What’s most important about humanity never changes:
- We’re made in the image of God and separated from our Creator by our sin.
- We need a Savior lest we fall under God’s judgment.
It doesn’t matter where you travel or what time period you study, this story doesn’t change. But every culture around the world and across the ages highlights some aspects of this story and ignores others. It’s the work of cultural apologetics to discern and explain these changes for Christians seeking to walk faithfully and teach effectively across varied contexts.
One of the best cultural apologists I know is Josh Chatraw, author most recently of Telling a Better Story: How to Talk about God in a Skeptical Age, published by Zondervan. Josh serves as executive director of the Center for Public Christianity and as theologian in residence at Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. He’s also co-author of Apologetics at the Cross and co-editor of The History of Apologetics. Josh is one of my go-to sources on book recommendations and just overall insight on how to follow Christ in this secular age. It’s a pleasure to welcome him on Gospelbound and discuss the better story, late-modern apologetics—and my greatest current fear.
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Collin Hansen: What’s most important about humanity never changes. We’re made in the image of God and separated from our creator by our sin. We need a savior lest we fall under God’s judgment. It doesn’t matter where you travel or what time period you study, this story doesn’t change. But every culture around the world and across the ages highlights some aspects of this story and ignores others. It’s the work of cultural apologetics to discern and explain these changes for Christians seeking to walk faithfully and teach effectively across varied contexts.
Collin Hansen: One of the best cultural apologists I know is Josh Chatraw, author most recently of Telling a Better Story: How to Talk about God in a Skeptical Age, published by Zondervan. Josh serves as executive director of the Center for Public Christianity and as theologian in residence at Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. He’s also co-author of Apologetics at the Cross, and co-editor of the History of Apologetics. Josh is one of my go-to sources on book recommendations and just overall insight on how to follow Christ in this secular age. It’s a pleasure to welcome him on Gospelbound and discuss the better story, late-modern apologetics, and more. Josh, thanks for joining me.
Josh Chatraw: Yeah, good to be here. Thanks for having me.
Collin Hansen: Well, Josh, we have good news. Why do we need a better story?
Josh Chatraw: Yeah, well, when we think of the good news, we think of the gospel story era, at least I think we should. I think the problem is we’re living in a culture where, in the West today the story’s not only being challenged as far as its veracity, it’s being challenged on whether it’s good and whether it’s beautiful. This creates a new challenge for us, and really a unique challenge for the church because even 50 or 60 years ago in the West, even if people didn’t believe necessarily Christianity, they tended in the West to see it as something that was made for virtuous people, made for the type of citizens you wanted to live with and live around.
Josh Chatraw: Now, not so much. Now, we’re living in a culture where Christianity and Christians are increasingly seen as the villains, which means we have to work not only to say this is true, but this is actually good news.
Collin Hansen: Was there an aha moment for you when you realized that something fundamental had changed along the lines of what you just described, and that the same messages and techniques just wouldn’t cut it for evangelism and apologetics any longer?
Josh Chatraw: Well, I don’t think there was an aha moment, it was… For me, it takes a lot of listening and a lot of reading before I really come to grips with most things. But I can talk about a couple of things that I think more important. One was pastoring actually in fairly rural settings while I was doing my PhD. We’re not talking about cultural centers and bastions of secular thought or anything. This was in the South and rural areas and yet for various reasons, one being the overwhelming access of information that young people had, young people had deep questions that I didn’t have when I was 16. They were feeling what Charles Taylor calls the cross pressures of a fragilized age where he talks about secularity being not simply people don’t believe in God, but now, basically all of our beliefs are contested, and we could imagine the possibility, and even the plausibility that maybe we’re wrong.
Josh Chatraw: I was doing ministry with students who were feeling this. Yet, we were still in the Bible Belt. I said, “Okay, something’s going… ” I grew up in south Georgia. As I’m doing ministry, I’m thinking, okay, something has changed. Then when I went to teach at a university, I experienced that even more so with the university students. Yet, what I also noted during that time, was that the way we were equipping ministers and college students to deal with these questions and deal with these challenges was as in pretty much nothing changed.
