Jonathan Morrow is passionate about encouraging and equipping the next generation to think Christianly about all of life. He is the author of Welcome to College: A Christ-follower’s Guide for the Journey and the coauthor (with Sean McDowell) of Is God Just a Human Invention? And Seventeen Other Questions Raised by the New Atheists. Jonathan also contributed several articles to the Apologetics Study Bible for Students. He holds a Master of Divinity and a Master of Arts in philosophy from Talbot School of Theology, where he is pursuing a Doctor of Ministry in Engaging Mind and Culture. Currently he is the equipping pastor at Fellowship Bible Church in Murfreesboro, TN.
Jonathan has been a guest on Family Life Today and Point of View and blogs regularly on the intersection of Christianity and culture at http://www.thinkchristianly.org/. He and his wife Mandi have been married for 10 years and have two children. What follows is an interview with Jonathan about his latest book Is God Just a Human Invention? and about equipping Christian students for college.
CPYU: What motivated you and Sean to write this book?
Morrow: One of the things we have noticed in our experience with students and people within the church today (Sean as a Teacher and myself as a Pastor who works with students and adults) is that the New Atheists’ books, articles and debates, have been wreaking havoc on their faith. And so we wanted to write a book for this generation that would be understandable and engaging but that would also contain substantive responses to the eighteen biggest objections raised by the New Atheists. We also wanted to cover a wide spectrum of topics from scientific and philosophical issues to moral and biblical ones—all in one place. Most people aren’t going to read the best 5 books on a single topic, so we wanted to offer a resource that really hit all the big issues. The conversation about God and truth can get pretty heated. However, our goal was to have a productive conversation so we tried to maintain a civil tone while at the same time making a rigorous case for God and responding to the specific objections raised by the New Atheists. I guess the bottom line in writing Is God Just a Human Invention?, is that Sean and I wanted to make sure there would be someone to help guide young adults in their faith journey and ensure that they have the opportunity to seriously consider an un-caricatured, thoughtful understanding of Christianity because becoming a lifelong follower of Jesus Christ is the best decision one could ever make.
CPYU: How did you develop your passion for apologetics?
Morrow: For me, that journey really began as I was asking the big questions of life during college. This was aided by the fact that I also seemed to end up with every hostile professor to Christianity on campus! So I scrambled for answers and wanted to know if there were good reasons to be a Christian. Was it true? I had no interest in following fairytales and certainly didn’t want to base my life on religious wishful thinking. But, the more I investigated, the more confident I became that this really is true. I began reading people like Ravi Zacharias, William Lane Craig, Norman Geisler, and J.P Moreland and it was like a breath of fresh air for my soul during these formative years. That really gave me a vision for doing for others what they did for me (cf. 2 Timothy 2:2).
CPYU: A very helpful aspect of the book is that each chapter concludes with a “why it matters” section. Why was that important to you?
Morrow: We wanted this book to have a unique angle that speaks to this generation. And so we invited eighteen leading scholars to share a little bit of their own stories and how these truths were meaningful to their lives in a “why it matters” section that follows each of the chapters that we wrote. We thought it was important for students to see that this is not just an academic exercise for those who get into that sort of thing. These questions really matter. Ideas have consequences! We were blown away and humbled by the generous response of these scholars to give of their time to help encourage the next generation in their search for truth. Their willingness to participate really speaks to how important these questions really are for all of us.
CPYU: Many of the readers of this blog are concerned with the college experience for Christian students. How will this book help college students as they encounter tough questions about faith on campus?
Morrow: Specifically, I think it will help them in a couple ways. First, I think it gives them solid reasons to believe that God not only exists, but that he has also spoken in the person of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 3:15). This is something you can investigate with eyes wide open. Furthermore, it will help explode slogans and myths that get bantered about like “science has made God irrelevant” or that “Christianity is dangerous” or that “Christianity is based on blind faith.” Another way this book will help is that students will be introduced to 18 leading Christian thinkers as they read. Sometimes, people can get the idea that not many people take the life of the mind seriously in Christianity. This is simply false. We are commanded to love God with all of our minds (Matthew 22:37). In addition, we offer the top 2 resources for further investigation of that topic at the end of each chapter plus websites and DVD’s. Finally, we hope students who work through this book will walk away with a renewed sense of confidence that Christianity really is true and that they would seek out the unique part God would have them play in the mission of God.
CPYU: From your experience traveling and speaking, do you think the New Atheist Movement is growing or shrinking?
Morrow: One thing is for sure, they have the media’s attention. They are selling lots of books, developing apps for the iPhone, are active on social networking sites and Internet forums, and sponsoring billboard campaigns. One of the things that is “new” about this manifestation of atheism is the evangelistic zeal with which they are trying to get their message out. In my experience, people may not always be able to tell you the names of the new atheists, but they are raising the same issues and objections mentioned in their writings. So while this is still a relatively small percentage of the people in America, they do have access to the microphone to get their message out which means we need to be ready to engage.
CPYU: What do you think the rise in popularity of the New Atheists has taught the church? What should Christians learn from the kinds of questions the New Atheists are asking?
Morrow: The New Atheists present both an opportunity and a challenge for the church. The difference between an opportunity and a challenge largely depends upon how a person responds. The New Atheists want students to question their faith. In a sense, so do we. If Christianity is really true, then it has nothing to fear from honest and vigorous investigation. Let the best ideas win! In the end, everyone has to answer the big questions in life: Where did I come from? Do I matter? Is there a God? If so, does this God care about me? Was Jesus really who he claimed to be? What is the good life? Is there life after death?
We see this as an opportunity because when Christian students come out on the other side of wrestling with these fundamental questions and the challenges of the New Atheists, they will have formed convictions—and passion flows from conviction. After all, we are called to contend for the faith (Jude 3).
But here is the challenge. The church must do the hard work of equipping the next generation to think about their faith. This will take time, resources, mentors, study and careful thinking. And it will not always yield “immediate results.” But the return on investment will be huge down the road. There is no shortage of books and polls documenting that an increasing number of students seem to be checking out from their faith in college and beyond. I think recovering an emphasis on apologetics and Christian worldview training is one important part of the remedy, along with cultivating strong peer and mentor relationships.