October 4, 2022

We’re All Hypocrites: Mary Jo Sharp On Overcoming Church Hurt And Finding Faith

Inside This Episode

Author and Christian apologist Mary Jo Sharp talks about being caught in the tension between the beauty of God's story and the ugliness of human hypocrisy. She recounts her first time experiencing hurt in the church, how it led her to question her faith in God, and how the exploration that arose from the church hurt led her to where she is today - helping people overcome their intellectual and emotional doubts about the Christian faith.

Read Mary Jo Sharp’s book: “Why I Still Believe: A Former Atheist’s Reckoning with the Bad Reputation Christians Give a Good God”

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Episode Transcript

Eric Huffman: Hey there, Maybe God family. I'm Eric Huffman and I'm here in our Maybe God's studio here in Houston, Texas in the beautiful museum district of this great city. I'm here today to record a really important and timely conversation interview with a very special guest. I'll introduce her in just a minute.

But this is for all of our fans and followers of Maybe God, both our podcast listeners and also our growing YouTube audience, however you're tuning in today. I'm just so excited that you're joining us for what is just our second-ever Maybe God conversation.

So this format is a new challenge that our team has undertaken as if they needed more to do. We are undertaking this challenge to provide more consistent, weekly new content for all of our Maybe God listeners and watchers on YouTube.

So these conversations are going to be a little bit looser in feel and format and a little more free-flowing than the full-length episodes that y'all are used to hearing from us since 2018 when we started. So this is new. But we're gonna be talking with some very fascinating guests that have a lot of important things to say. So I'm really excited about the new format.

Today I have the honor of talking with Mary Jo Sharp, who is joining us from her home state of Oregon. She is a former atheist from the Pacific Northwest. She was pretty much raised without much religious influence in her life. She is now an assistant professor of apologetics at Houston Christian University which until very recently was known as Houston Baptist University. She is also the founder and director of Confident Christianity Apologetics Ministry.

Mary Jo is the author of the awesome book Why I Still Believe: A Former Atheist's Reckoning with the Bad Reputation Christians Give a Good God. So, Mary Jo, thank you for being here, and welcome to the Maybe God Podcast.

Mary Jo Sharp: Hey, thank you for having me on, Eric.

Eric Huffman: So how's life in Oregon these days?

Mary Jo Sharp: It's finally rainy again.

Eric Huffman: Oh, I did not expect you to say that. I hear it always rains up there.

Mary Jo Sharp: Yeah, we get this long dry spell where we get a lot of wildfires. So this is nice to see.

Eric Huffman: Okay, good. Glad to hear. So your story is obviously unorthodox and an interesting one. I would just like to hear more about how someone who grew up without religion, without much of a relationship with God or structured relationship with God, how that person grows up to become who you are today, an apologist, a Christian apologist, speaker, author, student, and a professor. So how does that happen?

Mary Jo Sharp: So short story, right?

Eric Huffman: Yeah, right. Yeah. Tell us the 90-second version.

Mary Jo Sharp: So I didn't grow up in church, as you have said. My parents had left the church when I was really too young to remember. And I think if we go back and dig through that, you got church hurt there as well.

So what I did grow up with instead was a mom and dad who just... they loved the outdoors. They loved nature. My dad was a huge science buff. He watched everything he could on outer space. He was a Carl Sagan fan. They both loved plays, they both loved music. So they took me to a lot of things like Shakespearean plays, and such.

And between the wonder at the universe in which we lived and then the sort of going to plays where I was exposed to these ideas about what's the purpose of life and you know, what's the meaning of human life, do we have value, are we just a speck of dust in a vast and indifferent universe, these kinds of questions were things that I was exposed to through my rich cultural upbringing for my family, even though I wasn't brought up in the church.

So as I became an older teenager, I started to have questions about meaning, purpose, and value, what is this all for? I'm a musician, so I would participate in this great works of art that we were creating, and I wondered, "What is the purpose of this?" So those kinds of questions were culminating in me as a teenager.

And then I had a high school band director, who was a Christian who had never shared his faith with anyone before and actually was kind of worried about sharing it with me because I was a public school student. But he just saw burden for me that he took the risk and he said, "Mary Jo..." This was my senior year of high school. He wanted to give me a Bible. And he said, "When you go off to college, you're going to have hard questions. I hope you'll turn to this." And he prayed with me.

