He Sold His Soul on eBay

BACK IN FEBRUARY OF 2006, atheist Hemant Mehta ran an ad on eBay auctioning off a chance to save his soul. For each $10 of the final bid, Hemant promised to attend an hour of church services.

“I don’t take my non-belief lightly,” he wrote in his ad. “However, while I don’t believe in God, I firmly believe I would immediately change those views if presented with evidence to the contrary. And at 22, this is possibly the best chance anyone has of changing me.”

Forty-one bids later, the winning bid of $504 came in from Jim Henderson, a 58-year-old former pastor from Seattle, Washington.

Soon after the auction closed, Henderson flew to Chicago to meet Mehta. When they met in a bar, they sealed a deal a bit different from the one that math-student Mehta had posted.

Instead of the 50 hours of Mehta attending church that Henderson was entitled to for his $504, Henderson instead asked Mehta to attend a dozen or so services at churches of Henderson’s choosing and then write a report on what he found.

“I’m not trying to convert you,” Henderson told Hemant. “You’re going there almost like a critic….If you happen to get converted, that’s off the clock.”

The churches included then-pastor Ted Haggard’s New Life Fellowship in Colorado, Bill Hybel’s Willow Brook Community Church in Illinois, and Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Texas.

Hemant eventually wrote the results of his unusual assignment in a book entitled I Sold My Soul on eBay.

The book is a fascinating glimpse of Christianity and its churches through the eyes of a nonbeliever. It’s a mirror held up to Christians reflecting to them how they are seen and perceived by perhaps many of those they hope to win. Think “Mystery Shopper goes to church.”

Mehta’s report is in no way hostile—he considers himself a “friendly atheist.” In his visits, he was sometimes almost too observant, noting that he was puzzled by the lack of real community in churches—families sitting far apart from other families. He also noticed how Christians “raced out the front doors to their cars” immediately after the church service ended.

He found it odd how Christians seemed OK with singing what to him were exceptionally repetitive songs—and how they referred to non-Christians as “lost.”

So far, no church has won Mehta over. But then, it’s really God who, through the Holy Spirit, wins people—sometimes through, and sometimes in spite of, the efforts of Christians. And I’m confident God will be on his case 24/7.

Meanwhile, we Christians could do worse than to let God take care of Hemant and focus our attention instead on how we come across to nonbelievers.

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