interview with David Robertson. Original audio here. Transcript index here. If you enjoy transcripts, please consider supporting, which makes this possible.
BA: Hello, this is Brian Auten of Apologetics 315. Today I’m speaking with Pastor David Robertson. David is the Minister of Saint Peter’s Free Church in Dundee Scotland. A church that is best known for being the church of Robert Murray M’Cheyne. He is the author of Awakening, (a contemporary account of M’Cheyne’s life) and The Dawkins Letters. The latter has resulted in him being invited to debate and discuss all over the UK and elsewhere in Europe. And this has been done in cafes, bars, libraries, universities, pubs, restaurants, village halls, and even occasionally in churches. David is a Chaplain at the University of Dundee, and Chairman of the “Solas - Centre for Public Christianity”. David has preached through Ecclesiastes twice, and is currently working on a contemporary edition of the book Suitable for Evangelism. In our interview today, I’ll ask David more about his encounters with Dawkins, skeptics, and doing apologetics.
BA: Thanks for joining me today, David.
DR: Well, it’s a privilege to join you.
BA: Would you mind telling our listeners a bit about yourself, and where you’re from, and the ministry you’re involved in?
DR: I’m from Dundee in Scotland, and the ministry I’m involved in is...first of all, I’m Pastor of a church, Saint Peter’s Free Church in Dundee Scotland, and I’m also director of something called “Solas - Centre for Public Christianity.”
BA: Tell us a bit about Solas and what your goal is for that ministry.
DR: Solas is a ministry which seeks to communicate the Gospel, obviously. We use what some people would call “apologetics”. We prefer to call it “persuasive evangelism.” And our basic aim is to help Christians communicate with faith in the public arena. That’s where all that comes from.
BA: Excellent. Well, I know that many of our listeners are probably familiar with you if they’ve listened to the “Unbelievable” radio program on Premier Christian Radio in the UK. So, you’re sort of their “go-to man” for addressing a wide variety of apologetics topics and issues. But, one thing they may not be as up to speed on is sort of the back story of your interaction with Richard Dawkins - at least online - and when The God Delusion book came out you wrote a couple of open letters to Richard Dawkins in response, and posted them on your website, or the church website, and that turned into a real attention getter to Dawkins’ followers. Would you mind just filling us in about that story and then the book that came from that whole interaction?
DR: Sure. Just to go back to the Unbelievable programming, they use me a lot to do particularly what they call “gorilla” Christian stuff, because they say that I’m basically an “all rounder.” Which I regard as being a master of no trade and jack of all kind of things. The Dawkins letters, that came about because I read Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, and found it very frustrating. Not surprisingly, because of its overwhelming intellectual force and content, but I actually found it incredibly banal and that caused me to ask a lot of questions. And I responded in the only way I know how, which is to write. I hadn’t intended them to be a book, but what happened with the actual thing is, I wrote one letter, which found its way onto Dawkins web site. It got a tremendous response there - a lot of it fairly substantially vitriolic to be honest. And I just kept writing, and Christian Focus decided to publish it. I wrote it very quickly...within one month. It was something, obviously, I was very very interested in as a subject. It was just years and years and years, I think, of discussions that came out of that book. Then, surprisingly - I mean, I’m an unknown author if you like, not belonging to a particular network or anything like that - it became, in Christian terms, a bestseller in Britain and what I was particularly pleased about was the number of non-Christians who read it. We launched it in a non-Christian bookstore, Borders, and it actually became one of Borders bestselling books. So, that’s the basic story behind it.
BA: Well, I know the little “Dawkins Letters” book is a great little gift that you can perfectly give to a skeptical friend, someone who may be leaning more towards agreeing with Dawkins's view of the world. So, now you’ve been speaking steadily on the topic of atheism and answering objections to Christianity, not just in churches to Christians, but you’ve been actively engaging skeptics and atheists from a wide variety of cultural contexts. So, that’s one thing I want to talk about today, is how you engage with unbelievers. When you think of pre-evangelism, or apologetics, what do you see in your mind, and what is that sort of engagement from your perspective?
