Jerry Johnston interviews Saint Andrews’ Professor N.T. Wright

Everything in Christianity hinges on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Sociologist Rodney Stark, PhD, told me yesterday that no one in human history made the impact of Jesus Christ. The absolute axis of the Christian faith rests on the resurrection. In Gospel narratives we observe the behavior of the closest followers of Jesus before His resurrection: timid, afraid, vacillating. Afterward, they are transformed, unstoppable, and authenticate their faith by their own martyrdom. Peter was audacious enough to stand in front of thousands in Jerusalem during the festival of Pentecost and boldly proclaim. Fifty days earlier, he could not stand up to a young girl who questioned him regarding his association to Christ. Life transforming? No question. How else do you explain it?

More than anyone in history, Jesus is controversial. On our film journey, Cristie Jo and I have listened as He has been both vilified and praised – certainly not ignored. Everyone knows who He is … the top leaders of atheism, agnosticism, secularism, sociology, and humanism. To some, Jesus is an expletive (interestingly, we don’t swear using the names of other religious figures), and yet to many others, Jesus is worshiped and adored. Stark confirmed to me, as I have been told, that one of the largest Christian populations in the world is in China, a communist nation – he wrote an entire book on that subject. How did Jesus defy obscurity after two millennia? Easter Sunday, Jesus draws a bigger crowd in America than the Super Bowl, hands down!

I asked one of the brightest thinkers in the world, British theologian N. T. Wright, author of The Resurrection of the Son of God (740 pages!), why Jesus was so unique and why the resurrection was so important. He spoke about Jesus in a manner, I must admit, I have never heard before … one of absolute familiarity. Candidly, I left the interview wanting to know more, much more, about Jesus.

N.T. Wright:

“1 Corinthians 15 is extremely important first because it includes the very early testimony which has already become kind of a formula. Paul says you know what the gospel was, the Messiah Gnostic says according to scripture was buried, raised on the third day according to scripture and was seen. And Paul is there quoting a formula which he knows the Corinthians will recognize and which he knows the other apostles too will have preached the same thing. But then Paul goes on to explain it and it’s one of the longest sustained arguments that he writes anywhere and it’s a very carefully structured argument and it has fulfilled the ancient scriptural prophecies and Paul is quoting several of them. And in particular it has launched new creation. 1 Corinthians 15 is really working with Genesis 1 and 2 in saying as in Adam, but now selling the Messiah. So that what’s happened is the beginning of new creation and that’s the only way you can understand it.”


Researchers, Drs. Jerry and Cristie Jo Johnston, are Executive Producing a quick-paced film via trans continental, staccato interviews documenting the shocking rise of the non-religious.

Jerry Johnston on the Rise of Christianity in Russia – Philip Renner Interview

Christianity on the rise in Russia? Meet Philip Renner, son of Rick and Denise Renner, founders of the Moscow Good News Church, which runs 4,000 in attendance in the heart of Russia’s mega-city of 13,000,000. One Russian leader states, “Nowadays it is hip to be religious in Russia.” There are 30,000 churches in Russia and they are gaining in prominence. Cristie, myself, and friends, Rick and Denise, were equally inspired early in our careers by Dr. William Bennett, pastor of First Baptist Church, Ft. Smith, AR. Who could forget Dr. Bennett’s 5:00a.m. breakfast meetings when he would want to conjugate a Greek verb and talk about biblical texts?

The Christian Thinkers Society with Jeremiah Johnston now sets it site on a ministry tour in the 15 union republics of the former USSR. Philip Renner, young and dynamic, is impressive and has a distinct worship ministry imbued by parents “who do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen” (2 Cor. 4:18). He has visited ministered in many of those republics. The day he came to Houston, he was with us he was fasting. We were so impressed with his faith and look forward to working with him in the future.

Has America’s Christianity become impotent? Why are the nones on the rise? Did you know the “nones” are now actually forming quasi-churches? Faith in the USA is in serious trouble whether we recognize it or not.

Conversely, Philip Renner grew up in Moscow. The entire interview with Philip Renner, which is absolutely fascinating, can be found on the Christian Thinkers Society Facebook page and www.jerryjohnston.com.

