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Hello, and thanks for joining in. I'm Jana Harmon, and you're listening to the Side B Podcast, where we listen to the other side. Side B is that side of the story that you don't usually hear. Growing up, I used to buy vinyl records and listen to side A, the popular song that everyone knew and loved, but oftentimes, side B would just get ignored. It just wasn't as well known, perhaps not worth listening to. Occasionally, I'd turn the record over and give it a chance. Every once in a while, I'd find a song that I rather liked and began listening to it even more than the song that I'd bought the record for in the first place. In the same way, we're naturally driven towards the songs of people that we like, the ideas that we believe, side A, and we don't often give the other side, side B, a chance, and when we do, we sometimes find ourselves a bit surprised by what we hear. We might even come to like it.
We become more open to a different idea, a different way to think about the world and our lives. At the very least, listening to other perspectives helps us understand and relate to each other better than to distance and to stereotype and ignore.
That's the purpose of the Side B Podcast, to hopefully interest you in listening to ideas and perspectives you may not have heard. For Christians, it's to help you understand the lives and perspectives of skeptics and the various reasons they may push away from God, and for skeptics, it's to help you see how and why intelligent, thinking people may actually turn from disbelief to belief in God.
Welcome to the podcast, Rob. It's so great to have you on the show!
It's lovely to be with you, Jana.
As we're getting started, why don't you tell me a little bit about yourself. Obviously, I hear something very English in your speech. Where are you from?
Yes. So I'm in Hereford, England. You might detect a Cockney twang. Some people sometimes accuse me of being from Australia, but no, I'm from London, England. Yeah, so I moved out to Hereford four years ago, which is in the west part of England. I'm 46 years old. A former policeman. I was a policeman for nearly five years, and then I basically left to become a legal advisor in criminal defense, so in a sense, I went from arresting people to defending them, and then you could say, or someone said to me a few years ago, which I quite liked, "So you've gone from arresting people to defending them to now trying to save them," because I'm now in the ministry with the Church of England. I'm a vicar, or in America you might say a pastor, with the Church of England, which I've been doing for the last six years, I suppose, if you include the training.
Well, since this show is about talking with former atheists, now that you are a reverend, you really have gone full circle. I'm eager to get into your story. That's quite a change over a lifetime. So why don't we, at the beginning, just set the context for where your beliefs in atheism arose? Tell me about your understanding of God and religion and faith growing up. What kind of community were you in? What kind of family were you in? Did anyone believe in God? Or not? Why don't you talk with me about that?
Yeah, sure. I came from a loving but very secular household. So I grew up with... I've got two brothers, a foster brother, a sister, so we lived in a large house, a large household. But we never went to church or anything like that. I had loving parents, but certainly God was never part of things, really. We grew up interested in various sports and all the rest of it, and I certainly grew up very much as a practical atheist, I suppose. I never really thought about matters of God, and I very much lived... Certainly, as I grew up, as I got older, I lived for myself, so now I would look back and I can look back, and you're probably, if I go into different parts of my story, you'll hear why, I lived very much in rebellion towards God and very self centered, and it never occurred to me that there'd be a reason to do otherwise. Well, no, it's not that it didn't... It seemed to me the only way to logically live was for yourself, but actually the strange hypocrisy of that, if you like, as I grew up and got to my late teenage years, and especially at university, it became even more abundant, "What's the point?"
So I never took the trouble of investigating God until later on, and I'll explain when and why that happened, but to me, it was just a given that... It just seemed natural, it just seemed innate that you'd live for yourself. What's the point in doing anything else? And then actually, more than that, what's the point of anything? And I became increasingly basically an apathetic hedonist. Those are the words I would use. My atheism was basically just borne out by a deep sense of apathy and hedonism. And there instinctively didn't seem to me any greater point, meaning, purpose, or value in life than beyond those things. Now, I can look at Paul in the Bible, in, I think it's 1 Corinthians, you know, "eat, drink, for tomorrow we die," if there is no God. These sorts of things. So I just lived by that presumption, as if there was no God.
Right. I guess there weren't any other pictures in terms of Christianity, embodied Christianity, other Christians or religious influences around you that even made you question whether or not God existed? Or if you didn't or didn't have anything like that, what did you think that God and Christianity and all of that was?
Yeah. I thought it was... Secularism has obviously been fairly rampant in the West, especially England, probably even more, a lot more so, actually, than America. And so you're kind of indoctrinated from an early age, because everybody else tends to think the same, where within all of the media, within all of popular culture, at least the majority of it, it's as if we've grown beyond that, and without making any effort, one is indoctrinated to believe that there's no more truth to Christianity. Jesus Christ is no more real than Father Christmas, to give a silly example. Which now is bizarre when you actually stop and look at the evidence, but to me, it was just the cliched types of things when I looked at or came across Christians.
