A new series helping us take steps…towards belief.
Most Christians don’t need to be told that in recent years, conversations about Christian belief have been tough. Spirituality as a whole is not such a challenging subject, but Christian faith is coming close to being a taboo topic. This in part is due to the rise of the new atheists and the challenge to prove the logic of a Christian worldview.
Research – the Starting Point
Olive Tree Media decided to carry out research in Australia to determine what it is that blocks Australians from Christian faith. Why are the conversations so difficult? Why is Australia such a hard place for the Gospel and how can we overcome the blockages to belief? If we can determine the issues that cause a block then we can respond with positive answers, creating a greater openness to the Christian message. To that end, Olive Tree Media released the Australian Communities Report, conducted across Australia in October 2011 by McCrindle Research, and based on a nationally representative survey of 1,094 Australians with 3 focus groups of Gen Y, Gen X and Baby Boomers. This gave Olive Tree Media a snapshot of what the average Australian’s attitude is to Christian faith.
The outcomes of the research were both expected and surprising at the same time. The usual issues that block people from faith were included in the responses – difficulty with believing in the miraculous, why people suffer, believing what the Bible says and issues around science and faith. What was surprising was that of the ten top blockers, half of them were about the Church.
In the area of apologetics, those defending the faith or giving a reasoned response have usually focused on the intellectual blockages around reason and logic. While these are important and continue to be an issue, the research confirms what many have suspected; that the Church is a large part of the problem. Issues such as the Church being seen as an obsolete institution, religious wars and the Church’s involvement, the hypocrisy of the Church especially demonstrated in cases of abuse, as well as the vexed issue of homosexuality were on the top of the list. These are as much stumbling blocks to belief and faith as any intellectual discussion.
But the situation may not be as dark as it seems on the surface. The research revealed that 49% of respondents were open to consider changing their views on religion, 46% were open to having religious conversations and 25% of those who did not believe were warm towards faith. This last statistic is an interesting one to consider. The researchers asked a set of questions that determined where a respondent would sit on a modified Engel Scale of Belief. This ranged from -7, reflecting militant anti-faith or atheist, up to zero, which is accepting Christian faith and taking steps of belief. Those on the scale who were -3 to -1 showed that they were warm to faith, though not Christian or attending Church. Twenty five percent of respondents fell into this category.
Karl Faase, CEO of Olive Tree Media and Senior Pastor of Gymea Baptist Church, then set about inviting some of the world’s leading Christian leaders, speakers and academics to be interviewed for a series called Towards Belief, addressing these issues and giving a reasoned response to the blocker.
“The majority of Christians aren’t well equipped to respond to these issues,” Karl commented, “and I believe churches need a resource which will help them work through the tough questions with seekers. Often when these topics are addressed we speak in language that the average Australian doesn’t even understand. My aim with Towards Belief is to give Christians and churches a resource which they can use privately or in a group setting to address these blockers in their local context by drawing on some of the best Christian minds in the world.”
Karl was inspired by a quote he had read by lawyer, Oliver Wendell Holmes, which reflects the ethos that underpins the series: “I would not give a fig for simplicity this side of complexity but I would give my life for simplicity on the other side of complexity.”
After a great deal of planning, the team of four, including Karl’s wife and producer, Jane, director Simon Hunter and cameraman Kevin Evans set off for the UK in September where they visited Oxford, Cambridge and London. There they interviewed among others, John Lennox, Os Guinness, Nicky Gumbel and Amy Orr-Ewing in some beautiful locations. One interview was held in The Trout Inn, just out of Oxford, a favourite pub of CS Lewis. Others were held in the colleges, including the gardens of Queens College and the Student Common Room at Oriel College.
In October, it was back to Sydney for interviews with John Dickson, Greg Clarke, Mike Willesee, Patricia Weerakoon, Patrick Parkinson, and more.
In November, they visited the USA, flying from west coast to east coast over seven days for interviews with LA church leaders Erwin McManus and Todd Proctor, plus academics Craig Keener, Dale Kuehne, Stanley Hauerwas and others, each a specialist in the blocker issues.
Whilst most of these men and women are university academics and have achieved some of the highest levels of academic attainment, the interviewee was also asked about their own personal faith story.
“It was an incredible privilege to sit with each of these significant Christian leaders and hear their reasons for Christian belief.” Karl said. “In each case we found out a bit about their personal story of faith and why they had committed their life to it.”
“One of the most moving stories we heard was one of our interviewees sharing his own experience of abuse by a church pastor at a summer camp,” Jane commented, “and how that has had a profound impact in his life, even into his 50’s.”
After a crazy schedule over just three months, the Towards Belief team filmed 30 interviews in three continents, with over 20 hours of footage. This is all currently being edited into 10 highly informative and engaging episodes.
“Is this going to be an Aussie Alpha course?” the team were asked during filming. Let’s hope so! Towards Belief will be a unique series because it brings together specialists from different denominations and countries to speak on the blocker issues in ways that will be easy to understand for the average Australian.
“As a church pastor, I know how busy the church calendar can be, but I really believe this will be a significant course that all churches should run, both for the teaching and equipping of church members but also as a means of outreach to friends and family.” Karl commented. “By engaging in training and discussion through life groups and with Sunday services themed around each topic, plus outreach events, Towards Belief will be incredibly helpful in our discipleship and evangelism.”
Churches and individuals will be able to purchase copies of Towards Belief on DVD with an accompanying discussion guide from April/May 2013. Towards Belief will also be aired as a 10 part series on Christian television stations in Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom, Korea, Indonesia and Canada.