn't come.
But the long and short of that was we had to abandon that. I moved out of that apartment within about three or four days. There was something freaky. And that always left a backstop. So that was a spiritual thing but not on the usual variety that most people would tend to, you know?
Right, right. So there was this sense, this presence or exposure to dark spirituality. You felt a touch of it in The Exorcist as a film, but you also felt a touch of it in your own apartment, so much so that you moved out. That must have been incredibly frightening. I can't imagine! But I'm just curious—if you encountered or had a sensibility that there was a dark spiritual world, did it ever cross your mind that there might have been some alternative form of spirituality that's good or God or any of that?
I think the key that came . . . and there was some follow through from that because there were some subsequent dark experiences, and the only word I could use about that time was terror, Jana. I mean I'd never felt fear . . . . You know, we'd been in fights and things. I mean, people get scared when you're fighting, and you can get hurt or winded or whatever, and this was a different kind of thing. This was of a whole 'nother dimension.
And the next encounter with spirituality was when, after a couple of years, Joyce came in one day and asked me what did I think about Jesus. And that absolutely threw me for a loop because I never thought anything about Jesus, other than the fact, you know, whatever his name was, but I thought that he was probably maybe a spaceman who had came to earth and they were so primitive . . . I mean, it's so naive, the way I thought . . . but they worshiped him. So I basically had written Christianity off. It had no traction whatsoever. But then she ended up having a real encounter with Christ and became a Christian, and we split up because I really didn't understand any of that and wasn't interested, so that was the beginning of a more positive turn.
Ah. So even the thought of Jesus or her becoming a Christian was very off-putting to you, I guess.
Yeah. There was nothing attractive or interesting. To me, I think my philosophy was kind of a Nietzschean view, that life was for just take. It was seize whatever you wanted and keep it. And then there was a survival of the fittest type of thing. So probably a lot of ideas that I hadn't really fully understood, but they were in my bloodstream, and the idea of any transcendent order of a God or Christ or forgiveness or any of that, even goodness just wasn't there really.
Wow. So you were willing to give up the relationship because you didn't want to have anything to do with God or Jesus. What happened or proceeded from there? Or actually, I'm curious, how is it that your friend, Joyce, became a Christian in this world that you all inhabited?
Well, there's two things to that. One was that Joyce was really like, now that I know the Bible, she was really the woman at the well who had multiple relationships, many men, seeking in lust in a sense and relationships for love and never finding it, and in desperation, while she was with me, she'd had an affair even while she was with me, she reached out and went to a church one day. And she'd been witnessed to by a nice Christian couple in the tax office in Glasgow where she was working, and they had a big impact on her, and she walked into a church and said, "I need to know God." So she had a genuine, I mean a very strong encounter of forgiveness and healing and really meeting God, and when she told me this, I just basically told her to get lost. So for about two or three weeks, and I was mad, and in fact, I didn't know who this God was, but I thought, "Whoever these Christians are, if I ever meet them, I'll put them right," you know?
Right. Well, yeah. That's who you were, right? You were a bouncer. You were someone who didn't mind going after.
Yeah. So that's actually what happened. A couple of weeks later, the Christian friends, who I didn't know were praying for me, suggested to Joyce that she contact me and ask me to come to their house, so she called me, and thought, "Oh, maybe she's coming back," and of course, it wasn't that. She wanted me to meet them. So I went with a chip on my shoulder and ready to do battle, and it didn't work out that way.
Well, we got there, and they were obviously . . . they were quite excited to meet me. They were very nice. The guy was kind of a soft, gentle human being, which I didn't take to. That wasn't my world. The wife was a kind of cutie, and I liked her, and I didn't know she was an evangelist. And of course Joyce was there. And they began to share, and I mean I began by throwing back all kinds of stupid comebacks which I think were relevant, but as the night wore on, they testified about who God was, who Jesus was, about sin, about brokenness, and of course, Joyce continued to tell her testimony. And yeah, I don't know how long it was, but eventually I became there was a presence. There was something that I couldn't quite put my finger on, kind of an intuition of something, but this time not dark. Good. And after them sharing for some time, I ended up going up to their bathroom, because I became convinced it was real, and thought, "Well, God if you're there, and this is true, and Jesus really . . . You are the Lord, then I need to know You. I'm a mess. I need help, and I need forgiveness, and I've done some real wrong here," so I prayed in their bathroom and then ended up . . . came down and told them, and they all started hugging me, and that was really a "Whoa!" That was a bridge too far at that point, but something began then. That was the beginning of the story, really, for me.