JERRY: Tell us about that facility (church) in Moscow, it’s gorgeous- the pictures I’ve seen.

PHILIP: Well, God said, “Build the church in Moscow.” And to build the church in Moscow is very very difficult, extremely expensive. A lot of people would say it’s just impossible. Laws about building in Russia and Moscow they’re changing all the time. But that building’s there because we live by faith and not by sight and we speak things that are not as those they were, as though they are – Romans 4:17. God took what was invisible and made it visible.

JERRY: I recently listened to the pastor at Resurrection Life in Grand Rapids talk about the multiplied thousands of people that Good News Church and Rick Renner Ministries, and Philip Renner, your brothers have done.

PHILIP: Well the church is about 4,000 people which is one of the biggest churches in Moscow.

www.philiprenner.com
www.renner.org
www.mgnc.org
www.jerryjohnston.com


Researchers, Drs. Jerry and Cristie Jo Johnston, are Executive Producing a quick-paced film via trans continental, staccato interviews documenting the shocking rise of the non-religious.

Jerry & Cristie Johnston Interview Frank Schaeffer … A Self-Described Atheist Who Prays?

We learned something interesting in our two-hour filmed interview with self-identified atheist Frank Schaeffer, son of the late theologian Francis Schaeffer. Frank told us that he prays.

FRANK SCHAEFFER:  “When I pray in the morning when I get up; when I use the words ‘Jesus’, and ‘Christ’, and ‘God’, and all these other things that I was raised with.  And you say to me, ‘Then, why do you use that?’  And I have a real answer for you – although you didn’t ask it.  ‘Because I was raised that way.  You got a problem with that?  That’s who I am.’  And somebody else is somebody else.  But rather than reach for some intellectual explanation like, this is right and everybody else is wrong; or this is the truth; or I put it correctly – I just simply say, ‘You know, at this stage of my life, as a 64 year old, I’m ready to admit that I’m who I am because I was raised that way, because my life experience points in that direction.’  But what I’m very, very certain about is that I’ll never be a None, any more than I’ll be an Evangelical again, because I embrace the fact of paradox itself, which is past explanation.”

That is a bit of a mind-bender. Perhaps, if you can understand ‘paradox’ you may be able to discern Frank’s statement.   While there may be a Nones phenomenon proliferating in America of adults disaffiliating with the organized church or religion, there is no shortage of people who pray.

Only a small percentage of nones are atheists. Indeed, the majority has an interest in some form of spirituality. The current $2.8MM Templeton Foundation research grant, Understanding Unbelief, is a three-year scholarly study profiling nones. Who exactly are they? What is their ethnicity? Why are they leaving? Why do a significant percentage of nones pray. It will be fascinating research.

The late sociologist-novelist-priest, Andrew M. Greeley, in his research center, claimed 78 percent of Americans pray, more than half (57 percent) daily, and that 1 in 5 atheists still pray daily! Since Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1440, Google Books claims 129,864,880 books have been authored and published. Did you know that the topic of prayer is one of the most popular topics – over 2,000 different published works on prayer?

After enduring WWII and becoming President, Eisenhower commented to Senator Carlson regarding the White House, ‘Frank, this is the loneliest house I’ve ever been in.’ President Reagan later retelling the story indicated Senator Carlson replied, “Mr. President, I think this may be the right time for you to come and meet with our prayer group. And Eisenhower did just that. In 1953 he attended the first combined prayer breakfast.” History repeated itself today at the Sheraton in Washington, D.C.

What is it about prayer that engages people?

 


Researchers, Drs. Jerry and Cristie Jo Johnston, are Executive Producing a quick-paced film via trans continental, staccato interviews documenting the shocking rise of the non-religious.