The thing is I actually taught music in the public school. So he was a person I really respected, greatly respected. So I had those questions at that time that he, you know, some ministering to me. So I read through the Bible. It started to make sense of my ideas about that there's no justice in this world, there's good and evil, and that I have meaning, purpose, and values. So started to make sense of all that for me.


And then when I went off to college, I actually for the first time started going to church on my own and exploring, well, what do people have to say about faith and who is this Jesus? I was invited to a church where I heard a clear gospel presentation.

And after some of the searching and working through some of what I believed, I was ready to trust Jesus. And I did that at that church. But then I met the church.

Eric Huffman: Ooh, oh, wow. Sounds like that was ominous. Was that not a positive experience?

Mary Jo Sharp: No. It's both positive and not from the very first day that I went to church. I was a young mom, I was young married, young college student. So this was really nerve-wracking for me, in the sense that I didn't know if these people would accept me. I didn't know if the people back home would accept me for what I've done, because I've been raised without God.

So I'm walking into this first church service with this sort of mess of emotions, I have the joy of my salvation, but I'm also really nervous and anxious about these things. And then, as I'm walking up to the sanctuary for that first service where I'm going to tell the church I have accepted Jesus, the first thing that happens is that the pastor's wife sees me, looks over what I'm wearing, and says, "Oh, honey, we need to find you better clothes."

Eric Huffman: Ooh.

Mary Jo Sharp: And then implied that I was immodest.

Eric Huffman: So it wasn't that your clothes were like old and raggedy, you just didn't have enough clothes on in her mind.

Mary Jo Sharp: In her mind. I mean, I'm not an immodest dresser.

Eric Huffman: I'm not insinuating. I'm just trying to interpret the events. In her mind you were not dressed modestly enough. You go up in front of the church and instead of praise God the sinner is home, you know, another soul saved, the response immediately from the pastor's wife is, "We got to get you covered up."

Mary Jo Sharp: Yes.

Eric Huffman: How did that feel?

Mary Jo Sharp: As I'm reading in the Bible that there's no condemnation in Christ and all this great love that believers are supposed to have for each other, and then the first thing that I experienced is condemnation and judgmentalism. What it did... Over the years, I had to work through this, but what it did was it planted seeds of distrust in me towards leaders in the church who weren't appropriately reacting to me. It was the first of many patterns and behaviors that I saw on Christians where they weren't really holding themselves accountable to what they professed is true.

Eric Huffman: Yeah. What was your immediate reaction, though? Did you keep going to church?

Mary Jo Sharp: Oh, yeah. I don't back down from stuff real fast. I'm sort of a fighter. I take a while to figure out like, "What just happened to me? What's going on? Why would she say that? Oh, maybe she's having a bad day." You know, I do stuff like that. So I did keep going to church because that was just the first experience. And I had no experience, so I didn't know what to expect. In fact, I didn't know I was gonna find these kinds of patterns over and over.

Eric Huffman: Also, that was my next question is, I mean, at that point, when you had your heart broken in maybe a minor way, but still important way by this pastor's wife, was your first thought "Maybe this is a one off? She's the outlier." And if that's what you thought, then what did you actually find in the days ahead?

Mary Jo Sharp: That's the problem is that... I talk about that first moment in the church, that first coming into the church because it was so indicative of what I was going... it was the epitome of what I was going to find later on of self-righteousness, judgmentalism, those sorts of attitudes, self-interest.

And it didn't make sense to me because when I came into the church sort of naively, I was expecting that, Wow, these are gonna be the people who are trying to transform their life into this Christlikeness, into this great love that I was reading about. And these would be the people that were in awe and wonder of the universe in which they live like I was. I was like, I'm an idealist if you haven't figured that out. So to not really find a lot of that in the church was shocking to me because I didn't... I guess I didn't expect to find real people in the church.

Eric Huffman: Yes. Like maybe I finally found that good people after all these years of searching. And people are just people.

Mary Jo Sharp: Yeah. I mean, when you read Why I Still Believe, that's one of the themes through my book is like, yeah, these are just people and they have all the same problems as other people.

Eric Huffman: So that initial event or the initial disappointment was in your early 20s if I'm putting this together, right?

Mary Jo Sharp: Yeah.

Eric Huffman: Was there any point that which you walked away from the church because of that heartache or disappointment?

Mary Jo Sharp: Yeah. This is a really hard one for me because that was the desire. There was a growing desire that I want had to just leave the church, I wanted to completely walk away because it was so painful. And it wasn't just things that were happening to me, by the way. Like I said, it was patterns. I was watching how they behaved with one another. So the hard thing for me was that my husband was a pastor, so I need-

Eric Huffman: Like at that point?

