Fr Martin Magill’s Ecumenical Tithing: Prof John Lennox at All Saint’s
This weekend for his ecumenical tithing Fr Martin Magill visited All Saint’s Church in Belfast, which hosted a special event with Professor John Lennox, professor of mathematics at Oxford University. Prof Lennox discussed the relationship between faith and science and made a case for Christianity as a viable alternative to the materialist philosophy and approach which he believes characterises the West today.
Fr Martin Magill’s Ecumenical Tithing: Prof John Lennox at All Saint’s
This weekend I went to All Saints Church, Belfast, to an event entitled “Points of Origin” with Professor John Lennox, known for his debates with well known atheists.
A few things struck me straight away about the experience. Firstly, I had arrived about 15 minutes early and just managed to get a seat in a fairly large church. I heard afterwards there were something like 650 people there. The pews were all taken up and I noticed some of the church volunteers bringing out extra seats.
The second thing I noticed was the number of young people. I ended up in a section of the church where the congregation was predominantly young – in their early 20s, with large numbers of males. This is very different from my experience of most churches and denominations I attend including my own.
The third thing which struck me was the very welcoming atmosphere. The young people in the seat beside me made a point of greeting me, saying hello and the young man beside me introduced himself to me. After the address, I got into conversation with two young people who chatted away to me.
Despite the large numbers, the service began very close to 8pm as advertised. The rector, Rev Trevor Johnston introduced it. He told us there were over 1300 Facebook invitations sent out. Trevor described John Lennox as a “late 20th century CS Lewis” and he began by briefly interviewing John. Trevor asked John if he noticed anything about the spiritual change in Northern Ireland.
In reply, John commented on the number of young people present in the church, and he suggested that there are significant numbers of young people who are fed up with some of the superficial answers they have been given from the modern world. John talked about how his own family background and the grounding and confidence this gave him. He then commented on the “privatisation of faith” and the view that is often aired publicly: faith is a private matter and not for for the public square. He then offered a challenge to churches on what he called “in thinking” and speaking a language not widely understood.
After the interview, John gave his address. I share here some of the points which most impressed me. (For further information on John Lennox and his writing, see his website: http://johnlennox.org/)
Points of origin –
Each of us is searching for a bigger story into which our lives will fit. We all have a restless search for meaning – the bigger story we can fit our lives into. The dominant view in the UK is “there is no big story”. There are different stories – theism or materialism, pantheism, the dominant story at the moment is materialism. The book of Genesis gives us a “meta story”.
What is the nature of ultimate reality?
The claim of scripture is that God is the ultimate reality. The beginning of Genesis makes it clear God is the cause of the universe. God created, and I see everything else in the light of this reality – the heavens and the earth – God created everything Genesis communicates an idea of who God is. The fact of creation is basic. God willed the universe into existence – Rev 4:11 (“You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.”) The universe exists because God wanted it to be – God wanted us to be. Many people dismiss God for the wrong reasons – there is confusion about the nature of God. They have a false notion of God to start with – a “God of the gaps”. It has to do with the definition of God – Genesis shows God as creator of all. The more Isaac Newton got to know the universe, the more he appreciated the genius of God. The god that is being shot down is not the God of the Bible.
There was resistance to the idea of a beginning of the universe because of the concern this would support the biblical view.
So how did the Bible get it right? Only in the 1960s there was an acceptance of the beginning argument. There have been moves to define or re define nothing. So how do you get a universe from nothing? Laws do nothing – you can do arithmetic from now to eternity, it won’t create anything. Not every statement by a scientist is a statement of science. The Bible does not say you get the universe from nothing – the New Testament version of these first verses in Genesis is the prologue of John’s Gospel. “All things came to be through him”. “In the beginning was the Word”. The question who created God assumes that God was created. The question about being created only applies to something created. What is ultimate reality?
The Bible anticipates many of the questions around today.
I have grown to trust the Bible – and the Bible says nothing about the age of the earth. The first two verses of Genesis are in a different tense, detached from the sequence of days, Genesis says nothing about the age of the cosmos. It is important we carefully read scripture. God is revealed as a person – words such as “saw”, “said” indicate a person not a force. God is not a force to be used. God spoke and it was – “and God said”. Genesis records a sequence of statements by God. On days 3 and 6 – God speaks twice – there is a guided process – God speaking. Logos is fundamental to human life, word based life. Where does the information which is coded in our DNA come from? It indicates an intelligence at work. Where did the laws of nature come from? Words come from mind – language cannot be reduced to molecules – there is something fundamentally wrong with the materialism narrative.
In Genesis there is a sequence leading to a climax – “let us make man in our own image”.
The universe is wonderful but it is not made in the image of God – you were – we are so tiny in the universe – yet we are made in the image of God – the universe shows his glory. The value system of the Western world is based on the Bible but is being undermined. The Biblical approach gives us an infinite value. In the modern approach, if young people are seen as no more than a development from animals, is it any wonder that some of them behave the way they do? The Bible texts are so important emphasising the value of human beings. God became human – we are special – this is awesome. Those of us who trust him have even greater value – the most precious life in all of humanity was extinguished for you – he has provided the means to get to know the Creator.
Then followed Q and A:
It was pointed out that scientists have an authority but not on everything. It happens because of their authority that they make statement outside the realm of science and these are accepted because of their authority. Some atheists have talked about religion as a fairy tale for people afraid of the dark, I say atheism is a fairy tale for people afraid of the light. God is not a theory, he is a person – so many statements are not scientific. Sadly negative experience of Christianity is part of the problem. The Church does not answer our questions – some churches live in a ghetto mentality. We are not offering a credible alternative – we have to live what we preach. Young Christians can spend so much time playing games rather than praying, studying scripture etc – we need to get to know people at depth, we need to get to know God. We need to waken up and take seriously Christian faith. Note when scientists move outside their realm, they sometimes make a statement of philosophy and not of science.
The Christian God is revealed in scripture – the God of the Bible – evidence of those specifics – did Jesus rise from the dead? I believe this. If we are honest about the mess we make – we trust him – he can heal the broken hearted – does it work? I’ve certainly seen it work. All of us need to be loved and forgiven – need to be close and intimate – if Jesus is raised, then he is alive and you can get to know him, by opening your heart and mind to that possibility. You need to give up the distance, go and look – read the scriptures based on evidence.