In a time when the world is abuzz with talks that place God in the same sentence as the tooth fairy, hundreds of people convened at the DeSantis Family Chapel Oct. 8 – 9, to hear the world renown Northern Irish mathematician, philosophical Christian apologist Dr. John Lennox talk about faith.
While the students were his focus, they were not the only ones to be at the edge of their seats as they listened to Lennox speak. Not surprising, he was a captivating orator. He is, after all, an Emeritus Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford and an Emeritus Fellow in Mathematics and Philosophy of Science at Green Templeton College, Oxford University. The man is the author of a number of books. His most recent works are: Being Truly Human, Determined to Believe? and Against the Flow. He speaks English, Russian, French and German and has traveled the world participating in numerous public debates defending the Christian faith.
It was illuminating to hear Lennox talk about his hometown Armagh, Ireland, and how his Christian parents were such an influence on him.
“They taught us two things: Everyone, whatever their belief system, is a human being created by God,” he said.
The second thing his parents taught him was to think. When he was 14, his father gave him a book by Karl Marx. Lennox asked his father why he should read that. And his father said, “You need to know how other people think.” So at a very early age, Lennox was taught to understand different worldviews. And because he never had a first experience of what it was like to be a nonbeliever, author C.S. Lewis became his guide. Reportedly, Lewis was an atheist and became a Christian in his 50s. Lennox attended the last lectures of C. S. Lewis on the poet John Donne. From Lewis, Lennox learned what it feels like to be inside the atheist mind.
From the onset, his eyes were on Cambridge University. Upon completing his doctorate, not long into his first year of teaching at Cambridge, he was invited to a dinner where the keynote speaker was a Noble Prize winner. He’d never met one before, so he thought it would be interesting to ask him a few questions. As he got closer to the God question, the man got more uncomfortable, so Lennox stopped the conversation. At the end of the dinner, the man asked him to follow him into a room, where he found other university professors sitting with a haughty disposition. The man asked Lennox point blank, “Do you want a career here?”
“Yes, sir,” Lennox quickly replied.
“Then in front of all our guests tonight, give up your naïve believe in God. You’ll never get anywhere. They will cripple you at Cambridge. You’ll be worse than your peers. So, give it up,” he snarled.
Lennox felt utterly petrified. He knew that if the cards had been turned, if a believing professor bullied another professor like that, he would have lost his job the next day. But because the man in question was an atheist, he hid behind academia, and intimidated Lennox to give up his God. Finally, Lennox said, “Sir, what have you got to offer me that is better than what I already have?” The man had no good answer and so Lennox got up and left.
“That put steel in me that has never left,” Lennox confided with his audience.
For him, getting into Scripture, mathematics and evangelism is very important. But it has been his profession that’s gained people’s interest in what he has to say. “My profession as a mathematician has been the gateway to everything else. It’s given me credibility,” said Lennox.
Toward the last few minutes of his talk, Lennox challenged his younger audience to think. He shared a story about a brilliant Bible teacher, a very close friend of his, who called him to his home one day and told him, “John, I’m going to die.” The man was very sick. And as young college students, they’d made a pack that whoever died first would speak at the other’s funeral. So, Lennox asked his friend, “What would I say?”
And his friend told him, “John, tell them what we did when we were students. To get into the Word of God, to make it the absolute priority, not to study Scripture to get stuff for other people but to get to know God. And to pray their way through until the face of God appears. Tell them that and then they will have something to say.”