It’s around 2 a.m. and Monday night has faded into Tuesday morning. Stacer is driving back to his house just five minutes from the University of Connecticut with nothing more in his system than coffee when the flashing lights of a police car appear behind him.
“Here we go again,” he mumbles under his breath.
The officer asks why he’s out at that hour, and Stacer answers that he’s been discussing the philosophical implications of the Christian worldview with skeptics. The officer himself seems skeptical. Stacer shows his license and demonstrates no reason for suspicion. The officer allows Stacer to continue on his way without penalty.
Late Monday nights are a tradition for those in the Freethinkers Club, which has been meeting at the University of Connecticut for roughly nine semesters to discuss topics related to philosophy and logic. Since the group’s inception, a small group of students like Stacer from UConn Students for Christ, along with one Cru staff member, have joined them to demonstrate that Christianity in its genuine form does not threaten society the way many fear. It is a logical viewpoint to which thinking people can subscribe.
These few Christians are as welcome as any atheist, agnostic, or skeptic. Though it hasn’t been easy, they have earned that acceptance by listening, being patient, and being honest.
Learning to Listen
A few years ago, Jim was a student and knew somebody starting up the club. Jim had only been a Christian for maybe seven months by that point, but because of the nature of his testimony, he was intrigued by the club and decided to attend the inaugural meetings with Ryan, the Cru staff member discipling him at the time.
“I was very naive about it,” Jim told me. “It all made a lot of sense to me. How could it not? But it became apparent quickly that it was more than just answering questions, it was learning to listen, a lot. The next two years included a lot of listening.”
Unfortunately, the reputation of Christians had preceded them.
“I think what a lot of people don’t understand, is that a lot of the most dismissive, antitheists out there are the people who have been the most abused and damaged by people claiming to represent church,” Stacer told me. “Fathers drag daughters to church every Sunday, yet sexually abuse them and beat their mothers. It’s so hypocritical.”
So hostility was their first reaction to a Christian trying to talk with them about matters of faith.
Ryan told me that the biggest obstacle he faced was just getting some of them to listen to him in return. But he knew that if he could get them to a point when they would truly listen, and not simply wait for their chance at a stinging one-liner, meaningful conversation would follow. To get to that point, he had to listen, be polite, and most importantly, show grace.
Not Yet Revival
The involvement of these Christians hasn’t yet brought about revival, nor do they necessarily expect it to. Every student involved has spent countless late nights heavily engaged in conversations, yet they have seen what some might call “very little fruit.” In nine semesters, they’ve seen only two people come to Christ.
But using the phrase “only two people” grossly underestimates the beauty of seeing once-bitter hearts transformed by the gospel.
A student named Laura, a former agnostic Buddhist, had started attending meetings while doing a comparative study on world religions. She knew plenty of information, showed a lot of interest, and asked a lot of questions, but couldn’t accept Christ. In her mind at the time, no one could not possibly declare one religion to be more right than the others.
She later started attending a Bible study for seekers hosted by Jim. Within three weeks, she became a Christian. Following that, her life was flipped upside-down over the course of a single weekend. She now has a master of divinity degree.
Another student named Nick, a hardened nihilist, was consistent in that philosophical framework and found it comforting. Nothing mattered, he thought, and if nothing mattered, there was no reason to worry.
He then disappeared for a semester from Freethinkers meetings, and nobody even heard from him. It seemed as though he had dropped off the face of the earth. But when he came back from his hiatus, something was clearly different. The once-ardent nihilist was conversing and debating as if he were a Christian. He said that he had been doing a lot of reading and thinking and was leaning toward Christianity. A short time later, he considered himself to be a Christian. He’s now preparing to attend seminary.
But people coming to a point where they acknowledge that Jesus is Lord has not been the only evidence of God working through that setting.
Two of the group’s non-believing members had attended a few of the Cru weekly meetings this past semester, but something special happened at the final meeting of the year. As a way of sending Ryan off to where God was calling him next—Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary—students were asked to share specific things about Ryan that had encouraged them in his time on staff with Cru.
Several students shared from their seats, but one in particular stood out. In front of a room filled almost entirely with Christians, a Freethinkers member spoke. He said he really appreciated Ryan’s patience and kindness and went on to say that even though he does not adhere to the Christian worldview, he now admires it.
For Ryan, it was special enough to see him present at the meeting. But hearing him share about him was something unexpectedly amazing. Although Ryan won’t be able to personally be a part of his journey as much as he would like, he is confident that God is moving in his heart.
“He now knows that the Christian worldview is beautiful, but atheism is not,” Ryan told me. “If people can come away from Freethinkers in a thoughtful way like that, it makes me really happy. I pray that he continues to be drawn to that.”