'Explore God' encourages healthy debate of difficult questions


by JIM BERGAMO / KVUE News and photojournalist KENNETH NULL


Posted on August 23, 2013 at 6:26 PM

Updated Friday, Aug 23 at 6:40 PM

AUSTIN -- A remarkable 342 Central Texas churches are taking part in a program called Explore God. It started in Austin and is designed to start a healthy debate on religious topics. 

The Explore God debate is open not only to all Christian denominations that wish to take part but to people of other faiths and non-believers.

It all starts online and extends to simple chats then seven community forums. Then each Sunday the pastors of the more than 340 churches will tackle those questions in their weekly sermons.

You may have noticed the Explore God billboards as you drive. The billboards' purpose is to drive you to the Explore God website.

Austin-based Explore God traveled worldwide asking theologians, pastors and communicators some of the most asked questions and often difficult questions about God.

"We all have questions," said Explore God Directional Leader Dan Smith. "We all wonder about God."

Each of the website's videos address one question like "How can a loving God allow pain and suffering?" or "Is Jesus really God?"  

"A lot of people say it's politically incorrect to talk about God," said Smith. "I disagree with that. I think talking about God is really the most vitally important thing we can do, so why not create a platform in a way that people can do that."

Those viewing online are encouraged to express their opinion in an open, civil debate.

"At the heart of it is just good, authentic, humble conversation on these questions and these topics," said Smith. "It's not about a debate. It's not about trying to win somebody over to your view."  

"This allows a forum, perhaps for the first time, for people to have real conversations without getting defensive and hear what other people think," said Ryan Rush, the senior pastor of Bannockburn Baptist Church. "This is going to move everybody into a different place of comfort, because we're also inviting people to not answer every question right away. We want to allow that space for people to disagree and to go back and forth on some things."

It's why Bannockburn will be among the hundreds of churches taking part.

"Anytime you can bring together 342 churches and 13 denominations, you've got to sit back and say, 'Wow! That's pretty impressive.'"

The Explore God Facebook page has reached more than 76,000 followers in just a few months. Aside from online discussions there will be seven community forums that will examine the questions. Beginning September 8, pastors will use their Sunday sermons to examine the Explore God questions in depth.

For more information about Explore God in Austin, click here.