Wow! What a dramatic shift in such a short period of time, in just a moment practically. How old were you here?
Just turning 21. It was just on the cusp of my 21st birthday.
Right. Because you had been thinking and living in seemingly the opposite way of what the truth that you had just accepted.
Everything that I stood for was so violent. I mean everything, language, behavior, thought. I mean it just . . . . Violence and anger was a central part of this, because I really had been kind of framed to believe that if someone crosses you, you hit them.
And if the police become involved, well hit them, too! I mean, a see if they can get you kind of thing, you know? So it was really a messed up idea.
So talk with me then about this sudden change, yet you just chose, and that evening, because of the reality of the presence of God, of who God is and who you were before God and need of forgiveness. You obviously found that gospel, that good news of Jesus that actually forgives and, like Joyce found, that loves you no matter what or who you are or what you've done. I imagine that concept by itself was just transformative, but I can imagine how this might play out in your life. I mean such a sudden change, and like you say, so many things differently. How did your life change? Did you start reading the Bible? Did you go to church? Your heart, your mind, all of those things. Talk with me about that.
Yeah. I mean, gosh, Jana, it all happened very quickly because I think the passage that struck me very clearly was 2 Corinthians 5:21 or 17 first of all. You know, "If any man is in Christ, he's a new creation." 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, "He made him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in him." And all of that was really impressed very deeply on my soul right from the beginning. So I mean I was told . . . These people who led me to the Lord were very devout and encouraged me, of course, to come to their church, which was a Brethren Assembly in the east side of Glasgow, and the Bible and prayer. I was taught . . . Of course, I started, from day one, just starting to read the Bible. I didn't really understand it very much, but I really got into reading nonstop and of course it was like . . . I couldn't even describe what effect it had on me. Reading and then praying, and I went to this little church, and then I started having fellowship with these Christians, and of course, they were a whole different world. I mean, the way that they talked and acted. They didn't swear. They didn't do any of the wild stuff.
And I kept thinking, this may be kind of boring, I thought, but then they could have fun without alcohol or without violence. They could enjoy each other. And so really, for me, because I'm still in my old world. I was caught between my work world, where I was still with these gangsters basically, and then every moment of the day I could, I would go to the church or go to this young couple who discipled me. I'd go to their house, and it was simply extraordinary to me. It was marvelous, you know?
Wow, wow. So your life and your decisions and your choices just started changing. I guess you didn't stay in the work that you knew?
Well, several things happened very quickly. I'd only been a believer for about two weeks, and I was encouraged by this couple to go to this Christian camp. I didn't even know what a Christian camp was. And normally I worked seven days a week, and monthly, the guy who I worked for—I was his lieutenant. He normally wouldn't be keen to give me time off, but anyway, for some reason, he let me know, and off I went, and at that camp, God really spoke to me. There was Bible teaching every day. There were games. There were all kinds of things. And I got just turned upside down about the lordship of Christ, mission, and God spoke to my heart very clearly, Joyce and I, about . . . . We thought that, now that we were Christians, she would get divorced, and we would get married. I just thought that was the right thing to do. And then I heard some teaching there that put that into question, and that became one of the first tests of my early Christian life. Because really we were . . . I thought the Lord was asking us to split up, and I did that, and that was very, very hard on us both. But that was the first test of obedience early on in my Christian faith.
Oh, my. And I'm curious: The folks that you worked with. I imagine they were somewhat surprised by your life change and your decisions.
Yeah. That's the understatement. Well, first of all, they thought I had been brainwashed, so there was a real attempt on their part to try to help me and then to mock the faith. I mean, they would do some ridiculous things, like, after several weeks of talking . . . Of course, I didn't know anything, and they would ask questions about, "Well, where is God?" and, "Where is Jesus?" "Where's the proof?" and all this kind of stuff. "It's a lot of nonsense." "You don't need to believe that." At first, it was out of curiosity. Then it became anger.
Then it became a determination to de-convert me, and at one point, they were cutting out all the centerfolds from Playboy magazine and all this kind of thing and posting them all over the office, so there were naked women all in our office. And it was at that time that I discovered there was a thing called a Christian bookstore, which I didn't even know existed. And when I went to this Christian bookstore, they had these things called tracts, and you could buy them, whole bunches of them, like 100 for a pound or whatever it was at the time. So I bought hundreds of these tracts, and then I would go back and paste them all over these naked women! These tracts. And then when Monty and the guys came in, they would tear off . . . . They tore all the pictures off the wall because of all these Bible verses all over the top of them. So the literature war started at the beginning, and that went on for a little while, but it stopped fairly quickly.