Josh Chatraw: There’s two things there. One is, okay, the world has changing very quickly, and the church hasn’t really felt very well how to do discipleship and how to do evangelism apologetics in light of this. That’s over years, not simply an aha moment, but over years, some experiences that shifted the way I thought about this.
Collin Hansen: What had changed for those 16 year olds versus when you were 16? The internet, a certain kind of social media, cable television? What was the predominant way that even in a rural setting, even in the Bible Belt, there were these cross pressures, raising provocative questions against Christianity?
Josh Chatraw: Yeah, well I think certainly the internet. That’s not to say the internet itself, of course is a problem, but certainly just the various information they had access to and the people that they would interact with, and the way media was presented and TV was presented, so that… Especially in college, I think once you get to college, increasingly, they were more empathetic and sympathetic because they couldn’t just write off their secular friends as complete idiots, or the Muslim as just well, they’re just the other-
Collin Hansen: The evil abstract threat.
Josh Chatraw: Yeah, and that’s a good way to put it, Collin, that it wasn’t just abstract the other, it was, okay, actually, I know this person, they’re a good person. I think… That’s part of, of course, globalization and the changing dynamics, even the last 20 years of what society is looking like. Even in certain more rural areas that you wouldn’t think, okay, this is a metropolitan center, they’re consuming the same media. How much time do we spend in front of a screen now versus actually with having conversations face-to-face? I think, all of a sudden you realize, oh, wow, we’re all consuming the same media, no matter where you live.
Collin Hansen: I do think that was true, when I look back and when I was watching on MTV, or when I was tracking, especially through cable news and the music I was listening to. I grew up about as rural as you can on a farm in South Dakota, and it wasn’t that different. But I think the gap has closed even more, because probably because there’s a lot more screen time. The major change has been the smartphones since then. If you’re going to go back home and give a lecture in your hometown, south Georgia, versus what you’re going to say to young professionals in Raleigh, North Carolina, how much does it change? Has the gap almost entirely closed, or is there still a gap of how you describe the challenge-
Josh Chatraw: No, there’s still… Even in Raleigh, I think it’s good to paint it. It can be helpful to paint with somewhat of a broad brush, but very quickly, then you have to zoom into your context and even Raleigh is different than in New York City. In the Bible Belt, there’s still some space, there’s still some time, I would say, but it’s coming. I think some of the existential pressure… The fear of coming out as a Christian in major cities say in Seattle or in New York City is different than a small town in Georgia. There is some still social capital there for Christianity, no doubt.
Josh Chatraw: But I think… What I say in the book in Telling a Better Story is, if you’re in a major city or you’re under the age of 40, you feel this. I think one of the challenges in certain Southern cultures is its people under 40, but then the people making the decisions in the church don’t feel the pressure. I guess to answer your question is, it depends on who I’m talking to. If I’m talking to college students in the South, it might not be as much different. But if you’re talking to just regular church folks, then you’re going to be across the spectrum on that.
Collin Hansen: I tell people all the time that the challenge for ministry in the South in particular is that the age range or the experiential range from those teenagers to the elderly in your church is wider than it is elsewhere. You can still run all the way from somebody who’s elderly and completely unreconstructed in their views toward race. You can run into other people who are your run-of-the-mill, Fox News conservative, you can run into somebody else who’s more of a compassionate conservative type, all the way to there are children, they may not even know it, or your youth group is just completely not much different from what you’d see in any major city in the country.
Collin Hansen: I don’t think you quite see the same spectrum in other parts of the country, probably because the South had more change to undergo.
Josh Chatraw: Yeah, we both where you’re at now, Collin, and then I’m in North Carolina and grew up in Georgia. I think we have some similar experiences. I would agree. In some sense it makes… That’s a unique challenge in a way that there’s certainly unique challenges if you’re in Seattle or you’re in New York City, but this is why I think when we take even apologetics books or ministry books, if you try to just copy your hero, you’re going to run into some problems. If you’re trying to be a kind of… That’s why we need a bigger theological vision, but then we do have to apply it in our context, I think it looks differently.
