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Peter Lynas on faith: 'I wish I had met my grandfather ... he was an alcoholic but a great man who did so much for my dad'

In our continuing series, we talk to leading figures about their faith

Peter Lynas (43) went to school at Coleraine Academical Institution, before studying law at Dundee University.

He practised as a barrister in Belfast for five years and, at one point, was executive pastor of the Causeway Coast Vineyard Church, of which he is still a trustee.

Peter completed a master's degree in divinity at Regent College in Vancouver, where he still serves on the board.

He says he is "passionate about faith in the public square and in the workplace".

Peter regularly speaks and teaches and is also a media commentator.

He is married to Rose, a pharmacist and Old Testament scholar, with whom he has two daughters, Keren (9) and six-year-old Lucia.

Peter likes running and "hates fish", even though his grandfather owned fishing boats and his father, Norman, had a successful fish shop before establishing Lynas Foodservice, which is now run by Peter's brother, Andrew.

Q. How and when did you come to faith?

A. I have amazing Christian parents, Norman and Lynda, who have been very influential in my life. I seem to recall becoming a Christian and being saved many times when I was a child, but I have a distinctive memory, when I was eight, of praying with my mum and saying yes to Jesus.

My relationship with Jesus is the most important part of my life, and changes everything.

Tom Wright says that "the whole point of Christianity is that it tells the story of the whole world, that it is public truth". Jesus gave everything for me. He created everything, rules over everything and conquered death.

Q. Have you ever had a crisis of faith, or gnawing doubt?

A. The short answer is no. I have had moments of doubt, but nothing that I would describe as a crisis of faith. At university, I faced the challenge of honing my faith and deciding that it was not just a passport from my parents, but that it was real.

After university, I continued with a career in law, because my friends advised me to gain experience of the 'real world' before I became a minister, which was my long-time intention. However, I really enjoyed the law and I have never regretted doing that.

Q. Have you ever been angry with God? If so, why?

A. No, but I love reading the Psalms in preparation for when I am.

Q. Do you ever get criticised for your faith, and are you able to live with that?

A. Sure, I get criticised for how my relationship with Jesus impacts what I say and do. While many agree on the right to life of the unborn, or the importance of biological sex, marriage and family, others can be critical.

There is also some residual bigotry directed at me for working with the Catholic Church on areas of shared interest. Very few actually want to engage - there is a lot of virtue-signalling, which is a shame.

I am a fan of a plural public square, where we put our case and seek to persuade others of our view of what a flourishing and thriving life could look like.

Q. Are you ever ashamed of your own Church, or denomination?

A. I love my Church, which is incredibly active in our community in terms of debt counselling, emergency care packages and work placements for prisoners. We also see all sorts of people meeting Jesus and having their lives transformed.

All Churches get things wrong, but I recently took part in a Socratic debate, as part of the Eastside Arts Festival in Belfast, and was reminded in my preparations of how much the Church contributes to society.

Q. Are you afraid to die, or can you look beyond death?

A. I am not worried about death, but I am less excited about dying.

Q. Are you worried about Hell?

A. No, although I am deeply saddened for those who choose separation from God.

Q. Do you believe in a resurrection and, if so, what will it be like?

A. I absolutely believe in the resurrection. The evidence for the life, death and bodily resurrection of Jesus is overwhelming.

I don't know exactly what it will be like when we are resurrected, but I don't read in the Bible that we will be floating around on clouds, playing harps. The resurrection will involve new bodies in a new Heaven and Earth, in a place with no more pain, where we get to worship Jesus continually.

Q. What do you think about people of other denominations and faiths?

A. I love people of other denominations and faiths - I want everyone to have a living, transformative relationship with Jesus.

My job with the Evangelical Alliance is to work for unity in the Church, as Jesus talks about in John 17, so I would spend quite a lot of time with other Church leaders.

We also have great relationships at various levels with the Catholic Church. I get to meet with other faith leaders. There are clearly areas we disagree on - we make mutually exclusive claims about God - but we can still have respectful dialogue.

Q. Would you be comfortable stepping out from your faith and trying to learn something from others?

A. That depends on what you mean by 'stepping out' of my faith. I am happy to learn from others, but I wouldn't be setting aside my own faith. It is not like the clothes that I put on every day - my relationship with Jesus defines who I am.

Q. Do you think that the Churches here are fulfilling their mission?

A. Some Churches are, and part of my day job is to champion those Churches and support others who are struggling. Too many Churches are keeping an aquarium rather than catching fish.

The Church is the only group that exists for the benefit of its non, or 'not yet' members.

Some 400,000 people go to church each week in Northern Ireland. When you think that just over 200,000 go to Irish Premier League games in the whole season, you can see the scale of the Church.

But it also means there are 1.4 million people in Northern Ireland still to be reached.

Q. Why are many people turning their back on organised religion?

A. Because religion isn't the answer; a relationship with Jesus is. When religion loses that vitality and transformative power, it becomes part of the problem, rather than part of the solution.

Q. Has religion helped or hindered the people of Northern Ireland?

A. Both. We have to be honest. The religious need to acknowledge that religion without Jesus leads to rules that help no one. The Church has got stuff wrong, and we should admit that, but the non-religious also need to be honest.

As the political theologian Oliver O'Donovan has noted, the political institutions of the West bear the crater marks of the Gospel. Society's ideas about human rights, equality and even the very foundations of liberal democracy, are based on Judeo-Christian roots.

Q. What is your favourite film, book and music?

A. My favourite film is A Few Good Men - the 'You can't handle the truth' scene between Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson is the best and brings out the lawyer in me.

Book-wise, it is hard to beat CS Lewis. I recently read the Chronicles of Narnia to my elder daughter, Keren, and we both loved it.

As for music, my brothers, David and Andrew, are big into music and lead worship in Church, but I do not have an ear for music at all. I am more into podcasts, and enjoy listening to This Cultural Moment, a series of faith-based interviews, Morality, by former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, and any sermon by Jon Tyson, who is based in New York and is, in my opinion, probably the best preacher in the world.

Q. Where do you feel closest to God?

A. Portstewart Strand is a thin place for me - the ocean and the land appear so close together. I feel strangely close to God on that strand, especially when I run there.

Q. What inscription would you like on your grave?

A. He understood the times and helped others navigate them.

Q. And do you have any major regrets?

A. I wish I had met my grandfather, Bobby Lynas, who died before I was born. He was a great character. He was an alcoholic and also a member of the Brethren, which was a strange mixture. He would stay sober for weeks and then go on a bender.

Ultimately, he was a good man and he did so much to shape the lives of my father and the wider family.

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