A Bible Teacher’s Backstory (Interview)
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A Bible Teacher’s Backstory (Interview)

Selected Scriptures  (ID: 3505)

Like so many supporters of Truth For Life, radio and podcast host Bob Lepine has listened to and benefited from Alistair Begg’s clear and relevant Bible teaching for decades. In this candid interview, Bob sits down with Alistair to discuss his background and biography, including his youth in Scotland, his call to pastoral ministry, and his relationship with his beloved wife, Susan. Listen in on the conversation to hear stories and insights you’ve never before heard

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Bob Lepine: So, is Glasgow the Lowlands or the Highlands?

Alistair Begg: It would be the Lowlands, yeah. The Highlands—

Bob: Is there a difference in—

Alistair: Oh yeah, yeah. Yeah, the Highland Scots and the Lowland Scots. For example, in the Revolution, the Highland Scots would, ironically, have fought with the king, and the lowland Scots tended to fight on the side of the revolution.

Bob: Huh. To grow up in the Lowlands, does that… I mean, in the United States, there’s the North and the South, and you’re a Yankee or a Southerner. Is it like that in Scotland?

Alistair: Well, no, not really, because the country is so small, and also because those sort of notions lie far in the past. You know, those days, you know, you’ve got the Highland Clearances, where the… That’s why I say it’s ironic, because it was the king who cleared the Highland Scots out of there. And so it’s a strange thing, that. But…

And then you’ve got all the people coming from the Highlands in search of work. That’s how my own grandparents ended up, because they lived at the extreme north of Scotland. My grandfather on my father’s side was a shepherd—and, you know, literally, sheep on the cliffs. But eventually, once you have children, there’s only fishing and farming, and not a lot of that, and so you have to go down south to find work, not only for yourself but also for your children. So I have this strange combination of being raised in the sort of West of Scotland by a father and a grandmother on his side who were Highland Scots, which gives a flavor to things that I’m very grateful for.

Bob: What did your father do? What vocation?

Alistair: He was an insurance guy. He was pensions, investments, life assurance. He was discharged from the army in the Second World War because he had a sense of call to the ministry. And they discharged him so that he could attend Glasgow University. He never was able to explain to me why that did not happen—that having been discharged, he then reenlisted and did not take it up. And one of his questions for me as I grew and when I ended up in pastoral ministry, he used to ask me, “Do you think there is such a thing as second-best? That God has the best, and then he has a second-best? Do you think that my life has been God’s second-best?” Which was always very troublesome to me. I’m not sure I ever gave a very convincing answer to the question.

But I think as a Christian layman, he was a wonderful model of friendship in the workplace that wasn’t intrusive but was… He always would say to me, “You know, even though the fellows may think I’m a little crazy, there will come a day when they will walk into my office and close the door and say, ‘John, I want to ask you about this.’” And he said, “And so we just soldier on in prospect of that day.” And I always admired that about him, because he had a very clear witness without, as I say, being, you know, invasive in people’s lives.

Bob: The spiritual legacy of the Begg family goes back a long way?

Alistair: Well, it goes, on my father’s side, yes, it goes back up into the Highlands and up then into essentially, you know, Scottish Presbyterianism—which was not my background in growing up. But the legacy of it lingers, you know: those, I mean, statements that find themselves embedded, as with every family. Like, my father would say, “What’s for you will not go by you,” you know? That what God has purposed, you know, will be fulfilled. You know, that kind of thing. Well, that’s not just your average sentiment. So, yeah, beneficiary of that.

Bob: And I’ve heard you describe the church environment in which you grew up as being pretty proper, pretty strict?

Alistair: Well, it was a combo, actually. It depends on who I was talking to and exactly what era they were referencing when I’m answering that question. Because an interesting thing happened: that when my grandparents moved from the Highlands down to Glasgow, as I’ve said, a man who was a Highland Scot as well—and I don’t know the details of it—but he came to become the superintendent of a mission that was established by Moody and Sankey at the turn of the century. When Moody and Sankey came to Britain, as you know—whether to Edinburgh or in certain places to the North of England, certainly to Glasgow—and they did these big tent missions, then Moody would go around, and he would seek to raise money before he left and say to people, “Look at all these folks that have professed faith in Christ. We need something for them.” Well, one of those places was called the Tent Hall. All right? Not a great deal of imagination went into that: “We used to have a tent. We built a hall. Hey! Let’s call it the Tent Hall.”