Collin Hansen: Well, to talk about one of our friends, Tim Keller. It’s still the case that Birmingham, Alabama, is the kind of place that the younger brothers going all the way back to the parable of the prodigal son, they run away from, typically, to places like where Tim ministers in New York City. That’s still true, even while they’re often consuming the same media or the same platforms and seeing the same messages from-
Josh Chatraw: What I would want to say, and maybe I’m backing up a little bit here, Collin, but because what I’m doing in apologetics this conversation we’re having is actually really unique in apologetics. Because I think-
Collin Hansen: How so?
Josh Chatraw: Because this element of culture is actually something that a lot of apologists have not given enough time to-
Collin Hansen: Because they think it’s just about universal answers?
Josh Chatraw: I think there is in part a quest for a silver bullet argument.
Collin Hansen: I see. Okay.
Josh Chatraw: Then there is also, yes, what you’re doing over there, they might suggest is this cultural thing. But we’re just saying, is it true, and we’re going to come up with a logical argument and logical arguments that will work anywhere.
Collin Hansen: I see.
Josh Chatraw: What you end up with is a kind of a de-historicize or not paying very close attention to what’s going on culturally. Rather than just saying, hey, this kind of apologetic just works. Now, science might change as a science. Well, science does change as far as the theories. We need to pay attention to that and what’s going on in that culture, but it’s the general look at culture, not for all apologists, but I think, for much of the discipline for years has looked like that. Then I think there’s obviously in the last 10 years ago, there’s been… 10 years or so, there’s been this reimagining of the discipline.
Collin Hansen: Yeah, I think I probably take for granted that change in the last 10 years. That 10 years coincides with the years that I’ve worked in this job at The Gospel Coalition and working with Tim. I think I do take that for granted. I think, I don’t mind that rational apologetics that appeals to other people who think the way that rational apologists think. I don’t mind that, I just don’t run into those people very often. I don’t find a lot of people who are primarily motivated through that kind of evidentiary exploration. I find most people to be intuitive thinkers, tribal thinkers, that they come to faith by the sovereign will of God through a variety of different means, often in a community-type environment where they explore, Is the gospel good? In part, is it good, then they’ll work backwards to discern whether or not it’s true, and they make that decision based on whether or not the kind of people they’re around are the kind of people they want to become with and like.
Collin Hansen: That’s been my experience working intensely in the last 20 years in an urban/suburban environment, in the buckle of the Bible Belt. I do take for granted that kind of apologetics is the way things are typically going to work. But yeah, there are some people I just don’t meet him very often who love the arguments of the different theories that we love to read about and that you cover in your books about proofs of God. I’m not against it, I just don’t find many people who want to talk to me about it.
Josh Chatraw: I’m with you on that, Collin, and those can be effective, depending on the context, depending on who you’re talking to. I do think at the same time, we want to keep in mind that we want to be careful even when we do enter those that the kind of… I think one of the myths with someone who’s more geared to use logical syllogisms and say I’m just going to rationally look at this is to imagine that, somehow they are simply logic chopping their way to truth. As if science can’t explain meaning and value and all these things that people take for granted.
Josh Chatraw: Of course, as you were just putting, Collin, we come to faith, even the most hard-nosed rational person is coming to faith for a variety of reasons. Sometimes we can just unwittingly step in and somebody says, “Well, give me proof.” Then we think we’re giving them proof, and we never can give them enough because they’re using maybe proof for a math equation. That’s what they’re looking for, and you can’t one plus one your way to God, that’s not going to be how it works. You have to even the playing field and say, “Hey look, you believe in a lot of things that you don’t get it just through basic logic. A lot of the things that… Actually, the most important and deepest things in your life.”
Josh Chatraw: I think before… I suggest to people before you go down that path, which I think you should, we need to reason with people. But you need to make sure that they have what philosophers would call a chastened epistemology. How do we come to know and believe? Of course, that’s going to look different in different areas. But when we talk about the big truths of life, we’re not simply logic chopping our way there.
