For the next week, I’m spending each day up in Oxford. The Christian Union at Oxford Brookes University are running a week of events. And I’ve been asked to speak at the lunch bar series of talks. So I thought I’d write an honest account of what happens in next few days. It’ll help me take stock of what’s happened at the end of the week. And it might give a snapshot into the work of the gospel in a typical university context.
I’m travelling up and down to Oxford each day, which is about five hours of travelling each day. It’s going to be gruelling but it does mean that I get (in no particular order)
- to see the family each day,
- to travel through some beautiful countryside in the Thames Valley,
- to read some helpful books on the commute (John Dickson’s The Christ Files today)
- and to eat a lavish lunch from the M&S in Oxford station
I’d love to say that it’s because of my burgeoning worldwide reputation as a bible teacher, persuasive apologist and gifted evangelist that I was picked from a cast of thousands to speak this week. The truth is that I got the gig because Coekin said ‘no’ and Tom Midgley, the CU President, had to find someone to do it. But I’m delighted to sweep up the crumbs that fall off Richard’s table! I’m actually looking forward to it because university speaking is not something that I’ve done a lot of. And the change to sharpen up my apologetic arguments is always to be welcomed. But there are better reasons for doing it than that; and to encourage students to put their objections to one side so that they might hear the great news of the gospel has got to be the chief one, surely?
All in all, I don’t mind admitting that it’s an unnerving prospect. And so, in the first place, I consoled myself with a couple of facts. One, this is not Oxford University. Two, it’s Oxford Brookes. And so there’s a very high probability that I’m cleverest person in the building. Fortunately, there was a second place. And in the second place I’m less arrogant and I decide to pray in order to calm my anxious heart. I decided a more constructive approach might be to seek comfort and strength from the Lord. That way it becomes less about me an my apologetic masterpieces and it becomes more about the students and their salvation. What can I say? I’m a work in progress!
So day one was ‘Irrelevant: how is Jesus relevant to my life?’ In contrast to my usual way of doing apologetic talks, I’m trying the ‘less is more’ approach. Usually I try to overwhelm people with an avalanche of counter evidence to the central apologetic objection. I suspect it’s a frustrating experience listening to it because none of the counter arguments is ever developed in such a way to persuade. They’re little more than a list of counter assertions. I just restate the Christian position rather than really interacting with the non-Christian position. But this time I’m simply going to try and show why each objection is attractive, how it’s flawed and how the God answers it with the gospel. Well, that’s the plan anyway.
All I wanted to do today was convince the students that relevance is established by significance. We only ever regard something as relevant if we can be persuaded of its’ significance. The news that a pilates class is meeting in the local sports centre is irrelevant as far as I am concerned. That’s not my thing. It matters not a jot. But the news that a meteor will land on oxford tomorrow afternoon is very relevant! That’s a significant event and it’s potentially personally significant. In the same way, unless we’re persuaded that who Jesus is and why Jesus came is personally significant to us, we’ll never think of him as relevant. And so, when Jesus claimed to be the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6), he was claiming something that (if true) is hugely significant He’s claiming to be the only way to God, the only truth about God and the only life from God. Therefore we will only find fulfilment in knowing the God who made us for himself through Christ. We will only know what’s really real about the big questions of life through Christ. And we will only experience the spiritual life of eternity through Christ. Those things matter, don’t they? Knowing God, finding truth and possessing life are hugely significant. And so they’re ultimately relevant to every single one of us. Well that’s what I tried to argue.
I think it went well. There was a good crowd and a smattering of people who wouldn’t describe themselves as Christians. A young woman called Grace explained how she’d become a Christian after rejecting the faith of her parents when she was growing up. And what she said couldn’t have better illustrated what i’d prepared if I’d written it myself. I didn’t. And I’m already looking forward to day two!