Why, After 10 Years of Talking with Atheists, I Still Believe in Christianity: An Interview with Justin Brierley
The weekly podcast, blog, and video series Unbelievable? from Premier Insight, hosted by Justin Brierley (@unbelievablejb), is a unique meeting place that brings together people of radically different views. It seeks to build bridges and create a space for understanding where hard questions can be asked and discussed. The program believes the truth of the Christian faith has nothing to fear, and that being generous with those who don’t share the Christian faith makes that truth attractive and compelling.
Bible Gateway interviewed Justin, author of Unbelievable?: Why After Ten Years of Talking with Atheists I Still Believe in Christianity (SPCK, 2017).
What were the circumstances surrounding your decision to become a Christian?
Justin Brierley: I was fortunate to be raised in a committed Christian home (a rarer thing in the UK than in the USA!) and so grew up attending church and being part of a youth group.
It was in my late teens that I became serious about my faith and ‘owned’ it for myself. I encountered God in a fresh way while on a youth retreat, and faith ‘came alive’ in new ways. That birthed a passion in me to dedicate my life to serving Jesus.
It was not long after starting as an undergraduate at Oxford University that I also began to encounter the intellectual objections that are often leveled at Christianity. That set me on a journey to exploring my faith, not only in an experiential way, but also on an intellectual level, and coming to realize that there’s a strong historical and philosophical foundation for the claims of Christianity.[Read the Bible Gateway Blog post, How an Atheist Turned to Jesus Despite the Church: An Interview with Mary Jo Sharp]
Describe the composition and reach of Premier Christian Media.
Justin Brierley: Premier Christian Media began in 2005 with the creation of the UK’s very first dedicated Christian broadcaster: Premier Christian Radio.
Since then, the organization has gone on to launch two further radio stations in the UK, develop a national Christian helpline, a Christian news service, publish magazines and books, host conferences and events, and publish multiple videos, blogs, articles, and news items across multiple websites and social media platforms.
Recently Premier Insight has been launched: an organization aimed at bringing new resources to Christians in the USA to help Americans understand the culture and think though their faith in the divided times we live in.
Explain the background, format, and objective of your podcast, Unbelievable?, and tell why it has that title.
Justin Brierley: I’ve hosted the Unbelievable? show since 2005. It began as a radio program to help Christians understand their faith better and to equip them to have conversations with non-believers. It’s always taken the format of a long-form discussion between two different perspectives (often an atheist and a Christian in dialogue).
After we launched the podcast version of the show, I began to realize that many non-Christians were also downloading the debate and dialogues too. This meant that, from early on, the show became a place where both Christians and non-Christians met for civil dialogue and debate, and served a diverse audience online too.
The title Unbelievable? reflects the fact that the show asks tough questions of faith, but equally asks tough question of other worldviews too. I believe Christianity can stand on its own two feet intellectually and that we don’t need to be afraid of difficult questions.
Over the years we’ve also hosted regular Unbelievable? conferences in London and the USA, to hear from renowned apologists and theologians, as well as putting on live debate events.
We’re expecting many people from around the world to join us for our first global online conference featuring NT Wright, Tom Holland, Clare Williams and Sean & Josh McDowell on Saturday, 15 May.
In 2017 I published my first book Unbelievable?, which told the story of the show and my case for faith.
What do your guests who are skeptics and atheists think of your podcast? Are they reluctant to be interviewed?
Justin Brierley: In the early years there was a certain ‘wariness’ from non-Christian guests, unsure of exactly what sort of show they were being invited on to! Would they be ‘preached at?’ Would they be allowed to speak their mind?
Thankfully, these fears were soon put to rest, as they experienced a fair and frank dialogue with thinking Christians on the other side.
I began to make many friends and acquaintances across the atheist/Christian divide and, as the show gained in popularity among both communities, I soon became inundated with offers, rather than having to chase them down![Read the Bible Gateway Blog post, Does Suffering Disprove the Existence of a Good God?]
What do you consider to be a compelling reason that God exists and that Christianity is true?
Justin Brierley: I first experienced Christianity in an experiential, subjective way. I had an ‘experience’ of God that made sense to me, but that would be difficult to make sense of to a sceptic.
I soon realized there were also good objective reasons for the existence of God and the truth of Christianity.