Collin Hansen: I can easily get caught up in all the ways that the world has changed for the worse. I think I keep fighting a nostalgic streak in my life, and I love history also, and it’s easy to pick out the good things and compare it to the bad things in your own day. But by no means is all lost in late modernity, meaning our current age. What should Christians love and appreciate about late modernity?
Josh Chatraw: I love that question, Collin, and I appreciate you posing it. Because I think for many of us, the sky at times can seem like it’s fallen. We don’t even need COVID to feel like that. Then you throw in a global pandemic and the civil unrest, it can feel overwhelming. Thank goodness we have lament in the Psalms during the season. But I do see that one of the things that’s going on, if you step back is given the challenges, given that oftentimes Christians and Christianity is seen now as the villain, as something not good and beautiful, buried within the rejection of Christianity are actually Christian values, because we wouldn’t have ever got… This is the brilliance of Taylor here, Charles Taylor, but we wouldn’t have ever gotten to this point without Christianity or if you’re tired of hearing about Charles Taylor, if you’re listening to this, go check out Tom Holland’s book or the podcast with Collin that I saw that you guys did.
Collin Hansen: Tom Holland podcast, we’re going to get more Charles Taylor later. If people don’t want Charles Taylor, this is not the podcast for them.
Josh Chatraw: Yeah. With that, that you have this… Just to take too, and another good one on this is Christian Smith, his work, Atheist Overreach and then some of the… That’s really, some of that book is drawn from some earlier academic articles he had written. But, he says, okay, we’ve got universal benevolence, this modern belief, this modern moral order that says we should love all people regardless if they’re in your tribe or not.
Josh Chatraw: Now, granted, you could argue that this is being challenged here, but there’s this sense here, and we can talk about that if you want to chase it, Collin, but there’s this sense where it’s saying no, those children in Africa who were starving, you should care about. Those people across the world, this kind of… I agree with this, certainly, that we should care about all types of people, no matter if they’re neighbor or not, no matter if they’re going to actually help us in any way, we should love them, universal benevolence.
Josh Chatraw: The other thing is… So that when we see a commercial on TV of that child starving, it’s like, yeah, that’s the right thing to do, we should care about that child. Then the other one is human rights, that every person is endowed with this thing that we call human rights. I affirm that and believe that. But it’s becoming so increasingly clear that you don’t get there without certain metaphysical assumptions, without certain… To put this simply, you don’t get there without the history of Christianity. You don’t get there without the development of Christianity in the West.
Josh Chatraw: It’s these principles that people want to hang on to. Even at times, attack Christianity on the basis of and yet it’s these very principles that come historically from Christianity, and it’s not just they come from historical Christianity, they don’t make sense without Christianity.
Collin Hansen: Not livable without Christianity.
Collin Hansen: In apologetics, we’re typically giving our best answer in defense of Christianity. Josh, what’s the best argument against Christianity?
Josh Chatraw: Well, it’s like the best argument for-
Collin Hansen: It’s fine, you’re an apologist. Turn it right around on me.
Josh Chatraw: I just mean that, when somebody says, “What’s the best argument?” I say, “Well, that depends who am I talking to?” I think it’s the same thing for the best argument against… Well, it depends. If I was an atheist, I’d say, who am I talking to? Because I would want to contextualize my argument against Christianity. But I think in our age, in our context in general, it’s the crisis of virtue within Christianity. We can claim to have the greatest story ever to be told, which I believe, for a variety of rational and existential and social reasons. But if the lives of the saints don’t match that story, or seems so far from it, that those who are claiming Christ seems so far from it. Not simply that we fail, of course, we’re going to fail in many ways, but that we don’t lives of repentance. We don’t live lives of hope and joy in the midst of suffering.
Collin Hansen: In my forthcoming book, I do point out the problem, though, is that Christians behaving badly, is going to be a perennial problem for us. One, because of what you said earlier, universal benevolence. Meaning people expect Christians to act well. That’s a problem. That gets turned against us, they expect that. Then second, you have the simple media fact, which is that anything anybody anywhere does that’s ugly, becomes imputed to the whole. That polarization in our culture.
