I'm working to produce a DVD to go with John Chapman's latest book, Making the Most of the Cross. It's an interview between John and Kel Richards.
The first bit of interview between Kel Richards and John Chapman is here, 'On dying'.
The second bit is here, 'And what's the best thing about the Christian life'.
The third bit is here, 'Jesus our Saviour and Substitute'.
This is the last bit, where Chappo talks about himself and preaching. Yes there's more, and if you want it you'll have to wait until the DVD comes out!
Kel: John let’s get to know you a bit. Are you a Sydney boy, were you born in the bush? Where did you come from?
John: Well first of all let me say I’m a five generation Australian and I came from convict stock. My great-many-times-back granny was transported to the colony for passing dud fivers in the Strand. For that she got 10 years. Her husband made the fivers but there wasn’t enough evidence to convict him. He, gallant and all as he was, followed her to the colony. 10 years later and four boys she died.
He was a proper villain; he abandoned the boys and went home to England. The boys were brought up in Governor Macquarie’s NSW boys’ orphanage. They were taught to play cricket and 4 of them represented Australia in cricket. So I—my forebears had a bad beginning but they came good.
Kel: And you have rich blood in your veins—from those people.
John: Well there’s plenty of it. I’m always giving it at Pathology.
Kel: Now your childhood, where was that?
John: I grew up at Oatley and I was schooled there at an intermediate high school at Sutherland and then at Sydney Tech High.
Kel: Now you ended up going into teaching but before you went into teaching you became a Christian.
John: In my last year at high school—in my third year at high school—the boy I sat next to, Dick Tischer, became a Christian, and he began to evangelise me.
I deeply resented that, because he had hardly ever been to church but I’d grown up at church. So I thought—I mean if you go to church all your life you think you are a Christian. It’s nearly impossible to believe you’re not. But I knew nothing about Christianity.
I remember the first time it dawned on me that Christ died for me. It was a terrific shock to the system. I was at church and the guy preaching the sermon said ‘Do you know that Jesus died for you?’ I nearly answered him. And for the life of me I couldn’t work out why he died for me. And then the man said, ‘Do you know why?’ And again I nearly answered him.
And I realized for the first time that Christ had taken the punishment my sins deserved. I remember walking home from church that day and saying ‘Well you don’t have a leg to stand on, because up till now you thought it was about being good’.
But even I could see the stupidity of God saying to me on the day of judgement ‘what are you doing here unforgiven?’ and I say ‘Well I’ve lived a fairly decent life.' Cause He’d say ‘Do you think I’m mad? Why do you think I let my Son die?’
Well that was a big revelation and Dick Tischer was the one who really did that for me. And then I dug my heels in and went on for 12 months knowing I wasn’t Christian but not becoming one, because I didn’t want to have to admit that he was right and I was wrong, which again was stupid.
At 17 I turned to Christ, that was the best decision. I have never regretted that, not for a split second. And it changed the whole course of my life. I personally think for the better.
Kel: John Chapman, young Christian, finished high school, became a teacher. Why a teacher?
John: Neither of my parents had finished their primary education. They were highly intelligent, but badly schooled. They didn’t think they were intelligent but they were.
I made all the decisions about my high school career, because Mum and Dad didn’t know anything about high school. Wasn’t their fault. And so I would ask Dad questions like ‘I’ve got to make a decision about whether I do Ancient History or Mechanics.’
Well Dad would look very wise and then he’d say ‘What do you think would be a good thing mate?’ And I’d say ‘Well I think I ought to do Mechanics’ and he’d say ‘Well seems good to me mate.’
So it took me years before I realized that I’d made all the decisions about my schooling. When I finally matriculated with English, Double Maths, Applied Maths, Physics and Tech Drawing, I wanted to do Ancient History.
Well there was no way anyone was going to pay for me to do Ancient History at a University, with Double Maths, Applied Maths, Physics and Tech Drawing. So I became a Manual Arts teacher, by default. I quite liked that, it was good fun and most of the boys liked it because they—it wasn’t like formal education.
Kel: But you didn’t spend most of your life as a teacher because you switched—still as a young man—to full time ministry. How and why?
John: I—Kel it is an interesting thing but when I left teachers college I decided that if I didn’t do exams I’d never study properly.
So I started doing the ThL course that you did for ordination, simply by reading the textbooks and sitting for the exam. So by the time I went to Moore College I’d 8 of the 10 subjects completed.
It’s not a very good way to teach yourself theology. You don’t learn theology by reading books, you learn theology by talking about it with other people, with other Christians about what the Bible means.
Kel: Discussing and debating...
John: Yeah. That’s the way you really learn. And although I had quite a bit of knowledge I wasn’t well educated theologically. I did some time at Moore College, all too little, and then I was ordained. I worked in the North West, in Armidale Diocese for ten years and then I came back to work in Sydney.
Kel: And you came back to work in Sydney as an evangelist and that’s what you spent most of your life, most of your years doing isn’t it?
