Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Pitfalls & Pathways to Grasping the Gospel: Lessons From the Life of a Saint on the Spectrum

Below you'll find a video version of a workshop I presented at "The Accessible Kingdom Conference" which was sponsored by Joni & Friends and MNA's Special Needs Ministry.

It was an honor to be involved in this event and a privilege to be asked to speak on the important issue of autism and evangelism.  
Here is a copy of the YouTube link if that is easier for you ( and I've also included a print version of the workshop in the "read more" section if that is more helpful.

A PART OF MY OWN PILGRIMAGE.                

A.  Coming to Christ – exiting atheism.
As many of my readers know, I’m adopted and I was adopted by an incredibly well-educated couple who had been unable to have children of their own.  My mom and my dad did a wonderful job providing for my physical, intellectual, and artistic needs.  In many ways, I am who I am today because of them. I am thankful for God’s perfect providence in placing me exactly where He would have me.

We were involved in church, but during my adolescence I began to feel as if church was just a thing we did rather than Christ being the true core of who we were. Something just seemed kind of “off kilter” inside of me where the spiritual was concerned.        

From a very young age I had a real interest in wanting to understand the concept of God.  I was full of deep theological and philosophical questions about Him – questions about His essence and being, questions about how we could REALLY know that He really was.  They were questions that weren’t satisfied with pat answers, but pat answers were often what I received.

Within my church climate I was regularly encouraged to stop with all of the questioning and “just believe” because much of God was a “mystery” and exercising blind faith was a “blessing.” The pat answers didn’t appease and ended up creating even more questions than I’d started out with!   

I wondered if anyone really believed and I wondered if anyone who said they believed really had a solid reason to do so. Doubts began to grow like weeds in the soil of my critical thinking and I became consumed by the weeds.

On certain Sundays I watched as people headed down to the altar, “moved” by the preacher’s words or the singer’s song.  It seemed that the feeling of fear drove some and that an overwhelming awareness of love prodded others.  There was pleading from the pulpit and extended play versions of “Just As I Am” from the choir, and there were often tears, sometimes lots of tears.

At times it was an emotional scene and that emotionalism made me physically uncomfortable. To this day I can remember rocking back and forth in the pew, trying to make the caustic sensations of what was happening all around me go away. Obviously, I didn’t “feel” what others were feeling, because as things unfolded, I wanted to bolt out the back rather than walk down to the front!

On top of these things, in my own home there was just a lot of duplicity.  In public there was talk (and even teaching) about belief in the Bible, the hope of heaven, and of Jesus who died for sinners.  But behind closed doors my mom discussed a different doctrine with me.

During my childhood she shared that she didn’t see Bible as the inerrant and infallible Word of God, but rather viewed it as a nice moral guide.  While a helpful book, it was full of allegorical myth, legend, and lore. Therefore, as we read the Bible we needed to use our minds to determine whether or not things within it were true. Ultimately, we were the arbiters of truth, separating fact from fiction.  

Mom also didn’t believe in a literal heaven or hell, but held to a form of karma based reincarnation. During those years she shared with me that she didn’t even believe that Jesus had actually died on the cross, but thought He’d slipped into a coma and later awakened. That was her explanation for the resurrection.  

I struggled with the duplicity.

As time passed my questions increased and my doubts spread like wildfire across the plain of my brain!  I wrestled more and more with the Bible’s “seeming” logical fallacies, with the entire concept of the supernatural and with how we could ever truly know it, as well as with what seemed to be the lying lives and lips of so many I knew who called themselves Christians. 

In high school I finally became fed up with what I had dubbed the “faith farce” and began to consider myself an atheist (although I sadly practiced my own forms of public and private duplicity).  Those years were tumultuous. I was filled with anger, rebellion, deceit, and despair. I was fighting to understand the meaning of life  in a world that seemed to ultimately be without meaning.  I read everything philosophical I could get my young hands on, including the writings of Nietzsche, and I was intrigued by his ideas of existence in a world where "God was dead." Thinking on his thoughts – his ultimately hopeless thoughts - I understood why the famed philosopher ended his days in a catatonic state - after all, what was there to live for in his framework?  I struggled with that question myself, nearly ending my life at least 10 times during those dark days.

