Unbelievable? How I got atheists listening to Christian radio
by Justin Brierley
What makes an atheist want to listen to a Christian radio show? Drawing from his new book, Justin Brierley explains why believers need to learn the art of good conversations again
Conversations matter. The best sort of conversations spark creativity, deepen relationships and help us to see things from another person’s point of view. Yet good conversations about faith, doubt and belief are becoming harder to find these days. The echo chambers of social media often surround us with friends and followers who think the same way as we do. Meanwhile, the shrill tones of public intellectuals such as Richard Dawkins and the New Atheists have dominated the conversation from the secular side.
When I began my radio show Unbelievable? over ten years ago, I wanted to reboot the concept of good conversations. The station I worked for, Premier Christian Radio, was already very good at a specific sort of broadcasting – Christians on the radio talking to Christians at home about Christian things. All of which is important and helpful.
But I wanted to widen the conversation. With less than five per cent of the UK attending church on Sunday, what if we tried talking to people outside our Christian bubble? The format of the new show was fairly simple. I would sit down with two guests, one a Christian and the other not, to talk to them about why one believed and the other didn’t. And we would title the show Unbelievable?
The question mark was essential. Each show would debate a question, with the intention of testing the central claims of Christianity – could they stand up to scrutiny? What were the alternative views? And, along the way, what could we learn from inviting people outside the Christian faith into our big conversations?
Hosting the conversation
As the show progressed over the following months, we began to cover specific issues: is scripture reliable? Why would God allow suffering? How do you explain the Trinity? At Christmas we asked if there was evidence for the virgin birth and at Easter debated the evidence for the resurrection. And it wasn’t just atheists and agnostics opposite the Christian guests. Hindus, Buddhists, Jews and those involved in esoteric New Age practices also featured on the show. Muslim guests would usually guarantee a lively debate and a big response from the listeners…
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