The Professor and the Punk Rocker

  It all started with a fan letter. Preston Jones, assistant professor of history at John Brown University, had been drawn to the music of the punk band Bad Religion for twenty years. As the band’s name suggests, it is led by an atheist songwriter named Greg Graffin whose lyrics often talk about religion. Professor Jones, on the other hand, is a committed Christian. But as he explains, he has “sometimes . . . felt more at ease with thoughtful atheists than with Christians, because atheists often come to their beliefs after asking difficult questions about evil, suffering and the seeming indifference of the universe.” It was largely this element in Greg Graffin’s music that inspired Preston Jones to send him a fan letter. Graffin is also a scholar (he had just finished his Ph.D. in evolutionary biology). Something in the Christian professor’s letter prompted the atheist punk rocker to respond. Out of that exchange grew an e-mail correspondence that now makes up an interesting book, Is Belief in God Good, Bad or Irrelevant? In a thought-provoking series of letters, Graffin defends naturalism—the idea “that all phenomena can be explained in terms of natural causes and laws”—while Jones responds, as you would expect, from a strong Christian point of view. This book is not for the faint of heart. Graffin and Jones delve deeply into issues of science, faith, psychology, philosophy, and more. They wrestle with the questions that have haunted both of them, not to mention billions of others: Why is there evil? How can we believe in a God whom we can’t see? How much can science explain about the universe? Does life have any “ultimate meaning”? For the most part, they come up with, as you would expect, very different answers. And the correspondence often takes an unsparing, take-no-prisoners tone. Jones and Graffin do not go easy on one another; nor do they go easy on Christians who “act and speak brainlessly,” as Jones puts it. They have little patience with believers of any kind who do not take the time to think about why they believe what they believe. But the great advantage of a book like this, for Christians, is that it provides a chance to see how some of the tenets of our faith hold up against the challenges of a “thoughtful atheist.” For nonbelievers, it’s a good chance to read the viewpoint of a thinking Christian and consider some Christian arguments they may never have encountered. And for both groups, it’s a chance to watch two very different people engage in a conversation about the important things in life. It’s a sobering fact that many Christians wouldn’t even bother to speak to the atheist singer/songwriter of a punk rock band. The fact that Professor Jones did so, and that his comments led to an enriching conversation, offers a great example to those of us who might otherwise hesitate to reach out across a seemingly unbridgeable divide to share the Christian worldview. Come to our website,, where you can find out more about this book and other important worldview resources and articles that will equip you to roll up your sleeves and talk with a nonbelieving friend or neighbor about the way you see the world—which is, by the way, when you understand it, eminently reasonable.
For Further Reading and Information
Today’s BreakPoint offer: Subscribe today to BreakPoint WorldView magazine! Call 1-877-322-5527. Preston Jones, ed. Is Belief in God Good, Bad or Irrelevant? (InterVarsity, 2006). Preston Jones, “The Process of Belief: The Faith of Bad Religion’s Greg Graffin,” BreakPoint WorldView, June 2005. Mike Clawson, “Is Belief in God Good, Bad or Irrelevant?” Emerging Pensees blog, 7 June 2006. C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (HarperSanFrancisco, 2001 edition).


Chuck Colson



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