Back in 2006, I went to Oxford University with the intention of convincing an Oxford scientist and Christian theologian to come to Birmingham, Alabama to participate in a debate on Intelligent Design at Samford University. Upon hearing him speak, I was, to say the least, a bit disappointed. Planning to go back to Alabama empty-handed, I nonetheless decided to attend a lecture on science and religion the night before I went home.
The speaker, an Oxford Professor of Pure Mathematics and Philosophy of Science, was someone I had never heard of. The program did not mention him at all and, judging from the twenty or so people scattered around the room, others didn’t know who he was either. Even so, I stayed. But my commitment to this lecture was minimal. I sat on the back row as close to the door as possible. If this fellow turned out to be a bore, I was well positioned for a quick get away.
That is when Professor John Lennox started to speak. The room was sparsely populated, yes, but he spoke with passion, intelligence, and wit as if to a stadium. I was electrified. Over the course of the next hour, he explained how Christianity was not at all in opposition to science, but was, on the contrary, in harmony with it. Who was the man I had never heard of?
Seeing that my trip across the Atlantic might not have been in vain after all, following his lecture I approached him and asked if he’d be willing to come to Birmingham, Alabama to participate in a debate on Intelligent Design. He told me that he seldom spoke in the United States and instead focused on Eastern Europe.
“Why don’t you get Phil Johnson?” he asked.
“Well, he’s suffered a stroke and is a lawyer anyway. No, we need a scientist for this. I think you’d work nicely.”
He thought for a moment. “You go back to America and put something together and I’ll think about it. If you want me to come, you had better be serious.”
I was serious. So serious that within a few weeks we had organized a series of events that could be remarkable if he agreed to come. Reluctantly, he did. At that time, no one knew who he was. Not here anyway. I recall that it took all of my powers of persuasion to convince Rick Burgess, co-host of “The Rick & Bubba Show,” to put him on the air.
“He’s a pure what? A mathematician?” Rick asked.
“Yes, that right. But he’s funny. Really funny, Rick.” I was pouring it on thick. “And you’ll love his Irish accent.” I actually had no idea if Lennox could be funny and Rick & Bubba seemed like an odd fit, but I had nowhere else to go and had to make this sell.
“I don’t know, Larry.” Rick said. “I mean, we are all for Intelligent Design and stuff, but I’m not sure our audience will cotton to an Oxford mathematician.”
“They will. Trust me. They will.” This I knew. Lennox was captivating.
Rick seemed dubious. “Okay. But I’m only going to schedule him for one segment. If it goes south, we will pull the plug on him.”
“Fair enough, Rick.”
When the day of the interview arrived, Lennox and I showed up at the station (then on Red Mountain) and sat in the car listening to the show. John looked at me as if I had lost my mind.
“Is this the right show?” he asked. “Or are we listening to something else?”
Rick and Bubba were then talking about slinging a turkey across a parking lot or blowing a deer’s head off while hunting or their bathroom habits or something like that, I am sure.
“Uh, no.” I said somewhat embarrassed. “This is the one.”
Lennox’s eyes widened a bit and he fell silent.
John and me in Oxford. (Incidentally, we are here standing on Broad Street. It was on this street in 1556 that Archbishop Thomas Cranmer was burned at the stake.)
When John went on the show, Rick kept him for not only a full segment, but for two full hours. They loved him. And so did the city of Birmingham, and they turned out by the bus load to hear him speak. On that visit to our fair city, John’s performance at Samford University made him an instant favorite with Christians here.
But the following year he would surpass that success. It was then that he debated his Oxford colleague, the atheist author Richard Dawkins. In an event organized by the Fixed Point Foundation and broadcast globally, Lennox and Dawkins engaged in a debate that has since become a Christian classic. Lennox was a rock star. He has become the C.S. Lewis of our time, and that seems fitting since he was, after all, a student of Lewis’s at Cambridge University.
Since that time, John has also quite deservedly become somewhat difficult to book! He is in high demand all around the world. But recently John told me that he wanted to come and visit me. Well, I couldn’t let him visit without us doing some sort of event for the general public.
So, on Monday, October 3rd at 6:30 pm, Fixed Point Foundation will sponsor “Saving America’s Future,” a presentation by Professor John Lennox. The event will take place at Haven, a cool new venue in downtown Birmingham (the old Mack Truck dealership on 2515 6th Avenue South). A reservation is required. Cost is $15 for adults, $10 for students. You can reserve online or call 205-414-6311.