Common Grounds: Conversations About the Things That Matter Most by Glenn Lucke and Ben Young (B&H Publishing, 2003)
“Too often Christian apologetics might be right, it may win arguments and debates, but it’s not humble. Often the effect is to lose the person even if you’ve won the argument” – Dr. William Edgar, Westminster Theological Seminary Professor of Apologetics
There are many books offering apologetic arguments, and there are many more teaching apologetic method. In Common Grounds, authors Young and Lucke have decided instead to show us apologetics. They bring us the fictional story of three young twenty-somethings who are befriended by a retired seminary professor. The four of them begin to meet together regularly at a coffee house to discuss spiritual issues. Over a number of weeks the professor leads them in conversations about the nature of God and the authority of the Bible. By means of gentle yet probing questions he helps each of his three young friends to uncover their presuppositions about those topics. Often the characters find themselves surprised by what they really believe as opposed to what they thought they believed.
While Common Grounds assumes the form of a novel, plot is secondary to the content of the conversations. Nevertheless, there is enough character development of the professor’s “students” to keep the story interesting. For example the struggles of Brad, a committed Christian, with his attraction to Lauren, an unbeliever, open up opportunities for both of them to confront the implications of their beliefs. I found myself caring about the characters by the end of the book and wanting to find out what happens next to them.
One of the more ingenious devices employed by the authors is the inclusion of professing Christians from very different perspectives in the conversations. Brad has firmly held intellectual beliefs but senses a lack of a living relationship with God. In contrast, Jarrod attends a church where content of belief is deemphasized in favor of “living in the Spirit.” The inclusion of these characters allows the book’s professor to confront not only unbelief but also the implications of professing Christians who operate out of differing images of God and his ways.
Of greatest value to anyone involved with the so-called postmodern generation, Common Grounds provides an enthralling and instructive living example of how one might convey truth to people who are naturally suspicious of evidence presented as absolute claims. The seminary professor character demonstrates real interest in the perspectives and narratives of his young friends. Through his Socratic questioning and use of examples from their own worlds, the three of them become open to critiquing their own worldviews. The professor clearly presents the claims of the God revealed in the Bible, but does so with humility, grace, and a genuineness that keeps his new acquaintances interested and coming back for more.
Those desiring a story that leads quickly to glorious and dramatic conversion will be disappointed. The book ends with the three deeply affected, each in his or her own way, yet still unconvinced that they need to come over to the professor’s way of seeing things. Some readers may also point to the lack of a presentation of the gospel; indeed, the book does not go much beyond the basic doctrines of God and Scripture, and Christ is barely mentioned. To these objections the authors say, “Stay tuned!” The stories of Brad, Jarrod, Lauren, and their relationship with Professor MacGregor are far from over. In fact, they plan four more books in the series. In coming installments the characters will confront the specific claims of Christ concerning both salvation and discipleship. Young and Lucke seem committed to presenting the flow of conversation and change as it most frequently happens in the real world. Side issues emerge along with the unexpected ups and downs of life. Sinful resistance suppresses clearly presented truth. Through it all, however, the character of Professor MacGregor presents an attractive model of Christian apologetics in action.
(The authors of this book have created and excellent group blog where a number of authors and influencers discuss all kinds of topics following after the model laid down in the book. I heartily recommend Common Grounds Online.)