You may know John Rhys-Davies as Gimli from the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. He’s not just an actor, but he’s a rationalist. By “rationalist,” I mean a person who claims to base their most important convictions on reason rather than religion. Rationalism is a particular epistemological perspective known for its intellectual rigor.
Rhys-Davies, originally from Wales but residing much of the year in New Zealand, is also a self-professed “skeptic.” That’s why I find his recent red-carpet comments in Hollywood to be quite intriguing. While attending the Movieguide Awards, Rhys-Davies remarked that “Christian civilization” has made the world “a better place,” and that the world owes Christ-followers “the greatest debt of thanks.” Quite frankly, I find those observations both fascinating and convicting.
We normally don’t look to the Avalon Theater for kudos of any kind, but when the actor was asked about the use of his voice for an animated version of Pilgrim’s Progress, here are his words: “I find myself constantly defending Christians and Christianity.” He cited particularly the abolition of slavery as an accomplishment brought to the modern world by the widespread influence of Christianity. From the cruelly oppressive Roman Empire onward, Rhys-Davies linked the rise of democracy and liberty to the spread of the gospel: “I have a right to believe and not what the Emperor tells me. From that whole idea … the equality that we have has developed.”
And here’s the whopper from our rationalist friend: “To dismiss Christianity as being irrelevant is the detritus of rather ill-read minds.” Wow! That’s better Christian apologetics than most of us have heard all year.
That leaves me with one glaring question, friends: Are you and I living up to our reputation?
For over two millennia, fervent followers of Christ – inspired by the example of the teaching of none other than Jesus of Nazareth – have marched at the forefront of slow-but-steady efforts to alleviate poverty and suffering, cure disease and serve the afflicted, and advance knowledge and understanding among people groups where such seemed next to impossible. Our foremothers and forefathers were not known for copping out, but they ran when they were weary. They stood and fought for the freedoms of others when it was uncomfortable and undeniably costly. They ministered when they had nothing left to give.
We don’t get a pass just because the world doesn’t like us. God can raise up a defender for us, if we need one, and often from the most unlikely places. Anybody remember Gamaliel?
Truth is, the evangelical movement of the last three hundred years – with a focus on personal conversion to Christ through the preaching of the gospel – has brought about the greatest social welfare and the greatest government reforms the world has ever known. Rhys-Davies is absolutely correct! This is no time for us to slink off into the shadows while assuming that the world and its systems are a lost cause. We’re still salt and light!
You and I must never forget that Christianity’s greatest moment of triumph – ever – was a bloody cross. But, at the time, it was marked by neither joyful celebration nor public approval. Shockingly, those who appeared to be the gospel’s strongest adherents were nowhere to be found in that dark hour. You see, our faith is death first, and then resurrection! Our core doctrine is counterintuitive. Failure and success are inverted. The last are first. The King is crowned with thorns before He’s crowned with honor.
Perhaps the gospel of Gimli is worth a glance. Just maybe we have a sleeping giant on our hands.
Yours by grace,