As high school came to a close I was planning to move to New York to attend the Julliard School. Piano was the only thing that gave my life some joy and my soul some solace.  But my parents said “no” to New York and I ended up going to a small women’s college not far from our front door in Spartanburg, SC.

I was devastated at the death of a dream, but I have since seen that “while man plans his ways, God ordains his steps!” 

Within days of entering the school that I didn’t want to be at, the Savior of sinners had ordained that my steps would intersect with those of 6 Christians – Christians who were completely different from any other Christians I had ever encountered anywhere. They were thoughtful, intelligent, fun, sincere, and unafraid of my questions (even when they didn’t have answers to them).  They were willing to converse with my criticisms and they truly cared about me. Their genuine care was obvious. 

I was intrigued by them, but I was also disturbed by their faith. How could these intelligent women believe the bunk of the Bible?  Wishing to do them a “favor” I set out to destroy their faith by means of a horrible, pathologically contrived scenario that I thought would undo them and end any hope they had in their fairy-tale Father.

Over the course of a year, I set out to work them over with manipulative mind games. They set out to pray for my salvation and to point me to Jesus and to His Word - ever encouraging me to “take up and read” the Bible rather than just bristle up and talk against it; ever sharing with me the declarations of that Bible in spite of my deep disdain for them; and ever exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit described in that Bible in how they dealt with me.

They lived, loved, and lauded the intangible God in a tangible way, and as they did, they eventually wore me down. 

As these young college gals remained faithful to pray for me, as they were consistent to proclaim the Word of Christ to me, and as they continually lived the presence of the gospel of God’s grace out before me (loving me as I’d never been loved) the scales of sin, which had kept me in blinding spiritual darkness, fell off and I suddenly saw who Jesus was and what He had done on my behalf. By grace through faith I turned from my sin and fell upon the finished work of Christ as my only help and my only hope. 

I often describe my conversion as a modern day Damascus road transformation coupled with a high speed cognitive car crash!  It left me a deeply changed person and it whip-lashed every square millimeter of my philosophical frame.  It was a beautiful thing and it was a painful thing!  To all who witnessed this transformation, there was no doubt that I was a “new creature in Christ” and that “the old was gone and the new had come.” 

B.  Crisis in Christ – accepting autism.
However, in spite of such a radical conversion, my life in Christ even from the earliest moments has also been accompanied with some seasons of crisis in Christ – moments where I faint in the faith. The longest and most severe of those crises happened in 2009 and was actually used by God to unveil the autism that had been my ever constant, shadowy, albeit anonymous companion.

Throughout my life, post-Jesus, there has always been a dark, daunting black thread of doubt that has woven its way across that tapestry of my soul. I always viewed it as a scar of my former atheism. It nagged and it annoyed.  It was an unwanted reminder of my old unbelief, but it had always been in the background – subdued, poking and pricking at me, but not breaking through the surface in any conquering fashion.

In 2009 that black thread became the size of a tram car cable. It burst its way to the foreground, jumped my jugular and seemed as if it would take me down.  The old atheistic doubts about the existence of God were on me like salt on a snail and I couldn’t seem to escape them.  I was honest with my husband (who is also my pastor) about what was happening and he truly sought to help and encourage, but all of his seminary training and practical ministry experience was falling short on this one.
Together, we sought out other pastors and counselors trusting that someone would have an answer. Many sought to uncover some "secret sin" that must be lurking below the surface for me to be having such deep and debilitating doubts. I remember one pastor saying, “These kind of doubts always have a moral issue attached!”  

As they dug around in all of my closets looking for sketchy skeletons no skeletons appeared, and one by one each of those pastors and counselors succumbed to shrugging their shoulders. They promised to pray, and figuratively patted me on the head as they sent me on my merry way with some “Scripture pills” to hopefully help soothe my symptoms. 

No one seemed to know what to do with me – and my Nietzsche-like hopelessness was ever increasing. 

Finally, two years into this unrelenting battle, God ordained my path to cross with a Biblical counselor who took a real interest in these strange doubts that I was experiencing.  I call them strange (as did she) because they were doubts unlike anything she had run across in 20+ years of clinical experience.  (Obviously they were unlike anything that anyone we’d talked to had ever run across!)

You see, I wasn’t doubting my salvation. It wasn’t a William Cowper kind of experience where I was wrestling with reprobation.  I knew I was resting, not in my works or deeds, but in Christ alone to save me, as the Bible declares, and I knew that if God existed then His promises were for me.   