Mary Jo Sharp: Oh, yeah.

Eric Huffman: Okay. All right.

Mary Jo Sharp: We got involved in ministry really young. Probably within two years of me becoming a Christian. Sometime around there.

Eric Huffman: Okay.

Mary Jo Sharp: So everything he had worked towards would be put on the line if I were to leave. So there was a conflict in me about I wanted to figure out what I believed: Is this true? And also I had this, Oh, my goodness, if I find out that I don't believe this is true, this could wreck His whole ministry.

Eric Huffman: Yeah, and potentially your marriage and life as you knew it. There was a lot at stake there. What was the relationship between the hurtful things you experienced from Christians and your core beliefs as a Christian, like what you believed about God? Did you find that the pain of church hurt impacted your belief system at all? Or could you keep those things separate?

Mary Jo Sharp: Yeah, the pain of church hurt definitely had an effect. It was causing what I would say was an emotional doubt. Because the kinds of questions I would say to myself or ask myself were: Do these people really believe this? I don't see that they actually believe this and hold themselves accountable to what they're professing.

And then that sort of turned inward to me and I went, "Wait a minute, why do I say I believe this?" And that was the problem is I couldn't figure out why I believed in God. I couldn't figure out, you know, does God exist? Is the Bible reliable? Why do I think Jesus rose from the dead? I started to have all these questions about the Bible. And so it did. It was like emotional doubt, sort of mixed with then intellectual questioning.

Eric Huffman: Okay, I want to dig into that a little bit. That's really intriguing to me. What are the distinguishing factors between intellectual doubt and emotional doubt?

Mary Jo Sharp: The intellectual doubt is, I would say, when you have an intellectual question, you don't know something—there's something that you need to still find facts about or evidence for. It's sort of a lack of knowledge on something. You're not sure about something.

When an intellectual doubt gets answered, if it could exist on its own apart from all your emotions, which I don't think it's possible, but if it could exist on its own, then you would just make adjustments, right? You'd say, "Oh, I found this is true, so now this is what I believe." If you would make that adjustment in your life.

But with emotional doubt, there's a lot more will, desire, hurt, there's trauma. There's things psychologically that are wrapped up. Yeah, there's bias. In my own journey, I've come to realize that motive of I really didn't want Christianity to be true because I was angry.

So when I say I had intellectual questions, there's also this other side going on. But you know what? It doesn't sound very sexy to say, Oh, it's all wrapped up with your will desire, and emotions," because then people could just kind of blow you off and say, Oh, yeah, you just had emotional issues or something like that. You know, instead of saying I had real questions that were unanswered.

Eric Huffman: Sure.

Mary Jo Sharp: That sounds more intellectual, you know?

Eric Huffman: Yeah. And I think that's how most people conceive of what we call apologetics now, which is what you've built your life around now, at least professionally and in ministry, is an intellectual exercise. That's why I perked up when you said emotional doubt because I've always had this inclination or this feeling that maybe we're dealing more then with just facts and information when we talk about apologetics. Maybe our experiences, our feelings, emotions, all of it maybe plays a bigger role in it than we would like to admit. Maybe we aren't capable of being truly objective in a sense.

Mary Jo Sharp: It's difficult. I'd say objectivity is really hard one. So there's this great line, I think it's from the philosopher Peter Kreeft, that Christians... truth, not Christianity. Truth is easy to define, but hard to find. And I don't think people understand that part so much.

Eric Huffman: Interesting. All right. So in your own journey, how did those emotional doubts impact your faith over the long haul? How did you learn to deal with those over time?

Mary Jo Sharp: Oh, yeah. So the emotional doubt caused me to go into those intellectual questions that I had because I came to this realization that the litmus test for the truth of Christianity couldn't really be the behaviors of Christians. In fact that can't be the test for any worldview, really.

Eric Huffman: Sure.

Mary Jo Sharp: Or any system of beliefs. Because there's always people that do not demonstrate that belief system very well. So I realized that I really needed to dig into, you know, do I believe this is true? And I have to settle that in my mind, first and foremost. That's when I started to dig into the questions.

Now, it wasn't just an intellectual journey. As I'm finding out God's real or that Jesus actually died on a cross and rose from the dead, these arguments are starting to impact me personally and emotionally.

Eric Huffman: In a positive way?

