The night before our Confident Christianity conference in Salisbury, Andy Bannister spoke at a men’s curry night in the city. Almost sixty guys came to the event, and packed the place, which was really encouraging. The evening was aimed at people who are not Christians, the folks in the local church had invited friends along.
St Paul’s church in Salisbury hosted the event, in a café they own called The Hope Centre, close to the centre of the city. The curry was really great, cooked by a former Army chef – which everyone really enjoyed. Then Andy Bannister addressed the subject of “The Pursuit of Happiness”. It’s a topic that seems to work particularly well in café-style settings, outside the traditional walls of the church.
Our culture encourages us to seek affirmation in things like work, performance, success, sexuality, and so forth. There is nothing inherently wrong with any of these things, but they are not designed to be ultimate; which means that if you make them the ultimate thing then ultimately they will let you down! Partly that’s because they are ephemeral. Food for example, is wonderful, it’s a basic need, which when met provides a level of satisfaction; but doesn’t provide ultimate meaning, significance and satisfaction. It produces a temporary sense of wellbeing, which is good – but not permanent happiness. A parallel with food can obviously be made with sex; as while both are good, neither are ultimate. Finally, we all need something bigger than ourselves as a foundation for happiness, security, identity, and our very selves. That foundation, is of course the gospel – Jesus said “I have come that you may have life, and life in all its fullness (John 10:10).
After Andy’s talk, there was a really open, lively and thoughtful Q&A session – in which it was obvious that people were really thinking the whole issue of happiness through in new ways. The ‘happiness’ topic is particularly helpful in meetings such as this. Christian apologists typically go for subjects such as “Evidence for the existence of God”, or “God and Science”, which are great subjects for people who are thinking about faith and raising objections. However the ‘happiness’ topic is a great one for engaging people who are perhaps agnostic, or even apathetic, because it shows them that ‘the God question’ really matters. In the Q&A in Salisbury, some of the audience raised questions such as “Well, what you’ve said makes sense but what about…….” and then raised objections and apologetic issues. That’s really significant because those people are now ready to engage with the apologetic issues.
Blaise Pascal said, “Preach the gospel in such a way that good people wish that it were true; then show them that it is!” The “Pursuit of happiness” question addresses the first part of that, whereas a lot of our other work at Solas, moves onto those other issues. Confronting the objections of sceptics is really important, but so is arousing the interest of the apathetic by showing them that the gospel has something powerfully relevant to say about aspects of life they already care deeply about.