Sunday, December 2, 2012

My Encounters with Dr. John Lennox


“Faith is not a leap in the dark; it’s the exact opposite. It’s a commitment based on evidence…It is irrational to reduce all faith to blind faith and then subject it to ridicule. That provides a very anti-intellectual and convenient way of avoiding intelligent discussion.” Dr. John Lennox

Earlier this year in February I drove over an hour to hear Dr. John Lennox speak at Princeton University. Dr. Lennox is a well-known apologist who has written extensively on the existence of God. He has debated famous atheists like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Peter Singer. I was excited to hear him speak in person for the first time. But when I arrived I found out that he canceled his speech because he had a “tummy ache”. I really wanted to talk to him because I was looking forward to applying to the University of Oxford and since he is a professor there I had some questions I wanted to ask him. I now had some time to kill before he had his debate later that night so I decided to walk around that beautiful University.
As I was enjoying the scenery I came across a statue of the 18th century Scottish Presbyterian pastor John Witherspoon. Not only was he the only active clergyman to sign the Declaration of Independence but he was also president of Princeton University too. I was reminded of the fact that Princeton was originally started as a Seminary to train pastors. For some reason I got this feeling that I was called to study at Oxford & that would mean relocating again. I called my wife to share this vision with her and she thought I was out of my mind to put it mildly. Which looking back it does sound kind of crazy to think about what I was suggesting. But I love those times when God shows you a vision of what you are going to do in the future and it comes to pass.
After I hung up with Lauren I realized that Dr. Lennox was going to be debating soon so I headed over to the auditorium. People were starting to arrive and I noticed Dr. Lennox sitting close by so I decided to make conversation. I went up to him and introduced myself. He really didn’t want to talk to me and I had been anticipating my conversation with him so I was a little discouraged when it ended rather quickly. I said to myself, “This guy’s a jerk.” I didn’t even stay for the debate. I decided to just head home since I had a long drive. 
Now let’s fast-forward 9 months later. I get an email from the chaplain at St. Edward’s (a boarding school in Oxford) asking me if I would like to help facilitate a discussion group with 16-year-olds after Dr. Lennox gives a talk to them. At first I didn’t want to do it (I can be a grump I know) but then I decided to help.
We all met at the school about an hour before the talk to go over some instructions and to set up the room. Dr. Lennox arrived early as well and we all introduced ourselves. I told him that I met him a while back at Princeton but he wasn’t feeling well. He interrupted me and said, “You were the boy who grew up in Miami, right?” I was kind of shocked and he ended up telling me why he came off as a grump that day. It wasn’t just a tummy ache he had; he got food poisoning from something he ate in New York City (I think it was from China Town. I'm not joking). We got to talk for a good amount of time before the students came in. I felt like a jerk now because of thinking that the world revolved around me.
My friend Sam who studies with me at University asked Dr. Lennox if he still gets nervous before he speaks or debates. I will never forget what he said. With his old fashioned flat cap on his head he looked up and said, “I always get nervous chap. The day you stop getting nervous is the day you should stop doing this. There are two types of nervousness. The first type is being nervous because of the crowd and how you will portray yourself and what people will think of you. The second type of nervousness is being nervous about making sure everything that comes out of your mouth is in accord with God’s Word and that you will make much of Him. The first type of nervousness is fickle; the second type of nervousness has eternal weight.”
He did a magnificent job speaking to the students. He truly is a great apologist. He has a way of speaking very clear and colloquial. He is a very cheerful and funny man. He is in his seventies so you feel like your grandpa is talking to you about important matters so you give him his due respect. I liked hearing stories about him growing up in Ireland too.
After the conference finished, we were walking out and I asked him if I could take a picture with him. He was fiddling with his bag and just handed me his flat cap to hold. I kind of liked the fact that he didn’t ask but just handed it to me like “Hey, help me out here mate.” Recently I’ve been inspired to write a blog on the importance of the elderly and their peculiar behavior that so often reflects them. After we took a picture he told me, “Just don’t put it on Facebook. It’s rubbish.” I told him don’t worry, I’ll only put it on Instagram and my blog. He hadn’t a clue what Instagram was and figured nobody of importance read my blog anyway so he didn’t care.
We thanked him profusely as he walked away and he yelled back, “It’s your generation, get on it!” He is right. May we make much of Jesus for the sake of the next generation that is following after us. May we pass the beauty of gospel centrality to the young men and women who will be leading the mission in the future. May God have mercy upon our generation to lead the upcoming generation well.
Soli Deo Gloria!
Anthony

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