“Sadly, I have now seen countless churches who seem to have lost their first love for reaching out with the gospel.”
This notion of thinking Christianly in all areas of life and communicating how Christianity engages all of reality was growing throughout the church during this time, wasn’t it?
When we moved back to London—I met and married my beautiful wife, Jenny, at L’Abri—in the mid-’70s, things had changed considerably and Christian leaders such as John Stott had come to take apologetics and cultural issues much more seriously. So he was very supportive and became a very dear, close friend.
And in my years at Oxford, we worshipped at St. Aldate’s, where the rector was Michael Green, an eminent New Testament scholar who was also a passionate and effective evangelist and apologist.
Not till I came over to live in the U.S. did I come across churches with little or no interest in apologetics. Sadly, I have now seen countless churches and student campus groups who seem to have lost their first love for reaching out with the gospel.
What motivated you to move to the United States?
When I finished my DPhil, we stayed on in Oxford because we loved it so much. One of my first jobs was as a freelance reporter for the BBC, working on a documentary on the role of religion in President Reagan’s election. That was what opened my eyes to the “tone deafness” of the American media and elites, and to the critical role of religion and religious freedom in American history.
That led in turn to research on a book on America (The American Hour), so we came over here for six months, and I worked at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., and then the Brookings Institution.
Those six months have now lengthened into 30 years because during that time I had a direct experience of a call from the Lord, asking us to leave Europe and come to the U.S. So in 1984 we moved here, and have lived here ever since.
A lot has changed in the United States since 1984—not to mention since 1964 or 1884. As a cultural analyst what is your take on the situation the church is in today?
Just as St. Augustine lived at the end of 800 years of Roman dominance, so we who are Western Christians have the challenge and the responsibility of living at the end of 500 years of Western dominance. Until recently, Jewish and Christian ideas have been the single strongest influence in shaping the West, but sadly the church has not responded well to the ideas and cultural trends of the last two-and-a-half centuries, so we are now shoved away to the margins of society.
Think of the way the world has changed just since the Eisenhower or Billy Graham eras. In those days almost everyone could understand “Christian talk,” so you could speak straightforwardly and be understood by everyone. But in the last few decades the public world has become much more secular (and the Christian faith has become more controversial), and the private world has become much more diverse. “Everyone is now everywhere,” it is said.
Still, you write in Fool’s Talk that we live in “the grand age of human apologetics,” a new era of connectedness that is “the greatest opportunity for Christian witness since the time of Jesus.” Yet you say the church is not effectively communicating the gospel to the post-Christian, pluralistic selfie culture around it.
That’s why I wrote Fool’s Talk! Look at the book of Acts. If you remove all the words that involve thinking, reasoning, arguing and persuading, you would have a pepper pot full of holes. The apostle Paul was an irrepressible persuader. Yet as one business leader said to me, Christians are well known for a whole series of Ps— preaching, pronouncements, protest, picketing and so on—but they lack the one P that is absolutely crucial today: persuading.