by Andy Bannister
A few weeks ago I got an e-mail from our friends at the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics, saying that the BBC were looking for someone to speak on all the Sunday Morning BBC local radio shows across the UK. They particularly wanted to talk about Christianity and the environment, but the starting point was “The End of the World” and the family in Holland who had been living in a cellar for seven years, afraid that the end of the world was coming. There are some Christians and other religious groups who are terrified that the world is about to end – and they go that way. But there are also groups like Extinction Rebellion who are proclaiming the imminent end of the world as we know it.
The way they set this up was that they had eleven BBC stations up and down the country, and I sat in my home recording studio (by which I mean a laptop with a microphone!), and every ten minutes another BBC station would come up on the Skype and we’d go through the questions.
So with each segment, we started with the end of the world stuff from which I segued very quickly into the environmental issue – but connected those together in terms of “Where do you find hope?” That’s the tragic thing, for those people in that basement in Holland, that what they were endorsing was not Christianity; because Christianity is full of hope. Yes – there is an “end of the word” that is coming; but that isn’t something that Christians should fear, let alone hide from, in basements. 2 Peter says, “live in such a way as to hasten” it. Christians are looking forward to God wrapping up history and that won’t mean everything being ultimately destroyed but everything being renewed and a “New Heaven and New Earth”. So it was a wonderful opportunity to talk about the Christian vision of what that looks like – and then contrast that with this terrifying lack of hope in some religious movements and certainly in the Extinction Rebellion movement where there is no real hope.
Then what was also really interesting is that they picked up in the pre-recording interview that I have a background in Islamic Studies, so each of the interviewers on the different stations asked, “So what are the differences between Christianity and Islam on this topic?” The answer is that Islam says that there is an end to the world and a judgement to come, but that there is no certainty about the result of that judgement. The emphasis now is that “here are these commands, work hard, try hard, expend enough effort, and maybe, just maybe, you might be OK in the end but that you never really know.” I talked about the fact that Mohammad, the founder of Islam, when he was asked if he was going to heaven said that he just didn’t know. I contrasted that with Christian hope – which isn’t there because we think we are clever or smart or worthy or self-righteous; in fact quite the opposite. Authentic Christian faith is grounded in the hope of what Jesus has done, not on what we are trying to be. Of course the Christian and Islamic views of heaven are themselves very different too. The Christian vision is of a new heaven and a new earth, restored as it should be; whereas the Islamic vision is of a paradise-party with rivers of wine, fruit trees, crystal clear fountains of water and young virgins for the men; but God is absent. In contrast the Christian vision is of hope, based on Christ, for a vision of life after death which is relational – walking and talking with God.
All of this went out across various parts of the country, from Cornwall to Leeds, Cumbria, Gloucester, Devon, Ulster, Norfolk, Jersey and more! Most of them went out live, and so we did the whole thing in 8mins 30 seconds – and there was very little chance to chat. However, one or two of them were pre-recorded, and that meant we got a bit deeper, and have slightly more time. But the stuff about the contrast between Islam and Christianity and the environmental stuff really intrigued lots of people. It was also a wonderful opportunity to share something of Christian faith with all kinds of people – notably people who don’t go to church but listen to Sunday morning radio.
Dr Andy Bannister is the Director of the Solas Centre for Public Christianity in Dundee.