I remember, at university for example, arguing with Christians on campus on a couple of occasions, and that was where I was clearly an atheist and would come across as an angry atheist to them, because my presumption, and these were no more than presumptions, was just that Christianity was a strange crutch for deluded people. I remember seeing a documentary in which Peter Atkins, an Oxford... great friend of Richard Dawkins, just said that anybody... "What do you think of people who believe?" he was asked, and he just said that they're stupid. And I think, back then, I just assumed the same thing, that people were giving some attachment to some delusion because it made them feel better. Or more than that, I just suspected that people became Christians because they were just selfish, and so I remember challenging them, saying, "So why are you a Christian?" and basically suggesting that, "Well, you're just a Christian because you want some deity to take care of you. Because actually you're obsessed with your own salvation," and I knew enough to know about Christianity to know that supposedly it was a route to salvation, and therefore, by default, my assumption was that these strange weirdos, these strange Christians, were just deluded people who needed a crutch who were just obsessed with getting themselves saved. And therefore actually it's not a religion of love and charity and all the rest of it, but actually, deep down, Christians were just selfish people who wanted some mystical deity to save them.
Does that make sense? I mean now as I try and say this stuff, it sounds nonsense, but this was kind of the way I thought back then.
Right, yeah. You describe yourself as somewhat of an apathetic hedonist, but perhaps that was a little bit later on, in the sense that, if you had so much anger and contempt, that doesn't sound apathetic to me. It sounds like you had a rather strong sense of self about your atheism and a strong opinion otherwise about Christianity.
Yes. I was very suspicious. Regarding myself and how I lived, I lived with enormous apathy and hedonism, so together. But in terms of how I viewed Christians, because I never actually looked properly into Christianity, but I viewed Christians with great suspicion for kind of the reasons that I just mentioned.
So yeah, I was a strange mix.
We all are. We all are.
Indeed, we are.
Right. So you lived this way, with this sense of apathy and really a sense of self pursuit in your own way because you didn't see any meaning or purpose in life, and I'm impressed with that statement in the sense that, as an atheist, you must have been somewhat thoughtful about what atheism was or what naturalism brought or did not bring. It seems to me that, when you absorb atheism within secular culture, oftentimes, you just go with the flow and really don't think about the implications of that worldview, but in a sense, you had really considered atheism in some regard, in that... Did you really think through those implications of there's no real objective meaning, purpose, value, morality, those kinds of things? At all?
For me, it was on a subconscious level. One of the things maybe we'll get to shortly that was a big trigger was a William Lane Craig essay, when he wrote, "Is there meaning to life without God?" or something. I think he ended up putting it in one or two of his books, but it absolutely shook me to the core, because he brilliantly articulated everything I'd always kind of assumed and lived by, and so I was confronted with it, but before I read that—and a lot of things happened before I did read that—I had just lived with a sort of subconscious... Everyone lives with a subconscious awareness that life is fleeting and that they are going to die, so I always had a strong sense of my own mortality. It's just this inescapable end. The inescapable destiny that we all face. And I also had enough awareness to know how long this universe had been here, how brief and, you know, within 250 years, nobody is going to know anything about you. So even today, for example, we see more and more humanist funerals where people talk about people living on through other people's memories and stuff, and it's really a sham. I knew that life itself ultimately was absurd because, relative to what we know about time and the universe, our lives are just a grain of sand.
So therefore very quickly, growing up, as a teenager and then especially when I got to university, I found no desire or enthusiasm or anything. All I lived for were the things that gave me immediate pleasures. So I went to university just to play sport. And I never did anything. I never did any studies whatsoever. I basically lied and cheated my way through just to manage to get through university. And just lived a very hedonistic lifestyle. And to me it was just obvious. Why would you bother to do anything else?
So it was just an obvious reality to you. You've painted quite a picture. I think we understand where you were and the way you were living and what you were thinking. Walk me a little bit farther along and tell me what began to change for you. Or what opened you to the possibility that God exists or something might be different than you thought it was?
So, in a way, my conversion if you like, or my testimony, is a story of three prayers, in a sense, and it's the story of two women and three prayers, okay? What happened was... When I was at university, so I was about 20, 21 at the time. Bizarrely, I made this—and I remember these things very clearly in my head—I made a bizarre transactional bargain with inverted commas, big inverted commas, God, right? And this sounds bizarre, and it was, because I didn't believe there was a God, but I basically made this prayer one day. No, there's no way I'd call it a prayer. It was a bargain, but let's just say... And it was basically... I saw this female that I desired, right? And she was with somebody else. And I was with somebody else. And I basically said, and this reflects a lot of what I was like at the time... Anyway, I won't... I said, "God, if You're real, if You'll give me this girl, I promise You I'll be faithful to her," and then a little while later, we got together. Now, we were together for about two years, and I was a lot better. I think, for a while, I could genuinely feel I was happy. And this was a really fine individual.
