Paul Simpson, the 353rd person I’ve met on my quest to have lunch with 500 strangers, is a man who combines firm convictions with a desire to explore different ideas.

As a minister at the Pittwater Uniting Church, Paul knows that God exists and the Bible is the word of God. But he’s also studied prominent atheist writers to understand alternative points of view. Paul emerged just as committed a Christian, but concluded that the case for God was more faith-based and less evidence-based than he’d originally thought.

Paul was excited to study theology as a younger man, so he could find definitive answers to all the great questions. Instead, he discovered that the more you learn, the more you realise you don’t know.

Paul has also discovered that although the words of the Bible are fixed, their meaning can change. As he’s aged and had more life experiences, he’s uncovered the deeper message in passages he’d read many times before. Everything in the Bible is relevant, but not all of it is relevant to everyone all the time.

Paul approaches his role as preacher and teacher with a similar sense of humility and open-mindedness. He leads and educates, but doesn’t claim to have all the answers.

Sometimes, Paul wonders how his life would’ve turned out if he’d pursued a corporate career, because he didn’t set out to become a minister. When he was a teenager, he suddenly felt the enormity of what it meant for Jesus to have died for every single person’s sins. That inspired Paul to deeply study God, volunteer for youth ministry and, eventually, formally study theology.

In some major ways, the two of us are very different: I’m an atheist and I don’t ponder how life began or what it all means. In other ways, we’re very similar: we’re interested in human nature and hungry to learn more. So we had a really interesting, thought-provoking lunch.

Before we said goodbye, Paul made a surprising offer: “Would you like to read the Bible with me?”

I accepted.

So, from time to time, the two of us are going to get together to read passages from the Bible and discuss their meaning. I’m looking forward to more thought-provoking discussions.