Recently on a college campus in the midwest I was informed by InterVarsity staff about a certain philosophy professor — “in fact, he’s sitting over there” — who sometimes talks with our students.
He’s an atheist, of course.
I went over and introduced myself and sat down.
He had no idea what to expect from this stranger from Minnesota. Nor was I quite sure what I was getting into.
But after a few minutes of dishing up Kant and Hume with some Descartes on the side, we were off and running.
Two observations after a lively hour of discussion:
1. Scattered: Atheist Professor (AP) lacks an organizing center. His views are patchwork.
2. Defining moment for AP: came not simply through philosophical speculation but by “losing” a female friend to Christianity when they were both teenagers. Subsequently, his reading of a Billy Graham book “gave me no guidance for becoming a better person. It was all about conversion.”
I’d like to be friends with AP. I found him to be engaging and enjoyable as we traded polemics regarding faith, ethics and the existence of God.
But for Christians there is something more important in this encounter than rational case-making. And that is . . . our manner.
Would the Christian — me, in this case — care for AP through careful listening and respectful body language (i.e, my manner)?
Would I truly hear AP’s defining moment above all the philosophy-chatter?
And would the aging intellectual come to trust a Christian again after losing faith in us 50 years ago?