And so, what was that? Well, it was the legacy of Moody. It was a building near the fish market in Glasgow—so it wasn’t salubrious surroundings—that seated 2200 people. And it was a combination of evangelical fervor and social engagement, insofar as street people—because we’re talking, now, the ’50s—street people had nothing from the government at all. That had not stepped into place. (And we could comment on that as well. But anyway…) So, if the church didn’t do it, nobody did it. And so, I grew up in that environment. I went to Sunday school in that context. And the reason was because the person who became the superintendent was a Highland Scot and knew my grandparents. And that became the context. And it was there that my father was converted as a thirteen-year-old boy.

So, that was one piece of the puzzle. Then school would be at the local Church of Scotland church—and in various other forms, introduced to sort of all manners of evangelicalism. So, St George’s Tron parish church—which is now Willie Philip, which was Eric Alexander, which was George B. Duncan—that is probably the environment that people have reflected on, because I’ve described sitting in there as a boy and watching the beadle come up and open the door and open the Bible and then go down the stairs again. I mean, that riveted me. That was drama, you know, and it created this great sense of expectation. Very different from the sort of low-level, average beginning of some of our contemporary efforts.

Bob: So you had exposure to the Tent Hall and to the high church simultaneously.

Alistair: Yes.

Bob: Well, did you gravitate in one direction or another?

Alistair: No, at that point, it just seemed perfectly natural to me that this would be… This was where my father was; therefore, that’s fine. Because by the age of fifteen, then my father’s job took us to England. And that introduced another element. Because…

I should say as well that my parents were both baptized as believers. And interestingly, I just saw a piece in The Times in the last six weeks where a letter written by the pastor of the church where my mother was baptized—which the name has just eluded me at the moment, which is ridiculous. But anyway, this pastor was on the Titanic. And he gave up his place on the lifeboat to somebody who—he asked him, “Do you know where you will go if you don’t make this?” The man said no. Then he said, “Well then, you should take my seat.” And the letter from this man just sold for a fairly substantial sum of money, not because of the spiritual aspect of it, but just because of the historical value of it.

So, now you’ve got the Highland Scots, you’ve got the Presbyterian church, and now you’ve got the Baptist church as well. And when we went to England, in the small town that we lived in, we went to the Baptist church there. And the minister there was a kindly man, but he was pretty hopeless. And I’m not sure… He was Bultmannian, and he was an interesting soul. And so, that gave you very slim pickings.

And so, my life then, as I came alive spiritually, went in search of good material. And as soon as I got my driver’s license at seventeen, which is when you get it in the UK, the man that was highly influential at that time was a fellow called David Watson, who was an Anglican cleric in York, which is a fairly good distance from Ilkley, maybe forty miles. But I would load up a few of my friends in the car, and we would drive to York on Sunday evenings in order that we could listen to this fellow preach. He died as a relatively young man, as a result of cancer. And although he had a very, very strong conservative evangelical beginning, he got caught up with Wimber. And in fact, Wimber was a large part of the closing story of David’s life, which was a sad story, because he was susceptible to the Wimberian influence, if you like. It didn’t, for me, tarnish anything in his ministry, because he was a godly man, and he was a gospel man.

So, all of these… That’s why I’m the mess that I am today, Bob. I’m such a mixture of these things.

Bob: Scottish Presbyterianism. Moody and Sankey. The Baptist Church in England. And now the Anglican with the Wimber influence. Yeah.

Alistair: It’s a miracle I survived, isn’t it?

Bob: Well, I’m fascinated that at seventeen, you get your driver’s license, and you’re loading up friends to drive forty miles on a Sunday to hear somebody preach. There aren’t many seventeen-year-olds, then or now, who are doing that. How did that happen?

Alistair: Well, it didn’t seem peculiar to me at the time, but as I look back on it and, as you say, as I look out on young people and I say to them—you know, if I’m saying, “You know, our evening service is an important part of our life,” and watch as, you know, their eyes glaze over and they go somewhere else—and I say to them, “You know, I’m not saying this to you because I’m your pastor. When I was your age…” You know, they’re like, “Oh, here we go again,” you know. You can’t convince them.

