Report: Michael Green – Why I Am A Christian

On Friday night, I attended Michael Green’s talk which was a basic overview of his reasons for being a Christian. It wasn’t in-depth or terribly profound, but a very clear statement of why he became a Christian (encounter), why his faith is rational/credible (evidence), and how it changed his life (experience). The full audio feed is due to be posted on the website of the Church of Ireland Evangelical Fellowship. As I didn’t take any notes, what follows is the best I can reconstruct his talk from memory – i.e., please accept all the usual disclaimers concerning accuracy.

Green started out explaining about his journey to faith – his encounter with Christ. Apparently, he was a bit of a rebel in his youth; nasty temper, foul-mouthed etc. Anyway, he was mistakenly(!) invited along to a Christian meeting at his school where he ran into the first proper expression of the Christian faith which he had heard. Over a period of months (6-8), he eventually came to believe that Jesus was who he said he was and that he really had been raised from the dead. The breakthrough came for him during a conversation with the mentor running the meetings (the doctor who edited the BMJ no less). At this meeting, Green realised that he was in a mess and that he needed to be saved and forgiven. From this point, all things began to change. He read the bible daily, which slowly transformed him including his previous foul-mouth and temper. The best thing I really took from this section of the talk was not so much his own personal story, but rather his emphasis that everyone’s journey to faith is different. For most people it’s not a case of blinding lights and voices from heaven but a long, slow, gradual process of appropriating the Christian message and faith as one’s own. While for Green there was an existential point of crisis, he made the point clearly that this is a far from universal experience (he mentioned his own son as an example). Moreover, that following Jesus is something that we can be invited to participate in long before achieving some sort of epistemic certainty (do we ever?). He quipped that we can take Jesus on approval, trying on the Christian faith for size. I greatly appreciated this and actually wish this was emphasised more in evangelism. 

The second section came under the heading of evidence. There were really two parts to this section: a) theism, and; b) Jesus. Those in the know would have recognised brief allusions to a variety of the arguments for the existence of God. I’ve only managed to recall some of them, the audio will give the full complement (cosmological, contingency, design, fine-tuning/anthropic, consciousness, values – both general and specifically moral). Green asked the audience to think about the universe, world and daily lives we inhabit. If nothing comes from nothing, how can the universe have just popped into being from nothing? Why is there something rather than nothing? Why do all of the natural laws work so well and regularly? In other words, why does it all appear so well-designed? Moreover, the universe seems geared to being just right for life (this is the only argument he actually named – anthropic argument), but why? How can we explain consciousness which allows us to freely chose one action over another, which is surely more than just the physical firing of neurons and chemical reactions? Values which we hold dear and essential to our humanity such as love and beauty, which we can’t measure and quantify in a test-tube – i.e., there’s more to life than the merely physical/material. Moreover, we believe murder, for example, is intrinsically wrong. But why? If we believe that there are moral laws, then we must also believe in a lawgiver. All of these could have been greatly unpacked and explained, but Green’s aim in this section was to demonstrate that the Christian faith has its reasons (a lot of them), that it is intellectually credible, that it is rational to believe. He didn’t try to argue that these observations about the world and universe proved the existence of God, his claims were more modest. Personally, I agree with Green on this and appreciated his frankness on the matter. The second part of this section focused on Jesus himself: his character, his charisma, his moral teaching, his miracles, his fulfillment of prophecy (especially in his life and death), his personal claims, and the historical evidence for his resurrection (there was more, but I don’t recall). Essentially, Green challenged us to think about who Jesus is and to ask ourselves if we can really avoid the implications of the answers we come to. 

Finally, under the rubric of experience, Green outlined what happens after coming to faith. This included the transformation of our characters, growing relationship and intimacy with God, and the personal thrust towards sharing what we’ve found with others (i.e., evangelism/mission). Again, there was more, but we were almost up to an hour by now and I was, to my great shame and eternal discredit, starting to switch off.

In general, my impression is that the talk was really intended to act as a jumping off-point for further discussion – an appetizer to be taken up and explored more fully. As such, it wasn’t addressed to me (a biblicist) or the pal I sat with (theologian/philosopher). Nonetheless, what really struck me was his passion and enthusiasm for spreading the good news. He has just turned 80 (and you’d never have guessed so) and is incredibly vital and full of energy. In the end, it was an extremely fluent talk which was a useful introduction for others first thinking about these matters.

Personally, I do wonder if the “evangelical narrative” about us being hideous sinners, who know in our heart-of-hearts that we’re in a mess and need rescuing and forgiven, really addresses where we find ourselves culturally these days. Back in the 1950’s maybe, but in the 21st century? Do people feel any genuine guilt/shame about their actions and so feel the need to be forgiven? How much has moral relativism gripped the popular mood and consciousness? That we can do whatever we want as long as it feels good and doesn’t harm anyone else. Can Green’s way of proclaiming the gospel (standard evangelical method) still speak into the situation we find ourselves in now? I’m not at all convinced that it can or does anymore. I’d be interested to hear what others think about this. Anyway, taken as a place to start, Green’s talk was worth the effort to attend. Plus, on a personal note, I got a chance to catch up with a couple of friends and buy another couple of books, which is always good 🙂

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