I also wasn’t trying to hold on to some secret sin (like Gollum clinging to his precious ring) and therefore I wasn’t looking to get God out of the way for my own selfish gain.

It was a strange place where I had landed - an almost metaphysical place. My doubts were of the primordial realm. They were not merely “Do I believe in God?” but more fundamentally they were, “Is there even a God to believe in?”  Even more foundationally they were “is there even ANYTHING to believe in?  

Truth be told, at the root I was struggling to know if I could know reality itself.  (If you’re familiar with modern movies, it was like my entire life was an odd morphing of “The Matrix” meets “Inception.” Perhaps that will help you understand a bit better, or maybe it will confuse you all the more!!)

This deep struggle of mine to believe in “reality” was a new one for my counselor. She was convinced that it was clearly not a schizophrenic state of delusion, but something very very different and incredibly unique. She began to excavate every square inch of the issue with the skill of Sherlock, and as she excavated she uncovered a life load of evidence that led us straight to the gate of autism.  There were  external behaviors, internal manifestations, and even areas of what she called “savant-like” giftedness that all pointed to autism – the autism that I, for decades, had fought with all my might to subdue in order to hide my “weirdness” from the watching world. 

So much could be written about this leg of my journey, but for the purposes of this post I simply want to return to this odd sounding struggle with believing in and understanding reality, because I think it relates to the struggle that many folks on the spectrum have (particularly higher functioning folks on the spectrum) with feeling an inability to believe in God and to connect with Christ.  

I want to help you understand, through a part of my pilgrimage, a thing that I call autistic static.

C.  Connecting with Christ – Understanding Autistic Static.
A little over a year ago the Public Library of Science did a study on autism and belief in God. In that study they determined that people with autism are only 11% as likely to believe in God as their neuro-typical counterparts. (That means that for every 100 people without autism who believe in God only 11 people with autism will.)  It is a staggering statistic and I think that my own odd crisis in Christ might help you understand that statistic a little bit better.

Realize that for many people living with autism there is a neurological and psychological “disconnect” from what I call the “real” of life.  Think about it:  that which is known and experienced as “real” in this world is typically discerned through the use of the 5 senses.  We see a person, hear a bird, taste a piece of chocolate, feel a hug from a friend, smell a flower, and we come to believe in the existence of that which we’ve just “sensed.”

One of the unfortunate disabling marks of autism is that there is a deep neurological disconnect in the way that the 5 senses work and process in us.  You’ve probably noticed that people with ASD often struggle with sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. This sensorial glitch is part of the reason.
For the person with autism, it is as if much of life is conducted along the short circuiting route of a neurologically frayed wire.  The “wire” through which sight, sound, smell, taste and feeling (both physical and emotional) travel, is frayed and has a short in it. Therefore, sensorial things reach us with a great deal of static attached.   

You might think of a frayed stereo speaker wire. At moments that wire may allow the stereo’s song to come through fairly clear and clean, but then suddenly it’s all snap, crackle and pop with lots of overwhelming white noise, and then just as suddenly there’s no noise at all because nothing is getting through the wire at all.  Welcome to life with autism!  

For us, a really good connection to the stereo of life is pretty hard to ever find.  Try as we might to connect with the things of this world, we always seem to end up with the “crackling,” “sparking,” static-y white noise of disconnect.

Another way that I sometimes describe this disconnect (at least as it shows up in me) is to think of life as being seen and experienced as if it was on film.  Lori (the lady w/ ASD) is sitting in the movie theater watching the film of life from a distance, separated by a screen that makes the 3 dimensional reality that’s happening on the other side appear merely 2 dimensional to me.

Here I am on this side of the screen and there you all are on that side as life unfolds. I can see what’s happening over there, and in a weird way I even seem to kind of participate in the scenes, but I can’t ever really get past the screen and to you. There’s always a veiled disconnect because of the movie screen. No matter how hard I try to break through, no matter how much I strive to interact with all of you thespians over there in 3D land in a 3D way,  I remain stuck in the 2D theater – flat, isolated, and disconnected.

So, why do I tell you this?  Well, I believe that these examples can help you understand that for the person living with autism, physical life is often (if not always) “frayed” and “veiled” and "disconnected" to some degree – causing it to not always seem real and causing us to rarely seem a true part of it. 

