An interview with David Robertson.
I have heard you say that the UK scene is farther down the secular road than Australia. What makes you say that and what should we be aware of? Church attendance and Christian influence is higher in Australia – although it varies from state to state. The UK, especially Scotland, has secularised incredibly quickly. I think the main reasons are that the Church largely turned away from the word of God, gave up on Christian education in schools and did not know how to cope with the post-1960s world. We took our eyes off the ball – or at least off Christ! Given the wide gulf now between the way a Christian thinks and the way a non-Christian thinks, what advice would you give to the believer who honestly doesn’t know how to engage as a “witness” for Jesus? I’m not convinced that the gap is that great. Indeed, for me that is part of the problem – as Christians we often think more like the world than Christ. I would encourage any Christian to get closer to Christ, grow spiritually and love his word. That will translate into your life and you will be a better witness – because you know who you are witnessing to. Then get to know your culture and the people around you better. Often, it’s best to listen before talking. You have special gifts to see right through the secular agenda. Is there anyone similar in the church today who helps you think freshly and clearly? I find Os Guinness to be incredibly helpful. Others include Tim Keller and, in Australia, Phillip Jensen and my colleague Steve McAlpine who are both excellent at bringing the word to bear on the culture. I also like secular writers like Doug Murray, Jordan Peterson, Lionel Shriver and Tom Holland. They are great at analysing and understanding the culture – but they don’t have the answer: Christ. However, they do a lot of the ploughing and heavy lifting for us. You miss the regular Sunday-by-Sunday preaching. Is it the preacher’s job or the layperson’s job to think through the implications of the word for their world? Both. The preacher must bring us the word of God and apply it to us and the world in which we live. But he does not give us a formulaic set of answers. We are to think for ourselves. The job of the preacher is to help us think biblically. The key is to read the culture through the lens of the Scriptures, rather than read the Scriptures through the lens of the culture.
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What have been some highlights for you in your speaking and travels since you came to Sydney? There have been several. A school in western Sydney; an outreach online café at St Thomas’, North Sydney; Q & A evenings at Norwest Anglican; the Chinese Presbyterians; the City Legal lawyers’ breakfasts at Silks Café; Ann Street Presbyterian in Brisbane; lawyers’ meetings in a hotel in Canberra; KCC; a pastors’ meeting in Hobart; online services and Q & A at St Ives and a meeting of scientists in western Sydney. Someone has said that you are like Chappo (John Chapman) in that you should be visiting the churches to evangelise and equip. What would you like to be doing here? I don’t think I could lace Chappo’s boots, never mind fit into them! My passion is to see churches have evangelism as part of their DNA, not just an optional extra. I have been a pastor in a local church doing evangelism in a secular culture for more than 30 years and I know that the church is the best means for outreach and disciple making. But a lot of churches seem to struggle with that – and I would love to be even a little help. How does Annabel use her gifts and how are your children... two still in Scotland? Annabel is talented in lots of ways – not least with people. She is currently working two days a week with St Thomas’ as a woman’s pastoral worker, and then part time as a social worker with Royal North Shore Hospital. She is admirably equipped for both roles. Our son Andrew is a church planter in an urban poor area in Scotland (married with two children). Our daughter Becky (also married with two children) is a social worker in western Sydney. And our youngest daughter Emma Jane, a prison nurse in Edinburgh, got married in December. Sadly, we were not permitted to attend. Is there a text or truth that keeps you going when the world, the flesh and the devil press hard against you in Christ’s mission? “Go stand in the temple courts and tell the people the full message of this new life” (Acts 5:20); “These men who have turned the world upside down have now come here” (Acts 17:6). “Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7); “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty” (Psalm 91:1)… and so much more! SC
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