Aussie Apologist in Town on U.S. Tour to Launch New Book

Written by Ann Byle on . Posted in Local

John Dickson 2014Pastor and author Dr. John Dickson will visit Grand Rapids this week while on a U.S. tour to promote his new book “A Doubter’s Guide to the Bible: Inside History’s Bestseller for Believers and Skeptics,” published by Zondervan and available in stores this month.

Dickson grew up as a religious skeptic, first meeting Christianity in high school in an elective course. His curiosity turned to faith and eventually led him to Macquarie University in Sydney, where he earned at Ph.D. in history and is currently a senior research fellow in the Department of Ancient History. He is also co-director of the Centre for Public Christianity and senior minister at an Anglican church in Sydney.

He is author of more than a dozen books and a busy speaker around the world. Dr. Dickson, who will headline several events around Grand Rapids (see below), answers questions about his books, speaking, current events, and the historical Jesus.

Q: You speak to both skeptics and firm believers in Jesus. How do your messages differ for these audiences?

A: My favorite audience is a room full of people who feel there are better-than-average reasons to doubt most Christian claims. I love addressing people who have thought about life, read a little widely, and think there might be something to Christianity, just not enough. I want to acknowledge their doubts and demonstrate that you can wrestle your way through, never around, pretty much every question a thoughtful person could put to Christian faith.

Does this differ from the way I address Christian believers? Yes and no. Obviously there are things you can assume when speaking to a church so I don’t need to qualify things so much. That said, I always try to speak—and write—as if one of my good friends who doesn’t believe were sitting in the audience or reading the book.

Q: Why is it important to understand the historical Jesus and his place in history?

A: The figure of Jesus, for all the disagreement amongst professional historians, really does ‘fit’ as a figure of Roman Galilee and Judea in the first half of the first century. That means historical questions must be asked: What did Jesus mean by ‘the kingdom of God?’ How did he end up on a Roman cross? The list is endless. Christianity puts its head on the chopping block of historical scrutiny and invites anyone who wishes to take a swing. The very nature of Christian conviction invites that and Christian ought to be okay with it.

Q: How do you speak to Christians about the divisive issue of gay marriage and the LGBTQI community?

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A: I am of the view that LGBTQI communities should force the church to do some rethinking. Sometimes the church influences the culture and sometime the culture influences the church. That’s a good thing and to be welcomed. A powerful case is being made by LGBTQI communities. It should cause us to ponder anew what is really in Scripture. I hold a classical view of sex and marriage; LGBTQI readings of Scripture haven’t convinced me. But I hope my convictions will never lead to bigotry or discrimination toward anyone. I pray that on all contentious issues—abortion, euthanasia, etc.—I will be able to flex both muscles: the muscle of conviction and the muscle of compassion.


Q: What is the hardest part of Christianity for nonbelievers to understand or accept?

A: I meet people who find Christianity too tame and weak, and others who see it as a violent bully. Some feel it is too pessimistic in its view of human nature, and others accuse it of being overly optimistic, with a kind of pie-in-the-sky idealism. Some find it moralistic and do-gooding, others immoral. Christians must never panic about all the criticisms. It’s what they should expect. Instead, as kindly as they can, they should listen and respond to every person’s issue. One thing I’ve learned: there is no question you could put to Christianity that hasn’t been answered by some thoughtful believer somewhere.

Q: What projects are you working on now?

A: I just finished the next in this series, “The Doubter’s Guide to the Ten Commandments: How, for Better or Worse, Our Ideas about the Good Life come from Moses and Jesus.” It’s an exploration of the way the Ten Commandments via their recasting by Jesus influenced Western culture more than many imagine. The next book after that is about the history of the church, the good, the bad, and the ugly. It’s currently subtitled, “How the Church is Better and Worse than You Ever Imagined.”

Schedule of events:

Feb. 14 & 15—Ada Bible Church, services Saturday evening at 5:30 pm at the Cascade campus (live) and 6 pm at Kentwood and Knapp Street locations (telecast); Sunday morning at 9:15 and 11 am at all three locations. Visit www.adabible.org for more information.

Feb. 15—7 pm, Founders Brewing Company Centennial Room, 235 Grandville Ave. SW.

Feb. 16—10 am, Chapel at Cornerstone University Hansen Athletic Center, 1001 East Beltline Ave. NE.

Author Information
Ann Byle
About:
Ann Byle is a freelance writer and owner of AB Writing Services. She writes for a number of publications including WMCN, Publishers Weekly, CBA Christian Market and Grand Rapids Magazine, and is author or coauthor of several books including The Baker Book House Story, The Call to Care: A Compassionate Response to Caring for Vulnerable Children (2018) and Christian Publishing 101 (2018). She and her husband Ray, a science teacher, have four young adult children.

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