Mary Jo Sharp: Yeah, in a positive way. You know, providing that grounding for human values., providing that sort of purpose to human life in that I have inherent worth that cannot be taken away from anybody's derogatory comments, or that it can't be taken away from me no matter what happens to me because God has purposefully made me. So that started to really impact me.

And not only did He make me, but you have Jesus dying on a cross for me and... For all of mankind. That includes me as well. These things were starting to... If that's true, what does that mean for me that a person would die for me? And not just a person, but God Himself. So these things started to really impact my view of myself and others.

Eric Huffman: Did you feel ever a sense of increased frustration with the church as you came into a deeper understanding of these truths? Like, you people are just not getting it? Did you feel like a voice in the wilderness at times?

Mary Jo Sharp: Yeah, yeah. Because I have this vision of what the church should be. And reading the scriptures, you see how we're supposed to be treating one another. Even in John 17, when you hear Jesus in the garden praying that we would all be one as a testimony to the fact that he's God's Son, and then you see the way that Christians treat each other as if that doesn't even matter, like that part of the Bible is not even in there, that's just really... Wow, that really impacted me. I have a way of saying it that's really nerdy.

Eric Huffman: Okay.

Mary Jo Sharp: I Obi-Wan this situation from Star Wars in that I realized that everybody around me is going to fail me at some point. And even the people that I love the most are the ones that are going to hurt me the most. So I have to keep doing what my master taught me, you know, keep doing the good.

I think that's what Jesus is saying in Luke 6 when He says, Love your enemies, and that you're supposed to do good to people who aren't doing good to you. That's the way that you live redemptively in the world. And that's more of a realistic expectation than just wishing that everybody would grow up, everybody would stop hurting each other, and that they would greatly love one another. That's my Star Wars fandom. I try and Obi-Wan it.

Eric Huffman: I appreciate the nerdom. I am of the same mind. So the question I have would be about the other people in your life who are not Christian, so outside of the church, people that you loved and liked, maybe even more than the Christians in your life. Because in some ways, they might have been better people in some ways than the Christians that you knew. How did you deal with that seeming conflict? And how did you reconcile that in your mind?

Mary Jo Sharp: Yeah. I'd probably go a little theological on you guys and say, you know, God gives general grace to mankind. That the good is written on the heart of man, the moral law. So everyone has the propensity to act in accordance with the good creation that God made them. To me, I understand that.

I know that there's a tendency for sometimes Christians to imply that you can't do good without God. But there are some things in general relationally the way He made us when He called us very good. That means we're a good creation. And that doesn't matter if you're a Christian, atheist, Hindu, Buddhist. So that's sort of how I reconcile that, if that sort of along the lines of what you're asking.

Eric Huffman: Yeah, I like it. What did you do with the inherent sort of conflict, though, when you'd rather hang out with unbelievers than believers? How do you hold on to your faith if unbelievers are cooler people than the believers in your life are?

Mary Jo Sharp: Cooler people. There's a lot of cool believers out there, man.

Eric Huffman: I don't know. Where? You gotta show me where. I'm just kidding.

Mary Jo Sharp: You know, it's just how you... do you love people in general? I've learned through this journey not necessarily to categorize them as Christian and atheist, but to see them as people for first. That's really where I got... There are people in the church and they struggle, they have all the same problems and vices that anybody else has. So I can't just say, Well, my atheist... I did say that in the book. My atheist friends seem to be treating me better.

But I think what was causing that pain was that my Christian friends had this moral code, this high standard of goodness that they were professing, and then not even trying to act like it was true. That was the problem for me was hypocrisy.

Mary Jo Sharp: Okay.

Mary Jo Sharp: Whereas my atheist friends who didn't profess that ethic or that moral standard were still living as if it were true. That was the hard part to reconcile. But that's why I gave sort of a theological response at first is, "Oh, that's right. We have a general revelation going here.

Eric Huffman: Sure. Sure. So whenever you hear people say, you know, "I'm cool with Jesus, but I can't even with the church or with Christians, they're a bunch of hypocrites. So I can't be a Christian, because they're a bunch of hypocrites," what's your response as an apologist, as a believer?

Mary Jo Sharp: Wow. So as a believer, I just say, "Yeah, I hear you."

Eric Huffman: That's it. You're right.

Mary Jo Sharp: I mean, really. Because I want to be careful when I'm talking to an individual. I don't know what happened to them. I don't know what they're dealing with. They could have been traumatized in the church. You know, all these cases of abuse coming out from leaders. So I don't know what's going on back there. So I don't want to just jump to some kind of theory or explanation. I don't know if that's what they need at that moment. They might just need somebody to say, "Yeah, I hear you." People can be awful, can't they?