Now, what I want you to do is transpose those scenarios – the frayed wire and the movie screen –from the autistic struggle to connect to the things of the physical world into the autistic struggle to connect with the things of the spiritual one. 

If that which is tangible is such a struggle, then how much more are those things which are intangible?  If the seen is so full of static, then how much more the unseen

Friends, I’m here to tell you that the disconnect is daunting!  No wonder those on the spectrum are said to be only 11% as likely to believe in God as those who don’t!


So, with all of that foundation laid, I want to move into the more practical nuts and bolts of this post: the pitfalls and; the pathways to grasping the gospel.  As I do so, I want to ask you to think on a question that was recently asked of me.  “Is it harder for a person living with autism to believe?”

As I’ve ruminated on that question, I have to answer with a resounding “no” and then I have to add to it an equally resounding “yes”! (I know, I sound like one of the politicians from the most recent election, eh?!)  Let me try and clarify.

We all face pitfalls that make coming to Christ difficult, if not downright impossible. 

In thinking through this question, I want you to recognize, first of all, that there are pitfalls that are common to man.

A.  There Are Pitfalls That Are Common to Man.
The Bible plainly declares that all people are born spiritually disabled.  It tells us that we are all, by nature, born blind – we cannot see spiritual light; deaf – we cannot hear spiritual truth; “dumb” (and by that I mean stupid not mute) – we cannot understand spiritual things.  On top of all of that it tells us that, by nature, we are DEAD – and it don’t get much more disabled than dead do it?! 

In the Bible’s description of our natural state we learn that every single person who was, is, and ever will be, stands on equal spiritual footing (regardless of physical strength or weakness, mental ability or disability, environmental upbringing, and social status or stigma.)  We are all dead and in absolutely desperate need of an outside source – a merciful and omnipotent Divine outside source  – to step in and resurrect us if we are ever to come to Christ.
Because we are dead in sin, belief is completely and equally unattainable for any of us in our own strength and all of us who have arrived at the place of grace have arrived there as a result of God’s miraculous and merciful intervention. 

Now dwell on that, for because of it we can honestly say “No, it is not any harder for the person living with autism to believe,” because apart from God sovereignly stepping in and granting us eyes to see, ears to hear, a mind to understand, and a new life to live it is utterly impossible for any of us to believe!  

Do you see that?  It’s an important point.

We are all in a completely disabled mess when it comes to belief.  Thus, the resounding “no” to the question. 

Now, what about that equally resounding “yes”? 

Well, one of the things that I want you to glean from this post is that while there are pitfalls that are common to man there are also pitfalls that are unique to autism. 

B.  There Are Pitfalls That Are Unique to Autism.
While all are born spiritually disabled, people with autism are born uniquely wired.

I’ve already written about the struggle that the person with ASD may have with making a clear “connection” in life.  That alone can cause some faith issues.  Along with that important piece of the puzzle I want to point out 4 additional pitfalls that may serve as spiritual stumbling blocks to grasping of the gospel for the person who lives life with autism.

1. The Pitfall of the Intangible.
Carly Fleischman and Temple Grandin, two well-known ladies on the autism spectrum, have referenced the difficulty they have in believing in God due to the intangible nature of God.  That intangibility was one of the most confusing things for me during the years that I wrestled through whether or not I believed in Him.

Don't forget that the person who lives with autism is always trying to find a way to connect to a life that continually feels disconnected.  We’re looking to find things that will moor us to the misty moment, steady us in the sensory storm, and serve as a piece of “real” in an existence that often seems so “un-real.” 

If you think again of the frayed wire scenario and of how hard it is for us to make a clear connection in this life, then perhaps you can think of tangibles as being like the electrical tape of life.  Tangibles help us to wrap up the loose wires (at least momentarily) enabling us to gain even a nano-second of clearer connection – and believe me, I’ll take even a nano-second of clarity!

I guess you could say that tangibles tether us. I suppose on the flip side you could say that intangibles terrify us because they seem to muddy our malady even more. 

To me, the idea of an intangible God (or the idea of an intangible anything) just seemed like another thing that was going to strip my frayed wires further.  And I wanted to avoid further fraying at all costs!

Fear of the intangible, confusion about that which was not concrete, angst over that which seemed so abstract – all of those things served as pitfalls that kept me from understanding how to grasp the gospel. 

