The Reverend Dean Shepherd (Shep for short) stepped into the local coffee shop to meet with Brett Laud over a cup of coffee. Brett was a college student who was going through a rather difficult individualization phase because his ideas about religion and spirituality were unforgivably different from his family and his church. Sensing this, Shep arranged for the two of them to meet and talk.Shep actually could not stand the taste of coffee, but his church members did, and he liked these shops for their convenience and atmosphere. At least they almost always served good, overpriced hot chocolate. Brett came in and ordered his drink in perfect coffee-shop-speak and sat down with Shep.
After some small talk, Brett said, “Am I going to hell if I am an agnostic?”
Shep knew that Brett was struggling with his conservative Christian upbringing, but was slightly surprised that he would be so open, so quickly in the conversation. Shep considered this question carefully for a moment. He had the feeling that this question was somewhat of a test. Brett wanted to see whether or not this would be an open-minded, fruitful conversation.
“That depends,” Shep said after taking a sip of cocoa. “What do you mean by agnostic?”
Brett began, “I mean someone who thinks that there might be a God, but if there is, God isn’t anything like what they teach in Sunday school.”
“Right, and not only that,” Brett replied. “I don’t think that God has to be human, or even a he or she.”
Shep followed him by adding, “So God may be beyond our notions of gender? Would it be safe to say that such a Supreme Being would be beyond our ability to comprehend, so that any idea that we may have of God naturally falls short of who God really is?”
“Right,” replied Brett, with a little bit of interest showing on his face.
“Well, if that is what it means to be agnostic, then I must be one, too. God is more than we can fathom. All of our thoughts about God fall short.”
Brett thought for a moment and then responded, “You know, Rev. Shep, I’ve got to keep my eye on you. You don’t talk like normal church people.”
Shep took that as a compliment and an invitation to have more conversations to help this young man think theologically in the future.
Rev. Dean Shepherd is a fictional character and this is a fictional story. These stories are loosely based on real conversations and events experienced by the author.