Dismantling Caricatures, Building Informed Faith – Mike Bird’s Story

Oct 1, 2021

Side B Stories
Side B Stories
Dismantling Caricatures, Building Informed Faith - Mike Bird's Story
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Former atheist Dr. Mike Bird tells his story of moving from a culturally-informed skepticism and caricatured Christianity to finding that perhaps his presumptions were mistaken. You can find out more about Mike here: Twitter: @mbird12 Blog: https://www.patheos.com/blogs/euangelion/ Books: The New Testament in Its World: An Introduction to the History, Literature, and Theology of the First Christians (2019) How God Became Jesus: The Real Origins of Belief in Jesus’ Divine Nature – A Response to Bart D. Ehrman (2014) Evangelical Theology: A Biblical and Systematic Introduction (2013)


Episode Transcript

Hello, and thanks for joining me today. I’m Jana Harmon, and you’re listening to the Side B Podcast, where we listen to the other side. Whether or not an atheist or a Christian or something else, you have a view of reality. For most of us, we’ve typically caught our view of the world, rather than taught it. Just like the coronavirus, we’re constantly exposed to different ideas, even when we don’t or even can’t recognize or escape them. We hear and see messages from movies and music and news media and social media. Sometimes obvious, sometimes much more subtle. We tend to absorb messages without questioning, without really thinking about it. Messages slip in the back door and tell us how to think, what is true, and we believe it.

Unfortunately, in our polarized culture, we often believe the negative stereotypes of the other side without really listening to what that side really is or what that other person really thinks. Guarding our own position will do. Sitting down with another person is, well, too personal, too demanding, and perhaps too vulnerable. It’s easier to build a straw man and knock it down than to really engage with the ideas and the people who believe them. It’s easier to construct stereotypes and caricatures and dismiss without consideration. But what if we are dismissing something before we even give it a chance? What if we are missing something, something that actually answers life’s biggest questions in a way that is good and true and life giving? What if, just what if we actually listen without shutting down and turning off? We might be amazed at what we find.

That’s why I love the story that we’ll be listening to today. It’s the story of someone who had listened to the messages of culture, readily stereotyped and dismissed Christians as totally irrelevant, and yet today finds himself on the other side, because he took the time to figure out what Christianity really was and who Jesus really is.

Michael Bird was a former atheist that is now a Christian. He is a brilliant academic who writes and speaks in the areas of theology and apologetics. Welcome to the Side B Podcast, Mike.

Well, thank you for having me.

So, as we’re getting started, Mike, why don’t you tell me a little bit about yourself, where you’re from, your academic background, and what you do right now, and then we’ll start at the beginning of your story.

Okay. Well, I am Michael Bird. I am the academic dean and lecturer in theology at Ridley College in Melbourne, Australia. I’ve lived pretty much most of my life in Australia, growing up mostly in Brisbane, although I’ve done a few stints in different places around Australia, and I also lived in Scotland for a number of years. I am also married to my wonderful wife, Naomi, and together, we have four children. I graduated from Malyon College in Brisbane and the University of Queensland, where I did my doctorate on Jesus and the Origins of the Gentile Mission. I’ve written and edited around about 30 or so books on the early church, Jesus, the New Testament, theology, Christian thought, probably am most well known for a book, The New Testament in its World, which I co-wrote with Tom Wright, and a textbook called Evangelical Theology. So that, in a nutshell, is where I am and who I am.

That’s quite impressive, I must say. Set the context for us in terms of the world you grew up in and the way that they looked at religion and Christianity.

Yeah. Australia is a very peculiar country on the religious front. We were founded, or settled—this is obviously after or beside the local indigenous population. We were settled largely as a penal colony for the British, largely after another colony decided they no longer wanted to be in league with Britain, which I think would be your own America. So for roughly 200 years, Australia’s been settled, and it’s never really been known for having strong or very big religious commitment. And when Australia became federated as its own country in 1900, it was created to be deliberately secular, but secular in the sense it wasn’t going to be sectarian. We did not want to import the debates and divisions from United Kingdom largely between Protestant and Catholic and the fragmentation of Protestantism, so the Australian political setup could be described as something of a half way house between the British system and the American system, so our constitution is almost like a British appropriation of the American constitution when it comes to religion. We have kind of like a free exercise clause and sort of a non-establishment cause as well.