DR: Well, it’s very much tied into The Dawkins Letters, because I actually wrote it so that non-Christians could read it. I fear that an awful lot of Christian evangelistic books and apologetic books are written for within the Christian constituency. And I wrote it, basically, for my non-Christian friends. And so, The Dawkins Letters, the book itself, will kind of give you what I’m trying to do. We use a mantra in Solas, one of things we teach people in training them to do what we call “persuasive evangelism” is we say this, “You’ve got to contact, connect, and communicate.” The contact bit is, you can’t talk to people about Jesus unless you’re talking to people. So, you’ve got to be in contact with people. The connect bit is, you’re looking for points of common interest, points that... ideas that you’re aiming to communicate, the good news about Jesus Christ. Now I think obviously, you’ve got to try and do all three. For me, the biggest part of persuasive evangelism or apologetic evangelism is that you listen to people. You’ve really got to listen where they’re coming from. Even when they ask questions, you sometimes have got to ask a question in order to understand where they’re coming from in that question. Let me give an example. If somebody comes up and says, “What do you think about homosexuality?” You’ve got to think, okay, are they asking you because they’re concerned because what I think about homosexuality, and maybe they have an issue with that subject? Or are they really saying, “Why are you such a homophobic bigot?” In other words, are they asking a question or are they making an accusation? And sometimes you can’t determine that, so you have to listen to them. So, for me a big part is you listen to people, you engage in the culture, you put yourself in their shoes. I would say to churches, “Imagine a non-Christian coming into your church - what is it they see, what is it they feel, what is it they hear?” You know, it’s those kinds of things as well as some of the deeper issues.
BA: So, being person-sensitive is a core element, that obviously, yeah?
DR: Yeah, I think so. I mean I think you’re aiming to communicate Jesus Christ; you want to communicate his word, but when Christ came, he came incarnate, he came as a human being, and he’s talking to other human beings. If you want to put it in another mantra, it would basically be, “It’s people, not programs.” I don’t think you can evangelize people. In fact, “evangelize people,” I’m not even sure if that’s a good way to describe it. I don’t think you can communicate the good news of Jesus Christ to people if you treat it like a program...if you treat them like a program. So, my view is let God be God, let the Holy Spirit do the work. It’s God’s word, absolutely, but you’re talking to people as well, and you’ve got to remember that.
BA: Well, I know that many people - if they’re not familiar with apologetics - maybe their impression of it might be, [that] your goal [is] kind of being to win arguments. So what would you say is your goal when you’re speaking with people? Do you have a hidden agenda to convert them, or is there something deeper there?
DR: Well, I think first of all, we don’t like the term “apologetics” because it sounds as though either that we’re saying, “Sorry” or apologizing for being Christian. Or, a lot of Christians associate it with, you’ve got to have a degree in philosophy, you’ve got to be at Oxford or Cambridge, you’ve got to, you know, be able to translate William Lane Craig, and Nietzsche, and so on, into Serbo-Croat or whatever. That’s the image that’s given. For me, as I say, apologetics...what people call apologetics...is giving people reasons to believe; that’s all that you’re trying to do. Now, it’s too clichéd to say, “We’re not trying to win the argument, we’re trying to win the person.” Actually, sometimes you win the person by winning the argument. So, I think what we’re not trying to do is win an argument as though we’re in a debating contest or trying to put people down. But, we are trying to take captive every thought and point it toward Jesus Christ. And we’re trying to show people the illogicality, the unreasonableness, and ultimately, the moral stupidity of trying to live life without God.
BA: Well, we know that Dawkins book, The God Delusion, obviously opened a large door for you to speak to a lot of people about God. So, I’m wondering what you think about the new atheists. Do you think they’ve helped Christianity, you know, and the work of evangelism?
DR: Oh, enormously. Absolutely enormously. I mean, the new atheists are not here because of Islam and because of 9/11. The new atheists are here because of the prediction made in the 1960’s that “God Is dead.” Even in Western Europe, that’s been found not to be the case and so, they’re just furious. And what’s happened is, the new atheist is a reaction to the inability or the unwillingness of the Christian Church to lie down and die. And what they’ve done is, because they’re so angry against us, they’ve created a situation where instead of apathy, we’ve got antagonism. But, what that means is religion/Christianity is in the news or on people’s lips every single day of the week. So, it’s opened a massive door for us.