Wow. Okay. But they were obviously posing questions to you that you didn't know how to answer, and they were determined to de-convert you and de-construct your faith. I wonder, did that kind of push back, did that compel you in any determined way to look for those answers that you didn't seem to have at the beginning?
I think in a curious way. Because they asked questions, and then, as I would talk to my Christian friends . . . . They would point me to the Bible, and say, you know, "Show me the answers," and of course, as I began to read the scripture, I found there were answers. So, over time, I began to read the gospels and to find out what it actually said. And the caricatures of Christianity, I realized that they were throwing were not true, so really, in the early days, it was developing an apologetic in the sense of, "I know that you think this is what it says, but that's not what it says. This is what it means." So part of it was learning to understand, well what was the gospel actually about. What were the claims? And many of the things that they believed—they still rejected the truth, but I could answer the caricatures fairly readily. And I think that was probably a good school to get me started on my own Christian defense of how to do evangelism, how to answer hard questions, in a sense.
You know, I can just imagine the skeptic listening to this and listening to your journey and thinking, "Oh, he just found answers to satisfy the questions just because he had already converted." You know what I'm saying? That you found the answers that you were looking for. So I wonder what you would say to the skeptic about that, in terms of—I know that, as you were reading the Bible, that the caricaturing of Christianity was being defeated in your own mind. But for those who might be pushing back on you still, or pushing back on this story, how would you answer that?
Yeah. Well, there's two things I would say, Jana. One is, first of all, we'd need to lengthen the story out. One would be that I wrestled. I had doubts myself. I took the doubts that I had—when I came across hard passages in the Bible, and most of them were hard because I didn't understand many of them, I would argue with my Christian friends to try and get an interpretation to understand, so I didn't give them an easy time. But there was this experience of God that was real. It was an encounter. It wasn't just an idea. The heart of this was there were concepts involved, but I was overwhelmingly gripped by the presence of God and by ongoing answers to prayer.
The second part would be, as my Christian life unfolded, I began to deal more with the objections and then try to read books. Because in my first Christian experience when I went on mission the following year, I was arrested and put in jail in Yugoslavia taking materials into the Communist world, and I was interrogated repeatedly. So these were Marxist people. If someone could talk me out of this by a set of ideas and concepts, then I would give it up, but I was willing to expose myself to the thought of others. And I have tried to do that all my Christian life since then. And if there are objections, that doesn't mean to say all the answers I've found have been tidy or nice or neat, but I found that the Christian faith stands up to robust examination, and I don't find that that's a threat. And it wasn't just my emotions. It was an experience, including my mind, that was involved in my conversion.
Thank you for clarifying that. Because I think it could be very easily misinterpreted, I guess, but yes, very much you're encountering with a Person, the Person of God, in a strong and powerful presence, as well as, like you say, answer to prayer and then it just becomes more fully orbed intellectually and in your heart and in every way, I guess so much so that I'm surprised that you, it sounds like, almost immediately changed your life from the vocation that you had almost into mission. You must have been strongly compelled.
Yes. I mean I really heard . . . I mean they use the word "a call," but I did hear a call. I was in Moniaive in Scotland at the time, and they're preaching particularly from Luke 9 and Jesus saying, "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me," and I really knew that was to me. And I had to follow. So I didn't know what that meant, but what eventually I did was I sold into my bank accounts. I redid the kitchen at my mom's house, fitted that out. I put a coffee bar into my church. I gave the rest to mission and sold everything else I had, my car included. And took a suitcase and joined Operation Mobilisation, believing, at that point, that was it. I was leaving, never to go back.
That's quite a transformation, I must say, in terms of your own purpose, your own understanding of reality, and who God is, who you are, and your role in the world. It sounds like you had found something you wanted others to find as well. I mean, you were willing to give up everything for Jesus and give up everything so that others could know what you knew.
Well, because at the heart of this . . . . I mean I saw a young man killed before my eyes. I was involved in fights. I saw people on drink and drugs. I saw the worst of humanity in those days, in the early days. And I thought that was reality. When I realized that I lived in a world that God created, that there was a God that loved us, a God that knows us, that there is a destiny and a possibility, that salvation . . . . Not just going to churches and being religious or becoming a conservative person, but understanding what we're made for, that there is a type of life, and there's eternal life beyond this, that this world is not the end of the story, it's just a stage in it, but it's important in his own right. I mean, I ended up having categories for truth and goodness and beauty and meaning and family. Things that I had just no idea how rich this was, and Christianity was not boring.
