"If you want to build a ship, don't herd people together to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea." - Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Relegated to the parking lot of the Pinnacle in Tutwiler is the Lifeway Christian Bookstore. For those not familiar with Lifeway, they are the new name for the old Baptist Book Store that used to be downtown on University. Primarily a single purpose store, Lifeway's book collection is limited to current Christian pop trend books, usually priced higher than their not-so-cloistered competitors, and a smattering of classic Christian treatises and devotionals. The diversity of thought sold there is usually little more than nuanced Christian themes, many of questionable theological integrity, mass marketed to the Christian culture. Rarely (ie., never) do I find anything, or anyone, in that store that will challenge the truths of the Gospel. In short, really just overpriced Christian choir books. As a result, I rarely shop there. I am not much of one for making a buck off of being the "Christian" place to shop and my personality is such that I find the premise distasteful.
However, I recently visited the other storied chapel of collected human wisdom at the Pinnacle known as Books-A-Million. Contained within those four walls is the literature of the great, and the not-so-great. The moment you walk in, you know you are no longer in the safe confines of a monastery, but are challenged with the competing ideas of modern America in a post-modern world. You are greeted with biographies of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Harry Potter. Its books range the gambit from the atheistic philosophy of Bertrand Russell to the deistic drivel of Joel Osteen. Often within arms reach of each other (and even closer philosophically).
I don't often enough have the time to go and browse there. I am usually there solely to purchase a book I either haven't read, or haven't read in quite some time and want to read again. On this particular visit I was there to buy a copy of Richard Dawkins The God Delusion, which was finally out in paperback. (I admit it, I'm cheap - not wanting to pay for a hardbound copy of the book.) Dawkins is a biologist by training, and well respected as a scientist. The heir apparent to Carl Sagan, Dawkins is an avowed evangelical atheist, preaching his message of atheism as a way of life with all the enthusiasm of a Benny Hinn camp meeting. To summarize Dawkins' mission, his call is to announce liberation from religious repression and call all closet and practical atheists out of hiding and into the light. He is for atheists what Gloria Steinem was to the National Organization for Women - a crusader. This is a book I want to read.
I locate the book in the "Sciences" section of the store (a nonfiction area) and immediately begin perusing it and realize this is going to be a fun read. I make this selection and another (Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 - a book I have never read) and head to the check out to purchase the books. Behind the counter is a young, mid to late 20s guy with tattooed arms and a biker build. This tattooed biker guy (as I call him) engages me in conversation about my choice of books, calling both "great works of fiction". He recommends to me, in his conversational tone, that he found C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity to be really good and I realize this guy is trying to witness to me. He has presumed, by my book choices, that I am an atheist buying my choir books. I have run into a fellow believer seeking to witness to me by offering an alternative to my purchase. (Never mind that I presumed by his looks he was not a believer.)
My initial reaction was to be offended - why would buying a learned treatise by an atheist call into question my Christian conviction and belief? I immediately realized that his Christianity was subsumed for the moment with Christian choir books, and that Christians need only fill their mind with more and more of those thoughts and must fight to keep out any questions, and doubts, and and fears. In short, a Christianity whose faith should not be questioned or tested, or as Dawkins calls it, a belief in belief. My knee-jerk reaction was to test him and his faith, to see if what he believed could really stand up to the heavy assault of people like Dawkins and survive, both intellectually and spiritually.
But then I remembered the very reason I was buying Dawkins' book:
But in your hearts set apart 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, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. (1 Pet. 3:15-16).
Sometimes, being prepared to give an answer means not just being prepared to answer those who attack our faith, but also to realize that those who need the choir books need hope as well. Those whose faith is not yet ready to be tested by anything other than choir books, need that nourishment for maturity. I could have, probably fairly easily, tested the biker guy's faith and made him look foolish and me look smart - but I would have damaged a brother, and done nothing productive for the cause of Christ. So I did the nice thing, the right thing - I recommended to him C.S. Lewis' The Abolition of Man as a good philosophical treatise from Lewis, and particularly his essay in there entitled Men without Chests. Not easy reading, for sure, but necessary reading. It is my hope that biker guy will long for the sea, will look forward to the day that his faith can be tested without breaking.
Is Lewis the answer to Dawkins? I doubt it. As Thomas Aquinas so aptly put it, "To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible." But in that place, at that time, during that season, Lewis was the answer to biker guy.