The latest episode in the popular video podcast series “The Big Conversation” from Premier “Unbelievable?” – now in its fourth season – brings together theologian Dr. Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, with poet and novelist Paul Kingsnorth, for a heartfelt discussion on conversion and Western culture. The driving question between the two guests was “Are we ready to believe in God again?”
In the pre-recorded conversation led by Premier Unbelievable?’s host and Theology and Apologetics Director Justin Brierley, the two shared musings on their deeply personal experiences of converting to Christianity. The episode launches June 3.
Kingsnorth shared his spiritual journey from atheism, to Buddhism, and even to Wicca before finding Orthodox Christianity. His early involvement with the environmentalist movement also played an unexpected role in pushing him toward later adopting Christianity.
“The environmental activism I got involved in was secondary to the sense of the sacredness of nature that I had,” Kingsnorth said. “There’s a sense that something sacrilegious is being done to the living world of which you’re a part.”
Kingsnorth then drifted to the Wiccan worship of nature, joining a coven of witches for a time. He described the feeling of getting “dragged out” of the coven and Wicca as he searched for the divine.
“I was having very strange experiences,” Kingsnorth said. “I was having dreams, meeting Christians every five minutes, getting emails from Christians. I used to run a writing school, and suddenly had vicars writing me asking to read their sermons and give them feedback... I felt like I was being hunted by Jesus... I had to give into it and see where it took me.”
Dr. Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, commented that while his own faith did not contain much of a conversion (having grown up in a Christian family), he did experience an active, vital, and intelligent church environment with a clergy that challenged him in his youth to realize that philosophy had a serious place in orthodoxy.
“It was a sense of the complete integration of thinking and worshiping... It wasn’t that you found yourself swept up in ecstatic worship and had to find some sort of justification for it,” Dr. Williams said of the Orthodox tradition. “Worship was a way of thinking, and thinking was a way of worship.”
Dr. Williams and Kingsnorth discussed their mutual attraction to orthodox Christianity and its cultural relevance.
"It seems to me that Christianity properly understood tells you that there is no such thing as dead matter,” Dr. Williams said. “It’s all carrying the energy of God in some way. So creation around you, within you – the creation that you are, the creation that you are part of – is all God-acting, God-loving, God-inviting, here and now.”
This discussion of conversion and Western culture brought some deeper topics into the arena. How does rationality fit into defending faith and interacting with atheists over the “mysteries” of faith? How does a Christian grapple with the frequent political stance that the church is an oppressive institution in society?
“We’ve so almost accepted the terms of an argument that says that religion is out to diminish your humanity,” Dr. Williams said. “And that’s utterly the opposite of the truth.”
Kingsnorth agreed, saying, “We can’t deny the realities of some of the things that have happened, the abuses of power and the rest of it. But the actual way of faith is enormously freeing. It was a shock to me, having grown up with these assumptions that the church just wants to take stuff away from you and control you.”
As “The Big Conversation” season 4 gets under way, Justin Brierley has expressed excitement about the upcoming guests and topics, believing this will be the best series yet. Future guests include psychiatrist Dr. Iain McGilchrist, renowned apologist Dr. Sharon Dirckx, leading atheist philosopher Graham Oppy, and for a millennial perspective, popular podcaster Mikhaila Peterson. They will discuss ideas ranging from faith and brain science to philosophy, conversion and the future.
“I look forward to recording these conversations and sharing them with a worldwide audience, for both the insight we’ll receive into some of the most well-known thinkers of our time, as well as how it sharpens our own approach to discussions in which our ideas may be questioned,” Brierley said. “That is the point of much of our programming here at Premier Unbelievable?, but we also hope that it is as entertaining and encouraging as it is edifying for our listeners.”
The new season launched May 20 featuring a debate between former NIH director Francis Collins and famed atheist Richard Dawkins. Episode 3 of “The Big Conversation,” featuring Dr. McGilchrist and Dr. Dirckx on the topic “Is there a Master behind our Minds?” was recorded live at the recent Unbelievable? Live Conference on May 14 and will launch June 17. Advance review links of each episode are available for media upon request.
“The Big Conversation” video series from Premier Unbelievable? features world-class thinkers across the religious and atheist communities discussing faith, science and what it means to be human. Premier Unbelievable? has amassed millions of followers throughout the world, most notably in the UK, USA, Canada and Australia. The series is produced by Premier Christian Radio in partnership with the John Templeton Foundation.