Have you heard of the Alpha course in America?
Yes, yes, I have heard. But for those who haven't heard of it, why don't you tell us what that is.
So the Alpha course is something that originated from a place called HTB Church in England, in London. A big church in England. And a guy called Nicky Gumble took on this course, which basically was a way of introducing people to Christianity and exploring questions of life through the lens of Christianity and Jesus Christ basically. And it's basically become a global, worldwide phenomenon, this course, and it's superb.
So this lady that I was with at the time. Her name's Jeanette. She went on an Alpha course, and to cut a long story short, she became a Christian, and she wanted to live like one, and although... So basically, when I say she wanted to live like one, it meant she no longer wanted to have sex before marriage, if I'm being blunt.
This wasn't really ideal for me, and I know that basically she was just waiting for me to propose and to marry her, and I didn't do that. What I did was I basically tried to crush her faith. I thought, "How can you choose this mystical, bizarre God that you've sort of invented or that's just been from this strange course that you've been on... How can you choose this bizarre God over me?" And so I was angry, and basically, I broke her heart. And I really broke her heart. And I was, in a way, trying to break her faith as a means of revenge for her betrayal, because she chose this nonsense mystical God over me.
Eventually, everything I say will relate to each other. So just stay with me.
I thought I was going to be free, so as I did this, I was also aware that I was breaking my own agreement agreement with God. So, rather than marry her and this stick to this bizarre agreement I'd made with inverted commas God, this bargain, this higher power that I tried to make the strange bargain with, I thought, "Stuff You, stuff her, stuff this stupid superstitious nonsense! I'm going to go back and live for myself," and so, in a sense, I betrayed this agreement I'd made with God. I'd obviously betrayed her in that sense. Because I was trying to crush her spirit and crush this newfound faith. I thought I'd find some more freedom. I thought I'd go back and find a sense of freedom, and I just threw myself into a major hedonistic lifestyle, far more than ever before. I really was living by the week, by the day, on a cocktail of drink, drugs, etc. Conquests. I was a serving police officer at the time, but I was going out most nights of the week with pockets full of this, that, and other. And it really was... yeah. Drink, drugs, sexual conquests with absolutely no regard to who I was hurting along the way. It was the optimum of rebellion.
Now, a few years of living like this, I then met another girl, funny enough on a dating site. It probably won't surprise you to know I was on a few of them, but... To cut a long story short, a whirlwind romance basically began. This was someone who lived in Wales. But we kind of started meeting online and then, within a year, she moved down to London to live with me. So many things about this relationship had been out of my control. How we met online was bizarre. It's because she liked my screen name, Jamie. That's not even my real name. I mean I could go on with lots of other just weird things, but it was a whirlwind romance. Now within a year, she became ill, weirdly ill, and she then took a blood test, and the blood test showed that she was HIV positive.
She had the AIDS virus. Bear in mind, this is getting on towards twenty years ago, so even twenty years ago, it was a lot more of a death sentence than it hopefully is today for most people. But from what I knew about her and what I obviously knew about me, it was clear that I must have given this to her, that she couldn't have got it any other way than from me. So she was and is an amazing woman, and I remember the days really well. I was suddenly faced with this knowledge that I'd killed her, you know? To me, it was like I'd killed her, and I remember the night when I was sobbing uncontrollably, crying uncontrollably on her shoulder, and she was consoling me. Which says a lot about her.
She seemed more okay with it than I was. I just couldn't handle it that I felt like I'd killed her. And all because of my reckless, self destructive, selfish hedonism. Now... Then I prayed. I remember that night when I really, really prayed. I remember it like it was yesterday. And basically I really prayed, totally different to the stupid juvenile bargaining that was just a pretense before. This time, I really cried out to God. I really cried out. Basically praying, "I deserve this. Take me. But please, somehow, if You can, spare her. Because she doesn't deserve this. She doesn't deserve this. Please, just take me." So it was so different in my heart, and I was literally crying as I was praying this to God. And a week later... They double check these things. A week later, she did another blood test, and she was clear.
Yeah. And it was incredible. And obviously I then took a test, and I was clear. Gone.
Oh, my goodness! So I presume you attributed that to an answered prayer?
Very easily. I don't know... I won't know this side of heaven. I won't know in this world. Back then, the medics obviously say, "Well, we don't really know what happened. For some reason, it must have been a false positive before. We can't really explain." That's all they can say. But yes. To answer your question, I do believe that was an answered prayer. Because I believe either God performed some sort of a healing miracle, or I believe that God manipulated those tests as His means of doing business with me.
