Sed Contra: Learning to Listen

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Deal W. Hudson
May 1, 2002

It’s difficult for those of us in the evangelism business to listen. After all, if you’re proclaiming the “good news,” isn’t it you do the talking? But it shouldn’t always be this way. Evangelism begins with listening: first to the Word of God and then to those who must hear it.

Anyone who evangelizes successfully begins by finding a point of contact with his audience. It’s a mistake to assume that everyone has a set of problems that we already understand and can address in a language we already know. Which is why successful evangelists begin by asking questions.

This month CRISIS begins a new project titled, “Christianity From the Outside.” We’ve asked nine prominent non-Christians to answer a series of questions about their attitudes toward religion in general and Christianity in particular. And we’ve requested that they be frank. One cannot address the real concerns of non-Christians until one knows what they are, and that requires moving beyond the normal gestures of indifferent courtesy.

Our respondents have given us their views without pulling any punches, just as we asked them to. Their answers are varied. Some we expected. Others are surprising, encouraging, and even challenging. We’re grateful for their willingness to speak so freely in the “enemy territory” of a Catholic magazine.

In the next several months, we’ll be asking some of the best contemporary Christian thinkers to address the important issues our respondents have raised. Ralph Mclnerny and Rev. James Schall will get us started in June.

Those of our readers interested in apologetics will find this series especially useful. More importantly, all of our readers will be better prepared to understand and respond to everyday resistance to Christianity. What you read in this article, articulated with great sophistication, is much the same as what you might hear from your next-door neighbor. And perhaps some of the concerns—maybe even some of the outrage—you find in the responses will strike a chord with your own private questions and doubts.

Please feel free to write in and respond yourself; this project will work best with participation from you as well. Don’t worry—all nine respondents are public persons and veterans of the rough-and-tumble of verbal jousting. But please do remember charity and respect. After all, we did invite them to be open.

This project will have another reward: It’s an opportunity for greater self-knowledge for those who want to proclaim the Christian faith. There’s an old saying that if you really want to find out about yourself, you should ask your enemy. He’ll often give you a more accurate appraisal of your virtues and vices than you’d get from the flattery of friends and like-minded acquaintances. While we certainly don’t consider the respondent’s enemies, we do appreciate the outsider’s perspective they’ve given us.

No one would ever say it, of course, but Christians sometimes talk as if they believed non-Christians must be stupid. Much easier to dismiss or pity the doubter than to address his doubts. This isn’t only uncharitable; it’s intellectually lazy. The honest Christian will sometimes find himself called to share his faith with someone who is obviously smarter than he is. This shouldn’t alarm him—as long as he understands his faith as a gift rather than an intellectual achievement—but it should humble him; and in the effort to preach the gospel, humility is just as important as courage and confidence.

Sometimes it takes brutal honesty to evoke self-scrutiny. If we wonder why so many people simply ignore what appears to us to be the compelling truth of Christianity, it may be that we have become so blasé about its true that we’ve neglected to make it compelling. If we listen closely, our critics can actually help us shape our message more effectively.

So enjoy this first installment of “Christianity From the Outside.” I’m confident you’ll find it both fascinating and instructive.

By Deal Hudson

Deal W. Hudson was born November 20, 1949 in Denver, CO, to Emmie and Jack Hudson, both native Texans. Dr. Hudson had an older sister Ruth, and eventually, a younger sister, Elizabeth. Emmie Hudson, Ruth Hudson and Elizabeth Hudson now live in Houston, TX; Jack Hudson passed away some years ago. The late Jack Hudson was a captain for Braniff Airlines in Denver at the time of Dr. Hudson’s birth. Later the family moved to Kansas City when his father joined the Federal Aviation Agency. From Kansas City, the Hudson family moved to Minneapolis, then to Massapequa, NY, and finally to Alexandria, VA, where they first occupied a home overlooking the Potomac River adjacent to the Mount Vernon estate. After a year, the family moved to a home on Tarpon Lane a few houses up the street from the Yacht Haven boat docks. Dr. Hudson attended Mt. Vernon Elementary School from grades 4 to 6 and has a special gratitude for the teaching of Mr. Hoppe who first told him was a ‘smart lad.’ Having moved with his family to Fort Worth, TX in 1960, Dr. Hudson attended William Monnig Junior High and Arlington Heights HS. In high school, Dr. Hudson was captain of the golf team, editor of the literary magazine (Guerdon), and performed the role of Peter in the ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ during his senior year. Dr. Hudson graduated cum laude with a major in philosophy from the University of Texas-Austin in 1971 where his undergraduate advisor was Prof. John Silber. His teachers at the University of Texas included Prof. Louis Mackey and Prof. Larry Caroline. Dr. Hudson minored in both classics and English literature. Dr. Hudson lived in Atlanta from 1974-1989, where he attended Emory University, receiving a Phd from the Graduate Institute for the LIberal Arts. He also taught philosophy at Mercer University in Atlanta from 1980-89. In 1989 Dr. Hudson and his family left Atlanta when he was hired to teach philosophy at Fordham University in the Bronx. Dr. Hudson taught at Fordham, and also part-time at New York University, from 1989 to 1994. Dr. Hudson first came to Atlanta in after graduation from Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) with an M.Div. While at PTS, Dr. Hudson managed the Baptist Student Union at Princeton University and became its first director. Dr. Hudson also was licensed at a minister in the Southern Baptist Convention at Madison Baptist Church in Madison, NJ. Dr. Hudson’s primary area of study at PTS was the history of Christian doctrine which he pursued with Dr. Karlfried Froelich. In 1984 Dr. Hudson was received in the Catholic Church by Msgr. Richard Lopez, with the special permission of Archbishop Thomas A. Donnellan, at the chapel of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cancer Home in Atlanta. Dr. Hudson has been married twenty-five years to Theresa Carver Hudson and they have two children, Hannah Clare, 23, and Cyprian Joseph (Chip), 15, adopted from Romania when he was three years old. The Hudson family has lived in Fairfax, VA for more than fifteen years, after having lived five years in Bronxville, NY and a year in Atlanta, GA, where Theresa and Deal were married.

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