Jerry & Cristie Johnston Interview J. P. Moreland

In our high tech, digital world, do we take the time to think seriously? Are we asking and answering the deeper questions? As we reach for our iPhone every 10 minutes, according to a recent report, when are the moments we drill down deeper about the issues of life and eternity? Are contemporary sermons too shallow? Do we live too much in the area of the euphoria of our faith always subjective to feelings-of-the-moment while suffering from our lack of cognition? Seminar sermons, skyscraper sermons (one story upon another) are giving indication of insufficiency. One in three Millennials has disaffiliated from the church. How can we begin to calculate the future religiosity of the “postmillennial” cohort that now number more than 60 million people? These kids and teens have no concept of life without the Internet and have been called the App Generation and Generation Z.

The Best Schools recently named “The 50 Most Influential Living Philosophers,” and evangelical J. P. Moreland made the list along with Simon Blackburn, Daniel Dennettand others. So Cristie and I flew to Los Angeles and drove to Moreland’s home in Yorba Linda, California for a fascinating filmed interview. When I asked J.P. how he felt about the condition of the contemporary church, he responded, “It makes me sad.”

J.P. Moreland’s background is spread across multiple disciplines: B.S. in chemistry from the University of Missouri; M.A. in philosophy from the University of California, Riverside; and a Th.M in Theology from Dallas Theological Seminary prior to earning his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Southern California in 1985. He currently holds the title of Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the Talbot School of Theology at Biola University in La Miranda California and is a member of the Board of Advisors for the Center on Culture and Civil Society at the Independent Institute. Moreland’s work combines metaphysics, philosophy of mind, chemistry, and theology, and he is known for his defense of the existence of God and the supernatural.

J.P. MORELAND: “In fact, Os Guinness wrote a book a few years ago called The Gravedigger File, where he made the point that some of the very tools the church was using to gain short term success, by making its message easy to understand and making things comfortable for people, ultimately became the church’s gravedigger over the long haul.  And you cannot have a flourishing church if you don’t have Christians valuing learning why they believe what they believe and being able to graciously, without being angry, to speak and dialogue about those in the public square.”


Researchers, Drs. Jerry and Cristie Jo Johnston, are Executive Producing a quick-paced film via trans continental, staccato interviews documenting the shocking rise of the non-religious.

Jerry & Cristie Johnston Interview Phil Zuckerman at Pitzer College

A Christian student attends a university and is confronted with very aggressive, seemingly knowledgeable professors challenging the tenets of Christianity they have embrace during their young life. What happens? Statistically, approximately 75 percent or more stop attending church in their new environment, and many never return.

The Pew Research Center often quoted 2014 study,America’s Changing Religious Landscape,” states that, “The Christian share of the U.S. population is declining, while the number of the U.S. adults who do not identify with any organized religion is growing.” Sounds grim. Atheists and agnostics have repeatedly told us there are 55 – 70MM “nones” in America. Is it true? In 1950, only two percent of adult Americans were “nones.”

Pew again, “Between 2007 and 2014, the Christian share of the population fell from 78.4 percent to 70.6 percent.” Yet, their data indicates the religiously detached “unaffiliated” phenomenon was driven among “mainline Protestants and Catholics.” In contrast, evangelicals have lost less than 1 percent of their market share holding steady at about 1 in 4 Americans (25.4 percent).

Pitzer College is one of the Claremont Colleges in California. The college has a curricular emphasis on the social sciences, behavioral sciences, international programs, and media studies. Cristie and I filmed with renowned scholar, Stephen T. Davis, PhD, the Russell K. Pitzer Professor of Philosophy, at Claremont McKenna College, who is a solid believer in Jesus Christ.

His impressive colleague, Phil Zuckerman, PhD, at Pitzer College, is an atheist, and filmed with us as well. Maybe you watched him as he interpreted religion @chelseahandler on Netflix. He is articulate and very sharp. How would the average “Christian” university student respond to Phil’s remarks?

“So basically, secularization is what we call the process whereby religion weakens or just appears in a society over time.  Now there have been many theories to explain how this might happen and some of those are sort of general universal theories of secularism saying, you know, no matter what society we’re in, no matter what country, if X happens the result is going to be a weakening of religion.  And these are kind of, you know, universal theories.