Collin Hansen: I don’t really think we can eradicate the problem. But I think in the same ways that you talked about the rural teenagers, they have Muslim friends, they have atheist friends. They don’t think of them as horrible, terrible, evil people. Therefore, if they’re taught to expect that, their defenses of Christianity fall, why wouldn’t, Josh, that work in reverse? If Christians are ambassadors of Christ, and the broader culture is saying that we Christians are horrible, terrible people. Wouldn’t it work in reverse that when we’re not, it opens up the doors?
Josh Chatraw: Yeah, well, absolutely. If there’s a local flesh… If the media is painting Christians as evil, you can get mad or you can start loving your neighbors. If you start loving your neighbors.
Collin Hansen: How much, Josh, does our current apologetic challenge relate simply to affluence? We’re talking about a religion in Christianity concerned with life, death, and eternity. If we look at some of the most helpful recent writings locating some of our pagan inclinations today, Stephen Smith in particular, would say that what distinguishes Christianity is precisely its other worldly orientation. But we’re in this worldly time, whether on one side, demanding justice in this world, or on the other side, demanding full freedom in this world.
Collin Hansen: The affluence with its defenses and distractions offers the illusion that we don’t need to fear death or find meaning. That’s the challenge, I do wonder if affluence opens any opportunities for Christians? Yes, I suppose this is another setup for Augustine.
Josh Chatraw: Well, I guess the biggest argument is it’s not working, in the sense of, if affluent… Yes, Collin, to your point, absolutely. When death feels like farther from us, when we feel a sense of safety and security and that yeah, we can have it all. We can make our own meaning and life will be full and we can we do this ourselves, and death isn’t this existential threat, then we feel like we’re in control. This lust for control and dominance, certainly it goes back to Genesis 3, but we’re living in a kind of post-Enlightenment society where things have only intensified on a cultural level in this way. So, absolutely.
Josh Chatraw: But on the other hand, if I think the opportunity here is it’s not actually working-
Collin Hansen: Anxiety levels, the medication levels, the anger, the polarization. This is Dr. Phil apologetics at this point. How’s that working out for you?
Josh Chatraw: Well, again, I don’t want to be cited as my apologetic approach is Dr. Phil apologetics.
Collin Hansen: That’s my fault. That’s my fault. Don’t blame Josh for that one.
Josh Chatraw: But I think that’s a way to put it, is how’s it working out for you? How’s that going? Sometimes, people need some help to get there. I talked to a friend of mine who’s exploring and seeking and use those labels. But he hadn’t been to church in a long, long, long time and doesn’t consider himself a Christian. But I’ve piqued his interest, and I think we were joking, because obviously, he knows what I do now. I said, my job is to convince people they’re a lot more screwed up than they think they are, but to do it really nicely.
Josh Chatraw: He laughed because we had a friendship at that point. I think I’d pretty much convinced him that… But it didn’t take a lot of work because he reads and it doesn’t take a whole lot of work to look around. Of course, there was all this… Historically, as you would know, Collin, there’s this progressive hope coming in the beginning of the 20th century, and then World War I and World War II, and the Great Depression before that. All of a sudden people are looking around and saying, “Hang on, what’s going on here?”
Josh Chatraw: I think, on a different level, in some different ways, there’s a lot of data here, there’s a lot of data points to say this actually isn’t working.
Collin Hansen: The problem is in a polarized context, you’re always tempted to externalize the threat. That the threat is merely… The reason things are so screwed up is just because that other group out there just won’t go away. We have to escalate increasingly. I think that’s why out of that impulse of the early 20th century, what do you eventually get, you get things like the Russian Revolution. I do wonder if you have some early 21st century hopes being dashed before our eyes, and I’m not going to predict like the Russian Revolution or something, but you do sense some of that disenchantment in the air.
