Jesus or Nothing: A Conversation With Dan DeWitt
A few months ago I had the privilege of getting my hands on a pre-release of Dan DeWitt’s latest book, Jesus or Nothing (Crossway, 2014). You can read my review here. Recently, I had the opportunity to converse with Dan, dean of Boyce College, on the ins and outs of his book Jesus or Nothing. David: Dan, you wrote Jesus or Nothing as a part of a collaborative project with five time Dove Award nominee, three time Stellar Award nominee, and GRAMMY nominee, FLAME. What was the thought behind doing a collaborative project?
Dan: Marcus (aka. Flame) and I are good friends. I shared with him about the book one time while we were at Starbucks and we kicked around the idea of a song or something based on the book. In time it grew into a full album, and I really could not be more excited or honored about the way it turned out.
David: They say that those who cannot do, teach. But as I read your book, I got the feeling that this was birthed in genuine dialogue with non-believers and not on a legal pad. What prompted you to write this book?
Dan: Before becoming dean of Boyce College, I served as the lead pastor for a campus of Highview Baptist Church, which met on the campus of the University of Louisville. The Lord blessed our ministry in an interesting way by giving us a lot of favor with secular students. We even co-sponsored different events with the Society for Secular Students. This book really was born out of sincere conversations with skeptics. That opportunity more than any other has shaped my approach to the dialogue between Christianity and atheism.
David: You’re a father of four, you’ve served as a church planting pastor, and you’re a dean of a college. Which voice did you use most in writing this book, and is that indicative of the area of your greatest concern (e.g. families, churches, or the academy)?
Dan: That’s a great question that is really hard to answer. It is probably, in its present tense, more of a pastoral concern. With my oldest children being seven (twin boys), the challenges of the secular university campus are still a long way off. But I’m sure this element is still present, though perhaps more in the background at this point of my life.
David: Oftentimes, it feels as though Christians are on the witness stand being directly examined in the trial of God. But, as I briefly commented in my review, you turned the table and put the plaintiff on the stand, so to speak. It was as if you were a doctor who already knew the diagnosis, yet you continued to ask the patient symptomatic questions in hopes that they would arrive at their own prognosis. In regards to evangelistic conversations, then, is the best offense a good defense, or would you say it is good to prod?
Dan: Your question reminds me of C.S. Lewis’s God in the Dock where he reminds us that God is not on trial with humans as the judge and jury, it’s the other way around. I think sometimes Christians witness to the gospel in a reactive way due to a sincere intimidation they feel from those outside the faith. But the gospel is not intimidated nor overshadowed by any rival truth claim. I don’t think I would ever want to say any single approach is a silver bullet, or should be used exclusively. But I do think there is an appropriate time to turn things around and begin asking the skeptic some tough questions. And I think, at least for me, this has proven to be an effective way to move into meaningful dialogue.
David: In chapter seven, 'The Never-Ending Story,’ (my favorite chapter) you focused on Paul's missionary aid, Demas. After describing Demas' apostasy (Col. 4:14; 2 Tim. 4:9-11), you said that we shouldn't be too quick to dismiss him, and that there is a genuine appeal to Nothing. Then you said, "It's ironic, but it seems that Nothing people and gospel people face a similar struggle." (loc 893). What did you mean by that?
Dan: Life is not a southern Gospel song. It’s not all smiles and thoughts of Heaven. It is rough. To deny this is to reject reality. Too often we act as though the gospel makes life easy and we live all our days temptation free. Deep down we understand the atheist's attraction to the Nothing.
We know what it is like to want to reserve a spot, just big enough for a compact car, to shelter a little moral autonomy. Christians understand cognitively and experientially the pull of the Nothing. This is not to say they love it, they cannot love it, but they do understand it.
But on the other hand, unbelievers cannot deny the pull of hope, purpose, and grace. These things are not keeping with their fundamental worldview commitments, and yet there they are living every day as if they are real. They want them to be real, and they live as if they are. That’s why there is not such thing as a fully orbed nihilist; hope has a way of sneaking in. But only the gospel can reconcile human optimism with reality.
That’s what I mean by the common struggle. Because of common grace, God’s law being written on human hearts, and the Imago Dei (Image of God), all people feel the push and pull of purpose. Because of depravity, however, even the believer’s best day is still tainted by sin.
Christians and skeptics can understand a little more of each other’s challenges than they may be willing to admit. Everyday presents us with the dilemma of which we will live for: Jesus or Nothing.