“So the big universal theories are — well, as populations get more educated, strong religious belief tends to go down.  As societies becomes more technologically advanced, religiosity tends to weaken a little bit.  The biggest theory that I have the most data, is what they call the existential security theory which is basically that when people in a society are existentially secure meaning they have, you know, food, shelter, a relatively stable government, access to medicine and healthcare and life is essentially more or less secure, barring you know some extreme.  Those societies tend to have religiosity go down.  Societies that are more racked with more precarious situations — life is nasty, brief and short, housing is scarce, jobs are scarce, health and medicine are scarce, there’s political instability, a lot of war, corrupt governments — those societies tend to have higher levels of religiosity, and tend is the operative word here.  It’s not an absolute.  We work in tendencies, correlations and averages in social science.  So on average, societies that are most secure — where people have the best housing, healthcare, job situation, stable governments, democracies — they tend to be more and more secular, religion tends to weaken there.  And in societies that are racked with more social problems and life is more precarious for your average person, religion tends to be strong there.  So that’s the bigger, larger picture.”

It is time for believers to learn how to ‘critically think.’ Cristie and myself are working on multiple, digital, informative tools to help them do just that.

Stephen T. Davis

www.philzuckerman.com

www.pewresearch.com

 


Researchers, Drs. Jerry and Cristie Jo Johnston, are Executive Producing a quick-paced film via trans continental, staccato interviews documenting the shocking rise of the non-religious.

Jerry Johnston Queries Regarding the $2.8MM Templeton Grant to Study “Nones”

“Nones” represents 21 – 28 percent of American adults have disaffiliated from the church or organization religion. This represents a staggering cohort of 55-70 million Americans.

It was my third time to film with Stephen Bullivant, PhD, this week. We have also filmed in Oxford and London, England. Bullivant was an atheist who helped co-found the Nonreligion and Secularity Network (NSRN) in England with Lois Lee (co-editor of Secularism and Nonreligion and of the De Gruyters-NSRN book series, Religion and Its Others: Studies in Religion, Nonreligion and Secularity), Miguel Farias (he now leads the Brain, Belief and Behaviour group at Coventry University), and Jonathan Lanman (Director of the Institute of Cognition & Culture, and Lecturer in Anthropology at Queen’s University Belfast.) An initial conference was conducted in 2009 in Oxford, England, dedicated to the social scientific study of atheism – 40 years after (March 1969) the request by Roman Catholic Church Second Vatican Council’s symposium on “The Culture of Unbelief” in Rome. Bullivant states, “One-third of all cradle Catholics now identify as having a different religious identity other than Catholic and of those, nearly half of the total, identify as “no religion,” and that is going to be the same for Episcopalians or Baptists—across the board.”

While some may ignore or deny the “nones” phenomenon in North America, the John Templeton Foundation, Understanding Unbelief is a major new $2.8MM dollars research program, aiming to advance scientific understanding of atheism and other forms of ‘unbelief’ around the world. The growth of atheism and other forms of ‘unbelief’ in many parts of the world is attracting increasingly wide attention. Yet significant questions remain about how to understand such phenomena, and scientists rely still on categories developed by social actors, not social scientists, to do so. We do not currently know how best to characterize the various forms of unbelief as psychological and sociological phenomena, the extent to which other beliefs – about religion, or the existential – underpin these forms, how diverse they are, and how they vary across demographic groups and cultures. Yet understanding the nature and variety of unbelief is necessary if we are to answer big questions about the causes of ‘unbelief’ in the future, and its effects on such outcomes as personal wellbeing and social cohesion. The “Understanding Unbelief” project will be the first major scientific research program to address the nature and variety of unbelief.

“Bullivant: Umm, so the Nonreligion and Secularity Research Network began you know kind of three doctoral students in a post-doc in England, and it grew because we realized very rapidly that this was an area that a large number of grad students but also established scholars in the social sciences were starting to get interested in, psychology, anthropology, umm political science, sociology. Umm, so we had a conference in 2009 in Oxford, which was as far as we know the first conference dedicated to the social scientific study of atheism and kind of related phenomena since 1969, which is when the Vatican had one. Umm and, now its, you know there’s there’s dozens of people umm across the world, although, you know, there’s large pockets in North America and western Europe umm working in this area. There’s all kinds of fascinating new stuff coming out.