We have had a few moments of religious revival in Australia, mostly associated with the 1959 Billy Graham Crusade, which did have a big impact on the demographics and the religious contours of Australia. So Australia itself is sort of, in some sense culturally secular. It does have a Christian background. It’s generally had relative high rates of religious identification but not necessarily high rates of religious participation. And since the Second World War and the immigration that we’ve had, we’ve become religiously far more diverse, with people coming to Australia from all around the world, especially from Asia, since we’re closer to Asia than we are to the rest of the world. So Australia is a multicultural secular country. And it’s interesting. It’s different to America in many regards. We have more Buddhists than we have Baptists, for an interesting statistic. The largest denominations are, first of all Catholic, then Pentecostal, and then third Anglican. I can also say, of our twenty largest churches in Australia, all but one are Pentecostal in terms of their size. Only about I think maybe 10% to 15% of Australians would be involved with a church on a regular basis, and if you’re going for a real sort of core religious devotion, who attend church regularly, you’re looking at maybe 5% of the population.

Someone once said that religion in Australia is something of a private affair. Australians like the idea of other people being religious. They like the idea of other people being religious, but they don’t like the idea of having to do it themselves. But things, I think, have turned fairly more negative since the 1990s, where religion is now associated largely with terrorism in the case of Islam and clergy sexual abuse in regards to the Catholic Church, and I think Christians can generally be regarded almost as like a right-wing pressure group in some sense.

So we do have a somewhat adversarial context. In fact, on some global indices, Australia doesn’t have large amounts of government coercion in religion, but we do have a high rate of social hostility towards religion, and that can express itself in Islamophobia, antisemitism, and in attacks on churches. I’m an Anglican priest, and I’ve worn my clerical attire in downtown Melbourne only twice, and both times I’ve been attacked, once verbally, once physically. So it can be a somewhat adversarial context,  someone once described religion in Australia for most people—most Australians kind of float on a sea of apathy with a thin veneer of hostility, which is probably the best way to describe what religion is like in Australia.

So talk with me, then, about the context of religion in your home and in your community growing up.

Yeah. I grew in a fairly secular household in suburban Brisbane, where religion was pretty much a nonentity. We didn’t go to church. No one was particularly devout. There was no real religion. I think my stepfather had some sort of connection with his mother, who I think was Catholic or perhaps Orthodox. I don’t know for certain. My mother would really verbally abuse Jehovah’s Witnesses if they ever came to the door. She was not particularly interested in any sort of religious conversation. She also could be quite adversarial. Growing up, I had a little bit of religious education at school. My mother just sent me off to Church of England because that’s vaguely what she felt connected with since we were from the United Kingdom. There was the odd TV show. But pretty much growing up the only sort of religious influence I had was from watching Ned Flanders on the TV sitcom The Simpsons. That was pretty much the amount of education in Christianity, which meant most of what I understood and saw of it was based more on caricature or reputation than actual substance or actually knowing any Christians. I didn’t really know any Christians. And everything I thought and believed of them was largely based on this cultural caricature that I would see in various places.

So the stereotype is what you saw, and that wasn’t a very positive image of Christianity.

No, no. Yeah, that’s right. It was definitely sort of negative. People had a very determinist… God said so, so I believe it. That settles it. And a kind of blind faith. And willing to do things that were irrational and immoral in the Name of God.

So there really wasn’t much in your world that gave any kind of a positive image of Christianity at all. You didn’t know anyone personally. There was very little in the culture of lived or embodied Christianity, so the only thing that you were getting is from, I guess, a little bit of religious education at school and the negative messaging from culture. So it painted a fairly negative portrait for you. Nothing appealing about it, I presume. Nothing worth consideration. Yeah?

There was no sort of initial enticement. I didn’t really read the Bible. I may have seen the odd, I mean, like at 5 AM if I got up early enough, there may have been some sort of Christian Broadcasting Network cartoon, the odd maybe Easter Day Parade, something like that, maybe some vague suggestion of Christianity, but for the most part, it was simply a nonentity in the world that I grew up in and inhabited.

