LICC recommends: A Place for God by Pete Nicholas
If you’re anything like me, you’re probably familiar with stories of people who were active Christians but then became plagued with doubts and uncertainty, eventually walking away from faith altogether. Maybe they’re not just stories you’ve heard, but people you know.
However, though this is certainly difficult to process, it’s also not unique to a Christians – or so says Pete Nicholas in his book, A Place for God: Navigating Timeless Questions for Our Modern Times (IVP, 2021). He argues that all worldviews are constructed by placing faith in something – whether God, science, others, or ourselves. And, in complex and difficult times, everyone – people who consider themselves religious, spiritual, or neither – is prone to getting lost and walking away from the object of their faith.
Much research has been done into all the reasons why, in the current cultural climate, Christians are coming to doubt their beliefs. But here Nicholas focuses on the reason why the people we meet in our daily lives – who hold and place their faith in very different worldviews – are also suffering with insecurity and restlessness. It’s because, according to Nicholas, they’ve lost their place for God. When you take God out of the equation, the questions that are core to human existence and identity don’t get easier to answer, but harder.
Why this focus? In a nutshell, because if we have the patience and grace to listen to what’s going on around us, we’ll gradually hear these questions emerge – if not through explicit words, then through people’s hopes and fears – and then be able to begin responding in a Christlike way. Questions like ‘where can I find happiness?’, ‘can there by real justice?’, and ‘where do I belong?’ By engaging with these questions, we can live and share the good news with people around us on our frontlines, and help them rediscover a place for God in their lives.
Thankfully, Nicholas models this gracious conversation, ‘triple listening’ to people in his community, wider scholarship, and the word of God. In doing so, he first seeks to understand which issues are important before unpacking a gospel-centred answer. You can find out more on how to do this by reading our Wise Peacemaker blog series.
He explores six key questions that most humans ask at some point in their lives, linking them back to the core need for God in our lives. He touches on issues of happiness, science, justice, belonging, and truth. Every time, he carefully listens to understand why the theme is so prevalent in the UK today, taking time to affirm what’s good in the secular approach so common amongst those around us. Then, he offers an answer squarely grounded in the gospel. In doing so, he imagines what should be going on – where should we place trust, where should we find belonging, what virtues should we pursue. And he explains why we have the innate desire to find answers to these questions in the first place.
Where we’ve looked to science to explain everything, we should also realise the limits of a naturalistic worldview, and leave space for awe and wonder. Where we’ve grown sceptical in our longing for truth, we should avoid subjectivism but instead trust in Christ, who provides a truth that is both objective and personal. Where we want to live moral lives but can’t agree what that looks like in practice, we should look to God’s universal standard for justice. Where we pursue fleeting forms of happiness which leave us empty, we should instead find satisfaction in pursuing purpose. Where we place our identity in either ourselves or the things around us, we should instead receive it from a God who won’t let us down.
This is all helpful. But, says Nicholas, if we want to see transformation around us day by day, it’s not enough to just hear the questions, or even know a gospel-shaped answer which we can share when the opportunity comes. We also need to live out the good news in everyday ways, expressing answers through our actions as well as our words.
To that end, Nicholas says we each need to be part of a community that’s seeking to live out the gospel and helps encourage us to do likewise – what we might call a ‘church’. He spotlights six virtues for individuals to cultivate, together with practices which can help us do so: thankfulness, integrity, love, joy, authenticity, and hope. To be a people who live in this way serves not only faithfully represents the God we’re following, but also demonstrates an attractive gospel to a watching world – a gospel which speaks to all the questions the people around us are asking, whether about meaning, existence, or anything else.
As you patiently listen, with the Spirit, to the people around you on your frontline, what are the questions that you hear people around you asking? What might the gospel have to say in response, and how might you live and share that good news through your everyday life this week?
LICC Culture and Discipleship – Research and Implementation Manager