 Johnston: Well this has been fascinating. Thank you, Dr. Bullivant. And we’ve been talking to Stephen Bullivant, author of the upcoming NonvertMass Exodus, and the 2019 co-leader, of the new John Templeton project. We look forward to connecting with you in the days ahead.”

Stephen Bullivant is a Visiting Fellow at UCL SSS (Secularity and Secularism Studies) at the UCL Institute of Advanced Studies, and Senior Lecturer in Theology and Ethics and Director of the Benedict XVI Centre for Religion and Society at St Mary’s University, Twickenham.

Stephen is co-leader of the The Scientific Study of Nonreligious Belief (SSNB) project and of the Understanding Unbelief (UU) programme. For more information on Stephen’s work, visit his UCL webpage.


Researchers, Drs. Jerry and Cristie Jo Johnston, are Executive Producing a quick-paced film via trans continental, staccato interviews documenting the shocking rise of the non-religious.

Jerry and Cristie Johnston interview Texas Super Lawyer W. Mark Lanier

Lanier has won court verdicts totaling between $12 – $13 billion dollars. In October 2012, Mr. Lanier was awarded the coveted Clarence Darrow Award. In 2015, Mark was named the 2015 Trial Lawyer of the Year by The National Trial Lawyers and The Trial Lawyer magazine during the Trial Lawyers Summit in Miami. Pepperdine, St. John’s, and Trinity International Universities have bestowed Honorary Doctorate degrees on Mr. Lanier. Cristie and I sat down with him at his remarkable Lanier Theological Library, which exhibits exquisite, unique architecture and houses a comprehensive collection of 100,000 books, periodicals, magazines, artifacts, and historical documents all designed to aid the serious study of Scripture in Houston and include one of the highest esteemed collections of C.S. Lewis. The Stone Chapel on the grounds of the Lanier Library is a reconstruction of a 500 A.D. church in Tomarza, Cappadocia (Turkey) and was built using photos of the original church ruins taken in 1909 as well as an analysis of the site by a Harvard student published in 1971. Mark extended his legal defense skills in his book, Christianity on Trial: A Lawyer Examines the Christian Faith.

“Let’s talk first about Christianity on Trial. Cristie, I know you had some questions about the book.

Dr. Cristie Johnston: Well, Mark you spend your life in the art of convincing. So if you had 60 seconds or less to convince me the truths about Christianity. How would you approach that?

Lanier: Cristie, the biggest problem I see with a lot of people is they want to prove Christianity in the way you prove science. In science, you can prove in a laboratory.  Mathematics, you can prove on a chalkboard. And those are valid ways to prove science and mathematics, but if I want to prove does Cristie love Jerry; Dr. Johnston love Dr. Johnston? You can’t prove whether someone loves another with science, in scientific methodology. It’s the wrong measure of proof. In courtrooms, we recognize that because we have to prove not only who ran the red light, or did the product cause a heart attack, or did so and so murder so and so, but we have to prove things like, what is the level of pain and suffering. What is the level of mental anguish? Does someone love someone? And you can’t prove those things scientifically. You prove them by what’s called the preponderance of the evidence. What’s more likely than not? And that’s proof. And so when I want to engage someone in whether or not Christianity is true, the first thing I try and do is help them understand that proof is not simply science. There are loads of things. We can’t prove ‘was Napoleon at Waterloo’ by science. We have to use other methods of proof, and that’s where I start with people.”

We certainly captured on film a stunning interview with one of America’s very finest trial attorneys. Are there proofs for the Christian faith? Why are believers not informed and articulate to share these faith facts? Further, what are the specific reasons why nearly 70 million adult Americans have “disaffiliated” from the church? Cristie and I drilled down on this issue and Mark’s answers were thought provoking. We have now filmed with nearly 90 international leaders and our documentary saga continues. We will keep you informed as we move to its release and the invaluable ancillary support resources designed for children, youth, and adults.

www.lanierthelogicallibrary.org


Researchers, Drs. Jerry and Cristie Jo Johnston, are Executive Producing a quick-paced film via trans continental, staccato interviews documenting the shocking rise of the non-religious.