So it was totally just irrelevant. It was off the radar in a sense. Or if it came across the radar, it wasn’t pretty.

Yep. That’s correct, that’s correct.

So I presume the same for your friends and anyone around you, that it was just off the radar, just not a consideration.

Yeah. That’s right. I mean, out of all of my friends, none of them were religious. None of them went to church. We never discussed things about the nature of reality or God or the hereafter or who was Jesus. It was definitely the case where religion was simply a nonentity.

So you grew up that way, through school and despite whatever religious education you had. In religious education, did they talk about Christianity at all?

They did, they did. You would normally have the equivalent of a local school’s Sunday school teacher would come and teach us, and we’d sing a few songs, things like “Rock My Soul on the Bosom of Abraham,” which was fun. I didn’t mind that when you’re six, seven, or eight and you have this one hour of singing some funky songs. A little bit of a Bible story, which was mostly, I think, more moralisms than anything else. It’s not like we were being taken through the Nicene Creed or anything. It was not terribly theological.

Mike, as you were graduating and finishing high school, was there anything at that point, that pivotal point in your life where you were thinking about what was ahead, were there any religious touch points there?

Yeah, you know what? In hindsight, there was one. There was one. Now I have to say, for me, high school was a miserable experience. I had a very difficult home life. I had parents who were going through addiction issues and mental health issues, and it was a really miserable time. I didn’t have too many friends. I was okay academically. I got bullied a lot. Girls didn’t really like me in any sense. And it was a difficult time, so I was very eager to leave. And I’ve never been back to a high school reunion, but the last day of high school was weird. And it was weird because we had this like graduation speech. It wasn’t like a big American graduation. It was just a little bit more low key. But it was a weird day. They brought out three different speakers, and one was a local businessman who was explaining how he got his restaurant up and going, and we also had a wonderful doctor come in, and then the local Baptist pastor got up, and I thought, “Oh, man! Could this be any worse?”

And he went up and gave a few things you can’t do and you shouldn’t do with your life. But he did say something which did lodge in my mind, and years later, I would recall it. And again, I don’t know why it stuck because at the time it was just water off a duck’s back at the time. He said, “The most important decision you’ll ever make is whether you choose to accept or reject Jesus Christ.” And he said it with such pathos. He said it with real conviction. Now, at the time, I just said, “Okay, fine, whatever.” It didn’t mean anything. But I remembered his words, and I remember that day vividly, and it wasn’t until I went back, actually, as I would do later on down the track of visiting a church. Eventually, those words were recalled to me. I don’t remember a lot what happened to me in high school. I don’t remember anything about trigonometry or algebra. I got some basic typing skills, but that is literally… Besides typing, I got nothing good out of high school. Just that and a lot of bad memories. But I remember that Baptist pastor’s words, that the greatest decision you’ll ever make is whether you choose to accept or reject Jesus Christ. And years later, a few years later, that did resonate with me, and I have to say the man was right.

So religion to you at that time, it was a class in school, perhaps a few moral precepts, but what was religion? Was it just something that people needed or that people made up? What did you think religion was?

Religion was something that other people did that I didn’t need. And I didn’t really understand what it was about. It was something I haven’t given, to be honest, a lot of thought about. It was like some people like ice hockey. It was kind of like at that level. That’s what other people do, and I’m not other people. It was of no interest and concern to me, and I’d only had very limited exposures to certain aspects of it or its messaging.

So it was just something curious, a hobby that people did, but that was about it. So you’re going through high school and you graduate from high school, and what’s next on your journey?

Well, number one was to get away from my parents. My mother and stepfather were quite dysfunctional in their relationships. They both had some addiction issues. Home was not a terribly pleasant place for me. Living with them was spasmodically abusive in several different ways. The problem was I couldn’t go off to college or university because my grades weren’t that good. I was basically like a B student. I got good marks but for fairly easy subjects, which doesn’t work out well when you’re calculating your score to go into university, and that was difficult, so I couldn’t go off and do a course on psychology or criminology like I was hoping to do. I could maybe have done something like meat works inspection or horticulture at a regional university for farming or something. But that had no real interest to me. So the next option was to go and join the Australian Army, which was an odd decision, since I was certainly not built to be a soldier. When I was 17, I weighed about 47 kg, which is I think about 140 or 150 pounds, so joining the Army, going through the training, was physically, mentally, emotionally quite draining and quite taxing on a scrawny 17-year-old, but that’s what I went off and did next.