Humbling you. Yes.
We're both Christians now. On the day she got this all-clear result, I proposed to her that very day, and we've been married ever since.
So this girl is your wife!
Oh, my. Okay.
And there's been loads of other stuff. Sorry, I'll go off on lots of tangents. But just to say that God has answered prayer in other extraordinary ways. Just to give you a quick flavor.
We had something like... So my wife. Melissa's her name. She's got a daughter, Bronwyn, and she wanted me to be her dad when she met. She was five. She is now nearly 24. But we were trying to give Bronnie a sibling for years, and Lissa had multiple miscarriages. She had had an ectopic pregnancy. She had pre-cancer cells and was advised in her early twenties to have a hysterectomy. Her mum had a hysterectomy at 29. But she felt God was telling her not to do that. And then I had my own issues. I swear to you, this is no exaggeration. I had lots of tests done because we were investigated, both of us, for fertility and trying to see how we could... We were about to have IVF treatment. Three weeks after I was given a test result where I was given a zero percent chance of fertility, we conceived Maddy, who's now eleven.
Another false positive and/or miracle! Answered prayer.
I hadn't thought of it like that. For that, lots of people prayed for. At that point, I've skipped forward many years, and there's various things to say in between, but all of our church were praying for us over those years of infertility, and to me, that was... Because I had the evidence of the test, and then we worked out when we must have conceived, and it was three weeks after I had had that test result. Again, lots of people had been praying for us. That's just to give you another.
Just to kind of go back to my initial conversion, there's lots to say about the other things where God was prompting me and how I came to investigate the truths of Christianity and the faith. I mentioned the first girl, Jeanette, because, on the night I was baptized, which I think was 2008, 2009, I managed to trace her. And I was over the moon because I traced her probably by Facebook, and I hadn't crushed her faith. Far from it. She was living a wonderful Christian life, wonderful family life she had in Australia, both of whom have been in ministry in different parts, both her and her husband have been in ministry in different ways. She's got a lovely family. And I had to ask her whether she ever prayed for me, and I never forget her answer. She just said, "I prayed for you many, many, many, many times." She basically said she'd never stopped praying for me.
And you know I really hurt her.
And so the joy I have from the testimony certainly is... This is why I'm convinced God was answering prayer. God heard my desperate prayer, but she had been praying for me, and it's her prayers for me that I'm convinced He answered.
Because so many things had to happen that were completely beyond my control.
So I'm one of these people... Yeah, I think a lot of might feel this. But I'm fairly confident God, for many reasons—I can't give you all the reasons—but for many reasons, I'm convinced that God brought me and my wife Melissa together as part of the answer to the prayer. Because Melissa was involved in choosing where we were going to live, and she wanted to start going to a church, trying going to a church. Basically, she'd been brought up as a Roman Catholic, but the worst sort of childhood, she had. I mean the worst. It was her influence... She started looking at local churches, and the only reason I ever walked into a church was because, in our nearest church—bear in mind we were now living in a place called Loughton in Essex. Again, she was integral to where we were living.
And then, as we were looking at local churches online, I noticed that the minister of one of the nearest ones was a man who's name was Alan Comfort, and he used to play football, soccer. Soccer, you call it in America. In a professional team that was fairly local to where I grew up in London. He used to play for a team called Leyton Orient, which was a sort of lowly but still professional level, and he was one of the best players, so sort of a minor superstar of football where I grew up had now bizarrely become... was now this vicar of this local church. And I was absolutely intrigued, and it was that factor that got me to walk into a church the first time. So in an extraordinary way, I suppose... I never really thought about it like this, actually, but at the beginning, at the very start, I mentioned I grew up in a home in a home that was obsessed by sport, and in a sense, I think God used that obsession to get me to walk into a church, and it was a sportsman that God dangled in front of me to get me to walk through a church door. I hadn't thought of it like that before.
So we went there. And Alan spoke very well, and so I kept going back. And then, of course, eventually I did an Alpha course. Go on, Jana. Sorry.
Oh, I was just... So when you decided to step foot in a church, how much later was that? When was that relative to that moment where you felt like your prayer was answered and both your and her blood tests were clear? So you had that moment of relief and perhaps maybe a little belief. So how much time passed between those two things?
Yeah. Definitely that moment was the most incredible moment in that series of events, and so my journey really definitely started there, beyond my complete rebellion of God before that in various ways, so that... We were married in 2004, so it would have been 2003? So, as I say, it was a fairly whirlwind romance, but 2002-2003 was when we'd gone through these events with the HIV. And then we got married 2004, and so we would have moved to Loughton within a couple of years after that, so I probably first walked into a church—I wish I knew the exact date or year. But it would have been 2005, 2006.
So after that moment of the sense that prayer was answered, did that open you towards the possibility of a real God existing?