I came to realize that a creator God is a better explanation of our own existence in the universe than the idea that blind forces of nature brought the cosmos into existence and our place within it.
I began to see that the things we hold most valuable in life—love, beauty, truth, right and wrong—are very difficult to makes sense of in an atheistic worldview, where all that ultimately exists is matter in motion. It made sense that these values have their source in God.
Likewise, our human yearning for purpose and meaning seems to fit better with a Christian worldview than an atheistic worldview.
But if there’s a God behind the universe, has he revealed himself to us? The answer I believe is ‘yes’—in the person of Jesus Christ and his life, death, and resurrection. People are often surprised by how strong the historical record is for Jesus, and the fact that his resurrection cannot be simply explained away as a hallucination or myth.
Ultimately, I find that Christianity makes sense at a historical and philosophical level, and it also makes sense of the world and my place in it.[Read the Bible Gateway Blog post, How to Talk About Jesus Without Being Awkward: An Interview with Sam Chan]
How should Christians share their faith with people who don’t consider the Bible to be authoritative or relevant?
Justin Brierley: I believe the answer is contained in 1 Peter 3:15: “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect”
Our conversations have to be as gracious and patient as the end of that verse suggests. The early Christians that first heard those words lived in just as much of a pluralistic culture as we do, so this is not a new problem.
Like them, we need to be prepared to answer the questions our non-Christian neighbors have, even if they come from a very different starting point to us.
We cannot assume that people hold the Bible in the same way we do, but we may be able to find common ground, nevertheless, by showing that the events around Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection have a solid historical basis in the Bible. And also to show them that much of what they value in life may stem from the Judeao-Chrstian worldview that Scripture gave us. This would be a starting point at least!
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Based on your years of interviews, what do you say are secularism’s major myths and why?
Justin Brierley: Here are just three myths:
1. Science and faith are at war.
In fact, Christianity birthed the scientific revolution and most of the pioneers did their science explicitly on the basis of their faith, not in spite of it. Today, the more we learn about science, the more cause we’re given to wonder at the complexity and mystery of the universe we live in. God has not been excluded; far from it!
2. The West owes its moral progress to Enlightenment secularism.
This is false. Tom Holland’s excellent book, Dominion, gives a brilliant overview of the way in which the Christian revolution birthed the modern human rights and democratic values that we take for granted in the West. They were by no means a given, nor should we assume we can hold on to them in the absence of Christian faith. Tom Holland will be one of our speakers at this year’s Unbelievable? Conference.
3. Faith is about ‘belief,’ atheism is about ‘facts.’
The reality is that every worldview, whether Christian or atheist, needs defending. Most atheists I meet subscribe to a particular set of values and beliefs about the world that can rarely be justified on the basis of their naturalistic outlook.
In that sense, we both have the same set of facts in front of us. The question is: which worldview fits better? I think Christianity makes more sense of the data.
What is a favorite Bible passage of yours and why?
Justin Brierley: I’d have to repeat 1 Peter 3:15. It’s been the guiding principle of my Unbelievable? show for many years and is a perfect summary of how we should engage with those who don’t share our faith.
What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway and the Bible Gateway App and Bible Audio App?
Justin Brierley: I’m a great fan of the way Bible Gateway makes Scripture so accessible at the click of a button or the tap of an app. I use it all the time. Understanding our Christian story and where we’ve come from is so important to understanding where we’re going. The Bible is more important than ever in the times we’re living through.
Learn ‘How To Tell The Greatest Story Ever Told’ at Unbelievable? the Conference 2021 on Saturday 15 May, featuring NT Wright, Tom Holland, Sean & Josh McDowell and Clare Williams.
Bio: Justin Brierley is theology & apologetics editor for Premier Christian Radio and presents its flagship apologetics and theology debate program and popular podcast Unbelievable? every Saturday at 6:00 pm UK time. The show brings Christians and non-Christians together for dialogue; it has also produced an annual evangelism and apologetics conference. Additionally, Justin hosts the fortnightly Ask NT Wright Anything podcast with New Testament scholar Tom Wright. Justin, author of ‘Unbelievable?: Why After Ten Years of Talking with Atheists I Still Believe in Christianity (SPCK, 2017), was the editor of Premier Christianity magazine from 2014–2018.
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