FOR more than a decade, Justin Brierley has been talking to the world’s most outspoken atheists. As presenter of Premier Radio’s chat show Unbelievable? he has hosted weekly conversations in which the likes of Richard Dawkins and Derren Brown meet Christian thinkers such as John Lennox, Alister McGrath, and Richard Bauckham. This is essentially the book of the radio programme, and the annual apologetics conference that has grown out of it.
Brierley has a dual focus. At one level, his book offers a chatty and accessible apologetic for historical Christianity. This draws on the case for faith outlined by his Christian interviewees, alongside older writers such as C. S. Lewis. Throughout, Brierley adopts the tone of the curious journalist rather than the specialist philosopher, scientist, or apologist. In this respect, his style is similar to that of the the American journalist-turned pastor Lee Strobel in the popular-level apologetics of his The Case for Christ.
At another level, this book is a plea for all debates about faith and doubt to be conducted with charity and civility. Brierley notes a tendency, in the age of social media, for people to inhabit echo-chambers of the like-minded, lobbing occasional verbal hand-grenades at those whose views differ. The Unbelievable? radio show started life as a way of exposing Premier’s largely conservative Christian audience to thinkers with wildly differing (and often hostile) world-views, and the new generation of atheists to thoughtful Christian responses.
It was a brave step, which has been far from uncontroversial. But the show has built up a world-wide following via the internet. Listeners include atheists and spiritual enquirers who warm to its thoughtful, constructive tone, and its emphasis on listening well to those with differing views. Brierley rightly notes in his introduction to the book that this approach opens the risky possibility of minds on all sides of the debate being changed.
Brierley offers a journalistic summery of the case for faith today, along with personal reflections on the way in which his own faith has been shaped by the radio conversations. His appeal for attentive listening, mutual respect, and the possiblility of healthy disagreement is timely and inspirational.
The Revd Mike Starkey is a tutor for the Church Army, and author of the Faith Pictures evangelism course.
Listen to Justin Brierley explain what he thinks he has learnt from ten years of apologetics on the Church Times Podcast here
Unbelievable? Why, after ten years of talking with atheists, I’m still a Christian
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