So what was your experience like in the Army? I guess that didn’t… Or did it bring you any closer to God along your journey? Or did it push you farther away?

I think it did draw me a little bit closer in several ways. The good thing is, it gave me a distraction. It helped me develop physically, mentally, and emotionally, and to fully mature from an adolescent into a proper adult, we would say. So it was good in my personal development. And when you’re part of the army, they do have chaplains, and those chaplains are, more often than not, a very good pastoral source. They’re there to help and advocate on behalf of the soldiers and the airmen and women and naval personnel and the like, so I’d go along to chapel once a week, because we all had to go, so that’s what we all did. And we’d spend a few days with the chaplains, doing things like character formation, and you got a few snippets of Christian faith. That wasn’t too bad. But there was nothing particularly like a lightning bolt. No aha moment. It was just a few snippets or a few appearances of their faith, but there was nothing that really rocked my world or shook me in any way. But I did mention it, and I did come across some genuine Christian people, and it was when I got to my first unit.

I mean I ended up becoming, of all things, a paratrooper as my first posting. I did meet some Christians, though, who I worked with, one of whom invited me along to church. And yeah, I went along. I was kind of bored because pretty much all I was doing was working hard during the day and just going out with guys at night to a pub or a nightclub, and I was getting pretty bored and sick and tired of that, so I thought I’d just do anything, and so I got invited to go along to church, and yeah, just out of curiosity and boredom, I went along. And I was expecting this church to be filled with a bunch of moralizing geriatrics, sort of people who were worried that somewhere, somehow someone was smiling. And I went along to this church, and it was nothing like that. They weren’t a bunch of senile, moralizing geriatrics. They were just very nice, normal people. They were schoolteachers, mums, dads, kids, teenagers, accountants, plumbers, secretaries, and the like.

And I got to know some of them, and they were very, very kind and nice to me, and they opened themselves up to me, opened up their homes to me, I got to know them, and I realized there was something different about them. Something very different. And it wasn’t just that they were nice people with good manners. There was something truly different about them. The difference was they knew the Lord Jesus Christ. And I kept going along to this church and eventually I heard the gospel message, that God sent Jesus to be our reconciler. He died on the cross for my sins, and He rose from the dead, and He offers us eternal life and a place with His family, and in 1994, I prayed to receive Christ, and the world was a different place after that and has been ever since.

What do you mean by that? The world has been a different place.

I guess, for me, things changed in my life. I had more joy in my life. I was less somber and melancholic, so I had a new sense of profound joy. Another thing I had is I just felt myself alive in a new way. There were also certain habits I won’t go into, but there were certain things… Certain desires in my life changed. There were certain things I no longer desired, so I had a reordering of my desires, so there was a change on that ground. And I felt myself drawn to doing things I would not otherwise have normally done, like reading the Bible. I developed an insatiable hunger to read the Bible and know more about it and to go to God, in my own church to the morning service. They didn’t have an evening service, so I went to a different church for the evening service. And that type of a thing. I was very comfortable talking about my faith and what I believed, and I even started doing, on my own, my own initiative, a little bit of lay apologetics and that type of thing. So it was that wonderful joy and glow of new life that I think I was experiencing.

It sounds like it was quite a transformation. You mentioned that you started reading the Bible. Had you ever read the Bible before that time in your life? What did you think that the Bible was? What did you find that perhaps was unexpected? Was it more than you thought it would be, I guess.