I mean, the people I was working with were laying down their lives. I had people who died while we were in Vienna because they were missionaries. My wife was on a team in Turkey where her team leader was shot dead at the door, and his wife nearly at the end of her pregnancy with their first child. So these were people who are willing to die because of Christ, not just as an idea, as a concept, but as a living reality. So, for me, it was an all or nothing. I mean, I had found the truth and reality, and I wanted to live my life and share my life and share the truth of this life, as I was commanded by the Lord, with as many as I could for the rest of my days.
Wow. That's really amazing. It reminds me a lot of those who had been with Jesus at the very beginning, and that they died for not only what they believed but what they saw, what they believed they saw and had an experience with Christ, and they knew it was true. And that mandate, or that experience, actually, in a sense, goes on with a real God who really exists who shows his presence when you call, so you have come a long way. I mean you're still in the mission field in a sense, but in a very different way than being overseas in Yugoslavia. You still travel the world. Talk with me a little bit about what you're doing now.
Well, in my later journey in Europe, I developed in leadership and things and would want to speak up about the Christian faith, and I knew about apologetics. I'd never thought of apologetics as my front-line thing, but I was involved in Christian leadership and witness. I knew that we had to do that. We had to give a reason for the hope that was in us, and we had to do that against Marxism and existentialism and all the ideas of this time, and in my own journey, I'd done a lot of reading and thinking because I'd had hundreds of hours of conversations with people of faith, no faith, or other faiths about the meaning of Christianity and to bring it into the public square. So I was asked to be a public voice for the Christian faith, either helping the thinker to believe or the believer to think, and that's really kind of what I've been involved in for the last 23 years.
So you've really dealt thoroughly with and have a really deep understanding of these worldviews around the world, all these competing worldviews in our very, very pluralistic world, but yet you remain convinced that the Christian worldview is worth contending for. We encounter so many of these different worldviews really in our own lives today, no matter where you are, because of the global nature of technology. And we feel all these different worldviews pressing in on us.
Yeah. I learned I had to do my homework. A lot of this was reading books and talking to people, so I would ask people, finding out what were the questions that we all had to answer and looking for ways to compare them. I mean, I've talked to many Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and of course atheists in abundance. But yes, the truthfulness of the Christian faith and its ability to answer the question in a way that none of the others do has been one of the reasons why I remain committed to the Christian faith. I mean I fully . . . . Its coherence, its clarity. It doesn't mean it's easy. It doesn't mean it's tidy. Are there things that make us sometimes draw our breath. There are passages in the Old Testament and so forth that give us pause, but the God of the Old and New Testaments is one, and I am fully comfortable in my faith and confident to share it and leave the onus on the individual to weigh it up and consider the evidence, the facts, and the arguments for the Christian faith if they'll give it an honest look.
And it's my hope that there are some curious skeptics or perhaps honest seekers who are exploring or even considering the possibility of God and Jesus Christ through Christianity. If there are those listening, what would you say to, say, a nonbeliever or a skeptic for them to consider the reality of God and Christianity?
Well, there's all kinds of books that can be read, and sometimes those are a mixed bag. There are testimonial books. But I would obviously encourage a person to begin with the gospels themselves and just read particularly Mark or John's gospel and then they could, by all means, ask critical questions. Talk to someone who's a believer. Talk to someone in the faith. Let them answer your skeptical questions. We're not afraid, as a Christian, of the questions, "Is the Bible true?" "Why should I trust the gospel?" Just reading the gospels themselves, by the earliest witnesses to the story of Jesus, and they're not all exactly the same. There are four gospels, which are like four angles looking on a diamond, and I think the questions will rise from the text, from what you see in that, and why we believe that Christianity is true, why it is a better answer than atheism or the alternatives.
Ravi used to use this idea of origins, meaning morality, and destiny as four questions that every worldview should be answering. We can compare them, what it says about origins, what is the meaning of life, is there meaning in life, is there a basis and a ground and a focus for morality, death, is there something after death or not? How does the other world system or the person's worldview answer those questions? How does the gospel answer those questions? And when I look at what the Christian answers to those questions are, I find that it offers a compelling reason intellectually, as well as morally and existentially, for a life well lived, and to meet God.
Because that's what it comes down to at the end of this. If God's just an idea . . . we're not talking about concept. If there's no God there, there's nothing to ask for. But if we knock at the door and someone on the other side answers, then now we're accountable, and that's often the reason why people don't want to even give it a shot.
