This issue of Life News is the last, and by the time you receive it, I will be retired and Life Ministries will be closed. By way of farewell, and with distinctly mixed emotions, I offer here some personal reflections on my time at Life Ministries.
My association with Life Ministries and its director, Dwight Randall, began in 1984, a little before the 4,000-strong Combined Churches Rally that Life Ministries held in the Perth Entertainment Centre on 29 July. There was a battle at the time over the proposed legalisation of homosexual behaviour, and the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches of WA published a booklet I wrote, titled Homosexuals and the Law. It was (I think) this that drew Dwight’s attention to me and he invited me to speak at the rally on the topic of homosexuals and homosexuality.
I began freelance writing for Life Ministries in the same year, 1984, although it was not until 1998, that I actually joined Life Ministries in a paid position (initially for three, then four, days per week) as the ministry’s Writer and Editor.
In the 14 years prior to officially joining Life Ministries, Dwight regularly published my articles in Life News or as stand-alone pamphlets. One thing for which I remain deeply grateful to him has to do with the practical matter of money: He always paid me for my articles and pamphlets. As a man with a wife and family to support, I welcomed this. Apart from the churches I pastored or preached at, none of the other Christian ministries who solicited my counsel or my writing paid me. I do not mention this by way of complaint against those ministries, but by way of emphasising my gratitude to Dwight and Life Ministries.
On a number of occasions from 1984 to 1998, Dwight urged me to join him at Life Ministries. During this period, I was teaching in various prisons, then writing poetry and fiction fulltime with the assistance of grants from the Literature Board of the Australia Council, then pastoring churches at Boyup Brook and Collie. Writing-wise, I was also: writing a monthly editorial for Contact, the small magazine I was editing for the Baptist Churches of Western Australia; writing a monthly feature article for Challenge newspaper; writing several news stories each week for the Donnybrook-Bridgetown Times; writing poetry and fiction for publication in secular newspapers and literary magazines; and submitting books of poetry and fiction to secular publishing houses. These occupations seemed to be right for me at the time, and I believe the Lord used them to prepare me for work at Life Ministries.
As the unadorned title of “Writer and Editor” suggests, a key responsibility I had from the start of my permanent work with Life Ministries involved writing, selecting and editing articles for Life News. The magazine began to appear more regularly and it grew in size from four to 16 pages.
Over the past 22 years, I edited approximately 115 issues of Life News and wrote approximately 230 articles for the magazine. Many of these articles were also published in other magazines and news-papers, such as The Briefing, Challenge, Light, New Life, News Weekly, Quadrant and Salt Shakers Magazine.
I also wrote or revised 25 pamphlets, bringing the total number of my Life Pamphlets to 45. Copies of these pamphlets were distributed free-of-charge with the magazine, and then made available for bulk purchase to individuals and churches. Many pamphlets, with print runs of 5,000-10,000 each, were reprinted multiple times. Many churches and individuals placed bulk orders for my pamphlets, with the gospel pamphlets proving the most popular. One church, for example, placed a single order for 8,000 copies of my Christmas pamphlet, In Royal David’s City; one woman purchased a batch of 10,000 copies of my gospel pamphlet, One for All; and one man (with assistance from his church) purchased 800 copies of various gospel pamphlets every month on an ongoing basis for half a decade.
I have written articles on a wide range of subjects, including abortion, euthanasia, biblical inerrancy, social justice, pacifism, capital punishment, prostitution, child sexual abuse, Islam, the Toronto Blessing, the Bible Code, fantasy literature, environmentalism, the deity of Jesus, the unity of God, the Trinity, the intermediate state of the dead, the resurrection of Jesus, the Lordship of Jesus, homosexuality, pornography, evolution, fatherhood, Christians and politics, Christians and suicide, marriage, sound doctrine, and so on. Many of these articles have been placed on the Life Ministries website (www.lifemin-istries. org.au), which Dwight and I plan to keep up after the closure of Life Ministries.
Unsurprisingly, I have had many responses to my writings, and some of these have involved invitations to preach in churches, speak at camps and lecture at conferences. In the past 22 years, I have preached in various churches, mostly in Western Australia, on 585 occasions. I have appreciated the trust that churches have placed in me to allow me to speak from their pulpits, and have valued the opportunity to preach to God’s people. I hope that the end of my time with Life Ministries will not result in the end of my preaching and speaking engagements. Certainly, like Dwight, I will continue to be available to preach and teach, if invited to do so.