Eric Huffman: Right.

Mary Jo Sharp: And they hurt people all around them and hurt themselves. And that's kind of what we humans do.

Eric Huffman: But what do you say specifically about Christians who do have that high standard, at least, you know, in terms of our doctrines, what we believe? Christians that are hypocrites.

Mary Jo Sharp: I say, yeah, they are hypocrites, actually. And Jesus talks about that. He calls them hypocrites. He tells the crowd... Is it Matthew 23? He tells the crowd to do what the religious leaders teach you but don't do what they do because they don't even practice what they're teaching. So you have that going on as far as, yeah, they are hypocritical when they profess this.

But I try to couple that with what we've been talking about. Absolutely they're hypocritical. None of us will escape being hypocrites. Because at some point in our life we're going to profess something and then go against that.

Eric Huffman: Sure.

Mary Jo Sharp: And it can be small things like "I'll never drink a diet soda" and there we are in our 40s drinking diet soda.

Eric Huffman: "I'll never drive a minivan."

Mary Jo Sharp: Yeah, until you have like four kids, and then that little sports car you had in your 20s just doesn't fit all those baby seats.

Eric Huffman: We're all hypocrites. Yeah.

Mary Jo Sharp: So I do say that. But like I said, I don't want to be trite about it because I don't know what people are dealing with. But there's that reality that you have to face. Which is that, even though I said, you know, there's goodness out there because what God made was good, we're all participating in evil, every one of us. That's why we need a savior. So every one of us is doing things that are not good.

Eric Huffman: Sure.

Mary Jo Sharp: The word for Christianity, we say sin. Every one of us is sinning.

Eric Huffman: Well, the conflict or the rub for me I think comes with conversations every day with people that have experienced church hurt, is that if we say, "Well, yeah, the church is fully hypocrites. You're right." The default reaction then is, "Well, if I believe in Jesus, I'm just gonna go on my own. I'm gonna pursue Jesus and a one on one relationship. I don't need this corrupt institution called the church full of hypocrites. I don't need that distraction or that drama in my life. It'll be me and Jesus on the trail when I go for a run or in the, golf course or whatever. I'll just be religious on my own or spiritual on my own."

But we as Christians obviously believe the church matters, right? Even in its fallenness, even in its brokenness, how do we reconcile those two ideas?

Mary Jo Sharp: There's so many things I want to say.

Eric Huffman: Say them.

Mary Jo Sharp: So many.

Eric Huffman: Say them all.

Mary Jo Sharp: One thing is, you're not going to avoid the hypocrisy of human beings anywhere. I mean, you'd really have to go it like Tom Hanks lost on an island by yourself. There's no way you can avoid. It doesn't matter if you're in a church or if you're in an atheist donut-eating society. It does not matter. You're gonna get hurt by other people. I mean, it's just gonna happen. That's who we are.

So conversely, I would say our model as Christians, why should we be involved with the church while our model is God himself who is community? He's a trinity. So one of the ways that we know that God shares love, is love is because there's a Trinity, which the love is already there shared between the three. You know, one in essence, three in persons sharing that love between them. So that's important. God Himself is community. That's the model.

Secondly, human beings have a propensity to be able to rationalize anything that they want to be true. So we need accountability for our thoughts and desires and our will. The Bible says, "The heart is deceitful among all things." The heart and the Bible is like the center of the person. So it's their mind, it's their intellect, it's their emotions, it's their will. So we need accountability for that. We need other people to help keep us in check when our minds are running away.

The church is supposed to be that for people. It's supposed to be that safe community where they can come be accountable, not in a bad sense, in a good sense. You know, accountability is not just for like, "Hey, you did a wrong thing." But it's also like, "Hey, you did recognize you're doing good. You don't realize that you're actually doing well in life. So it's accountability for that as well because we tend to accentuate the negative.

Eric Huffman: There seems to be an issue that there with churches that are growing the fastest and reaching the most, let's say, non-religious or unbelieving people, and bringing them over to our side tend to be the ones that are prone to scandal. I don't know exactly what the ratio is there or how accurate I'm being, but it just seems like the churches that have the most dynamic leaders, and the fastest rates of growth and making headlines, you know, tend to be the ones that end up with the Discovery Channel special being made about them or whatever. There seems to be a correlation there.

