Readers of this blog will already be aware that I have described the Boulder community and the CU campus are pretty secular areas in general. In this part of Colorado, there certainly isn’t the same framework of “cultural Christianity” in place that we find in Montgomery, and other areas of the South. And yet there are occasionally surprising events which remind us that so many people than we think are spiritually curious, even in Boulder! I witnessed this first-hand back in the fall. It was November 13, 2013, and I was in Boulder on a “vision trip” to see if God was indeed leading me to consider ministering to students with Christian Challenge at CU-Boulder. Challenge director Bobby Pruett had invited me to attend a talk sponsored by the Veritas Forum. This is a non-profit organization which sponsors talks on college campuses around the country centered on questions of faith, ethics, science, and religion. According to the group’s website, “Veritas Forums are events that engage students and faculty in discussions about life’s hardest questions and the modern relevance of Jesus Christ.”
That November evening a talk entitled “Atheism and Christianity” was being held in CU’s Glenn Miller Ballroom (yes, big band fans—that Glenn Miller attended CU!). The forum featured John Lennox, a noted Oxford mathematician, science professor and Christian apologist, and Michael Tooley, a philosophy professor at CU, and an outspoken atheist. Given the title of the presentation, and the fact it was held on a Wednesday night during a busy time in the school year, I expected a relatively light attendance. So I was shocked to find the ballroom filled to capacity, with many people standing along the back walls, and several hundred people turned away because there simply was no more room for them. The announced attendance that evening was over 800! And it wasn’t just students either–many local Boulderites had also showed up. A very entertaining debate/discussion ensued. There were many excellent points made by Lennox, and Tooley, for his part revealed a fairly nuanced understanding of Christian doctrine. Sadly he had been raised in a Christian family, but had lost his faith as a college student. If you are interested the entire debate can be viewed here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bO6TPRblE3U. Even though it’s about an hour and a half in length, it would well be worth your time to watch some of it if you’re at all interested in apologetics.
For me though, there were several main takeaway points from the evening. First, before the event began, I had joined some of the Christian Challenge students for a time of fervent prayer. I was very impressed to hear these young men and women petitioning the Lord to give them opportunities to use this event as a platform for starting later conversations that could lead to them having a chance to witness to others. These students clearly understood what I have been saying about apologetics—it’s not about ultimately about us having to come up with the most convincing arguments to validate God’s existence and purpose through debate. Apologetics simply means that we are ready to respond when asked about the hope we have that is found in Christ. So regardless of what was said during the forum, the students wanted to be ready to respond to non-believers and in other cases even initiate an intentional conversation about God and faith. Along these same lines, during his talk, John Lennox repeatedly urged Christians to befriend atheists, be willing to listen to them, and have a genuine dialogue, rather than talking at them. Now Lennox’s entire presentation was very Christ-centered and completely Biblical, yet he did seem to suggest that many of us in the Christian community either shun non-believers entirely or simply want to browbeat them into submission. Neither approach he felt was likely to produce the kind of dialogue or relationship with atheists which could lead to us being able to demonstrate Christ’s love towards them. There’s some definite food for thought there…
Finally though from that evening I left with a great encouragement when reflecting upon the sheer level of interest this talk had created. On a busy school night, hundreds of people had shown up to listen to two professors talk about the existence of God, the importance of asking big questions about life’s purpose, and such eternal conundrums as the problem of suffering. So regardless of how secular and irreligious the CU campus and Boulder community seem to be statistically, what no poll or survey can measure is the longing of people’s hearts to find truth. As Ecclesiastes 3:11 so memorably states “He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end.” I am further reminded of Matthew 9:36-8. But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” The last part of these verses are on my prayer card. And for me, this past November 13th is when I first realized how plentiful the harvest could truly be in Boulder. My pastor at First Baptist Montgomery, Jay Wolf, often says that “people are more willing to hear the Gospel than we are to share it.” As I prepare for my ministry on the CU campus, I hope that the lostness of the campus and the surrounding community always drive me to compassion, to greater love, and to a greater willingness to boldly defend, present, and share the Christian faith. Most people, including atheists, are quite curious about God and questions of faith—they can’t help but be! May we as Christians also be curious enough about the non-believers that we are willing to seek them out, and share with them the inseparable gifts of God’s love and God’s truth!