Jerry Johnston Interviews Youth With A Mission Senior Leader Mark Anderson regarding the Largest Missions Organization in the World

Are all Millennials “nones”? Not at all. Over 30,000 young people are engaged in evangelism throughout the world serving through YWAM in over 180 countries in 1,100 locations. I spent the day with Mark Anderson who has served for decades next to YWAM founder, Loren Cunningham. Multiple thousands of people are coming to Christ in China, Indonesia, and many other countries — the true “news” stories of our day that the media will never report. I consider him one of my most respected friends. Spending time with Anderson, founder of the global pastor/leader movement call2all.org, I was captivated by stories he shared that sounded like the Acts of Apostles in the 21st century. The Chinese church is raising up 1MM missionaries to take the Gospel worldwide. YWAM features no hierarchical organization chart, which is perhaps one of the reasons for their massive growth and effectiveness. Antidotal to a grim spiritual landscape in North America and Western Europe, YWAM and its army of passionate youth committed to the Great Commission reminds us of what the power of prayer and vision can accomplish.

“The idea that Loren had … and he got it from the Lord, very sovereignly, was that you don’t have to wait until your 30, 35, 40, to engage the Lord and move into some category of influence. God made it clear to him that you can help the young people who are still teenagers, certainly college age, to experience missions and have their lives changed, and encounter the Lord on very deep levels, and make a difference even while they are young. So Youth With A Mission idea is ‘catch them young’ and give them an opportunity to do what we typically think are ‘adult things’ particularly 50 years ago. Nobody thought you could send an 18-year-old to a mission field. You had to be Bible college, Seminary, experience something somewhere, and then be funded, and then you could go. He blew all that up, by God’s direction … now it is normal.”

Why does it seem God is moving in demonstrable ways in nations other than the United States of America? Why do Chinese and Indonesian Christians, who often suffer for their faith, eagerly risk their lives, social status, and much more? One distinction Cristie Jo and I have observed as we travel the globe is their determination to learn “why” they believe “what” they believe. Discipleship has replaced ‘entertainment’ Christianity. As a couple, we will take you on an international journey transcending the shallow reasons for American Christianity’s decline, paradoxically, at the same time it is booming in other nations where Christian leaders are daring to call people to a higher level of commitment and catechism long overdue.

Mark Anderson is the founder and president of www.call2all.org. He has served in Christian ministry since 1977 in a variety of capacities including senior leadership in www.ywam.org.


 

Jerry Johnston Interviews Peter S. Williams on the Religious Prospect of Britain

 

Certainly saddened by rise of nones, the pastors and researchers we have interviewed are not entirely disheartened. Though being refined, the church in the UK is experiencing Continue reading “Jerry Johnston Interviews Peter S. Williams on the Religious Prospect of Britain”

Jerry Johnston Researches Reason Rally 2016: David Silverman

Though he comes from Jewish roots, David Silverman has been an atheist for most of his life and is currently the president of the non-profit organization American Atheists. The organization supports atheist rights and the effective removal of any governmental religious expression. I watched Silverman define the term “atheist” for the large crowd at the Reason Rally in June 2016 at our nation’s capital:

“An atheist, ladies and gentlemen, is a person without theism, a person without a belief in god, atheism. A person without a belief in a deity. If you don’t have that belief in a deity, you’re an atheist. It’s not about whether or not you’re absolutely sure there are no gods, and it’s not whether or not you know everything in the universe. It’s about what you know. If you don’t have a belief in a god, you’re an atheist. If you don’t have a belief in a god and you absolutely hate the word “atheist” too bad, you’re still an atheist.”

              Atheism is rising as millennials leave their faith in millions. These “nones” were raised in a biblically illiterate culture surrounded by people who think belief in a god is irrational. With our upcoming documentary and accompanying resources, Cristie Jo and I want to partner with churches and help individuals. Just as Silverman clarified the definition of “atheist,” we must clarify what it means to be a Christian.


Researchers, Drs. Jerry and Cristie Jo Johnston, are Executive Producing a quick-paced film via trans continental, staccato interviews documenting the shocking rise of the non-religious.