Interview with a 'Hopeful Skeptic' Nick Fielder

By Becky Garrison 12-18-2009

091218-hopeful-skepticI first connected Nick Fiedler at Soularize 2007 and have since followed the adventures of this Atlanta-based twenty-something writer, podcaster, Apple employee, world traveler, and amateur skydiver. In his first book, The Hopeful Skeptic: Revisiting Christianity from the Outside, Nick explores the time when he shed the evangelical faith of his childhood and set off on a spiritual trek.

What prompted you to begin the Nick & Josh Podcast?

The Nick and Josh Podcast started out of a deep desire to have conversations with people that it was hard to sit down and talk with. Josh Brown and I had been attending all sorts of Youth Specialties Events, Leadership Conferences, and Early Emergent gatherings, but we were the young-ins of the group. We didn't know anyone, and we felt weird trying to join the mobs to talk to the speakers after they finished. So we decided to start a podcast and see if we could get these authors, speakers, church leaders, and community leaders on the phone. Oddly enough it worked. And we got in at a good time when there weren't really any podcasts out there. We found a small niche and we have been milking that ever since.

Explain why you changed your Facebook status from Christian to hopeful skeptic.

When my wife Leslie and I decided to leave our desk jobs and travel around the world for a while we started sorting through and packing up everything we owned. During that packing process I decided since I had sort of joined the Church Alumni Association (as Bishop Spong puts it) I might as well suspend some beliefs while we were traveling. The physical boxes helped me to pack away some thoughts for a while and really explore what I thought I believed.

Traveling also gave me the chance to get away from people that already had very big assumptions of what I believed and to get outside of the South where belief in certain spiritual things is an assumption. Changing my Facebook profile was my way of sending up a flag that I was changing.

Why did you write "The Hopeful Skeptic?"

That's a loaded question. But I will give the simplest answer -- I think there are other people out there like me, and sometimes we just need to know that there are people out there like us.

What did you learn about it means to be the church from Dave Andrews (

Dave Andrews and the Waiters Union down in Brisbane Australia helped me out a whole lot. Dave does the best job of showing the implications of Jesus' teachings in how they play out in real life. The way Dave operates is completely out of relationships with individuals, not with the beliefs of individuals. Dave could care less about what the people around him 'believe'; he is more interested in serving where he can, mending fences, and living an abundant life. Dave really is the basis for the Hope in The Hopeful Skeptic. He showed me what a life could look like if you followed the teachings of the first century Jesus. What Dave embodied seemed to be a representation of what the idea of followers of Jesus, or a church, could look like if the church can be loosed from literalism and conservatism and embrace the radicalism of Jesus.

Elaborate briefly on why you said you were "disappointed in emergent" upon your return to the States.

It's weird. If you hang with the Emergent crowd for a while, you realize there is movement and change and vibrancy around the people that are involved in the conversation. When I left, Emergent was in the throes of a large controversy; I mean they had always been attacked, but before I left it was getting sort of crazy. When I got back there were a lot of people talking about the death of Emergent, and it was being completely reorganized, and conferences themselves (Emergent or otherwise) had started to decline in attendance. It seemed like the reorganization that Emergent was in the midst of was a last attempt to hold on to something that didn't seem to be working. I guess I got the chance to experience some strong movements that were working, and when I got back, the one that I had thrown my chips in sounded like it was fizzling. The conversations on the blogs were still talking about things that had been rehashed over and over and over again.

Having said that, the reorganization gives me hope that Emergent will return to its strength by returning to a local cohort base and give voices to a lot of new leaders and thinkers. Most of my disappointment had to do with myself, I found, and unreal assumptions of what Emergent would accomplish in a short period of time.

What gives you hope as we move forward into a new year?

New crop-ups of Emergent and other types of cohorts, reading groups, conversational friends, and coworkers each with rich new voices, new communities, and new insights. I am hopeful that we will be done with older conversations and move on to better ones. I am also hopeful that the Church at large will find better ways to interact with the world than the old models that they have been using.

portrait-becky-garrisonBecky Garrison was interviewed by Josh Brown for the Nick & Josh Podcast while Nick was traveling around the world.

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