Recognize that the need for tangibles may be tripping up those whom you know and love who live with autism and are struggling with belief.

2.  The Pitfall of Emotionalism.
I referenced my struggle as a child to sit through my church’s altar calls.  Manipulative plays on emotion (well-meaning as they were), attempts to stir up feelings in order to move a soul to move towards Jesus, the tears, the fears – all of those things were very painful and very confusing to me. They physical sensations and the bewildering nature of trying to rightly interpret what was going made me want to hide under the pew since I wasn’t able to exit the sanctuary.  

The emotionalism made me want to run from Christ rather than to Him.

As you interact with people on the spectrum, please realize that emotions are often an uncomfortable mystery to us.  I don’t know why they are, but they simply are. I haven't yet discovered the words that even come close to explaining this one to you. In spite of all of my efforts, there are moments when I smile when something’s sad, getting confused and having the wrong expression curl from my lip. I don’t naturally “feel” motherly affection, although I love my children deeply and work diligently at letting them know and sense that.  At times I can appear rather of calloused to those around me.  It’s not that I don’t feel or emote.  I do.  It’s just that the amount of processing that my brain has to do to determine how I am supposed to "rightly" respond to a situation doesn’t seem to leave a lot of room for “feeling” in the way that many neuro-typical people “feel.”   

Despite how it may sometimes seem, the person on the spectrum is not an uncaring, mechanical robot. The truth is we’re created in the image of God, just like you, therefore we do feel and we do emote. The blasted “disconnect” just gets in the way of our feeling and emoting properly and makes us look like Mr. Spock far too often.

I want you to know that sometimes when you start trying to manipulate the frayed wire of our emotions, when you start looking for ways to force our frayed emotional plug into the wall socket of “normal” neuro-typical feeling, it may lead to some form of an internal electrical fire for us.   When our emotions get manipulated into responding it can physically hurt, it can deeply confuse, it can seriously shut us down. 

Dear reader, please note that trying to bring a soul with autism into the kingdom of Christ by means of emotionalism can be a pretty painful pitfall and can cause us to avoid those kinds of gospel conversations at all costs. 

Here’s the bottom line: Don’t try to force us to feel, simply encourage us to believe.

3.  The Pitfall of Not Knowing How to Truly Rest.
At the heart of the gospel we find the idea of resting in Christ.  For me, both in my days of wrestling with whether or not to put my faith in Christ, and even now as I still struggle from time to time to believe the gospel, I have found the idea of rest to be a real challenge to my autistic mind. 

Here’s why:  I’m not sure that a person with autism ever REALLY rests in this life.  You see, the autistic mind is always working in some way.  The autistic body is always fighting against and filtering through some sensation.  There seems to always be some form of action.   

Many on the spectrum notoriously struggle with sleep. Even when I do sleep my husband has told me that my toes move constantly. Those of you who have read much of my story via other blog posts know that my toes play a BIG role in my survival and serve as a huge part of my coping. Apparently that survival and coping doesn’t stop when the lights go out!

A mind and a body that never really rest always really want rest!! In the exhaustion that is autism I find myself often struggling to remain a part of this world.  I long to be able to exit this place, to cease to exist, to finally let go, to really relax, to somehow escape – and I can’t seem to ever find even a fleeting moment of any of that.  (I wonder if this exhaustive inability to rest explains the high number of higher functioning folks with ASD who give in to drugs and alcohol. The self-medication may give some pseudo-sense of rest amidst such restlessness.)

Real rest just seems to be allusive to me. And it seems to be so for many whom I’ve talked to who suffer with the effects of autism.  In that allusiveness I have found a great difficulty in understanding how to truly rest in the gospel of Christ.

I see that Jesus says, “Come to Me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest,” and I find myself stretching towards that promise with an eager longing.

“Rest?  You’re telling me that there is rest and that it’s found in You, Jesus?”  

Man, that’s what I want, but then I find a parallel path of pondering running alongside that promise that says, “Rest? Rest?  What’s that?  There’s no such thing.  It’s just too good to be true.” Therefore, Christ’s promise seems too good to be true, and I faint in my faith.

Then as I fight my way towards “taking my thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ,” I find the struggle that even if there is rest, I simply don’t know how to do it.  

I don’t understand how to sit down in rest and just let go because as an autistic I never really just sit down and let go.  

