A Pastor and an Atheist Started a Podcast

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Drew Sokol is a pastor and Cory Markum is an atheist. Though they come to God from different places—one trust and worship, the other doubt—both are full of curiosity. Both have experienced the ups and downs of belief in a secular age, and both are committed to exploring more deeply the question on which so much hinges: Who exactly was Jesus of Nazareth?

“Here’s what’s funny about Christianity,” says Markum. “It all kind of turns on this straightforward claim of history, that God literally became a man, lived, died, and then rose from the dead, all at a specific time and place in history. If it did happen, maybe there’s reason for some kind of hope. But if it didn’t happen, well I’m not sure that there is.”

This is the “hinge” point that inspired Sokol and Markum to launch a new podcast, Hinge (listen to trailer), which debuted December 14. They describe the 10-episode, Kickstarter-funded series, which will run through March 2018, as “a show about doubt, identity, and the search for the real Jesus.”

Not Your Average Apologetics Podcast

Hinge features a wide range of experts—authors, historians, scholars, both believers and atheists—who share insights on evidence for Jesus, Christianity, and belief: Michael Licona, Gary Habermas, Larry Hurtado, Dale Martin, Philip Yancey, Andrea Lucado, Tanya Lurhmann, Richard Bauckham, Craig Blomberg, and Tom Holland, to name a few.

The podcast’s first episode begins with Sokol and Markum sharing about their struggles with faith and doubt. This sets the tone for the whole series, which explores the facts about Jesus but also the personal stories of those struggling to feel his presence relationally in their lives.

One of the ways Hinge stands out among the myriad of apologetics podcasts is not only the novelty of it being co-hosted by a pastor and atheist, but also that it doesn’t focus exclusively on either proof or emotion. It wrestles with both. The historical evidence for Jesus, including thorough consideration of early manuscripts and eyewitness accounts, is presented alongside personal and emotionally oriented questions, like the perennial problems of evil and suffering.

Sokol begins episode one by describing a crisis moment in his ministry, catalyzed by a single mother he knew who was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

“As a pastor it’s my job to have answers, but I didn’t have answers,” said Sokol, who pondered quitting his pastoral job at that point. “I was starting to hate this feeling that my whole life was built on something that I couldn’t see, that I couldn’t touch, that I couldn’t feel.”

As a pastor it’s my job to have answers, but I didn’t have answers.

Markum, who grew up a practicing Christian, also had a crisis of faith that was catalyzed by another’s suffering—a good friend killed in a car accident at 16. While Sokol weathered his crisis and regained his faith (he’s now a pastor at New York City’s Redeemer Presbyterian), Markum did not. He became an atheist and maintains a blog on Atheist Republic.

After first connecting via Facebook, Sokol and Markum became unlikely friends, building their friendship “mostly based on our opposite beliefs,” said Markum.

Dialogue amid Difference

One of the refreshing things about Hinge is the relationship between Sokol and Markum, which models congenial, respectful dialogue even amid difference.

The two men both think deeply and ask good questions. Sometimes they ask questions of their podcast guests, and sometimes they ask questions of each other. They probe each other regularly about how either the evidence or the difficult questions raised on the show are moving the needle (if at all) on their respective positions.

Though an atheist, Markum admits that as crazy and illogical as miracles may be, we shouldn’t rule them out. He says the show is about “examining our beliefs, and that means being open to the possibility that we’re wrong.”

Sokol similarly exhibits humility and acknowledges that if the historical evidence for Jesus were somehow proven wrong, the whole thing would fall apart.

This sort of intellectual humility will doubtless be uncomfortable for some listeners, in part because it’s so rare. But it’s part of what makes Hinge so unique and timely. In a world of online shouting matches, blog battles, and flame wars (not to mention cable news), many of us have become numb to “arguments.” Every argument just sounds like noise, and the louder people shout about it, the less we’re prone to listen.

In a world of online shouting matches, blog battles, and flame wars (not to mention cable news), many of us have become numb to arguments. Every argument just sounds like noise, and the louder people shout about it, the less we’re prone to listen.

But Hinge offers sound arguments, and profound food for thought, from a thoughtful quietness that maybe—just maybe—will cause people to listen.

Rational Proof and Relational Encounter

Why was Jesus so cryptic? What are we to make of his claims? What role should emotion and personal experiences play in our belief or unbelief? Do people believe mostly because they want to believe? What about miracles?

These are just some of the questions Sokol and Markum explore on Hinge. The show doesn’t shy away from the questions that lead people to abandon faith, even if the answers aren’t always convincing.

Believers who listen to Hinge may grow frustrated with how dubious Markum remains, even in the face of the world’s best apologists making their best arguments. Atheists may find the show’s penetrating questions about God not nearly penetrating enough.

In either case, listeners will likely resonate with something on Hinge, which makes a point of humanizing every guest and every story.

Episode two features Canadian radio host Drew Marshall, who shares his doubts about the truth of Christianity. But Marshall admits proofs and artifacts—however compelling they may be—won’t ultimately resolve his doubts. The evidence he needs is “a tangible relational encounter.”

For Marshall and other skeptics, the real challenge is the lived experience of God (or lack thereof). Where is God in the hard times? Why doesn’t he seem to show up when we need him most? And if God is real, why is it so hard to believe in him? Couldn’t he have made it easier? Are 2,000 year-old manuscripts really the only evidence God gives us?

If God is real, why is it so hard to believe in him? Couldn’t he have made it easier? Are 2,000 year-old manuscripts really the only evidence God gives us?

For Sokol’s part, the answer to that last question is no. God doesn’t just give us abstract, ancient proofs. He gives us people.

We see the presence of God in the people whose lives radiate faith, hope, and love, even amid suffering. We see his presence, perhaps, even in the way he made us to be curious—never satisfied with simple answers or simple unbelief, but always seeking to be closer to him, whether by way of an appreciative embrace or an angry wrestle.

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