Right, right. And just for those who perhaps haven't looked at a Bible before and don't understand the reference of the gospels themselves, can you explain where the gospels are or what they are in the Bible?
Well, the gospels are found in the New Testament, and if you have just a simple New Testament, it starts . . . . The first four books are Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and the gospels are the recordings of those who witnessed the live of Jesus and saw the events and particularly contain the teachings and basically they're really like a theological biography, if you like. Written in an ancient style, of course, but to ask the question—each one of them asks the question, "Who is this? Who is this Jesus?" So that's the question that they were written for, and I think, if you would read them and give them an honest hearing, you would understand then some of the questions that came out as to the back story into which Jesus came, the story of the universe, the story of covenant. What do those words mean? Why were they important? Why did Jesus die? And what difference did that death make. And resurrection. Is resurrection a possibility? And if it happened, what would that mean? Well, those are the questions that the gospels seek to address, and therefore, that's always a good place, I think to start.
For the Christians who are listening to your story today, Stuart, how could you encourage them? You just spoke about the seeker, perhaps, taking with somebody who actually is living the Christian life. How would you encourage us as Christians to perhaps engage better or understand the questions that are being asked of us?
Well, Jana, there's nothing like being willing to witness to deepen your faith because you have to break the sound barrier by talking to people and then be willing to engage their questions. There's so much fear and laziness in the church, so that we don't share because either we don't know or we don't care enough. I think evangelism—it's not a duty. We're called to be witnesses. That's part of what Jesus said in Matthew 28. Sent us into all the world to make disciples. So we should be willing to talk to people, to ask them questions, to share the love, and that means we have to do our homework. It doesn't mean to say we have to study theology completely and memorize every sermon, but we will need to do some of our homework over time. Don't be afraid of questions! When someone comes with a question you can't answer, you can go do your homework. Find an answer! But if we love people and we believe that this is the truth, then out of compassion and conviction we should be motivated enough to try to find answers to pass the truth along. And not be afraid.
And Jesus said, "Lo, I am with you always." The Holy Spirit will be with us in our witnessing and how we witness and what we share, so it becomes a part of the adventure of faith and walking with God in this world and being witnesses, to His life, to His love, and to His care, in our time.
I don't want to end before I give you an opportunity, Stuart, to tell us about a new book that you and your son have written that's about to be published. Would you talk with us about that?
Yes. My son came up with the idea of us writing a book together because we get a lot of questions here about raising kids and the family and particularly in the hostile climate that often is our culture today, movies and music and so forth. So because I was raised in a non-Christian home and then I raised my kids, of course, I was always terrified that I would inoculate my kids against the gospel by maybe my imperfections, my lifestyle. By God's grace, they trusted the Lord, so we're grateful for that. The book that we've written together is Faith That Lasts: A Father and Son on Cultivating Lifelong Belief. So what we're doing in the book is to talk about some of the questions that we get from Christian parents, and some of what we felt were the mistakes made, particularly three big ones. Using fear as a controlling mechanism in the home, believing that information alone saves and trying to bombard your kids just with facts, and then outsourcing children or kids to experts to try and save them or help them or whatever. And really what we want to talk about is the home and the parenting and the role of witnessing and taking the home as a place where hard questions can be dealt with safely, in a loving, safe environment. So the book comes out towards the end of the year. It will be on Intervarsity Press, and we're quite excited and hope it will be a conversation starter.
Excellent, excellent. I can't wait to get my hands on that. I know it's going to be a wonderful resource for so many Christians and parents alike. So thank you, Stuart. Your story is extraordinary. It really is one literally coming from darkness to light, to the person of Jesus, who is light and life and truth, and wow, I'm inspired by it.
Sometimes I think that you can pre-judge someone or even yourself, saying, "I'll never change my mind," or, "They will never change their mind," but in your case, that wasn't the case. It's truly extraordinary that someone can come from such a place of darkness to an amazing life in Christ. So thank you for sharing that with us.
My pleasure, Jana, and I wish you every success with this, and may God bless the ministry and the opportunities to just talk to people and dialogue about important ideas and ideas that lead to life.
Thanks for tuning in to the Side B Podcast to hear Stuart's story. You can find out more about Stuart and his new book, Faith That Lasts, by looking at this episode's notes. For questions and feedback about this podcast, you can reach me by email at [email protected]. If you enjoyed it, please subscribe and share this podcast with your friends and social network. In the meantime, I'll be looking forward to seeing you next time, where we'll be listening to the other side.