Yeah. It certainly was far more than I thought it would be. I mean I didn’t grow up with people quoting the Bible. I mean you’d hear the odd reference to it here and there. If anything, I might of got a little bit of Bible via Shakespeare or something like that. But I did not grow up in a home, a school, a family, a culture where the Bible is frequently quoted and mentioned. And it’s a culture where it’s very easy to be biblically illiterate and to not even know that you’re illiterate and that kind of thing. So reading the Bible for me was a brand new event, and there were all these things here, and I remember the first time I read the Gospel of John, that was an amazing experience. Looking at this Jesus, the God man who promises us eternal life. Reading Paul’s letter to the Romans for the first time. These are all very important and eye-opening things that cause these various lights in your spiritual life to suddenly flicker on, and you becoming thinking and reflecting. “Okay, what does it mean to live a life of holiness?” “What does it mean to obey the law of Jesus?” “How do I be a good Christian?” That type of a thing.

So reading the Bible was a profound experience, and it took me a while. Initially, I would read a bit, but then, as I kept reading more and more and more, I got a real big hunger for it, and I really enjoyed learning about what was in there and I enjoyed the sermons. I enjoyed the reflection. And being able to understand what was going on. I enjoyed attending Bible study. I enjoyed being discipled via a very, very lovely young pastor. So it was a real good time of initial warmth, hunger, and growth in the Christian faith.

That sounds wonderful! I’d like to back up for just a moment because, as I’m sitting here thinking that you went to church and you were expecting a rather senile version of Ned Flanders to be there and that’s not what you found. You found a group of warm and loving people that were quite different qualitatively in their life, and it was attractive. There was something that drew you in. You understood the gospel, and it obviously felt true or rang true enough to you that you accepted it as true. As an atheist moving into that, you obviously were open to what you were finding. You were actually surprised. Perhaps maybe your stereotypes were broken down.

And you found something good, but there’s a difference, I guess, between, “Wow, this is good, and these people seem good, and the message seems good,” and it being substantively true. More than just a story. It is a story. There are a lot of religious stories. But what is it about Christianity… As an atheist moving into that, and it sounds like you moved towards Christianity quite quickly, did you have any doubts? Were you scratching your head, saying, “This sounds good, but is it too good to be true? Is it historically true?” Did those questions come into your mind?

Yeah. They did a bit. Probably two ways. I would say the first thing was, becoming a Christian, it allowed things in my world to suddenly make sense. Now, I kind of recognized if there was no God, then ultimately we were living in a nihilistic universe and that everything about human life was… Ethics was… I wouldn’t have used this language at the time, but ethics without God or something transcendent is just a game with words. And is quite meaningless and is just something we pretend. We pretend that certain things are wrong. Whether you push an old lady in front of a bus or help her across the road, you could argue that, in an atheist universe, these actions are meaningless. They have no objective or real moral quality. They’re just things we project onto them. And what you project onto them is no more authoritative than what someone else might project onto them. So I knew that I lived in a morally meaningless universe.

The problem was I couldn’t live without moral meaning, and I knew some things were absolutely wrong, some things were evil, but I did not have a metaphysics that could support that kind of ethic. So when I became a Christian, it was suddenly the lights tripped on, and it’s like, “Oh, yeah! This is the reason why I believe evil exists.” “This is the reason why I believe in good.” “This is why people look at the stars and kind of wonder about things divine or heavenly.” A whole bunch of things made sense. That was kind of the more transcendental aspect of how believing in God allowed me to make sense of the world I experienced, rather than this sort of fragmented way I experienced things, of which atheism or unbelief was just something you had to put up with and just live with the contradiction of having a morally meaningless world but believing that things are morally meaningful.

On the other side, the question was who was Jesus? And I became convinced fairly quickly that he wasn’t just a religious teacher. He wasn’t myth. He wasn’t legend. He was a real historical person. I read on that a little bit, and I was convinced. I also began watching a few William Lane Craig debates around the same time, and that had a very profound effect on me, too. William Lane Craig was a brilliant communicator, brilliant defender of the faith. I think early in my faith I actually wrote to him, back in the mid 1990s, and he kindly wrote back to me. And that was very encouraging. So I got into a little bit of apologetic stuff around that same time, reading the usual classics, More Than a Carpenter and Evidence that Demands a Verdict and a bit of R.C. Sproul, a bit of this, bit of that.

But I think, yeah, atheism makes great boasts, like Ozymandias in that poem.  But it doesn’t really deliver. It claims to have the master story of the universe, but it’s a fairly bleak and sad view of the universe and one that didn’t actually make sense of my experience as a human being.