Josh Chatraw: Yeah, and I think you have… I was taken really as I was writing this book by Wilford McClay’s argument in “A Strange Persistence of Guilt.” He’s arguing there that with… It’s a fabulous article. You guys listen to this you really read… It was in Hedgehog Review, which is just a great little journal that produced it some way by James Davison under UVA.
Josh Chatraw: But McClay teaches at University of Oklahoma and his story and what he’s arguing there is you have Frederick Nietzsche, who of course, that God’s dead and we killed him. He’s not saying that God was ever alive in his mind, but that we had created God and then we killed him, and with that, there would no longer be any kind of cosmic morality and therefore there would be no more cosmic guilt. You would no longer feel guilty because there’s no morality.
Josh Chatraw: But McClay, Freud comes in and Freud says, “Well, actually, that’s wrong.” Freud’s saying, even though we don’t have cosmic universal morality, we’re still going to have guilt, and it’s only going to be worse because of technology. Because we’re going to know that… Again, universal benevolence, that we could do more, we could recycle more, we could adopt more kids, we could give more of our money away, and it will never go away and we will continue to feel guilty.
Josh Chatraw: What McClay goes on to argue is that because we feel guilty still, we have to have a mechanism to deal with that. In the past, there’s been scapegoats through religion, actually a scapegoat, or atonement, the cross, but he’s saying now, this guilt, this internal guilt that we feel is now the way we escape it is we blame the other. We blame the other, and it’s no longer that we’re, in part, guilty, but if we can somehow be the victim, and put all the blame on… He’s saying there is a storyline, there is a script and guilt is driving this.
Josh Chatraw: Now, I think that’s a real opportunity. Because once we discover that we don’t have to be afraid to talk about guilt, because we realize they already feel guilty. Yet, because they’re feeling guilty though, they are entering into a way to alleviate that, that won’t ever work and will only lead to more turmoil culturally.
Josh Chatraw: Again, I think this is where understanding our times and what’s going on is really helpful because that’s an entry point for the gospel, and we can still talk about guilt. We don’t we have to… I think we can do the idolatry thing and talk about idols. I think that’s really effective, but we can talk about guilt because people still feel it and it’s coming out and it leads to this social unrest we’re experiencing.
Collin Hansen: I just can’t figure on how to break the cycle of polarization and blame. I think that the spoke in the wheel opportunity is for Christians to love their enemies, which shows just how bad things have gotten off track because that’s certainly not the dominant political narrative that we see coming from Christians. I just can’t quite figure out how do you puncture that balloon? How do you destroy that sense that I feel guilty that things aren’t bad, but I take that guilt out and I project it onto everybody else so that I can maintain my victim status, no matter how rich I am, no matter how powerful I am. It’s just somehow everybody has convinced themselves that they’re the oppressed ones in this world. Somehow, that is what they use to absolve themselves of the guilt. No, I’m the truly oppressed one. I have to do another podcast-
Josh Chatraw: Well, it’s a… I have some thoughts on it, but I think it’s interesting because even that, just to echo something we said earlier is that this idea that you’re going to gain dominance by declaring victimhood would be foreign in a pagan society-
Collin Hansen: No, you’re right.
Josh Chatraw: We can’t purely go back here and to simply say we’re living in this new pagan society. That would be so foreign to a pagan society.
Collin Hansen: Yeah, we’re going back to Tom Holland’s argument.
Josh Chatraw: Yeah, and I think he’s right.
Collin Hansen: The love of… The respect for victims is a uniquely Christian phenomenon. It just doesn’t make sense outside the Christian story. Good point.
Josh Chatraw: All the calls to, we’re going back to paganism, I don’t know. I think I understand what’s being said there, but I think it’s missing something as well, because we can only get to where we’re at now by going through Christianity. If we’re not aware of how this secularism has some parallels, absolutely to what Augustine was dealing with, another early church apologist, but also uniquely different, I think we will miss some of the texture that we need to understand as preachers and teachers and disciplers.
