This documentary features the work of John Lennox, emeritus Professor of Mathematics at Oxford University, and a prolific writer and speaker in defence of the reality of God and the truth of Christianity. Lennox has also been one of the leading Christian critics of the New Atheist movement, which flourished in the decade after 2006.
In conversation with American actor Kevin Sorbo, Lennox rehearses his major argument against the New Atheists and for the Christian faith. The documentary is enlivened by the way the ongoing conversation is filmed with the backdrop of significant sites – first at Oxford University and then in the Holy Land – and by the inclusion of excerpts from some of the debates Lennox has had with many of the leading New Atheists.
We see Lennox answering the mild questions of Kevin Sorbo and rebutting the aggressive objections to theism offered by Stephen Hawking, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and the like. The documentary could have easily been titled The Best of John Lennox.
The first half is set in Oxford and covers Lennox’s approach and his reasons for becoming so actively involved in such debates, as well as the main arguments he advances for belief in God. His debt to C.S. Lewis and to his own father, who encouraged him to be unafraid to question his Christian faith, is evident.
Lennox comes across as an enthusiastic and courageous, almost fearless, advocate of the reasonableness of belief in God who has more than the measure of his famous atheistic opponents. It is an impressive, and to me at least, convincing performance.
The second part of Against the Tide moves to the Holy Land and deals with the question of Jesus and the Christian faith. Here the backdrops of the Sea of Galilee, Caesarea, Philippi, Mount Tabor and Jerusalem itself almost steal the show. Lennox is far less convincing and Kevin Sorbo a little too easily persuaded.
This section is not without value but is hindered somewhat by Lennox’s lack of expertise in first-century history and the ongoing historical Jesus debate. This is an area where someone like our own John Dickson, for example, has much more to contribute. However, the documentary ends with a warm and clear statement of personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ that is hard to fault.
It is interesting to ask who the target audience for this documentary might be. It runs for nearly two hours and this length mitigates against any but the most interested unbeliever persevering – unless they have someone to help keep them watching. On the other hand, Against the Tide can play a helpful role in encouraging believers to persevere in the faith, especially if they are troubled by the kind of New Atheist arguments Lennox deals with so well.
The time of aggressive atheism is passing, partly due to the overreach of the New Atheists themselves and partly due to the pushback exemplified by the likes of John Lennox. But at least they thought the question of the existence of God and the cogency of the Christian faith was important.
The biggest threat to the Christian faith today is coming from those who don’t care about the questions at all – not atheism, but “apatheism”. Against this, new and very different strategies will be needed.
Bishop Rob Forsyth is an assistant minister at Church Hill Anglican.