So I'm just curious when you talk to people that are struggling with church or in the past, is there a certain list of criteria that you tell them to look for when considering getting connected or plugged in at a church?

Mary Jo Sharp: Well, what I do tell people is you have to be cautious of the kind of endeavor that you're engaging in. When you're looking at public speakers, a lot of times those who are gifted in public speaking or those people who are drawn to it maybe, are the ones who are prone to narcissism.

Eric Huffman: There you go.

Mary Jo Sharp: So you got to be a little bit careful. And that doesn't go away. That personality doesn't go away, just because you're in a church or you're a Christian. I hate using this term because it's difficult to unpack for people. But you need to look for good leaders and good people. I'll give a little bit of what I mean by that. They should be for you, not for themselves.

I've seen a lot of leaders that get up in front of... I shouldn't say a lot, at least some leaders that get up in front of congregations and they're up there for themselves. They're trying to receive affirmation or something from the congregation. They need to be there to serve people. They need to be the kind of people that love others greatly, will cry with them, will be there for them, will pray for them.

You're looking for a person who thinks about the needs of the congregation. It's hard to say like, here's a list, but do they have a heart for their congregation, for the community as well? Do they love the community?

Eric Huffman: I always look for leaders that are platforming the people on their staff and people that are sort of, I guess, organizationally underneath their authority, but that are willing to invest in and platform some of the up-and-coming sort of younger preachers or people that have other things to say, the different perspectives.

It's a real challenge for every leader. I mean, there's a lot to be said for being the guy or the girl or just being the one in the spotlight leading the thing because people started coming to this church to see you or hear you. I understand the how tempting and elixir that can be for church leaders but I also have seen it lead nowhere good for probably nine out of ten dynamic, charismatic leaders and speakers.

Mary Jo Sharp: I would add to that. Your leader needs to be a person that realizes that if they were to die tomorrow the gospel will go on and continue.

Eric Huffman: Amen.

Mary Jo Sharp: They are not so important that they have to do at all.

Eric Huffman: Yeah, absolutely. So what are the other big questions you hear people asking and maybe doubts that stand in their way from claiming a faith in Jesus? Like what are the issues or theological conundrums?

Mary Jo Sharp: Right at the top of the list is always the problem of evil. So how can God be good when there's evil in the world? It's always right up there. Hypocrisy is becoming another really high up one. You know, why would I be a part of this? You have just sort of trusting "did Jesus rise from the dead? How do we know that?" You still have some of the classical apologetics. And then on top of that the current generation is really struggling with all the cultural issues.

Eric Huffman: Like what?

Mary Jo Sharp: So, sexuality, identity, love, all of those issues. So if you go into Gen Z's questions, they're really exploring those.

Eric Huffman: Sexuality, gender identity. And then you said love?

Mary Jo Sharp: Yeah, just what is the love?

Eric Huffman: Like romantic relationships?

Mary Jo Sharp: I think that they, for a long time, have been taught to equate love to sex, and it's hard to separate them out.

Eric Huffman: Okay.

Mary Jo Sharp: So to get love they give of themselves sexually, and then that disappoints them, because that's not the same thing.

Eric Huffman: How do you think the church's typical response on these issues of sexuality, let's say in love, has fallen short?

Mary Jo Sharp: I just think the church needs to balance more. They try to communicate their idea of affirming the person but maybe not the theology or the idea of sexuality that they see as deviating from a biblical standard. I think what they've done in the past is they've so gone into the theology or the biblical standards that they've just... it's at the cost of the human.

They don't pay enough attention to how are we going to communicate this in a way where people feel greatly loved, they feel affirmed as a human, even if we disagree with their viewpoints or with their theology.

Eric Huffman: Yeah, it's interesting. It seems like our tendency is just to critique and criticize folks that don't just like us, look like us, believes like us, etc., vote like us, all of it. From the Christian perspective we just pick others apart is what it seems like is our first default on just about every issue.

And instead of looking at it like we should be offering them a more compelling worldview... Like if you're going to criticize someone else's party, why not just throw a better party, is what we talked about a lot here at The Story. The church should be a better party than the world throws, and let that speak for itself.

But once again, every time one of these issues blows up in culture, it seems like we're missing the point. Just for the sake of winning an argument, we missed the opportunity to throw a better party or offer a better worldview or answer to the problems the world is facing.

Mary Jo Sharp: I like that. I like throw a better party. That's great.