Collin Hansen: Yeah. Well, paganism is a loaded term. That’s why it’s been helpful for me to simply understand it as the horizon of now, the horizon of this world. That’s why it’s simply difficult for us to be able to break out of that framework.
Collin Hansen: Let me then transition into this is where the interview gets hard, okay? This is where it actually gets difficult. The rest is easy for you, but here’s where it gets hard. I’m going to quote Charles Taylor from Sources of the Self. Maybe my biggest worry, right now, all right? This isn’t going to be like a quiz, this is going to be an answer. It seems like in this quote, he’s saying that Christianity produces longings for reform. He expands on this in A Secular Age. Christianity produces longings for reform in this world that can’t be realized here, because of sin, this fallen world, and thus turns reformers into secularists.
Collin Hansen: Now, we know the context here, for the listeners, the context is that Taylor blames the Reformation for a lot. He describes this sense of fallen nature. He calls it the hyper-Augustinian view. Was interesting when I was reading Martin Luther King, Jr. Recently, I think it was actually last year, realized that he said, I reject the Reformation, and precisely because I reject the premise of original sin. Because original sin destroys any motivation for anybody to change this world. I assume that people are good and will react to good appeals to them.
Collin Hansen: I think King would probably be right in line, at least based on that, Strength to Love, with Taylor here. But let me read the Taylor quote, and then we can talk about whether this is a true problem. “But to the extent that the hyper-Augustinian view comes to be accepted as the definition of Christian faith, that it comes to be accepted that wholesale dedication to secular reform sits uneasily with this faith. To that degree, those committed to the cause may feel forced outside Orthodox Christianity, by the very force of commitment. The paradox is that a religious impulse and vision may sometimes drive people out of religious belief.” Is he right?
Josh Chatraw: Well, I think that there’s… I think there’s various if I’m understanding him correctly-
Collin Hansen: That’s always the caveat with Taylor.
Josh Chatraw: Sources of the Self itself is a big book and I have read it, but it wasn’t last week. To pick up on what you were saying, and then you can correct me here if I’ve understood him wrong, or if I’m not answering your question, which is, I think there’s lots of different motivations that we need to give. I think there’s various different motivations for Christians to reform, and that should happen on a number of levels. That’s to love your neighbor.
Josh Chatraw: I think that’s a motivation, how do we love our neighbor on a very baseline level? I think also by how, as communities, we do justice and care for the world, we actually reflect we’re living parables of the coming kingdom. That’s just two reasons. Another one I give is simply a guess with that would be obedience. I think that the danger is a over-realized eschatology, right?
Collin Hansen: Sure.
Josh Chatraw: If Christians don’t realize that part of Christianity… I talk about this in the book is that, yeah, this world isn’t going to be utopian. We’re not going to fix it all. I think that that type of realism, though, actually is helpful.
Collin Hansen: It is, but try selling that at the protest rally. Try saying, “Hey, everybody, I’m so glad you’re here. I’m glad you care about this. This is evidence that you’ve been made in the image of God. That God has impressed his sense of justice on you.” I also want to point out to you that probably your best efforts will fail.” It isn’t the message that we’re hearing today for sure.
Josh Chatraw: We have pointers of in the history of the world where Christianity, it has inspired even whether you realize it or not, this protest movement is inspired by Christianity in the way that you’re thinking about this and that you’re caring. Even the idea that you should be doing this and you should be seeking reform in this way, and you should care about the victim, that’s already there, but in some sense, because of Christianity. But then if you have a utopian view, then what’s going to happen is you will become the oppressor.
Collin Hansen: You only took one part of Christianity, you left the rest of it. You were pretty selective about that. You need a heavy dose of Solzhenitsyn in there is what you’re saying.
Josh Chatraw: Yeah, because… I think that these longings that we have and what I hear you saying is that Christianity is like putting fire on these longings and then can’t fulfill it in this world, I would say, yeah, exactly. This is C.S. Lewis’s argument, right? We want justice. Why do you want justice? Well, because you want the true judge. Not only will you… If you don’t pursue justice with that in mind, you’re actually not longing for a system, you’re longing for a person and you’re longing for his reign, and you’re made for something you’re not going to get in this world.
