Light grilling for host of Questions of our Times

The second series of Questions of our Times, our five webinar evenings which begin on 2 November, is hosted by Major Nigel Bovey, a Salvation Army officer, journalist, and musician. He will be asking our guests his own questions, plus the questions of the audience, so we thought we’d turn the tables and ask him some of our own.

Do you see each evening as a conversation, or something closer to Mastermind?

In terms of guests speaking knowledgeably about their specialist subjects, the series has a hint of Mastermind. However, the style is more chat show – but without the book plugs or film clips.

You’ve met and interviewed several of the science guests before. Do you have a particular personal interest in science and faith – and how important do you think that debate is today?

Although I’m not a scientist, during my time as editor of the Salvation Army’s newspaper The War Cry, I interviewed some 80 top-level scientists and philosophers who are Christians. Through such privileged opportunities, I’ve learned a lot about science and its relationship to Christian thinking.

Do you think it’s science v faith, or science plus faith?

I recall watching an episode of one of Professor Brian Cox’s marvellous TV programmes about the universe, which opened with the statement, ‘God did not create the universe. Science did.’ There was no explanation or investigation into that claim.

Recently, in a pastoral conversation a young man told me: ‘I don’t believe in God; I believe in science.’ Part of the reason for interviewing so many professors and doctors from a wide range of scientific disciplines was that I wanted to challenge the idea that God and science is an either/or binary choice.

For me, God and science are complementary. I’ll never forget my first scientist interview. It was with the late John Polkinghorne. He asked me to imagine a boiling kettle, then asked me: ‘Why is the kettle boiling?’

‘To make a cup of tea?’ I ventured. I was half right.

‘Yes, the kettle is boiling to make a cup of tea to accompany our chocolate cake, but it is also boiling because in the air pressure at this altitude, the water has reached boiling point as a result of the right amount of applied heat.’

Both explanations of why the kettle is boiling are correct. In other words, science and religion offer different but complementary narratives about the world around us.

Zoom backgrounds have been a thing over lockdown, and yours is a very fine background, especially the guitars. They attracted the attention of a YouTuber who asked, ‘Is that an Epiphone Casino hanging on the wall?’ So what’s the story behind the guitars?

I got my first guitar when I was 11 in a swap with a friend – he got the bellows camera my father had given me. I’m not sure how impressed my dad was, especially as he was a fine amateur photographer. I then set about teaching myself how to play it. Back in the 60s, the guitar Bible was Bert Weedon’s Play in a Day. It took me a bit longer than advertised, but I found my way round the fretboard and have been playing – mainly in worship but also the occasional gig – for more than 50 years.

Sadly, I no longer have that first guitar, but I’ve accumulated a collection over the years. My wife used asked me why I need so many, I think she now believes my answer that each of my guitars has a different sound and does different things.

In answer to the YouTuber, I do own an Epiphone acoustic, but the ones in my webinar background are a Martin electro-acoustic, a Martin e/a 12-string, a Grestch hollow body electric, and a Gibson Les Paul Standard. I just wish I was a better player.

What are you hoping attendees at the webinars in November will learn from the five guest speakers?

As well as being more informed about the specific topics, I hope attendees will recognise that having a meaningful Christian faith doesn’t mean having to commit intellectual suicide. I also hope that the conversations with my guests will suggest that there’s evidence for God, and that God evidences himself through many different avenues.

You have a new book, just published.

We started by talking about Mastermind. To redeem the time during early lockdown, I wrote a book, Browsing the Bible, which distils the essential message of each of the Bible’s 66 books in 350 words. While I was studying the four Gospels for that project, I read one phrase which Jesus uses time and again – ‘the kingdom of Heaven’.

Earlier this year and still in lockdown, I set about looking at every occasion Jesus talks about this kingdom. I crunched some word counts and discovered that Jesus talks more about the kingdom that he does anything else. The kingdom of Heaven is Jesus’ specialist subject.

So my new book, Keys of the Kingdom, examines the 50-plus occasion Jesus refers to this kingdom – what it is, how to get in it, who is in it, who isn’t – and, as with Browsing the Bible, I package the essential message of each reference in 350 words. Both books are available from the Kindle Store and direct from the publisher.

I’m delighted and honoured that Dr Rowan Williams, a guest in series 1 of Questions of Our Times, wrote the Foreword.