By Lisa Quintana
Brent Lyons was finishing up his Master’s degree at Talbot School of Theology in science and religion and just knew he wanted to reach nonbelievers with all that he had learned. Living in what some have called the “City of Misfits,” Portland, Oregon, was not in short supply of people who are anti-religious with atheistic leanings. This city has one of the highest population groups of people who have rejected the religion in which they were brought up, according to Lyons.
“This is a place that really needs help—where it’s a liability to be a Christian,” Lyons said. So how does one go about reaching a group of people who would never set foot again in a church? By talking philosophy in a pub-like atmosphere.
The idea of a “Philosophy Pub” began brewing in Lyons’ mind after praying about what God was asking of him. He sensed that God wanted him to show non-churched people that Christians care about them, and to show that Christianity can answer the difficult questions of life. He started out with the intention of disciple-making, but soon realized relationship-building comes first.
Fortunately for Lyons, he already had a built-in pub (pictured above). He had converted his garage with pub-like decor, loads of books lining the walls, and three beer taps (Lyons brews his own beer). He has an open-door policy to his local neighbors, yet he wanted to reach more people.
The Anglican church Lyons attends has an intellectual bent to it, so he approached them with this outreach idea, and they fully supported it. Both Lyons and his church leaders began to pray about it. There was “no formula outside of prayer” for success in this endeavor, Lyons said.
Lyons began to frequent local cafes, the kind with great coffee and spaces to work. He’d pick a large, shared table to plug his PC in, and begin to work. Intentionally, he’d engage others sitting at the shared space with friendly conversation.
The question always came up: “What do you do?” Lyons answered, “I am a software developer and study philosophy a lot.” That piqued people’s interest. And then he’d tell them he was starting a philosophy of religion group at his “pub,” and asked if they’d be interested in attending. He started gathering emails. By the end of a month, Lyons had 50 email addresses!
Lyons chose to use the term “philosophy” over apologetics for obvious reasons—hardly anyone knows the word “apologetics,” and he wants to use terms that are more seeker-sensitive. He also helps some who appear intimidated with the subject of philosophy by joking about it, telling people, “We’re not going to just sit around and navel gaze. We’re just going to talk about the deeper questions.”
“The only requirement of attending,” Lyons said, “is that everyone has to come with one question.”
It’s a brilliant way to involve people and help attendees foster their own sense of ownership in the group. This also frees Lyons up from having to be the one coming up with a monthly topic. People love it! And Lyons is up-front about his position—everyone knows he is a Christian. In the meetings, he acts more as a moderator, facilitating discussion yet always sharing his opinion while encouraging others to answer first. They start at 7:00 p.m. on a Friday night, and sometimes Lyons lets people linger late because a closeness develops.
Philosophy Pub Meeting Format
1. Meet Fridays, once a month, from 7:00-9:30 p.m.
2. Come with a question that has only a “yes” or “no” answer to it.
3. Everyone gathers and chit-chats for a few minutes. (Some grab a beer, but Lyons keeps it at two beers/person.)
4. Then Lyons starts by going around the room and getting everyone to say their name and their question. (He writes their name down next to their question.)
5. He then repeats the questions and has everyone vote on them. (They can vote for more than one.)
6. He counts the marks, and chooses the top three.
7. Another round of voting happens, but only one vote for one question this time.
8. The last round of voting is the subject to discuss that evening.
Lyons seeds questions, too, and words them provocatively so that his questions are often selected. Others have excellent questions, too. Surprisingly, once a non-practicing Jew asked the question of the night: “Is Jesus the only way for salvation?”
Once a question is selected, Lyons wants to know why that question was chosen: He asks the questioner to explain the background—what is the struggle, how did you come up with the question, and why does it matter?
One night, Lyons said the topic of abortion came up. Even though Portland is a very liberal city, he said everyone there agreed abortion was wrong, and discussion ensued on whether it should be criminalized. He, along with the others, found the discussion fascinating, which is why people keep coming. This is a safe place to discuss things that really matter.
Lyons prays an hour before his monthly gathering and always offers to pray for those who need it. He says non-Christians appreciate it when you tell them you’re going to be praying for them. “They see it as a kind gesture,” he said.
The Philosophy Pub was a big experiment and one that took a leap of faith. And people keep returning, so the format works. If you’d like to start your own Philosophy Pub, Lyons’ “backyard pub philosophy” is to ideally meet in a welcoming environment, have a consistent date, time, and place, and model discussions in a Socratic format with lots of questions.
Lyons welcomes any questions you may have about the Philosophy Pub via email: email@example.com. He is currently researching anxiety for a PhD in philosophical theology at Oxford.
—Lisa Quintana earned her Master’s Degree in apologetics at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University. She is the Lead Instructor both at Christian Life College (study center), and School of the Bible located at City Church in Madison, Wisconsin. She speaks and writes on apologetics topics, with a passion to use it as a tool for evangelism to reach a skeptical culture. She wants people to know Jesus as the Author of love and life. Find her online at thinkdivinely.com.