So it sounds like existentially, morally, and even intellectually, the pieces were starting to come together, so that you could make sense of life in a very holistic way, rather than, like you say, just trying to make sense from fragments of things within atheism that couldn’t provide that sense of cohesion in terms of making sense of your morality and your desire for meaning and purpose and all those things.

Yeah. That’s exactly right. And it was like there was a whole… It’s kind of like being in a room where all the lights are off, and then, one by one, all the lights begin to flicker on, and you suddenly see the pattern, you suddenly see what’s around you, and your environment begins to make sense. And that’s just basically how it was. And it’s remained that way pretty much ever since. My world makes a lot more sense to me now as a Christian than it ever did before.

So, Mike, it sounds like you started developing a thinking faith and that you started pursuing apologetics. Can you talk about what apologetics is, for those who are listening who have no idea what that term means?

Yeah. Apologetics is the defense of the Christian faith against criticism, whether that’s coming from atheists, Muslims, or anyone who says it ain’t necessarily so. There is no God, or Jesus is just not God or anything like that. I did a discipleship course with my pastor, and we went through all sorts of things. What is the Bible? Who is Jesus? And all sorts of questions like that. And I got really interested in that.

And the good thing was, the pastor I was with, he could see that I was getting into the more intellectual side of things, and he really supported me and encouraged me in that. In fact, after two years of being at that church and being very well discipled, it was time for me to move on to a different posting in northern Australia, and as a going-away present, the pastor gave me a copy of Millard Erickson’s Christian Theology, which I thought was quite… how would you call it? A kind of foreshadowing of the direction I was soon to go into. So I devoured Erickson’s Christian Theology. It was a very good little textbook introducing me to systematic theology or Christian thought, and that was terrific.

And then when I moved to Townsville in northern Australia I attended another really good church with another really great group of pastors. And they had one chap there who was a Southern Baptist pastor from Georgia. He was from Griffin, and he helped pastor the church and run a little theological college as an annex to the church, and I got into more theological education while I was there. I took courses on 1 Corinthians, on basic Christian beliefs, and that type of thing, and I learned more from that, and that’s when I decided I wanted to leave the army and go to theological college, maybe with a view to becoming an army chaplain or maybe doing something like becoming a seminary professor. So eventually I did end up doing a bit of theological education and really craving more.

It sounds like you really found something very rich, worth studying, and you also, from a B student, it sounds like also that you really moved towards a very strong intellectual bent.

Oh yeah, yeah. Yeah, that’s right. I did have a kind of natural sort of a writing ability, which I had a little bit in high school. It never got refined or polished, but I did have a kind of writing ability. And when I moved out of infantry and went into military intelligence, I was then in an environment where you’re having to take in a lot of information, process it, and then write reports and give oral presentations to very important people, and that helped refine my abilities all the more. So after a few years of that, I think I was really ready to start tertiary study. I was disciplined. I was motivated. And I think a gifting was beginning to open up in my ability to study and explain the Bible and Christian thought.

It sounds like you’ve moved very far from your perceived caricaturing of Christian faith as Ned Flanders. You are no Ned Flanders. You are very, very far from that. The people that you met broke down your stereotypes, and then you’ve become something… someone extremely respectable intellectually, that you understand the grounding for your faith, that you live in a way that makes Christianity plausible and complex in a good way. It’s very rich. It sounds like you have a fullness of life that makes sense from every perspective. You’ve come a very long way, to the point where I guess you’ve invested your life in the Christian worldview and not only knowing more and more about it but also teaching it. You said you’re a college professor and a writer?

Yeah. Yeah. I’ve pretty much committed myself, everything to this. The advance of the gospel, the building up of the church, proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ. I’ve enjoyed the many institutions I’ve taught at the Highland Theological College, the Brisbane School of Theology, and now, more recently at Ridley College.

That’s quite a life transformation, I must say. As we’re thinking about your life and really the insights and perspectives that you’ve gained in moving from atheism to Christianity, knowing what it’s like as an atheist and thinking very little of the Christian faith, but now finding that it really is everything to you, if you could speak to the nonbeliever or perhaps a curious skeptic who’s listening, what would you want to say to them?

