Joel is a writer who has spent 7 years researching topics of religion. He has a BA in developmental psychology and MA in educational theory.
The Pastor, The Atheist, and The Project Known as "Hinge"
Drew Sokol is a practicing and dedicated Christian Pastor. Cory Markum is an atheist who speaks publicly about the truth of atheism. Somehow, these two very different people have become partners in an unprecedented venture: a public podcast they title “Hinge.”
How does a man who believes in a personal God work cooperatively on a public project with a man who believes the opposite: an atheist who thinks his Christian friend is, in fact, self-deluded? And what does this ongoing broadcast look like?
Hinge is intended as a “narrative” or story-driven podcast about an atheist and a pastor investigating one of the, if not the, most influential human beings ever to have lived. The man named Jesus Christ. The goal of the podcast is to reach those people who don't normally desire or have the inclination to consider issues pertaining to religion, history, theology and other so-called “academic” areas of inquiry: to foster conversation between people with opposing viewpoints.
This writer recently had the opportunity to sit down separately with Cory and Drew, and to speak to them individually about their background, beliefs, relationship, hopes and goals for the “Hinge” podcast.
Drew Sokol first got the itch for vocational ministry after college, when he was living in New York City. Somehow, this resourceful young man convinced Teach for America (TFA) to buy a number of copies of Tim Keller’s Reason for God when it came out. Using this resource, Drew began to host discussions about the topic of God’s existence in TFA’s Midtown offices. Drew became excited to see that these discussions led some of the people involved to actually becoming Christians. The feeling of successfully ministering to people through the method of Christian Apologetics was enough to draw Drew in the direction of the ministry – especially during a time in history when Christianity was increasingly marginalized in a society of skeptics.
After his pursuit of ministry began, Drew obtained a Masters of Divinity from Covenant Theological Seminary. His career in ministry began at Pacific Crossroads Church in Los Angeles, where he served as pastor for three-and-a half years. More recently, Drew joined Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC as pastor.
Covenant Theological Seminary
While Cory Markum is an outspoken atheist, he originally grew up a Christian. During his youth, Markum took his Christian beliefs for granted. However, as Cory got older he began to have questions about the beliefs he had held so long.
The questions he had did not seem to have solid answers. Over the course of time, these questions gradually turned into doubts, which, in turn, eventually turned into unabashed atheism. This gradual slide from Christianity into atheism had no termination point at which he had a “come to atheism” moment. Cory just gradually became more and more certain that Christianity was entirely untrue, and that the God he had grown up with did not, in fact, exist. Cory told this writer:
“All I know is that I eventually reached a point where I no longer believed in God and that this realization was initially somewhat of a surprise to me. Nor, for the record, did I desire or seek out this change in belief; it just happened to me, involuntarily. That may not be a fun answer, mind you, but it does seem to be the most honest one from my perspective. In short, for better or worse, life made me an atheist.”
A Surprise Twist
Before this atheist met Pastor Drew Sokol, the story took a surprising twist:
One day Pastor Sokol was preaching a sermon on how Jesus is the source of truth in this world. As he looked out over the audience, a sudden sense of doubt came crashing down upon him. For a moment – in the midst of the sermon – Drew began to wonder if he might be deceiving himself and his audience.
Exploring the nature of his doubts Drew recalls the anger he held towards God when his home – the city of New Orleans – was wiped from the map by the hurricane of 2005. Drew also talks about his disappointment at the hiddenness of God: how the Creator of the universe does not make his existence known.
In the interview, Drew says:
“I’ve never been tempted to full-on atheism, but I have a pretty significant agnostic streak in me. Most arguments against belief in God aren’t very convincing to me, because they usually start with premises that assume more knowledge than I think we have. For instance, just because I don’t know why He doesn’t continually make Himself clear, doesn’t mean there isn’t a reason. And just because I don’t know the reason why He allows so much horrific suffering in the world, again doesn’t mean there isn’t a reason – as unsatisfying as that is. But while arguments against Jesus and against the Christian portrayal of God aren’t very persuasive for me, that doesn’t address the question: is the evidence for Jesus as God enough to build my life on those claims?
“At the end of the day, my answer is yes. But I by no means live in certainty.”
It is, perhaps, this very uncertainty which became the seed from which Hinge sprouted.
When Drew Met Cory
One day, Drew was listening to a podcast titled “Unbelievable?”. This podcast pitted a Christian against an Atheist in a discussion of their various views and how those views conflicted. Drew describes his initial impression of Cory in this interview:
“In such a polarizing environment in which we treat discussions about ultimate reality as some kind of sport in which we try to beat the other person more than seek the truth together, Cory struck me as someone who was both confident and open-minded, thoughtful and intelligent and yet at the same time humble. He also had a desire to share openly and vulnerably. We got in touch, and the idea to go on this journey together took off from there!”
Cory – the atheist speaker – describes the beginning of his friendship with Pastor Drew Sokol in this interview:
“We quickly became friends, spending hours on the phone hashing out our respective views and beliefs and just generally exploring the idea of making a podcast about Jesus that appealed to both Christians and non-Christians. After a few months of this Drew asked me if I wanted to be the co-host of Hinge.”
Cory gladly and enthusiastically agreed to Drew’s offer!
The Plan Comes Together
At first the idea was to co-author a book. However, a friend pointed out that the modern world doesn’t really read anymore. More than that, because the vision was just as much an emotional and human journey as an intellectual one, a story-form podcast started to make the more sense. Audio – the two decided – could capture intimacy and vulnerability in a way that a book never could. Especially as they include stories of people who are wrestling with doubt in significant ways, giving people a chance to hear their voices (as opposed to just reading their stories) would enrich each episode of the podcast.
These two men leapt into the project – beginning by recording a demo out in L.A. (where Drew lived at the time) and then sharing that demo with others in order to get feedback on it as well as to start to make a name for themselves in the podcasting world.
Then the two looked very hard at the feedback they received from the demo. This feedback became the foundation upon which they decided how best to construct Hinge. So dedicated to this project was Cory, that he ultimately moved out to Philadelphia where he and Drew began to work on the podcast full-time. This was a long and complex process, involving research, interviews, fishing for stories, writing episode material, fundraising and plenty beyond.
Implementation was not easy. The two began to gather literally hundreds of interviews and talk to dozens of experts to have a database of audio to select from in order to carefully construct the first 10 episodes. This work was time consuming, and financially expensive.
Can a Pastor and an Atheist Share a Common Goal?
Both the pastor and the atheist were passionate in their belief that they could model a new way to engage people with whom they disagreed in sensitive dialogue. This initial passion became especially more pertinent in light of ever-increasing political factionalization and friction within the United States and across the globe.
As much as the two shared the same vision, their individual motivations for the project differed. Drew was haunted by the trend he saw among urban, well-educated elites who drifted ever more swiftly towards a post-Christian view of the world. This “Post-Christian” society, Drew observed, no longer viewed Christianity as something to even take seriously. Drew told this writer:
“I’m very upfront with the fact that I hope be a part of turning that tide, and making conversations about religion much more of an open dialogue, as opposed to a private decision.”
Whatever their differences, both the Pastor and the Atheist desired to make something that isn't just informative and entertaining – but instead, something powerful. Something that moves its audience on an emotional level and truly makes listeners reflect upon the world and their place within it.
chris on September 29, 2018:
The Hinge was a great show. Hope it comes back!