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How Malcolm Gladwell Became a Christian

For nearly two decades, Malcolm Gladwell of the New Yorker magazine has explained why things are the way they are. Using insights from social science research, he described how “ideas and products and messages” spread through a culture in his best-seller, “The Tipping Point.”


In “Outliers,” he explained why so many giants of the computer industry, such as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Sun Microsystems founder Bill Joy, were all born within a few months of each other in the 1950s. He has even explained why NFL teams are terrible at drafting quarterbacks.


But the research for his latest book, “David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants,” led Gladwell to an explanation for something even more important: Why be a Christian?


As he recently wrote in Relevant magazine, while writing “David and Goliath,” he went to Winnipeg to visit a woman named Wilma Derksen. Thirty years ago, the Derksens experienced every parent’s worst nightmare: Their daughter, Candace, was abducted and murdered.


Gladwell was amazed by something that Wilma said at the time: “We would like to know who the person or persons [who murdered Candace] are so we could share, hopefully, a love that seems to be missing in these people’s lives.”


She continued, “I can’t say at this point I forgive this person,” but, as Gladwell noticed, “the stress was on the phrase at this point.” As he writes, “I wanted to know where the Derksens found the strength to say those things . . . Where do two people find the power to forgive in a moment like that?”


The answer was their Christian faith. Similarly, in the final chapter of “David and Goliath,” he tells the story of Le Chambon, France. When France fell to the Nazis in World War II, the local Huguenot pastor and his flock determined that if the Germans told them to do anything “contrary to the Gospel,” they would refuse.


The refusals included everything from signing loyalty oaths and giving fascist salutes to hiding Jews. What’s more, they told the Germans that they intended to resist.


What happened in Winnipeg and Le Chambon were examples of what Gladwell, borrowing a phrase from filmmaker Pierre Sauvage, whose family was protected by the people of Le Chambon, calls “weapons of the spirit.” It’s “the peculiar and inexplicable power that comes from within.”


It’s a power that Gladwell, who grew up in a Christian home, was familiar with but had gotten away from. As he put it, “I have always believed in God. I have grasped the logic of Christian faith. What I have had a hard time seeing is God’s power.”


Reading about the people of Le Chambon and sitting in Wilma Dirksen’s garden, he saw that power. He realized that “the louder claims of material advantage” and life’s and the world’s ideas about power had him looking in the wrong places. Seeing God’s power in action led him to rediscover his Christian faith.


As Gladwell’s story reminds us, the logic of our faith is important but it’s the way our faith enables us to be light in the midst of darkness that matters the most.


It’s a point that, as Gladwell told me when I interviewed him for “Socrates in the City,” Christians often forget. Yet it’s the stuff of which real “tipping points,” both personal and cultural, are made.


In fact, I’d like to invite you to please watch my interview with Malcolm Gladwell. He was terrific. Please come to BreakPoint.org, click on this commentary, and I’ll link you to it. We also have his excellent “David and Goliath” book in our online bookstore.


(This commentary originally aired January 27, 2014)


BreakPoint is a Christian worldview ministry that seeks to build and resource a movement of Christians committed to living and defending Christian worldview in all areas of life. Begun by Chuck Colson in 1991 as a daily radio broadcast, BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today’s news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print. Today BreakPoint commentaries, co-hosted by Eric Metaxas and John Stonestreet, air daily on more than 1,200 outlets with an estimated weekly listening audience of eight million people. Feel free to contact us at BreakPoint.org where you can read and search answers to common questions.

Eric Metaxas is a co-host of BreakPoint Radio and a best-selling author whose biographies, children's books, and popular apologetics have been translated into more than a dozen languages.

Publication date: December 29, 2014

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