Over the years I have received a steady trickle of emails and letters from people who read my work and want advice/counsel on various issues. While this correspondence has been welcome and rewarding, it has also sometimes been time-consuming. To refresh my memory for this farewell article, I thumbed through a few of my writer/editor reports to the LM Executive and found this account from 2007 of some of my “other activities” at Life Ministries:
Some of the people I have written to in recent months include: (1) a woman in Finland who had read my essay/pamphlet on euthanasia on Life Ministries’ website and wanted advice on a matter to do with euthanasia (she claimed her mother had been euthanised without her consent and was deeply angry about this); (2) a university lecturer who sent me three articles on human rights for perusal and comment; (3) a social commentator and writer who wanted me to read two of his articles so that I could give him some guidance on the propriety (or otherwise) of using satire and parody, etc, in polemical/apologetic writings in defence of the Christian worldview; (4) a man who wanted to arrange a meeting with me to talk about Islam; (5) a woman who wanted an update on the activities and needs of Life Ministries so she could share them with her church on a Sunday morning; (6) a young woman who had read my essays/pamphlets on prostitution on our website and wanted advice about whether or not to tell her boyfriend that she had engaged in prostitution in the eight months prior to meeting him; (7) a woman who wrote to thank me for the August 2007 (# 99) issue of Life News, declaring, “The articles in it are fantastic!”; (8) a woman who wrote saying, “A couple of years ago, I read a very helpful article you had written on capital punishment, but to my annoyance, I have mislaid it. Would it be possible to mail it”; (9) a woman who wrote, “I’m wondering if you have any printed material regarding the so called ‘New Age’ beliefs?”; (10) a man who wrote saying that he was “particularly impressed with” my pamphlet, If People Were Dogs, and offering two additional arguments that he thought I could use; (11) a woman wanting copies of my booklet, In Defence of Fantasy; (12) a girl in Year 11 at a Christian high school who wanted information about pacifism; (13) a pastor who wanted to know how to express opposition to the state government’s proposed prostitution legislation; (14) a woman who wanted me to read and edit a letter she had written to the government expressing opposition to its prostitution bill; (15) a pastor requesting permission to reprint one of my articles for local distribution; (16) a pastor wanting me to read and comment on his testimony; (17) a church secretary requesting permission to reprint one of my articles in the church bulletin; (18) a woman who wrote to express appreciation for my articles generally and for my two-part review-essay, “The insidiousness of Islam”, in particular; (19) a woman who wrote wanting a copy of an article I had written on prostitution and rape for use on a task force set up to oppose the legalisation of prostitution; (20) the chief of staff of another Christian ministry who wanted me to read and comment on draft submissions she proposed to submit concerning the state government’s human rights legislation.
I went on to inform the Executive:
I still have a number of emails to answer, including (1) a pastor who wants an opinion on a paper he has written containing certain theological musings; (2) a Christian poet in Sydney who wants comments on 8 poems he emailed months ago; and (3) another ministry that wants comments on a particular document it is working on.
Now, this was a particularly busy few months, and I don’t mean to imply that I was constantly under such a load. But it illustrates some of the flow-on duties that arose from my primary duties of writing and editing Life Ministries’ publications.
Another “duty” was to meet regularly with Dwight. I worked from my office at home, while he worked from the ministry’s office in Nollamara. In addition to communicating via phone and email, we would meet once or twice each week for a coffee and a chat. We would discuss current issues and hone our understandings and arguments. We would work together on the drafts of various letters, submissions and petitions. We would read through each other’s articles and discuss articles by other writers I had chosen for forthcoming issues of Life News. We would commiserate with each other in our difficulties. And occasionally we would argue. But I stress occasionally. For it has been one of the blessings of my life to have been working with a colleague who is also a dear friend, a colleague with whom I share a common commitment to Scripture as foundational, a common understanding of theology, a common passion to share the gospel with the lost, a common desire to advance sound thinking among God’s people, and a common commitment to act as salt and light in society at large.