So that by the time you got to a place where you're willing to walk in a church door, you would consider yourself open towards that possibility? For walking into that possibility?
Definitely. Definitely. Certainly in my case it takes to the point of despair. I remember that day of crying out to God like it was yesterday. I still struggle to talk about it without welling up. God knows us better than we know ourselves, don't we. It was in that moment of despair when I knew nothing else but to reach out earnestly and honestly, desperately, to God. And that was real when I did it, and yet everything in my life up to that was no belief, thinking it was a fantasy and nonsense, but actually... I don't know. Something happens when we are faced with the most profound things, especially when we're desperate. That instinct, I think, that little glimmer doesn't go from ourselves. Sorry, Jana. Sorry.
No, no. It's really a-
I've lost my thread again. I took myself back to that night.
No, no, no. Okay.
Going back to your question, so yes, feeling that something extraordinary had happened, that I'd cried out from the bottom of my soul to my creator God, and he answered me. Yes. Without question. I never would've walked into a church. I wouldn't have walked into a church, I don't think, had any of those things not happened. So I was open. I didn't pour scorn on the fact that my wife wanted to go to church and was asking me to go with her. I wasn't scornful and like let's be antagonistic or worse. I was open to it. And then the cherry on the top was the fact that it was a surreal thing about who actually was the vicar of this one particular church. So yes. My heart had already been slightly softened by these extraordinary events that did make me more open to go, and so I did go with ears far more open to hearing than I probably otherwise would've done.
And then what did you hear when you started listening?
Funny enough, the first time, I remember fairly confidently again that Alan was speaking on revelation, and it was fascinating, and he spoke well, and so I wanted to go back, and I kept going back, and then eventually, they were running an Alpha course, and I... It's funny now, as a vicar. So much of my planning and what we're trying to do is get people to the place where we can invite them to Alpha and they'll actually think seriously about it and come. I remember I asked Alan if I could go to Alpha. I was the one. My heart was softened enough and I'd heard enough to know I wanted to do this and look at this properly.
But there were other little triggers as well. For example, I remember this: This was a significant thing for me. In 2006, I was channel hopping when I came across a documentary. Again, I just feel this was... I remember it so vividly, and I feel it was a... We now would call it a God-incidence, and there are so many that have happened. But I came across a documentary whilst channel hopping, and it was called "God: The Root of All Evil," and it was Richard Dawkins at the height of his... on the back of his The God Delusion book.
And he made this documentary. So he was very popular at the time. Funnily enough, it was in that documentary, I think, that Peter Atkins that I mentioned earlier was just saying that anybody who believes in God is stupid. But this shook me. This was another sort of pivotal moment when I realized that, actually, whether Richard Dawkins is speaking the truth or not is the most important thing in the world. It is the most important question for any of us, whether God exists or not. And I'd always, without thinking through things, lived in an apathy of, "Why bother?" This documentary totally shook me out of my apathy. On the back, yes, what had happened in the previous years. Now, it was clear to me. This is the most important question of all. Now I've been an investigator all my life. I'd worked in law. I'd been a policeman. I love reading Jim Warner Wallace now, for example. I've been a policeman and then working criminal defense, so I've been around the law and investigations all my life. And so it seemed just natural to me—it still is—to investigate the God question, if I can put it like that. And that's never left me.
And so, for me, at that point, it was, "Hang on a minute." I'm a truth seeker before I'm anything else. Even before. If anybody asks me why I'm a Christian, I could go into all the details of what God's done in my life and answered prayer. But the other side of the coin. I mentioned two sides of the coin before. The other side of the coin is quite simply because it's true. I'm a Christian because it's true. Not for any other reason. It's classic C.S. Lewis stuff. It took a Richard Dawkins documentary, and I also then read The God Delusion, and it took him to make me realize that, great C.S. Lewis stuff, the truth of Christianity cannot be [UNKNOWN 39:01]. I think C.S. Lewis—I love some of his stuff. It's either the biggest humbug—or whatever he calls it—or it is the most important thing to know. One thing it can't be is moderately important.
And from that moment onward, in 2006, I've always absolutely profoundly believed that. Yeah, similarly with Jesus Christ. The person of Jesus Christ is central. One thing He cannot be is—again paraphrasing Lewis. He cannot be a good teacher or anything patronizing like that, I think he says. He's either severely deluded, the devil of hell or worse, or He is the Son of God. And actually... yeah. Even before I'd read any Lewis, the awareness of that question just suddenly hit me. One could say, from how I'd grown up, I slowly but surely became pleasantly surprised. Not only is it true, but it's... We have an abundance of evidence for the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As I'm sure you know.