BA: Well, it seems that Dawkins would want to label you, which he has done, calling you sort of a “wee flea,” sort of trying to gain an audience by simply jumping on his back and riding on his popularity. What has been your response to his labeling of you?
DR: Well, he didn’t call me the “wee flea”. He called Alister McGrath and myself and people like us who have written books, and he used I think it’s W. H. Walden’s quote about being fleas living off a dog’s back. In other words, that we’re trying to make a living off him. Two things straight away. Firstly, Dawkins obviously hasn’t a clue about Christian publishing, because if I was trying to make a living, even off a best selling Christian book, it would be an extremely poor living, and that’s not why we do it. Secondly, I find it a bit ironic that a man who has made millions - I don’t think that’s why he did it by the way, but it’s a side effect, he certainly has made millions out of re-hashing old atheist arguments, not one of arguments is new - then turns around and complains when we try and deal with some of the arguments, and the way that he’s put them. So, the “wee flea” bit came about because I was banned from his website, and I just came under a pseudonym in my church in Scotland as known as the “wee fleas.” So, since he called me a flea, I put that in and it took awhile for them to catch on to, they’re not too aware of Scottish church history, so that was the amusing part.
BA: Good. Well, you’re a pastor and then you’re also an apologist, or at least we’ll use that label. Many people would say you’re an apologist, but I wonder how one informs the other so to speak, how you incorporate apologetics if you will, into your pastoring, or pastoring into your evangelism or your apologetics?
DR: Well, first of all, every Christian - never mind just pastors - every Christian, should be an evangelist seeking to communicate with others. That does mean, again, we’ve got to give reasons for people to believe, we can’t just say “believe”. To tell them about Christ we’ve got to answer their questions. So, as a pastor, there are several things involved. Firstly, I am involved as an evangelist myself. I want my church to grow not by nicking people from other churches, but I want my church to grow by people becoming Christians. And that means I have to think long and hard, and listen to people, and discuss with people, and it takes patience and a long, long time. The other thing I need to do is, as a teacher of God’s word, I have to communicate and equip Christians to be apologists and evangelists. My fear is in the British church and the Western church as a whole, that what we’ve done is we’ve compartmentalized and we’ve said, “These professionals will do this: here’s a relief worker, here’s a pastor/Bible teacher, here’s an evangelist.” Whereas Ephesians tells us that all of God’s people - the purpose of the apostles and prophets and teachers and so on - is to equip God’s people for works and service. So, I think it ties in very, very neatly. And in my view, every church should have within its DNA that it is about communicating good news. It’s about evangelism, it’s about apologetic evangelism, and persuasive evangelism. And therefore, as part of its DNA, that should communicate itself in pastoral care, in preaching, and in church life.
BA: Thinking of evangelism and apologetics and how, you know, they’re almost inseparable it would seem, and you’re talking about equipping people to be well rounded in these different areas. How do you see the work of the local pastor and the leaders within the local body, being better equippers of their congregations to be able to answer hard questions and go out there and engage people?
DR: Well, I think you do it in several ways. First of all, you yourself have to know the Bible and study the Bible. Secondly, you have to know the culture and study the culture. Thirdly, you have to do it yourself; you have to lead by example. And fourthly, you have to listen to your own people. There’s no point in lambasting people and telling people to do things if they feel that they can’t...they’ve been ill-equipped and so on. So, I mean, that would be the basic approach I would take.
BA: How do you think that we can encourage people to use what they’re learning?
DR: Oh, that’s easy. It’s very, very simple actually - maybe simple, but not easy. I was at a European leadership forum conference and while there I heard an American apologist say there...what he said to me, “David, you know the problem with the American apologetics thing is that we spend all our time talking to each other. And that is useless. We are there to communicate and to talk to non-Christians.” And I would say your apologetics is a waste of time if you can’t use it to communicate to a twelve year old kid on a housing estate in Belfast, or Dundee, or Edinburgh, or Glasgow, or London, or whatever. So, I think that it’s about scratching where people are itching, it’s about listening to people, it’s about communicating Christ. And that’s what we’re supposed to do. I mean, as an academic subject I’d want atheists writing me saying, “Thank you very much for the book, really really enjoyed it, you and I will never agree with other, but it’s good to have an intellectual mind exercise. I think there’s an awful lot of Christians who are into apologetics, who gave apologetics and evangelism a bad name, because it’s mind exercise without heart and without passion. And that comes fairly close to blasphemy to me.