Eric Huffman: I got that from a friend who was a campus minister actually, who was on a campus leading a ministry. They were up against this thing called Night of Decadence, which was a famous once-a-year party where it's what it sounded like. It was total decadence and indulgence. The campus security would turn a blind eye and allege just about anything happened on that campus once a year.

So it was a lingerie party, everybody showed up in their underwear. And every year there were multiple trips to the hospital, people that had drunk way too much and alcohol poisoning, and a couple of times people died, sexual assaults every year. It was just what you would expect from that kind of revelry.

And he said, for years Christians had been picketing that party and showing up with duct tape on their mouths, like to stand up for the victims of all these sins. But He said one year, he and his team just got together and decided just to throw a better party the same night. So they started Evening of Elegance, which was the antithesis to the night of decadence and everyone dressed up in Victorian era, like Jane Austen-style clothes, and danced the night away under the moonlight.

It was really a clean, healthy party. It was a better party, and now it's outgrown the other one on this super secular campus. That has always stuck with me about Christians needing to throw a better party on any issue.

Like you didn't mention race, but I think race has been on a lot of people's minds lately for good reason. Again, what I hear a lot in the church is just criticizing the way the world talks about race without really owning the issue at all or seeking any kinds of reconciliation or any kind of healing in terms of race and race relations. It seems like a missed opportunity to me.

Mary Jo Sharp: Yeah, it does. A lot of what I hear is passed along sound bites from other people. I follow this tribe, so I'm just gonna listen to them. And then I hear people passing those things along. Whereas what we need is to hear the arguments on both sides of issues, and really pay attention to it, really study to show ourselves approved, it's what the Bible actually says, and then, you know, hear the voice of the oppressed and those who are seeking justice.

It is odd to me that we profess all this great love, truth, and goodness and then we don't enter into conversations with the seriousness about what we profess, especially when it comes to race issues.

Eric Huffman: Yeah. Well, it seems like if there's one marker of the Christian life compared to the non-Christian life, I guess, it might be... I mean, obviously, we'd say love, but we would expect to find love in the world too because of what you talked about.

I also think one of the other markers, repentance. It's just a spirit of repentance. A willingness to say, "Maybe I've been wrong. And in fact, I have been wrong and I apologize for all the times I've missed the mark. I'm sorry. Christians are hypocrites. I repent of the times I've been a hypocrite. I want you to hear my heart," speaking to someone who's not a believer and been hurt by the church. "Of course, you're right and I'm sorry. And I regret it so deeply."

But it's so hard for Christians who get hung up on issues and are being discipled by their favorite cable news networks, you know, instead of by the gospel of Jesus to start with repentance and say, "You're right. I hear you. I repent of my own sin first before I call the people out on theirs." That would seem to get us so far on so many of these issues with some of these hot-button social issues that tear people away from the church.

Mary Jo Sharp: I try to tell people... Well, I mean, first of all, you're talking about the plank in the spec, you know. I try to remove the spec from somebody's eye when you have a plank in yours. Secondly, I've been talking to my husband for years about this about, where the repentance? Where's the true and true humility, realizing who you are before God? And just, you know, God, forgive me a sinner. Where is that from Christians? And then, yeah, really why we should be slow to speak, right? Slow to speak and fast to listen to people in the world. That's been a concern of mine as well.

Eric Huffman: And slow to anger.

Mary Jo Sharp: Slow to anger.

Eric Huffman: It's like we're also worked up. But I've seen people who get to that point where they are being discipled by that cable news monster, but they see it and they repent of it. And the change that happens in them when they learned yet again to take a deep breath, to trust in Jesus, to not get worked up with people's arguments against Christianity or against the church, and just to listen, and be a friend. The transformation that can happen is so profound.

Mary Jo Sharp: Yeah.

Eric Huffman: What would your advice be to someone who's listening right now who isn't an apologist, they're not a studied, you know, they're not in a PhD program like you are, and they haven't written books but they have a lot of friends with a lot of questions about Christianity, good, thoughtful questions that cut to the heart of the issues and they're just not convinced, they don't go to church? What would you say to someone who loves Jesus and loves the Bible but is surrounded every day by people with more questions than answers?

Mary Jo Sharp: I would say, to be curious about the people around you. Not only to love them but to truly and genuinely be interested in the people. That's one of the problems that I think I faced when I teach evangelism to people is like, Well, you can't just go at people with a five-part outline for why they should accept Jesus. You really actually you need to be interested in the person who you're talking to. You need to be vetted by them. They need to be able to trust you, that you actually care for them, and that they're not just—we said this for many years—not just a Jesus project, right?