I would say don’t rely on the caricatures you have received around you for what Christianity is about. Now that can be very different in different places in the world. If you’re somewhere like… well maybe like where you are, in Georgia, where there is certainly a very strong history and culture of Christianity, but in many ways it can be at the level of the culture. That type of a thing. And it can be easy to assume there’s a certain hypocrisy. But if you actually meet genuine Christians, people who know their Christian faith and who are earnestly committed to it, I think you’ll discover that they are far more different than what you’ve assumed about them, or what you’ve been told about them. And it can lead to many pleasant, wonderful, and astounding surprises when you see Christian faith not as a political tool, not something of cultural conditioning but of real conviction, of real spiritual depth and richness. If you meet those kind of people, they certainly will transform everything you believe about Christian faith, about who is God and importantly who is Jesus.

I think that’s good advice. It’s always good to look into what you really don’t understand, to take another look, to pull back the layers a little bit and see if your presumptions are right or mistaken. I think you were actually willing to do that when you were willing to actually even go to a church service, which I think probably a lot of people wouldn’t do. But you were actually willing to actually take a look. And you found something very different than what you expected. I think that’s really great advice.

To Christians or believers, perhaps in addressing and engaging with those who really don’t understand Christianity or perhaps perceive Christianity in a very caricatured way, how would you encourage Christians to live in this very secularized culture that we have today?

I think the number one thing I would say is, if you’re going to make a difference, you need to be different. And you can’t simply imitate the worst of the culture around you. If you are different in your disposition, your attitude, your joy, the things that you run from and the things that you run to. If you can embody the story of Jesus Christ in your own relationships, people around you will notice. They may not tell you they notice, but they will notice. The authentic living out of Christian faith is one of the best apologetic strategies that you can provide. You may not be a world-class debater like a William Lane Craig. You may not be a biblical scholar. You may not have the answer to everyone’s question, but if you can show that Jesus really does make a difference in your life and in how you treat other people, I think that will speak volumes to the people around, and even those who may not believe with you will at least respect you for your conviction and your Christlikeness.

Excellent. Excellent. Mike, this has been such a pleasure to have you on the Side B Podcast, to hear your story. It’s been intriguing and interesting and really quite wonderful to hear from someone who’s made quite a leap, quite a change in your journey. I do wonder, as a last question, those around you in your life, in your world, your friends and family. Once you became a Christian, how was that accepted? Did anyone push back with you on that?

Oh, yeah, yeah. My parents did not take the news well. When I told them I’ve been going to church, it was like, “Church!” I mean they did not respond particularly well, and they just thought it was a phase I was going through, like if you change sporting teams or something. They thought it was just a phase I was going through. But it’s a phase that’s been going on now for well over 20 years, I have to say, some 25 years I would have to say. So they were quite negative and quite abrupt, and they could even be quite… particularly my mother could be quite condescending and malicious about it, which was disappointing. Some of my immediate friends were a little bit weirded out, but they just… “Okay, fair enough. Okay, Mike. That’s who Mike is now, and who he is and what he does,” so yeah, that was kind of… It was a little bit difficult. But I’d also established a whole bunch of new friends. I mean the other thing is, being in the army, you kind of have to pick up and move every few years, anyway, so I was able to make new friends largely through the churches I visited in my various travels.

Very good. Yeah. It’s hard that you can’t predict how people around you will respond, but obviously it was worth it, whatever that you found was worth it. I guess the disappointment around you. But hopefully they can see, as you encouraged Christians to be embodied, that they can see that the difference was worth it. And that they, even though, like you say, they may not say anything, they certainly notice.

Yeah.

So thank you again, Mike, for being part of the show, and I just appreciate your time and your coming on, and we loved having you on.

Okay. Well, thank you very much for having me. It’s a pleasure. All blessings to you and your listeners.

Thanks for listening to the Side B Podcast to hear Mike’s story. You can hear more from Mike by looking at his books, his blogs, and his Twitter account, all of which I’ve included in the episode notes. For questions and feedback about this episode, you can reach me by email at thesidebpodcast@cslewisinstitute.org. If you enjoyed it, subscribe and share this new 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.

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