You know, I started reading—as I was doing Alpha... So from Richard Dawkins, I set out to conduct my own investigation, and the first place I went to was Lee Strobel's The Case for Christ. Fabulous. And in the last year or so as a church, the Hollywood movie adaptation of The Case for Christ, we've had film nights, and it's gone through the whole congregation, and actually, I think they've done a pretty good job with that. I don't know if you've seen it.
Yes, I have. Twice.
Yeah. And I've got to get my dad to watch it, but people I watch it with, I do say to them, "Watch this because I really related to Lee Strobel in many ways." He doesn't hide the fact that he was a drinker in the film and antagonistic and all those things. I feel... Humbled doesn't cut it. But humbled to think that God—and this is what I wrestled with for a while, actually—is why would God do these things for me? I couldn't get my head around it until I started to understand the depth and love of God because of what He's done in Christ, and actually, He loves everybody to that degree. Yeah, through Lee Strobel, I then... That took me to people like William Lane Craig, who was a massive influence on me. For example, another pivotal thing was when I first... I think it was 2009 when I watched William Lane Craig debating Christopher Hitchens, and it was like, "This isn't even a contest." Christopher Hitchens, for all of his skilled rhetoric and clever wordplay, he had no answer to the conveyor belt of good argument and evidence that there is for Christianity. And that was just clear to me. And so Reasonable Faith, Bill Craig's ministry, they run chapters, and I became qualified and a chapter director many years ago, and that's always been a good feeding pool for me. He's been a big influence.
So obviously, over time and investigation, you became convinced that it was true, obviously existentially and spiritually you believed God was real.
So those things came together and you came to a place of belief.
Yeah. I feel... to say humbled, that doesn't... When I stop and think about it, it's hard to get my head around, but in personal ways, God has been personal to me. My existential angst, the arguments and evidence, in every way, God has kind of met me through circumstances, through... He's given me the means to know that He's there. I think through Jesus Christ and the evidence that God has ordained to give us through the Bible, especially the New Testament. He's given everyone access to sufficient evidence. I mean it's like... It's the Pascal stuff. I think God is... obviously. It sounds ridiculous to say this, but I think God is a genius, and I think God has so ordained this world to be an arena in which people... the human condition and the fallen nature of human beings gives them sufficient... whether that's inner reasons or outer reasons... to stay rebelled from Him and to disbelieve Him and to reject Him in equal amount—Pascal mentioned this—has given sufficient amount for people to be able to find Him if they seek him. I think there's an incredible balance about the way God has ordained things.
Yes. He has. I love the way that Pascal talks about He gives us enough light in order to see but enough shadow if we want to hide and that sense of freedom and free will that He gives us. And it's interesting to me that, once you had the eyes to see or the ears to hear, you began to see it in loads, like you said a conveyor belt of evidence. I like that turn of phrase. But it also... I think your life really speaks to... When you make the statement, whether or not God existed is the most important question of all, you not only took that for yourself, you actually took that for your own life in terms of helping others understand and answer that question. Because obviously you moved into a place where you're doing this professionally! Tell me how you made that move. I mean, that's quite a move, to move into the ministry. Tell me about that.
It's funny. I couldn't tell you, Jana, when I became a Christian. So not one Damascus Road experience. An awful lot of things happened, as you can tell. So I can't say when I became a Christian, but I know I was baptized in, I think, '08 or '09, so it'd been in the years preceding that. I can tell you that it was the 10th of January, 2013, that I felt God was calling me to go into full-time ministry. After a relatively sleepless night, I know it was that day because I wrote it down that day and I told my wife. And to me, it was just obvious. And it is. Although I'm still a wretched sinner, I'm a lot less of a sinner than I was, but it's this... It's C.S. Lewis stuff. To me, it's just obvious. What is more important than God? And what is more important than God in Christ the way He's revealed himself to us? To me, it just became clear, leading up and then that day. What else are you living for?
In fact, again, off the top of my head now, actually, I'm joining the dots even now as I reflect. I grew up thinking, "What's the point of anything in life?" to a certain degree. Meaningless, hopeless. No meaning, value, or hope ultimately. When you find the ultimate meaning and purpose and the foundation on which anything and everything has meaning, purpose, and value, what else are you going to do other than this? And that's really how it was for me.
It became a clear path to what you were called to do. And it sounds like you embraced that with both arms, just full hearted, and you never looked back.
No! My struggle, if you will, the race I'm running. You know, we strive for the prize, Pauline-type stuff, is I just wish people could have... What is it that will give people that same awakening I've had? And on a superficial level, or a conscious level, I just think, "Why can't other people see just how important this is?" Why can't they see that it's... entire destinies. All meaning. Their lives are meaningless unless there is a God. What can I do to help them see that they need to at least look into this stuff? What is it? And of course... because to me it's obvious. Why wouldn't you investigate Christianity? So I'm always desperately thinking through, "What is it we can do to try and get people to see that, how important at least the question is, so to spend some time exploring it."