BA: Well, I know in my intro, I talked about you engaging people in cafes and bars, and libraries, and universities, and pubs, and restaurants, and village halls, and then occasionally a church. Talk about practical things just like those, you know, areas I’ve mentioned there. What do you and your church or your congregation do on a practical level, so those who are listening can kind of get fresh ideas in their mind, about what this looks like on the ground, when getting out there in creative ways to engage people practically and simply?
DR: In Solas, we try and help stimulate people to do that. One of the things we do warn people is though, that there’s no program. Although you can take “best practice” from other places, you have to adapt it to your own circumstances, which is part of that double listening. I think that I would also say that the vast majority of persuasive evangelism takes place on a one-to-one basis in homes, people talking with their friends, at work, and so on. That’s the vast majority. What I tend to do personally is a little bit unusual; I would say it’s not something everyone can do. I’m not being arrogant about it, I’m just simply saying that because I feel that I’m very much limited in my gifts, but one of them is I can stand up in public, and face a hostile audience, and answer questions. I think very quickly on my feet. So, using that, what I tend to do is I go to a café event, [it] would be arranged by a church. We wouldn’t have it in the church, we’d have it in a café, we’d ask them not to pack it out with Christians, and give a talk for twenty, thirty minutes. Then people would fire in questions for forty-five minutes to an hour. Sometimes that’s pretty disastrous, and sometimes it works really, really well. So, that kind of thing. There are many, many other things.
BA: You talked earlier a bit about how, you know, you’re asking people good questions and finding out where they’re at. You’re talking here about engaging an audience and having them ask you questions. I’m wondering how do you read your audience? That is, if we could kind of borrow sort of Francis Schaeffer, his type of engagement. You know, he’s asking lots of questions and probing in order to actually...at the end of an hour of probing and learning about that person, that he would be able to address them properly. Talk about reading your audience and really finding that point of connection as you mentioned earlier.
DR: Well, It depends on if it’s an individual or a group. If you’re talking about, let’s say, let’s just say like one of our Quench Cafe events, you can get the vibe off the audience fairly quickly. It’s like preaching. Preaching is two ways - always two ways, it’s never one man, one woman. Preaching should always be, at least, interaction. In the café situation, you look and you see. And what you do is...you’ve got to make some kind of connect with people, you really do, or you’ve lost them. Once you’ve made that connect, you say what you’ve got to say, then ask people for questions. I would always try to be very, very sure that I knew what the person was asking and where they were coming from. I don’t have an hour like Schaeffer to, you know, probe deeply into their life. And also we live in a culture where a lot of people don’t want to do that. Schaeffer was dealing with a situation largely, where people were travelling to L’Abri at considerable cost or over a considerable time, and they were coming - they were keen enough - they were coming for a purpose. I’ve got people for...I’m trying to engage them at some level. Now, some have come deliberately for it, but some has just come in for a coffee and find themselves in the middle of this Christian meeting, much to their annoyance. You really don’t have that long, so I have in my mind I want to remove some of what Tim Keller calls the “defeater beliefs.” I want to show them that Christians can think and be human but, without promoting myself, trying to promote Jesus Christ. So, I always look for the common points and a really important thing is praying... “Lord, give me wisdom here, is this guy just shooting his mouth off, or does he really mean it?” You know, I’ll give you a couple of examples. Well, I’ll give you one example. Probably not the best. I was in Northern Ireland and the place was packed. It was in Belfast, Queens University, and a man who was dressed as a Goth, you know, black coat, black everything, stood up and he said, “There are hundreds and thousands of myths about babies being born on the twenty-fifth of December from Egypt and Greece, and so on. Why should we believe your particular one?” And I looked at him and I assessed pretty quickly that he didn’t know what he was talking about. I could have been