Not God’s Type: An Atheist Academic Lays Down Her Arms. By Holly Ordway. Ignatius Press, 2014.
Holly Ordway’s memoir is a conversion story as she recounts her development from a nonbeliever to a theist. Like other recent conversion autobiographies published by Ignatius Press such as Jennifer Fulwiler’s Something Other Than God, Ordway’s Not God’s Type tells the story of how Ordway discovered Christ, told with refreshing honesty, humor, and humility.
This book covers Ordway’s development with a heavy emphasis on the intellectual and mental ways that Ordway came to Christianity. This is important, because Ordway is a scholar specializing in literature. Ordway’s book is all about how she moved from being someone who was completely indifferent to all things spiritual, from someone who centered her life around her faith.
In her introduction, Ordway writes:
“I wrote the first version of this book just two years into my Christian journey, noting that as time went on, I would surely see more than I did at the time of writing, and that, as I continued to reflect, the story would gradually become clearer. Indeed, this has turned out to be the case.
Following the publication of Not God’s Type, I gave many interviews and presentations on ‘an atheist’s journey to faith,’ and was asked perceptive questions: What was my childhood experience of faith? How did I become an atheist in the first place? What changed so that I became willing to listen to arguments about the truth of Christianity?
I realized that the answers to these questions were found in the work of grace, starting much further back in my life than I had at first realized. More needed to be said about the early stages of my journey.
As I became increasingly involved in apologetics, I also recognized the importance of imagination as both the catalyst and the foundation of my rational exploration of the Faith. It was imagination that made Christian concepts meaningful to me. Until words like ‘God’ and ‘Jesus’ and ‘Resurrection’ became meaningful– literally, filled with meaning– rather than abstract signifiers, arguments about religion were just intellectual games, with no real-world significance.”
As Ordway writes, the recent Ignatius Press edition is a substantially revised version of the original Not God’s Type. The reason for this is that in the first edition of Not God’s Type, Ordway recounted her journey from atheism to Protestantism. Since then, Ordway has continued her religious explorations and converted to Catholicism. She has also changed the focus of her academic work significantly, leaving her West Coast career as an English professor and moving to Texas, still teaching literature, but this time leading a program specializing in Christian apologetics.
Ordway muses on the unexpected direction that her life took, writing:
“Expect the unexpected” seems to be a useful approach to the Christian life. When I wrote the first version of the book, I was an Episcopalian and a tenured English professor in Southern California, getting an apologetics degree from a Protestant university; as I write this, I am a Catholic and director of the M.A. in Cultural Apologetics at Houston Baptist University in Texas. You can’t make this stuff up…”
Indeed, there is something utterly genuine about Ordway’s book. Ordway does not claim to have been converted through some miraculous divine revelation, or that the material aspects of her life have all been enriched through conversion and that everything is now perfect in her life. Rather, Not God’s Type explains how Ordway’s life has become spiritually richer, more joyful, and more purposeful thanks to her newfound faith, and her personal conversion left her much the same person in many ways, though spiritually renewed, and driven by the goal of finding ways to evangelize the Word of God, particularly to the seemingly disinterested.
In today’s debates over ideas and opinions, people tend to think that “winning” means shouting down or humiliating your opponents, or bullying someone you don’t like into silence, or coming up with a catchy quip that serves as a substitute for in-depth thinking. Not God’s Type realizes the folly of such an antagonistic means of argument, especially when it comes to trying to create new Christians.
The Holy Spirit does not work through intimidation, but instead touches souls through love and the amazing transformative power of God. Ordway realizes this, and the purpose of Not God’s Type is not to hammer out new arguments or to give believers a catchphrase to shout, but instead serves as a walk through her own life, and an illustration of how the beauty and intellectual and spiritual richness of Christianity can win over even the most secular hearts. This book was written with the hope of making new friends in Christ, and Ordway makes her approach of winning converts by displaying the love and charity of God clearly. She writes:
“Too often in apologetics today, Christians are tempted to look for the silver-bullet argument, the right thing to say at the right time so that the other person will concede, “I’ve been completely wrong all along! Give me a Bible!” Or worse, apologists may treat argument as a rhetorical kung fu move to ‘defeat’ or ‘crush’ and atheist. Other times Christians press people to recognize the existence of God and acknowledge their own sinfulness, quickly declaring it evidence of hardness of heart when the skeptic resists. We forget that the Christian and the unbeliever often lack shared meaning for words like ‘God’ and ‘sin.’ All too often, we talk past the very people we are trying to help.”
As Ordway’s life proves, proselytizing is nothing if it only seeks to rack up converts as statistics, much like McDonald’s lists the numbers of beef patties they’ve sold (“Over 1 Billion saved!”).
Bringing people to the Church is a battle where ideally everybody will wind up a winner. Ordway was an avid fencer for years, and in many instances throughout the book, the discussions of faith take the form of a swordplay exercise, where a duel is fought not to kill or wound an opponent, but to engage in the great thrill of engaging in an innocent and exhilarating test of skill, determination, and discipline.
In the end, the following passage aptly sums up Ordway’s personal spiritual experiences in a far more concise way than any amount of analysis might be able to achieve. Ordway’s faith reflects how a Christian worldview forever altered the way she looked at every aspect of her life.
“Recognizing God as Creator and the Source of all goodness meant rethinking everything: nothing was exempt from that terrible scrutiny. Recognizing him meant admitting utter and complete failure to live up to the real standard of what is good.”
More information about Holly Ordway can be found at her website, http://www.hieropraxis.com/. This blog, featuring guest posts and podcasts, discusses subjects connected to Christian apologetics and provides a useful list of Ordway’s other works.