I will mention two more things about Dwight for which I was and am deeply grateful: First, he always trusted my judgment regarding what to write about and what to select for publication from other writers. While he would sometimes make certain suggestions, he never vetoed any of my choices. He trusted my judgment—he trusted me—and gave me the freedom to get on with my work. Second, he always stood by me. Because I have written on many difficult subjects, and because I have always tried to take a biblical stance and have therefore often countered the views that are in vogue, I have occasionally been attacked by readers. Of course, one would expect such attacks from non-Christians. But the attacks have come mostly from my fellow Christians. For example, some Christians with left political views have not liked my stance on social justice or Islam; some Christians with liberal theological views have not liked my stance on homosexuality or the uniqueness of Christ as Saviour; some Christians with conservative theological views have not liked my stance on fantasy writing or Harry Potter. I have come under attack in all these areas. But, without exception, Dwight has stood by me and defended me. Admittedly, I have made this easy for him by striving in my writings to employ a tone that is measured and courteous and arguments that are biblically, factually and logically sound. (Dwight has never fallen for the timid notion that clarity of thought and directness of expression amount to dogmatism or discourtesy, or that saying something that is unpopular is ipso facto intentionally hurtful or inflammatory.) Nonetheless, it requires faithfulness and courage to stand firm in the face of attack. I have experienced outright betrayal by people who have shared my view right up until the criticism begins—then they backtrack, or even join the detractors. I have experienced passive betrayal by people who say in private that they support my position—but when criticism arises, they keep quiet and take care to offer no help. Dwight has never done this. He has always defended me, and has often come out swinging to do so. Faithfulness and courage—I have learned from bitter experience that these are rare qualities; but they are the qualities Dwight has displayed towards me; and I cannot express how much that has meant to me, how much it has encouraged and strengthened me to write as I have written.
All my articles (and also all my sermons) have been based on the twin conviction that the Bible is the word of God and that God is as good as his word. I have wanted to know, and then to make known, what the Bible says (by assertion or by implication) on any given social, moral, religious, theological, pastoral, political or philosophical issue. If I can find that out, I can determine where I should stand, and I can reason out why it is the right and just and compassionate place to stand. One way or another, every article, every essay, I have written for Life Ministries arises from and gives expression to this conviction that the Bible is God’s word, and as such it is truthful and trustworthy in whole and in part, and as such it is our supreme and final authority on all matters of faith and conduct.
CS Lewis once wrote, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”1 This is exactly my belief and experience, too. And without violence I could modify Lewis’s statement to speak of the source of all sound understanding about Christianity: “I believe in the Bible as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”
My motive for writing apologetic articles and essays is twofold.
George Orwell once wrote, “My starting point [when writing an essay or a book] is always a feeling of partisanship, a sense of injustice. … I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention …”2 For me, too, the starting point for an article is often the discernment of a lie or an error that I feel compelled to expose so that the injustice flowing from it might be ended. I feel a partisanship with, an allegiance to, God’s people and I want to act in their defence.
Indeed, for me, a feeling of outrage at a lie is linked with a feeling of distress for those who have been or could be deceived by that lie. After noting how Jesus travelled through various cities and villages teaching and healing people, Matthew states, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (9:36). That’s how I feel about the Lord’s people when I see them being deceived by lies or misled by errors. No doubt every age has had its fair share of struggles for the truth, but we seem to be in an especially perilous state today. The falsehoods that we are up against are so all-encompassing and compelling that few seem able to see through them or stand before them. Often, it seems to me, my fellow Christians are harassed by deceptions and misconceptions, and I long to help them get free.
I lack the genius of George Orwell and I lack the compassion and insight of Jesus Christ, the great Shepherd and Guardian of our souls. Nonetheless, what little talent, what little insight, what little compassion I possess I have wanted to use to serve the Lord and help his people through expository, apologetic and polemical writing. Were this not so, I would have devoted myself solely to writing poetry and fiction, which are lighter and lovelier forms of writing for me, and are also part of my calling from the Lord.
It may be of interest to note that my critical writing grew out of my creative writing. I was writing poems and short stories before I began to write articles and essays, and the former significantly influenced my approach to the latter. When writing an essay, I found myself wanting not only to advance an argument but also to craft something impactful and enduring. I wanted my articles and essays to have a beauty about them, a kind of literary appeal and power. I wrote them with an ear to how they would sound if read out loud, as I did my poetry. I wanted a prose style that was simple and direct, clear and precise, yet symmetric and euphonic, with alliterations and balanced phrases and counterbalanced sentences.