entirely wrong but, I made a big mistake. I shouldn’t have done this. I actually said to him - I wouldn’t advise this - I said, “Sir, you are a prime example of the dangers of Wikipedia.” The whole place burst out laughing. And then I realized, you know, you should never put anyone down and that was kind of a put down. But at the end of the event, he came up to me - I mean I said to him, “There are no such events, you know, you just read this off of atheist web sites” - and at the end of the day he queued for ages and he looked really angry and I thought, “Oh, please let him go away.” And I spoke to several people but he came up and I shook his hand and said, “Look, I’m sorry for that put down, I shouldn’t have done that.” And he said, “No, mate.” He says, ”You’re alright.” He said, “To be honest, if you’d given me the usual soft Christian answer I would have gotten up and walked out. I hadn’t a clue what I was talking about and you caught me on it.” Now, I think God was protecting me. The opposite of that was in Cambridge - a man started asking me questions and disagreeing with me about Josephus and Tacitus, their evidence for Jesus. And I said to him, “Excuse me sir, you obviously have a lot of knowledge,” (He was citing sources and so on.) I said, “Who are you?” And I think, if I remember rightly, he said, “I’m Professor Abby Cohen (or something like that) from the University of Jerusalem. My speciality is Biblical Josephus and Tacitus.” I mean he just absolutely grinned, but he was just great, you know. And at that point I just saying to him, “Well, okay you tell me” and actually it might be helpful. And he said, ”David, you don’t need to bother too much about Josephus and Tacitus.” He said, “I’m disputing one of your books.” He said, “The bottom line is, Jesus was a Palestinian peasant. Peasants don’t write history, you know. And it’s rulers who write history, so you would not expect Jesus to feature in a lot of the history of the time.” Which actually made a lot of sense, it was very helpful. So anyway, but that’s the kind.
BA: You mentioned all your different interactions there, so one of the things I wanted to ask was, what do you think is one of the biggest challenges that you see today that Christians should be equipped to address? Are there any particular topics or issues that always come up?
DR: Well, the issue of suffering always comes up in different forms. The issue of different religions always comes up. The issue of sexuality and homophobia, and so on is the shibboleth issue for our culture, that comes up a lot. How do you know the Bible is true? Questioning your own spiritual experience. I mean there are many, many but, those would be the kind of standard ones that come up.
BA: Thinking about the new atheism…you think it’s on the way out, or you see it staying the same, or growing?
DR: I see two things happening. I see the new atheism continuing. I see a secularist society using schools to indoctrinate people and the media in particular, along those lines, particularly in Britain. But, I also see a renewal and revival of religion, some of that will be good and some of it will be appallingly bad. I think that secularism...there’s a German sociologist, Habermas, who’s beginning to speak about a post-secular Europe. We’ve got a post-Christian Europe or maybe we’re now moving into a post-secular Europe and I think that that offers a very, very interesting challenge.
BA: Describe what you mean by “post-secular.”
DR: I mean people who tried secular humanism, in the belief that it was going to lead to the promised land and it hasn’t done so. And so, they’re moving away from the certainties of modernism, they’re moving away from the certainties of materialism and so on. And they’re just lost. They don’t want to go back to traditional religions, because they perceive them as being authoritarian, or out of date, or whatever. So, some will go for the new age spirituality - so others will think they’re nuts. But, there’s just a general lostness. So, the certainties of modernist secularism... you see this happening for example in Sweden, less so in France. You see it happening in the Netherlands. In Britain, you find that most of our secular humanists are largely elitist, upper middle class, and they’ve just not been able to permeate their philosophy throughout the whole of the culture to such an extent that it’s driven out Christianity. In fact, I think the opposite is beginning to happen.
BA: Many people in the United States seem to think that post-modernism has been sort of a strong force, others would dispute its influence. Speaking about Europe, maybe the UK as well, how do you see post-modernism as a challenge and to what degree has that had an effect on the culture in general?
