I have to admit that while reading Saving Casper, I was angry. Angry at the authors for sounding like they were picking on Christians on purpose. Angry that Christians would be portrayed as ignorant and judgmental jerks. I basically went through the whole book pinpointing things that I disagreed with and began adding on to the negativity with each turning page, keeping track of ‘the bad stuff’. I wrote a long, scathing review, but before publishing it, I had the forethought to send it to a few trusted friends for their advice. They helped me see things a little differently. And I found the anger cooling down and a light turning on, a light that allowed me to see the alienation and emotional pain that non-Christians experience because of overzealous Christians. There are still a few points in the book that I disagree with and I will get to those in a minute.
Saving Casper: A Christian And An Atheist Talk About Why We Need To Change The Conversion Conversation is the story of Jim Henderson, a Christian, and Matt Casper, an atheist, who share the hard truths of where the Church is failing in regards to evangelism and in the process, alienating countless people. This book is written in a conversational style in which Jim and Casper dialogue about how we, as Christians, can better share our faith with unbelievers through listening rather than damning. A major theme of the book is about hell: Casper was told numerous times by Christians that he was going to burn in hell if he didn’t convert.
Casper, although not a Christian, knows enough about the Bible to make me stop and seriously think about the implications of what I think/say/do in relation to my faith. As Christians, we need to be some of the most loving, most welcoming people on the planet. But it obviously has not come across that way to those who are not of the Christian faith, according to Casper. Non-Christians see hypocrisy, finger-pointing, judging, fighting amongst denominations. As Jim pointed out, comparing our best to your worst is not fair. Casper states that the best way to share Jesus with atheists and agnostics is to simply care about that person through our actions instead of trying to shove our religion down their throat.
Time and time again throughout the book, Jim and Casper share examples of how Casper was told by Christians- whether in face-to-face conversation, radio interviews or in college forums- that because he wasn’t a Christian, he would be going to hell. Sometimes these Christians were nice to Casper at first and tried sharing their faith with him and when they saw that they weren’t getting anywhere, all of a sudden they would turn on him and say, ‘You’re going to burn in hell!” I lost track of how many times Casper was blatantly told that he would burn forever. I still have a hard time wrapping my mind around the fact that any Christian would be so bold and ignorant as to use those words in such a serious conversation, but it’s true.
Here’s where I am confused. I agree that it is wrong to casually tell an unbeliever that he’s going to hell, but if someone came out and initiated a conversation (which is what Jim and Casper do throughout the book) about where a person is going to go after he dies if he doesn’t believe in Jesus, what would I say? I would have to answer truthfully: I believe, according to the Bible, that a person will spend eternity in hell if he rejects Jesus. So, if an atheist came up to me and asked me where an unbeliever would go when he dies, I would be placed in a very awkward predicament. Do I become like a Westboro Baptist member and ‘preach with fire and brimstone’ that they are going to hell? No. Obviously. But if I try to explain in more gentle terminology where a person who has rejected Jesus goes, I guess I’m still wrong…according to this book. I feel like the discussion of hell is a major stumbling block no matter how it is brought up. Talking about hell is wrong no matter how you do it, or at least that is what I came away with after reading this book.
Regarding Jim and Casper’s friendship and business relationship, where as Christians, are we supposed to draw the line when it comes to having deep friendships, even business partnerships, with an atheist? It’s an honest question. I would like to know what Jim thinks about what the Bible has to say in 2 Corinthians 6:14 “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?” I know that Jesus was constantly engaged with Gentiles and sinners, but I don’t believe He lingered in companionship with someone who outright rejected Him. He simply moved on. I make this point simply as an observation and a question, not as a dagger to somehow trap the authors.
In Saving Casper, Casper and Jim are fairly condescending in how they speak about Christians. I got a little tired of the sarcasm and mocking tone in some parts. Not all Christians are ignorant, hypocritical, judgmental people, just as not all atheists can be lumped into the same category.
I didn’t quite understand the new religion that Jim created: Otherlyness. Christianity is his main “religion”, but he says that he ‘needed something else where I could experiment, explore, and stretch out spiritually” (p. 69). I was waiting for there to be some sort of ‘just joking’, but this Otherlyness religion seemed to be a serious endeavor to create a bridge between his Christian views and atheists. He states that ‘you don’t have to believe a thing to follow Otherlyness, but to call yourself a practitioner, you must do something, namely, these three practices’…And instead of expanding on those practices here, I will just say that they are based around being tolerant and understanding of another person’s different beliefs with the goal of learning about them. These practices of Otherlyness are so basic to what a good, moral, law-abiding citizen should observe that even Ira Glass, famous atheist, admits to Jim that he practices all 3 of those beliefs. Jim congratulates Ira and tells him that because of having that in common with him, they practice the same religion. I found this whole section to be stretching a little too far for me.
In closing, some of the things I appreciated the most were when Casper shared his heart: “Being saved has to be about more than avoiding hell. It has to be about more than going to church once a week, more than saying the Lord’s Prayer”. We need to love like Jesus loved and save the judging for those who are without sin. We need to embrace those who are ‘different’ than us, but we also need to stay true to who we are and what our Savior accomplished on the cross.
I feel like reading this book may have opened a lot more questions and searching in my mind than probably the authors even knew or intended! While I do still disagree with a few things in Saving Casper, I found myself embarrassed and ashamed reading some of the encounters that Casper experienced with “on fire Christians”. Jim and Casper- You have encouraged me to continually examine myself to see whether I am in the faith…but not to examine others to see whether they are ‘in the faith’ or not because only God can do that.
This book was provided as a free copy from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.