80 and 50
This year, John Blanchard celebrates not only his 80th birthday, but 50 years in full-time Christian ministry. He is an internationally acclaimed Christian author, teacher and conference speaker, particularly in the field of Christian apologetics.
He has over 30 titles in print, many published by EP Books; Ultimate Questions has been translated into about 60 languages. In this edition, ET looks back with John and samples his latest book, Major points from the Minor Prophets.
ET: You are British but were not born in the United Kingdom. Can you explain?
JB: I was born in Guernsey and evacuated to the Hebridean island of Islay when the Germans occupied the Channel Islands in 1940. On Islay I lived on a remote farm and became fluent in Gaelic (and dearly wish I had retained it), before returning to Guernsey in 1945.
ET: How and when did you become a Christian?
JB: The first part is easy to answer: by the baffling grace of God! As to the second part, I had had an on-off religious background. I never darkened the door of a church while in Islay, but became a regular churchgoer when I returned to Guernsey, thanks to my stepmother.
My biological mother died when I was five years old, and my father remarried a week before I returned to Guernsey. At Holy Trinity Church I immersed myself in church life, but my Christianity was a performance, not an experience.
Everything changed soon after I joined the staff of Guernsey’s Attorney General and met a truly beautiful girl who eventually persuaded me to attend an evangelistic crusade being conducted by Paul Cantelon (incidentally, a cousin to Walt Disney).
I tried hard to resist and eventually went only to spend time with her, but within a day or so God graciously brought me to repentance and to saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
ET: What did that change?
JB: Everything! A new foundation was laid when I grasped the truth that all of my sin was covered by the blood of Christ, not least the sin of trusting in my religion. From that moment on, the doctrine of justification by faith has been wonderfully precious to me. I also married the girl!
ET: How did your new-found faith express itself?
JB: I was already very active in church life, but for the first time threw myself into it with a genuinely biblical motive, especially as leader of the young people’s fellowship.
I was also a co-founder of the Guernsey branch of the National Young Life Campaign (NYLC), which four years later sponsored the island-wide Guernsey for God evangelistic campaign, which was supported by 60 churches. This ran for 16 days and at times filled the largest church on the island, seating over 1000 people.
God continued to bless the NYLC branch in remarkable ways, including with many conversions, and in the next seven years about 20 of its members were called into full-time Christian service in the UK and overseas.
ET: When were you called and how did that develop?
JB: When the NYLC evangelist Frank Farley preached on the island in 1961, I sensed God’s call to full-time evangelism and joined the NYLC staff in March 1962, replacing him as the South-West Union evangelist.
Three years later I joined the Movement for World Evangelisation (MWE), later becoming its Director of Evangelism. Thirteen years after that, two of my MWE colleagues, Peter Anderson and Derek Cleave, joined me in founding Christian Ministries (CM).
We were together in CM for 23 happy and fruitful years, until in 1980 when (in complete harmony) we went our separate ways. Since then, I have mainly concentrated on what I have called Popular Christian Apologetics.
ET: We will come back to that, but in 50 years in the ministry, what has been your most difficult decision?
JB: That is easily answered! In 1976 I was invited to become the minister of Westminster Chapel, with the support of over 93 per cent of the members and the passionate encouragement of Dr D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who insisted that I should accept.
After three months of wrestling and praying over the issue, I declined, for the simple reason that I did not believe God had equipped me to pastor any church, let alone one with such a distinguished history.
ET: Have you ever regretted your decision?
JB: No, in spite of some subsequent trends at the Chapel that would not have had DMLJ’s approval! It is easy with hindsight to wonder, ‘What if?’, but my own restricted gifts have always steadied my thinking.
ET: Are there things that disturb you?
JB: Many! Three that spring to mind are the way some television evangelists shamelessly entice viewers into making donations to their ministries with outrageous promises of the blessing that will follow; the ‘domestication’ of God in churches in which a sense of awe in worship is conspicuous by its absence (A. W. Tozer called worship ‘the missing jewel in modern evangelicalism’); and split infinitives!
ET: Do you have any regrets?
JB: More than I have space to share, but I am ashamed that I was not a better son and husband, and still wish that I were a better father, preacher, teacher, author and Christian. I marvel at God’s patience!
ET: What was your first book?
JB: Read Mark learn, which was written in 1966 to get new Christians started in daily Bible reading, and is still being regularly reprinted.
ET: How many titles have you written?
JB: Off the cuff, I am not sure, but I believe it is 30 or so. The second title was Right with God in 1972 and there have been remarkable testimonies as to its use, including a man who stole a car, found a copy inside, read it, was converted, and returned the car!
ET: Tell us about Ultimate Questions.
JB: This was first published in 1987 to meet the need for a clear, high quality, illustrated presentation of the gospel. It never occurred to me that it might ever get beyond the English version, but the publishers tell me that over 14,000,000 copies are in print in about 60 languages.
In English versions alone, it is available in four versions, using AV, NIV, NKJV and ESV Bible references. There is also a pocket-book version, which has had a remarkable take-up.
For many years, scarcely a day went by without someone writing to say that they had come to faith while reading it, and I am still being helped to supply follow-up material to the many people who write in.
ET: When did you turn to apologetics?
JB: I always felt that my preaching had something of an apologetics element to it, but my Popular Christian Apologetics project got under way just over ten years ago, when I wrote Does God believe in atheists?
It was intended be 150 pages long, but like Topsy in Uncle Tom’s Cabin it ‘just growed’ and eventually ran to 650 pages. Now, with the addition of an appendix consisting of the complete text of Dealing with Dawkins, it runs to well over 700.
ET: Is Christian apologetics now your main thrust? And why?
JB: Yes, partly because 1 Peter 3:15 (the call to be prepared ‘to make a defence [apologia] to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you’) gives me a mandate for this approach, and partly because for several decades the church has largely neglected apologetics.
The rise of the so-called ‘New Atheism’, the media’s constant marginalising of biblical teaching, and the growing number of those who think that all belief systems are equally valid (or invalid!) give added reasons for challenging atheists, agnostics and sceptics, and for equipping Christians to ‘hold firm to the trustworthy Word’ and ‘hold out the Word of life’.
ET: Do you have any further goals?
JB: Not in the narrow itemised sense, but every day God spares me makes the strapline in Newsline (my newsletter) more relevant: ‘As much as I can, as well as I can, for as long as I can’.
Many people have commented on this as though it were something exceptional and commendable, but I see it as something that every Christian should seek to do in response to the One who became the Son of Man so that we might become sons of God.
Hear me carefully: John Blanchard — a biography, Marlene Williams, EP Books, 2012.
Travel with John Blanchard, Brian Edwards, Day One Publications, 2009.