DR: It does depend what you mean by post-modernism, but, there’s no question that both here and in the United States that post-modernism is hugely influential. It’s not consistent, it’s not coherent, but it has huge influence: “This is my truth, tell me yours.” But truth is not relative. Ironically, that is one of the absolutes of our culture - that there are no absolutes and that truth is relative. And that is deeply, deeply ingrained in many people now. Deeply ingrained. And it’s deeply ingrained in the church. Which is why you get people saying, “This is my opinion, and that’s your opinion,” and so on. You get a reaction against that which is authoritarianism. I think that what you need - is the best response to that - is the Christian one, which is not authoritarianism, it is “Know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” In other words, truth is in Christ.
BA: Shifting our subject slightly, I’m sure that a lot of our listeners are going to be people who are wanting to be better apologists, better defenders of Christianity. I always ask my guests, what advice they have for Christian apologists today. And so, I would want to ask you along the lines of what do you think Christian apologists may be doing right, and that they need to continue doing, and what sort of things would you venture to say they are doing dreadfully wrong and need to stop?
DR: Well first of all, stop thinking of yourself as an apologist, that’s one thing. Just think of yourself as a Christian who wants to tell other people about Jesus. I think that there is a tendency amongst those of us who regard ourselves as apologists to focus on the abstract, conceptual, intellectual, and so on. I’m a great believer that the intellectual is hugely, hugely important, but I would suggest that in much of your communication, what you’ll find is a bit like the iceberg - you’ve got ten percent that can be seen and ninety percent underneath. The Dawkins Letters for me was like that. You know, you can read it at one level and it might appear fairly shallow and superficial, but if you begin digging underneath, you’ll find that there’s an awful lot of work and thinking and so on, going on within it. I think that if we think that we are evangelists, or persuasive evangelists, or even apologists, the big thing we have to think about is our own walk with the Lord and how we communicate. You know, how we get that across and the opportunities. I also think that we really have to be prepared to take risks. Not risks within the church, but that’s part of it, but mainly risks out there. And the good news is we’re allowed to fail. We’re allowed to get things wrong.
BA: One of the things in speaking with former atheist Richard Morgan, with whom you’ve had engagement, one thing that played a big role in his being influenced positively towards Christianity was your tone of interaction when conversing with other atheists and things online. He saw consistency, truth, love, and patience. Can you say some words of encouragement [on] using the right tone and manner in our interactions?
DR: Yeah, I think we fall into two traps. I think first of all, there can be the very angry tone and it’s all about me and so on. And that’s just dumb, you know, and I don’t think it’s Christ-like, I don’t think it communicates well. Now I actually think that Richard Morgan read some of my posts on the Dawkins website which he ignored. I think some of them were probably a little sarcastic and so on. But the other extreme that people go to is, in order not to offend anyone, they become so banal, and dull, and boring, that they make Christianity just sound deathly. And I think what I look for in tone is something that’s robust, something that’s speaking the truth in love, something that’s consistent, and persistent. I think you do have to persist. There comes a time when you shake the dust off your shoes. But don’t get frustrated if somebody doesn’t become a Christian after hearing the first two sentences of your wisdom. They’re not going to. They may take years, and years, and years, and you might not even be involved in that at all. So, I think in your tone, you better really care for the people. I mean, the tone has basically got to be real. And so, if I find that I’m angry with somebody that will communicate. And if I allow it to communicate...if I am out here with them, I just say, “Lord, let me calm down.” But, you’ve got to get this balance at having passion with purity and that ain’t easy. So I often find myself praying to the Lord, “Forgive my mistakes” And [I] remember it’s not about me. I think reality is a big, big thing and I think for Richard, that’s what came across. He found that his atheist colleagues, - they mocked all the time, and I sometimes mocked a little bit. But there was a viciousness and a nastiness in a lot of the correspondence he witnessed. And he was just surprised... I mean, he thought...they accused me of being a liar for Jesus and he couldn’t find a lie, and there wasn’t one. You know, so he thought, “Okay, he’s just deluded.” But you know, you just work persistently away. And I think, you know, the fruit of the spirit...if you know that you don’t have all the answers, if you know that you’re incredibly weak, then even though you’re talking a lot and trying to discuss things and even though you can be passionate about it, I think it stops you from being arrogant. Which is a big turn off for a lot of people.