The fact that due to autism I struggle to understand rest in my physical life is one of the difficult areas of this disability that makes believing in the spiritual reality of gospel rest in Jesus a hard pill to swallow at times. 

I want you to realize that the struggle to not know how to truly rest may be another pitfall for some souls on the spectrum as they attempt to understand resting in Christ.  Please be patient with us as we struggle through these things.

4.  The Pitfall of Blind Faith.
In my days as a young child who was genuinely struggling to grasp the idea of God, I must say, this is a pitfall that regularly provoked me to anger and led me further into the fields of faithlessness.   It was a big, BIG deal.

Over and over and over, I was told that my God questions would never be solved and shouldn’t even be asked because, “Lori, God just wants you to believe in Him.  He’s asking you to come to Him with blind faith and you need to just step off of that cloudy cliff and simply believe that you’ll fall into His loving arms.”

Well-meaning as those sentiments may have been, I’m not so sure that they were either biblical or beneficial – particularly not to the person, like me, who lives with autism

You see, my personal experience as a woman on the spectrum is that I don’t do anything in life blindly. I don’t even brush my teeth blindly, but think through every intricate detail of what you would assume to be a habitual act.  

For me things don’t just happen on a whim (at least not if I can avoid it).  When things do happen on a whim there is usually a lot of internal pain involved and I’m probably going to shut down at some point along the way.

My autistic mind seeks to think through everything in grand detail – working through every probable scenario of every possible situation that I can come up with in order to prepare myself for whatever circumstance I may encounter.  I do this to try to protect myself from suffering autistic shut down or even worse autistic melt down from some unexpected blindsiding and bludgeoning blast. 

The person with autism likes to understand what’s coming up and what’s going on so they know how to maneuver and survive.  Walking into a new store, a new restaurant, a strange home, a strange church can send us into anxious overload because we don’t know what sights or sounds or other sensations are going to come falling down upon us.  (I think this reality is one of the reasons that the daily “picture planners” are so successful for a lot of children with autism.  It gives them an idea of what’s coming up so they can be ready for it and not pained by having to walk blindly into the unknown.)

If, in your evangelism to the person with ASD, you are directing them to walk in blind faith please know that you may be asking them step into a realm that is utterly torturous. It is a pitfall of epic proportions. And, I believe you may be asking them to step into a realm that is not even prescribed by God.

One of the great blessings that Biblical Christianity has brought to me, as a high-functioning autistic, is the written testimony that the Christian God is not a God of sightless saints who are told to stumble and stagger about in the darkness.  I don’t believe that Biblical faith is synonymous with blind faith. In fact blindness seems to be a mark of the lost soul, not of the soul coming to Christ.

I would remind you that God is the God who has created our minds. He is the God of logic and reason. He is the God who says, “Come now, and let us reason together!”  

Now, I’m not saying that we can think our way to God or that our finite minds can fully contain the infinite, but I am saying that I haven’t found any place in Scripture where God tells us to check our brains at salvation’s door. Instead He has told us to engage our brains through the reading and hearing of His perfect Word.

Through that Word, His illuminating Spirit, “renews our minds” so that suddenly they come to logical life and are enabled to think the very thoughts of God as those thoughts have been revealed in the pages of Scripture!  That’s not blindness – that’s walking in the most marvelous light.

What did Paul do in the midst of the pagan people of the Areopagus? He engaged their minds.  He showed them the logical folly of their “unknown God,” and proclaimed to them a known God who has revealed Himself through Christ.  The text says that he “reasoned with them from the Scriptures.”  

Friends, please know that pressing a person who lives with autism (particularly a higher functioning person) to blindly place their faith in Jesus may not be helpful but may actually be hurtful. 

So, WHAT DO YOU DO?  With all of these pitfalls how do you point the person with autism to Jesus?  Well, that’s where I want to wrap this post up.


Just so you know, I’m not about to give you “The ABC’s of ASD Evangelism.”  I don’t have a gospel tract for you that is full of “social stories” for spectrum salvation, nor do I have a canned presentation that will make sharing the good news of the gospel to those with autism a smashing success.  

I don’t have a simplistic answer for you – nor am I certain that a simplistic one exists.

My goal, in this final section is not to point you to a simplistic path of evangelism, but to a simple path. I want to set your gaze on a foundational path -  a presuppositional path that you may have to work on developing into a more practical path.   