John: Yes. When I look back on the Armidale days—I was called a youth director and then I went bald, so they changed the name to the Director of Christian Education. And—but I was really evangelising most of the time. And I came to work in the Department of Evangelism in Sydney, yes.
Kel: I was working for a radio station in Armidale when you were the youth— when you came to speak at our Baptist youth fellowship.
Kel: And you did an illustrated talk. The drawings were awful but I still remember the talk.
John: Yes, I saw Owen Shelley do work at a children’s mission one afternoon and I came away and I thought to myself, I could do all that. So I started running children’s missions and they ran exactly like Owen Shelley had done that one. He may have done other things on other days but I never did.
Kel: Well you spoke about the conversion of Isaiah being in the temple and the great vision, and his mouth being touched by the hot coals and all the rest, awful pictures but a wonderful story.
John: There you go Kel, and that you can still remember it is highly flattering!
Kel: Now, evangelist for many years, you came to Sydney to be an evangelist.
John: Yes. I pioneered in Sydney a form of evangelism that we’d done in the country in Armidale. We’d ask people to host a meeting in their home, ask some of their non-church-going friends if they’d like to come and talk with me about Christianity. And I would give a short talk and then they would ask questions and I would try and answer them.
Kel: Now your years in the department led you to spend the rest of your life preaching the gospel and teaching the Bible, both here and overseas.
John: Yes. Yes, I had a lot of experience here doing that, and I got some invitations to England and I went to America on a couple of occasions.
Kel: Did university missions, did all kinds of things.
Kel: When you look back over those years, was that a really rewarding, rich time, having the opportunity to stand in front of that many people and tell them the gospel?
John: It was interesting, when I went to England the first time they put me on a bigger platform than I had ever been on in Sydney.
If you pay for an air ticket to bring somebody half way around the world they have to be good don’t they by definition, so I suddenly became good overnight by definition, and what surprised me was that I could do it. They thought I could do things which I never thought I could do.
Adrian Lane, who is an old friend of mine, was the president of Sydney University’s EU. He said, “We want you to come and mission at Sydney University for us.” I said no, you ought to get a graduate to do that for you. He said, I should have thought I’d get an evangelist.
And I said yes, they’re not mutually exclusive, you know that? And he said, no, but you’ve got to go for the best evangelist; that’s what I’ve done. So there was a long argy-bargy about that. And because I’d never been to a university I thought they were all terribly clever, but they’re just like the fellowship kids at church. They are intelligent but they don’t know much about life. And he said, they’re just like the fellowship kids.
And when I thought about it I said, yeah that’s what they are, I could do that. And so I began with Paul Barnett at Sydney University, then I missioned several times with Phillip [Jensen], the students at Oxford and Cambridge University invited me to give a series of lectures for them, and I suppose in terms of university mission that’s the sort of pinnacle, they are the great universities of England.
Kel: And you’ve invested a lot of your life in teaching other people to preach, haven’t you?
John: I’ve tried to. I’ve tried to set myself as a model that other people could copy. If you take a preacher like Phillip [Jensen], he’s almost unique, isn’t he.
Kel: Yes, only he can do what he does.
John: And when people try to copy what he does, they muck it up nearly every time. He is such a clever communicator. And my dear friend Dick Lucas in London is like that. He breaks all the rules but you remember the sermon, ‘cause he’s good. And he, he can see when people are losing interest, and he changes his tack immediately.
I think I’ve heard Phillip making up illustrations on his feet. And I think, no that’s not one of yours, you’ve made that up for this occasion, you’ve got to be cracking to do that haven’t you? I’ve never been guilty of that in my life. I’ve often thought of a clever thing on the way home in the car. But never on the deck.
Now I thought, I ought to preach sermons which, when I’m gone, they’d say well there wasn’t anything marvellous about that, I could do that.
And I’ve tried to do that all the time. And I remember one day at the Bible college the kids came racing back they said, do you know Rico Tice preached one of your sermons? I said Did he? They said Yeah. I said was it good? They said it’s not the point. I said it is the point! Was it any good? They said, it was great Chappo. Well, I said how’d you know it was mine. They said it’s in the back of Setting Hearts on Fire. I said man, if it’s in the public arena, it’s in the public arena. It belongs to anybody.
What he didn’t know was I’d pinched it from somebody else! And I’m good for a pinched sermon from anywhere, they’re so hard to put together.
Kel: I was struggling to put together a talk once and I came to you and asked, I said, I don’t know how to explain this, and you gave me an illustration. And at the end you said Kel, bear in mind anyone will give you an outline, only a friend will give you an illustration!
John: [Laughs] That’s right! Well Kel I tell you what I was in church at Bingara one morning and I heard my dear friend Peter Chiswell preaching and it was such a good sermon that I repeated it at Inverell in the afternoon, and it was a broadcast service and he heard it.
And he wrote to me next week and said here are three more outlines, and I know you don’t mind pinching them from other people. And I was always glad to get an outline from him, they were always good.