BA: That’s helpful. And along that line, I wonder what sort of encouragement you give people to pray for those you’re interacting with and not just bombarding them with arguments, so to speak?
DR: Well, I think you pray for them and I think also, you pray for yourself. Now I one time went into a meeting, a café, once thinking, “Oh, this will be easy.” And about ten minutes into it, I thought, “You idiot, you idiot, you came here on your own.” And I remember- the meeting wasn’t a disaster, it was okay - but I remember going home and getting on my knees and just saying to the Lord, “I’ll never do that again. Unless you go with me, I can’t do this.” You know, I mean, I’m articulate, I’m relatively, but not so intelligent, I can connect with people to some degree, but the more I go on in this, the more I realize, you can’t do this...you just can’t do it. Theologically, I know that it’s only the Holy Spirit who can cause people to be born again, but emotionally and practically, I’ve had to live that out rather than just knowing it intellectually. And that’s both a very frightening thing and a very encouraging thing. It’s a frightening thing because you’re going to speak to a bunch of stones telling them to live and these stones live. But it’s an encouraging thing, because you’re going to speak to a bunch of stones and these stones can live because it’s the Holy Spirit who works, and he uses people like us. One of my favorite sayings is if God could speak through a donkey then He could manage to speak through me. Not that I want to be a donkey, but you know, I think that’s very, very, very important. Richard Morgan got it spot on when he said in his testimony - which we put in the back of the second edition of the book The Dawkins Letters - he said in his testimony, “Ultimately, it was not words of David Robertson, it was the word of God” that set him free. And that’s what I rely on completely, God’s word will not return to end.
BA: Well, that’s a good point, and it brings a question to my mind about your starting point for interaction. You know, you mentioned going into cafés and maybe giving a talk for twenty minutes and then taking questions, and I wonder what your approach would be when you’re interacting with someone? Obviously, it’s going to be different every time, but would you encourage communicators to begin as close to the gospel as they can and then work back if necessary, or is there a certain general starting point that you see maybe as most productive?
DR: Well, the gospel is applicable to every situation. So, where you begin is where people are. You’re trying to get them somewhere. You don’t begin where you’d like them to be, so you begin where they are. So, for example, I gave a talk six weeks ago in a café which we entitled, “Sex and the City.” I think a number of people turned up expecting to talk about homosexuality and adultery. And I didn’t...what I ended up doing was - I didn’t quote lots of Bible verses either - I gave a history of human sexuality and used some of the psychological arguments and so on. And then said, “Well, this is the Christian perspective on this,” and then we had questions. And it was just a very, very, very different approach for most of them, but you know, obviously, most people are interested in sex and that’s where I began with that one. Now to me...I always end up with...these are the questions [and] ultimately your only answers are found in Christ. Now, how I express that in different circumstances may be different. But, I think one of the mistakes that many apologists make is they think it’s about a particular argument, you know, the science/faith argument, let’s just deal with that. But actually, you’ve failed if you haven’t at some point communicated that it’s not just this argument it’s that we see everything in the light of Christ. So, I would argue if you want to coin a phrase (or I’m sure someone else has used it) for Christological apologetics. In other words, there are many different spokes on the wheel, but the center is always first.
BA: That’s good. And thinking of arguing for God’s existence, if you’re ever speaking to someone who doesn’t even believe that God exists, a lot of people might employ various arguments, but I’m wondering what your approach is? Do you tend to employ certain arguments if you’re talking about the existence of God? Or do you opt for a different approach?