Let me remind you that we all have entered this world with a severe spiritual disability, and God has prepared and provided the remedy for our helpless estate.  God  has given us what the reformers called the simple means of grace – ordinary/simple things that God says He will use to both communicate His grace TO us and grow His grace IN us. 

The Bible speaks of 4 things that God uses as simple means of grace.  They are the Word, prayer, the sacraments (baptism and the Lord’s supper), and the fellowship of the saints.  I want to stress three of the four as they relate to the topic of evangelism and I have a pithy proposition for you regarding them:  Let the simple means of grace be shown in simple acts of grace through the simple community of grace.  

A.  Preach the Gospel.
As ridiculously obvious and simple as it may seem we must preach and proclaim the Biblical gospel to the soul on the spectrum, for it is the Word of God which the Spirit of God uses to bring dead souls to life – both neuro-typical and a-typical souls.  

God tells us that “faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ;” that “the Word of God contains all that is necessary for life and for godliness;” and that “the Word of God is that which restores the soul, makes wise the simple, and enlightens the eyes.”

If we are ever to grasp the gospel, we must hear the gospel!  We must hear that there is a holy God, that we are a sinful and rebellious people, that Jesus is a sacrificing and substituting Savior, that He has come and carried our sins to Calvary’s cross, and that He offers His righteousness in place of our sinfulness if we’ll repent of our sin and rest in His mercy.

We must proclaim the good news if anyone is ever to believe the good news.

Earlier I mentioned that the person living with autism has a need for tangibles. As a former autistic atheist who is now a redeemed recipient of grace (a spectrum saint) I firmly believe that the gospel of God as it is contained in the Word of God gives tangibles.  

I believe that the gospel of Jesus Christ constructs a tangible bridge that connects us to an intangible God, and I believe that Biblical Christianity is the only religion that does so. 

In Christianity the intangible God has made a tangible connection to us through His tangible Word. He has sent His son, tangibly, into time and space in order to tangibly do the work of living and of dying and of rising again from the dead.  Through Christ, God tangibly stepped into history to save us and that history is tangibly recorded in the Bible with practical promises and profound proofs.  

The Word of God provided the tangible touchstone that I so desperately needed to be able to begin to believe, and I am deeply grateful that 6 college gals weren’t afraid to wield the sword of the Word in my spiritual war.  Don’t you be afraid either!

Now, you may be saying, “Hold on Lori – my son is on the lowest of the low end of the spectrum.  You really want me to sit down and tell him what the Bible says?  You really think he’ll be able to understand even an ounce of it? You really think that the preached Word can make a difference in his life?”  Yes, I do, because the God who created your son says so – and who am I to call Him a liar?

Dear one, don’t forget… you were once deaf and you were once dead. Spiritually you were in just as hopeless a place as your lowest functioning loved one and God broke through by the power of the truth of His Word and the person of His Spirit. 

In your understandable discouragement, don’t shy away from God’s silly seeming simple means. Speak often of Christ to that one whom you think has not a chance of understanding Christ.  

This is not an academic endeavor, it’s a spiritual exercise so as you proclaim the gospel, you need to also pray the gospel.

B.  Pray the Gospel.
As you proclaim the glories of the gospel to a spectrum soul, plead with your Father to move upon them and make the good news effectual to them.  Here is the beauty of sovereign grace: it gives gospel hope to those who in our foolish minds seem beyond hope! 

No one is too disabled for God to reach and all are too disabled to find salvation apart from His sovereign mercy!

With the apostle Paul may we be about the business of begging our God to open “the blind eyes of men’s hearts that they may know the hope of His calling and the riches of His glory.”

As I encourage you to proclaim the gospel and to pray the gospel may I also encourage you to practice the presence of the gospel. 

C.  Practice the Presence of the Gospel.
Autism is a crazy isolating disorder.  Regardless of your spot on the spectrum, you’re always fighting against just trying to check out of this painful world, yet you are also always trying to connect with it. 

While autism isolates, the image of God that is written upon us is calling us to community.  We, like you, were created to be in relationship.  Even our perfect God is not isolated, but is ever in relationship by virtue of the trinity.  He’s the 3 in 1 - Father, Son, and Spirit always united in perfect fellowship.  What does that amazing characteristic of God say about our need for fellowship?