Josh Chatraw: I think it’s actually if we don’t have this kind of Christian eschatology to not only… I think Augustine has this, by the way, but to not only critique the present order, because where are you going to stand? You need some context. You can critique the present order, because you have a vision of what justice should be. It gives you actually, this vision of what justice should be, and then it also reminds you that if you try to bring that in yourself, you will become the oppressor.
Josh Chatraw: I would say that Christian theology here gives us the exact resources we need. Now of course, I’d have to think more about Taylor-
Collin Hansen: Well, you’re giving me the exact right, I think biblical theological argument, to respond from our Reformational outlook, to Taylor’s view that a lot of this stuff is all of the problems that we see originate in the Reformation. I think that’s true. The problem is, I have a hard time arguing against Taylor experientially. Because this seems to be something I consistently see is that Christians whose primary expression of faith is in seeking to bring about reform in this world, inevitably fail because reform in this world just doesn’t come to our satisfaction because we’ve been made for another world. But they give up on the Christianity in the process as opposed to digging deeper in, to say, Jesus prepared me for this. That’s what I’m running into experientially, pastorally.
Josh Chatraw: I think if we try to play the Messiah, we’ve got the story wrong, yet we should be pointers to the Messiah. With that, that means this trust in God, this knowing that we weren’t made for this world as it is now. Yet, at the same time, here we are on pilgrimage, we’re on pilgrimage. This isn’t our final home, not a physical reality isn’t our final home. That’s not my theology, there’s going to be a new creation, new heavens and new Earth, but in this present state, that’s not it.
Josh Chatraw: I actually think, if you don’t… That’s actually going to… If you have that, and then we preach that and disciple that, it’s going to make for a salty Christian, that is really actually prepared to deal with suffering and can have hope and joy. But when we have the over-realized eschatology, then it’s going to cause problems.
Josh Chatraw: Part of my thing, as you know, Collin, is in Center for Public Christianity, but also do stuff with faith and works. I think this is one of the things we have to keep in mind in that world. It’s not just, hey, when you’re young and you’re energetic, and hey, they gave us the world back for those in that tradition and they think this is incredible. But if you put too much stock in what we can do, you buy into a certain, actually secular vision of the world. I guess that’s what you’re calling paganism, the only this world-ness, that actually is going to deform us as disciples.
Collin Hansen: Yeah. All right. Well, I think I’ve interrogated you enough, Josh. But one last quick fun question. What’s the last great book you’ve read?
Josh Chatraw: I’ll give a shout out to one of my apologetic heroes and that’s Alister McGrath, and the name of the book, It’s Born to Wonder.
Collin Hansen: Born to Wonder.
Josh Chatraw: I mentioned Alister’s book, I think you guys just reviewed it.
Josh Chatraw: I would just say that I think what Alister has been doing apologetically, has been somewhat missed in maybe our circles, Collin. The reviewer had some critiques and that’s fine and fair, but I think his approach not buying into monotheistic forms of apologetics, there’s lots for various traditions to learn from Alister. I think this book is one of his popular ones doing that. I’ll stick with my area that I’m on the podcast which is apologetics and just recommend Alister’s stuff, but Born to Wonder is a popular look at some of what he’s doing.
Collin Hansen: Okay. My guest on Gospelbound has been Josh Chatraw. Go ahead and check out his book, Telling a Better Story: How to Talk About God in a Skeptical Age, published by Zondervan. I think, Josh, this is probably a book that a lot of people, members in churches can read. It can be a good Sunday school class book, I think a good small group book.
Collin Hansen: If you’re doing campus ministry, it would be a great thing for the folks in your campus ministry to read together. But if you want, check out Josh’s other books, you’ve got plenty of options. You’ve got Apologetics at the Cross, you’ve got, The History of Apologetics. Got a lot of options. But we’ve been talking about Telling a Better Story: How to Talk About God in a Skeptical Age. Thanks, Josh for modeling that for us.
Josh Chatraw: Thank you.