Saving Casper: A Christian and an Atheist Talk about Why We Need to Change the Conversion Conversation, by Jim Henderson and Matt Casper, Tyndale House, 2013.
When you think about it, the typical church usually doesn’t get any honest feedback from the visitors it receives, except when they vote by their feet to leave after one visit, or to come back the next week. In their first book, Jim and Casper go to Church, Jim, a former pastor, and Casper, an atheist, visit at least eleven churches of different types around the country, with Casper giving his honest feedback on what he observed in the church service. These observations, or questions of bewilderment, are discussed for each visit, and give a sometimes startling look at how Christian churches of various Protestant stripes operate. Some of the churches visited were Saddleback, Willow Creek, Joel’s Osteen’s Lakewood, Mars Hill, and the Dream Center (Four-Square).
In their second book, Saving Casper. Jim and Casper return with more musings and dialogue on their church visits, this time mostly concentrating on their experiences in travelling to talk about the first book. A lot of the same themes come up in this book, such as Casper’s observation that many churches seem more concerned about money or obtaining members or making people feel good, than in actually following what Jesus said to do in caring for the poor and needy. He also talks about how Christians often seemed more focused on getting people saved than in caring about them as persons. A particularly shameful thing was to hear how many times people would interact with Casper cordially, but end by reminding him he’s headed for hell if he doesn’t repent. In contrast, Casper recounts the death of his mother, and how her Catholic friends provided loving and honest support to him and his family, not caring that he is an atheist. All in all, though, Casper does realize that not all Christians are alike, and some do get it right in their honest friendship and outreach to others.
This book presents a good case for any church to really examine the image it presents to outsiders, and for church members to examine how they interact with non-believers. Are we behaving in the ways the Bible tells us to treat others? Do we make non-Christians uncomfortable by an overemphasis on hell and salvation, or on collecting money for church projects? Are we really involved in the lives of others in the community? Granted, Casper’s views may over-emphasize the social aspects of the Gospel as being most important, as opposed to dealing with Jesus’s claims of being the Son of God, but there is still much to learn from both of these books.
(I was provided an electronic copy of this book in return for an honest review.)