DR: Well, I think there are hundreds of different arguments if you want. Usually, I would opt for a different approach then, because usually people are not arguing at that level. I would tend to say that ultimately everything comes to [inaudible]. You know, I’ll give you an example, but it only makes sense if there is a God. The classic example would be the morality one. I did a debate in Cambridge, and the president of the secular society stood up and basically, he would have won that debate, because the debate was: “There is a God.” And he should have won that hands down, but he lost it because of this remark. He said that Auschwitz or Dachau, I think it was - one of the concentration camps - is wrong, is not a fact. And I interrupted him at that point and he said, “I thought you would interrupt me,” and he said, “I think it was wrong, but it’s not a fact.” He says, “That’s what Bertrand Russell said on the BBC immediately after the second world war. Gravity is a fact, but ‘Auschwitz is wrong’ is not a fact in the same way as gravity.” And he said, “Can you prove that it is?” And it was one of those moments that I just [inaudible]. Then it came to me, and I said, “You know, actually what you’re doing is, we’re adopting two different starting positions. Your starting position is there is no God and therefore, Auschwitz for you cannot be proven to be wrong - it’s just a question of morality, it’s just a question of chemistry, social engineering, or whatever.” But I said, “My starting point is different. My starting point is not that there is a God. My starting point is that if you rape my daughter or kill my wife, it’s wrong. That if you kill six million Jews, it’s wrong.” And then I go from that starting point, that knowledge that I have as a human being, and I go from that starting point and I work my way back. And ultimately, I have to come to the absolute and I’m afraid that absolute ultimately always leads to God. In other words, your worldview means that you cannot say that ‘Auschwitz is wrong’ as a fact. My worldview begins with ‘Auschwitz is wrong’ as a fact. And I said, “I know which world I want to live in.” And he lost because of that, because he walked right into it. But that would be just a classic example of where I [inaudible]. Now I know there are a lot of questions that you just begin with saying, “God exists” and that’s it. I begin with thinking God exists. I begin with believing that the Bible is God’s word, but it becomes a circular argument, you just go round and round again. I think what you do is you question where other people are coming from and where it leads to - what they’re thinking. And you also show that your view makes a whole lot of sense and the whole world only makes sense if it is in God that we live and move and have our being.
BA: I know our time is short, so one thing I wanted to ask you about is again, the Solas – Centre for Public Christianity in Scotland. You mentioned its mission and what the organization is all about briefly, but can you point people to that? And what they might find there, and how maybe they can help out, or get involved with that?
DR: Well, what we try and do is we operate at different levels and the whole thing is just developing. A lot of what I’ve been talking to you about, that’s what we try to encourage people to do. We have a website which is www.solas-cpc.org (Solas is the Gaelic word for light). And if people go to that website they can see what we are doing there. We try and basically encourage people to develop and think about things for themselves. We do offer some basic training and things like that. But if people just want to contact us and ask, there’s a whole lot of media stuff that we’re developing as well. I mean as we get the resources, we’ll develop more and more media, because we feel that’s a major way to do this.
BA: Well, I’ll definitely point people to your book, The Dawkins Letters. And one more quick thing I wanted to ask you about, as I mentioned in the intro, is that you are to be coming out with a book on Ecclesiastes. Give our listeners, if you would, just a teaser for what you have in mind for that.
DR: Well, I’ve actually got two things. The one I’m working on at the moment is actually a book called Magnificent Obsession. Which is the biggest question I always get asked, ultimately is, “Why do you believe?” And the biggest answer I give is, “Because of Jesus Christ.” But, what does that mean to people? So what I do is...what we’re doing is something similar to The Dawkins Letters, but with ten chapters looking at who Christ is, Christ through the ages, and so on. Written with the light of the modern, post-modern, secularist people who know very, very little or you know, that kind of thing. Ecclesiastes, we’re working with something on that with The Bible Society - because Ecclesiastes is just a fantastic book to preach the gospel in a twenty-first century post-modern European culture, because it asks all the questions that people are asking and shows all the wrong answers. And, I’ve used Ecclesiastes a lot, it’s a great passage to teach the Bible from. So, we’ll be working on that, that’ll be a little bit long though before we get that one.
BA: Alright, well finally, you mentioned where we can find the Solas Centre online, but if someone wanted to find more of your resources, where would you want to point them?
DR: Well, I would say, go to the Sola and from that, or the Saint Peter’s website as well, www.stpeters-dundee.org.uk. We’ve got various sermons and things like that. But, I would say, go to the Solas website and then people can feel free to contact us through that.
BA: Well David, thanks so much for taking the time to speak with me today.
DR: Sure, it’s been a privilege.
Thursday, March 14, 2013
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