Eric Huffman: Yeah.

Mary Jo Sharp: That you're gonna move on from once you realize that you're not getting anywhere. I think that's one of the main things we need to do is if you're surrounded by people who don't believe in God, and that's sort of what you're living in, take an interest in them. Who are they? What do they care about? Because what I have found is most people desire what is good even if they have a different way of saying what that is.

Eric Huffman: Right. That's awesome. So last question here, Mary Jo. What doubts and questions, let's say one thing, one major doubt or question that still causes you to pause or maybe even doubt your faith? Is there any particular area of theology where you still get hung up to the extent that you find yourself going back to square one?

Mary Jo Sharp: I would say that what really pains me and I have people who argue with me this, is the problem of evil. When somebody comes at me with like "Well, Jesus is just a copy of a pagan myth," I'm like, "Wow, that's a really bad argument. So let me move you over to the problem of evil because that's one where I think you could really converse with me because it does bother me."

The horrific pain and suffering that is in our world contrasted against the light of the goodness of God, that is a difficult question. We've been asking it for over 2,000 years. It's one of the ones that's written on the most. And when you really dig into it, it can get really dark. That's the one that I think causes me the most angst with God is that this is the world in which we live.

Eric Huffman: What keeps you holding on though? If you could name one thing that keeps you cling to hope, what is that?

Mary Jo Sharp: Oh, my goodness, it's the resurrection of Jesus.

Eric Huffman: The resurrection specifically?

Mary Jo Sharp: Yes. Because it is dark here. This is what we've done with our good gifts. But God didn't just go, "Well, good luck." He didn't just leave us. He has the ability to do something about it. And He did. He's planned for us. He's caring for us and putting back life. So I'm kind of jumping ahead.

Jesus dying on the cross is not just a cute little Christian thing that we believe and celebrate Easter and all that. There is philosophical underpinnings to this... We're destroying everything with our evil, it's affecting everything, you know, everything around us. So we're putting death, we're inserting death into the world because that's the result of evil. It's destruction, and the ultimate destruction is death.

So Jesus takes that on, right? He actually takes on the consequence of evil, the natural consequence of evil, the spiritual consequence of evil. He takes that on in dying because that's the ultimate end and then He reverses it with life. So because what God made was good, which is life, God puts life back into the world. And that like... wow, I don't even know how to describe how amazing that is.

And Christianity is the only one that says that—that God valued this so much that He Himself died on a cross for life, to give us life, to redeem His good creation. And He did it. It's just so amazing. The goodness is so great in that, that that is true.

Eric Huffman: I love what you said earlier, too. That it's for you personally. Because I think it's easier to say, Well, I did He for the world or for life more generally. But I think people need to know what you said is that, no, it was also personal.

In some ways, Christians have always said, Well, it's not about me, it's not about you, it's about God. And that's true, but it's also about you. And God knows you by name and every hair on your head. And if you're struggling with any of the issues we've talked about today even and if you're just sick of church, like, amen, we've all been there, and we get there from time to time. But God had your name on His mind and on His heart and at the resurrection. And He did it for us, He did it for his own sake, but He did it for you personally. I love that.

Mary Jo Sharp: There's this like sort of combination. When we were talking earlier about identity issues and all this, God... there is an objective truth out there. But like Paul says, If you don't have love, you're nothing. So one of the major messages of Christianity to everybody, no matter where they're at is there is objective truth but there's also objective love. And they are never separate.

Eric Huffman: Wow.

Mary Jo Sharp: They should never be separated out. They belong together. They belong together in this world. And there's great hope in that.

Eric Huffman: That is so awesome. Well, Mary Jo, you've stayed with us longer than we anticipated. I just want to thank you so much for your time and for everything you shared with us today.

Mary Jo Sharp: Thank you for having me on. I appreciate it.

Eric Huffman: That's great. Thank you all for joining us, however you tuned in, whether it's the podcast or you're watching on YouTube. I really hope that you've enjoyed this conversation. We are always looking for more interesting and more compelling guests to have on this new format.

So if there's anybody you have in mind whose story you followed and you know that story needs to be told or if you followed their work and you've been inspired by it, please let us know by emailing us your ideas. And of course, you can always email us with any other feedback you might have. And you can reach us at [email protected].

One more time I want to say thank you to you, Mary Jo. God bless you and all of your ministry and your work.

Mary Jo Sharp: Thank you.

Eric Huffman: I hope you shore up that PhD sooner rather than later. All right, bye everybody.