One downside of writing this way is that it is slow and hard: it takes considerable time and effort to complete a given essay. Another downside is that it reduces the amount of work that can be completed: I have a folder on my computer with over 200 draft essays, many of which I doubt I will ever complete. Nonetheless, I think the upside of writing this way is greater than the downside—and if it is not, it is beyond my power to change it. George Orwell could have been speaking for me when he said, “I could not do the work of writing a book, or even a long magazine article, if it were not also an aesthetic experience. … So long as I remain alive and well I shall continue to feel strongly about prose style … It is no use trying to suppress that side of myself.”2
Of course, not all my non-fiction writing has been onerous and weighty. It has been a joy to write many gospel articles. In fact, in addition to a dozen gospel pamphlets, I have written a gospel or a gospel-related article for virtually every issue of Life News. This reflects my, and Dwight’s, recognition of the centrality of the gospel to every human concern, and our determination never to lose sight of the gospel.
Ten years ago, I wrote a pamphlet to explain and promote the work of Life Ministries, and in it I stated the ministry’s purposes and its perspective on the importance of the gospel as follows:
Life Ministries is a Christian ministry that exists to help Christians deal with difficult social, moral and theological issues from a biblical perspective. Our desire is to help God’s people “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5) and thereby work out and live out the Christian worldview.
As our name indicates, our focus is on life — the sanctity of human life, the value of married life, and the necessity of new life. We acknowledge the Lord Jesus Christ as “the Author of life” and believe that he is the key to new, abundant and eternal life.
Accordingly, we are fundamentally committed to the gospel, the good news of forgiveness and renewal available to sinners through faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who loved us and gave himself as a ransom for us. Although we deal with many social, moral, theological and devotional issues, we never lose sight of the fact that the gospel is of first and last importance. Indeed, we speak as we do on various issues only because we ourselves have been opened by God’s grace to the gospel and we want, for ourselves and for all God’s people, our “manner of life [to] be worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Philippians 1:27).
Writing, editing, researching, preaching and counselling: these have been my duties at Life Ministries for over two decades, and I have tried to do them faithfully, “as unto the Lord”. It has not always been easy, but I feel that it has always been worthwhile. I hope others feel this, too.
And after Life Ministries, what?
I have mentioned that Dwight and I will maintain the Life Ministries website—www.lifeministries.org.au. We plan to keep up the existing articles and add new articles from time to time. Also, we both intend to continue to be available to preach in church services and speak at church camps, etc. (NB. To contact me, the best email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.)
The next major task for me involves sorting through and editing some 450 essays and sermons, and arranging them into a dozen (or two!) collections for publication as books.
(Rhiza Press in Queensland has contracted to publish a sample collection of essays I have written for Life Ministries over the years, and Life Ministries has placed a bulk order for the book. I am presently working on the proofs and the book, Certain Concerns for the Christian Life, should be in print soon after this issue of Life News is posted out. It will be available through Koorong Books and direct from the publisher at wombatrhiza.com.au.)
While I intend to keep writing essays in defence of the faith, I hope to be able to concentrate more on writing poetry and fiction. Creative writing has taken a back seat to critical writing for most of my life. God willing, the emphasis will be reversed in the years left to me on this earth.
I have also begun lecturing part-time in creative writing at Sheridan Institute of Higher Education. I used to teach creative writing in several tertiary institutions and prisons, and always enjoyed it. I look forward to more of this at Sheridan.
My wife, Susan, and I have travelled to Japan and America several times in recent years; and we would like to travel there again, if our health holds and coronavirus restrictions lift. I have plans to add two more collections of poetry and photography to the two I have already published on the seasons in Kyoto. (Details of these and my other books can be found on my website – www.andrewlansdown.com.)
Add to these things a glad engagement with our church and friends, and with our children, children-in-law and grandchildren—then life looks to be rather full. I won’t be lying swinging in a hammock sipping fruit punch and chai lattes—although, if I could talk Susan into being my cupbearer, who knows?
Until we meet again in some other publication or on some other occasion, “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace” (Numbers 6:24-26)
1. C. S. Lewis, “Is Theology Poetry?” in The Weight of Glory.