And then, of course, even as I hear myself saying that, it's, "Well actually, it took God to intervene significantly in my life for me to see that." Hence, there lies in... you know? God's grace. We need to be called by God himself and the Holy Spirit to at least... And a lot of people don't like the term, but God's prevenient grace. No one can come to the Father unless the Son calls him. We remain blind. A lot of the analogies from both the Old and New Testaments. We're in a state of spiritual blindness, and we need God to do the things that will open our eyes and open our ears to see the significance and then move on from there.
So really that's why I'm in ministry. I'm fundamentally, if I were to label myself or people were to label me, they would say I'm an evangelist and apologist first. Because one of the most absurd things of the culture we live in and I've been living in is this idea that, "Oh, it's true for you but not for me," and I'm a firm believer in objective truth, as you can probably tell.
And so the truth of salvation in Jesus Christ... Obviously, there's nothing more important than that. What can we do to get people to look into it. And so I've spent my life now trying to build relationships with people, trying to encourage people to be ambassadors for Christ, to care for others, to nurture community and relationships, so that you can get to a point where an invitation that is given to something like an Alpha course is not just going to be falling on deaf ears, but it will be given a fair hearing, and people talking about their faith will be given a fair hearing. Or the invitation to come to church or come to something like an Alpha course. They will receive it warmly because they'll have received it from somebody that they're already warm towards. I think that's why I do what I do, to try and get others to similarly be the ambassadors for Christ in that way. Greg Koukl, another influencer... I used that phrase, ambassadors for Christ. I think that's one of his phrases. It's a good catch-all, apt term.
Yes, it is. I think this is a really wonderful place to transition. If you were to be able to speak directly to a curious skeptic, or at least someone who's raising an eyebrow or just willing to hear you out for just a moment, what would you tell the curious skeptic?
Oh. I wish I'd prepared something in my mind for that question, but of course, I should be prepared. I'm always telling everybody else 1 Peter 3:15. I think it makes all the difference in the world. So I'd ask... Conversation will always be the way to go. What is it you're looking for in your life? People don't like thinking about their own mortality. I think people are aware of their own mortality. So is there more than this life? And I think there's ways in which people can look inside themselves and outside themselves to find the truth and that it does lie in Jesus Christ.
So depending on how the conversation would go, I would say look at the beginning of the universe. I'd say you can look at the fine tuning of the universe, again which points to a designer. The argument for mathematics. So these are all ways that people can look outside of themselves to look at... Actually, there's a lot of good reasons to think there is a creator. Did I just say the argument for... yeah, the argument for mathematics would be another one, and how mathematics cohere in an extraordinary way with science in a reliable, predictable way. Again, that speaks to a creator.
But then probably more important than those things, I would challenge any individual and say, you can look inside yourself to know the truth. Now, on one hand, when other people say that, I'm usually sort of skeptical. Because that's a very modern Oprah-Winfrey-type, forgive me, sort of way of, "Oh, you can just find all truth within yourself." But I would put it like this: When we talk about morality, for example, I think most people, when you start prodding and probing about questions of morality, various forms of the moral argument, realize they do subscribe, they do think some things are objectively wrong. There are certain objective moral values and duties that they think are actually real, that we're not just products of animals and all moral values are ultimately relative and part of a delusion. So I think they can find within themselves that. Obviously, the moral argument speaks to there being a Creator God and ultimate lawgiver. Along with that, their sense of justice. most people can see there's something wrong in the world. Most people wish and desire that there is some ultimate justice. And then the other thing, so the third thing, if you will, is the sense, the desire to be loved unconditionally. I think there are things that we can appeal to people within themselves speak profoundly... Most people, if they give themselves a chance to look at these things... So, for example, we all desire to be loved unconditionally unless something has gone very wrong. And it's through these things that we can talk about Jesus Christ in particular.
So you can see from the evidence beyond us and outside us that there's plenty of evidence for a Creator God that governs this universe, but then we can talk about the person of Jesus Christ and say, "Look what happened on the cross. Here was a man who said, in various different ways, and showed in various different ways, who claimed in so many ways to be the God of the universe in the flesh, and He goes to a cross so that God's justice is met. His perfect justice has to be served, if you will. The iniquities of us all are laid upon Him. But He does it because of his unconditional love." So I'd love to say to anyone, when you look inside yourself and you know your sense of justice is real, that your desire for justice is real, your desire to be loved unconditionally is real, because they're both a reflection of the Creator of the universe, and it just so happens that Creator God has come into this world to see that justice is served, but such is His love for you, that you know you have, because it reflects the love of your Creator, He went to the cross for you. Because He loves you unconditionally.