As much as it may seem that those of us with ASD just want to be alone in this life, as hard as it can be for you to figure out how to “be” with us, we need you to “be” with us.  It may be as simple as sitting on the floor with the silent child on the spectrum watching them spin the wheels on their toy car, but don’t doubt that your presence speaks volumes.  It may be as complex as being willing to listen to the deep philosophical struggles of a gal like me and assuring me that you love me in spite of the way my mind works. For you pastors it may be that your ministry to those in your congregation who have autism, needs to include a little more of the “house to house” shepherding that Luke speaks of in the book of Acts, rather than just the public proclamation. 

Your presence is important. It’s a tangible and remember, we need tangibles.  

Dear ones, we need you as individuals being salt and light to us, and church we need you as the gathered body of Christ being an encouragement to us – “spiritually stimulating us towards love and good deeds.”

Please don’t shy away from God’s created people as broken as they may be, and as you draw near, please don’t shy away from God’s ordained methods of reaching them with the good news of life eternal.

We all face challenges when it comes to grasping the gospel.  There are pitfalls that are common to all men and there are some that are unique to those with autism, but God has foundationally laid for us the simple means of gospel grace which transcend all human ability and overcome all human disability. 

By God's grace, may we never shy away from God’s created people and may we ever draw near to those around us who are in need of Christ, whether they live with autism or not.  As we draw near, may we also never shy away from God’s ordained methods – proclaiming, praying, and practicing the presence of the good news; for the gospel of our God is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes,” including every single soul on the spectrum!  


  1. You did it again, Lori. This is such good and helpful information for those of us working with people who live with autism. In my work I interact with so many higher functioning people who have an extremely hard time believing in God. Your pitfalls are things that I have been guilty of many times. Thank you for continuing to open our eyes. You are a blessing.

    1. Hi Sylvia, Thanks so much - thanks for taking the time to look at this and thanks for taking the time to interact with those who live life with ASD. I think many have been guilty of the pitfalls. Grace is a good thing, eh?! :)

  2. Thank you. This is very helpful.

  3. Lori, I was at the Accessible Kingdom Conference and sat in on your workshop. I have never heard anything as insightful as I heard that day. I have been to a lot of conferences trying to learn more about this disorder in order to understand my son better. While there are some people with autism who speak at those, this is the first time i have ever heard a person on the spectrum speak who is also a Christian.I've asked other speakers about faith things and every one of them has ended up saying that they don't see any real need for faith. You have a rare voice and I'm so thankful that you are using it. Your workshop and your leading of worship was worth every penny we spent to attend. The information you shared that day was invaluable to me. Thank you so much for telling your story and for helping us understand the spiritual trials that can often go along with autism. I have ordered the CD and can't wait to listen again. I'm so glad that a print version of your workshop is now available. Thank you for all that you do. I hope I'll get to see you again.

    1. Thank you! I'm so glad you were at the conference. What an encouraging weekend it was. Your comment is incredibly kind, and if you gained even an ounce of greater understanding about your son then I rejoice!!

  4. Oh. My. WORD! Where have you been all my life?????????????????? I am the mother of a high functioning asd son and he struggles so much with his faith. THIS IS SO HELPFUL because so many of his struggles are addressed in here and addressed in ways that make sense to me. I'm sending this to my pastor and to our deacons. Everyone including my husband and me have done most of the things you've written about not doing and haven't understood what the big deal is. We've really done the blind faith and the emotion stuff with him. Do you have any suggestions for materials for my son to read? Bible studies? Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you Lori.

    1. Hi Danelle, you made me chuckle. :) I'm so glad this info has been helpful to you and am thrilled that you want to share it with your pastor and deacons. I don't know of any materials/Bible studies that are specifically geared for high functioning folks. I'd love to help you try and track something down though. Why don't you email me at and perhaps we can chat a bit more about your son and see if there is something that may be of benefit.'re welcome. :)

  5. This hits home. Thank you for writing what I've always wanted to say but didn't know how to.

    1. Susan, thank you for taking the time to read. It sounds like you may have some experience with this. I'd love to hear some of your story.

  6. Hi Lori,

    I was so excited to see that John Knight had shared this workshop on The Works of God!! I keep telling everyone I can about you and am excited everytime I see someone else posting your things. I can't thank you enough for your openness. It has helped me with my own son more than you can know. I'm so thankful.