So I think, on that personal existential level, within us as creatures, as human beings, we can get a sense and see... We feel and are made the way we are because we are made in God's image, and we can see the nature of God, and in some way that is real. So even if nobody ever looks as cosmology or maths, just those things within themselves, they can see that they're a reflection of a God that exists and loves them if they spend the time to then look at the man, the God-Man, the person and life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and just what that means.
It sounds like you have given that a lot of thought. And it's really-
That's pretty wonderful. What about if you had a word for Christians in terms of how they actually think about or embody their own faith or how they might engage. You had said before, and I really appreciated that, that just relationally, being in relationship with people who don't agree with you, so that there's a warmth, a genuineness of relationship and openness for discussion about things, just like you were talking about to the skeptic.
Yeah, sometimes I do like little trite phrases. A little trite phrase that I liked, it's a truism. It's, "People don't care about how much you know until they know how much you care." And I like that because one could risk—even as a Christian, one could risk over intellectualizing everything. I certainly can. Because that's where I'm inclined. That's my background, is investigation. Like Jesus Christ, sometimes I approach as if He's just this amazing figure to kind of be unmasked, like in the New Testament, unmasking the Messianic secret or something. Sorry, I'm going off on a tangent.
No, it's fine.
Where was I? But yeah I think... I've seen it. This is one of the things that I've seen in ministry that's most wonderful, is people who aren't like me at all, and they can't get their head around arguments and evidence and all this stuff, but they can be the most winsome ambassadors for Christ, more than I can. Their gentleness and their love and just the Spirit working in them and through them could be far more, for want of a better phrase, magnetic than any dry argument that I might sometimes come out with. Care. So the trite phrase, care. Ultimately, we're trying to be intentional about conversation, intentional about sharing our faith, showing our faith in the way we live, and being invitational. The amount of times I've seen statistics that say, "X, Y, Z people would think about coming to church if they were only invited." This sort of thing. And it does begin with the culturing and nurturing of relationships. So let's say an invitation to church is cold and dry. The invitation is only as good as the person that's making the invitation. And I don't mean a good person. What I mean is any invitation has got far more promise if the bond between the two people is strong. So there's got to be a genuine sense of nurturing a relationship between the Christian and their neighbor, and their nonbelieving neighbor or those that are non-churched.
And it can't be faked. Do we, as Christians, truly love others. Obviously, we should, and obviously we are called. The great commission applies to all of us, Matthew 28. To always have a reason to give a defense for the hope that you have. But all these things and the way we go about evangelizing and sharing our faith, it's got to come from a foundation of having built a relationship where the person that you're engaging with knows you care, knows that you love them, and knows there's something about your faith that has done something to you. That's why we're called to live it out. Does that make sense?
Oh, it makes perfect sense.
So again, for example, going back to Greg Koukl, I like the way he puts a lot of things. I mean obviously he's one of the best in terms of conversational evangelism and apologetics. Tactics is always one of the first books I recommend to anybody. But he talks about we need more gardeners, and I like that. I just think we, as Christians... Before my time, if you like, before I was a Christian, I understand there was lots of calls for people to go through the sinner's prayer and always get people to say that prayer and they're saved, and I don't think it's as simple as that.
I think most of us are called just to sow seeds. I think, for every individual, God knows, obviously, how many seeds it will take for that person to be ready for the heart change and for the Spirit to be able to then convict them without being blocked, without that person living in rebellion. Now, for some people, it might be one seed, ten seeds. It might be a hundred seeds. But I think if every Christian just works on being a gardener, as Greg Koukl would call it, just working out how they can keep sowing the seeds, I think that's what we can all do.
I think that's perfect. You know, in sitting back, it has been such a pleasure to hear your story. Not only your story but your wisdom and your perspectives. I am struck by the paradox, or just the contrast of the selfish way that you used to live, the way that you were so frank and transparent about your life and how it is completely turned upside down, completely different. You're living in virtually the opposite of selfish. You are completely selfless in giving your life in terms of helping others find their way to this life, to this God, to this Jesus Christ that you have found that has made all the difference. And I just want to thank you, Rob, again for coming on this podcast. It's been truly amazing, and I just truly appreciate your time, and more than that, your generosity and your wisdom. So thank you so much for coming on.
It's been a real pleasure. Thanks ever so much, Jana.
Thanks for tuning in to the Side B Podcast to hear Rob's story. I've included all of the resources that he mentioned on the podcast in the episode notes for your reference. If you've got questions or feedback about this episode with Rob, you can reach me by email at [email protected]. If you're enjoying the Side B Podcast, I'd appreciate it if you'd subscribe and share with your friends and social network. In the meantime, I'll be looking forward to seeing you next time, where we'll be listening to the other side.