But how did it happen? Well, we could mix a little Billy Graham into it as well, huh? At sixteen, Billy Graham was back in Britain, in the Earl’s Court in London. That material was then relayed to centers throughout the country, and one of the centers was Leeds, which is about twenty miles, roughly, from Ilkley, where I lived. I was in the youth group in this church, and I had multiple school friends at the grammar school. And so the youth leader said, “Okay, what we’re gonna do is we’ll get a coach, and we will take people. Bring your friends, and let’s go hear Billy Graham.” So I took my friends to hear Billy Graham. I don’t know what happened to them, but I know what happened to me. Because it was whenever it would be—’68, something like that—and he was trying to be hip. And his whole thing was, he’d heard that the hippies were saying things like, you know, “Turn on, drop out.” And so he was playing with that, and “Turn on and tune in.” I don’t know what he was doing.

But anyway, the analogy that he used was: “Some of you, your lives are like a radio—that you’re actually tuned in to the signal, but your volume control is way down low. And the reason it’s down low is because of the state of your own spiritual pilgrimage. And I want to encourage you tonight to resolve to be done with that.” And so, in the midst of all of that and in great embarrassment to my friends, you know, I’m the guy that goes—I go up to the front.

Bob: Wow.

Alistair: And so, I get a counselor who only knows how to deal with the sort of regular… So the first person, they said, “You know, well, you do this, and you admit…” And so I said, “No, no, no, no. I’ve done all that.” I said, “That’s not why I’m here.” I can’t remember who the person was, but he went away to get, like, a supervisor. It was like “Hey, we got a tough one here.”

So, I can’t remember how it finished. But I went home, and my father was up. I don’t think my mother was up, but he said, “How was it?” I said, “Well, Dad, I don’t know what happened down there.” I said—and I told him what happened. And he said, “Well…” ’Cause my father had led me to the Lord as a young boy. He said, “Well, I think what has happened is simply this: that somebody like you, in a Christian environment like this, has to get to a point where you make this all your own and where, without the spiritual afflatus of your parents or whoever else it is, you gotta decide: Are you in or are you out?” And he says, “Sounds to me like tonight has been at least a point on that journey”—which, in point of fact, it was.

And so, it was catalytic. I mean, I’ve never tied the two things together until now that you mention them to me. But there was created in me then a genuine interest in and hunger for the Bible, and new heroes became people who loved the Bible, loved Jesus, and were really good at teaching it. And so… I mean, I was at that church in York, where David was. I mean, I remember hearing the Archbishop of Canterbury preach there, Donald Coggan, who was an evangelical Anglican of the finest dye. And, I mean, it was all very… But it was just straight gospel.

So, yeah. But before that, in the Bible class that I was in in Glasgow—I’ve always been a salesman. You know, if there’s something I’m excited about, you’re gonna hear about it, whether you want to or not. And so, I was in a Bible class in Glasgow for sort of, like, middle-class boys who didn’t go to church—although I didn’t fit that, but I went. And, you know, so I took my school friends. I’d go to their houses on Sunday afternoon. It began at two thirty. Around two o’clock, I’d go pick up another two or three up, and I would take them. Then I’d mess around in the class. Then they’d throw me out the class. And I remember asking one of the leaders, “Hey, I’m not the only one. Why do you throw me out?” He said, “I throw you out because I know your dad will send you back. If I throw some of the boys you bring, if I throw them out, their parents will never send them back. And I want them to stay in here. But you should stop messing around.”

Bob: As you look back on your Billy Graham experience and try to put a theological grid over that, is this a second work of grace? Was this your actual conversion? What do you think?

Alistair: You know, I think it was just a step on the journey. Definitely not a second work of grace. And it wasn’t because I was clear. You know, when the counselor tried to secure my conversion, I said, “No, no, no, I got that part.” But it wasn’t the “Jesus is Lord” thing either. It wasn’t moving from Campus Crusade’s yellow book to the blue book. Actually, I then got into a whole Campus Crusade thing after that, that we could add to the mixture.

But no, I think it was that what he said made sense: that yeah, you might have brought a few of your friends to the thing, but you’re a walking contradiction, you know—“partly truth, partly fiction, takin’ every wrong direction on [your] lonely way back home.”[1] Yeah. Yeah, just like I’d say to people, there’s lots of those steps along the way, I think. I don’t know who said it, you know, that the Christian life is a series of new beginnings. You know, I was just reading Genesis 12 this morning, because I’m supposed to, with the jolly Murray M’Cheyne. And, you know, I was thinking, “Goodness gracious,” you know. The guy has to come to Abraham in Genesis 12 and say, “Why didn’t you tell me she’s your wife?” I mean, this is the man that God picks? He’s trying to get his game going, you know? Well, he had a series of new beginnings.

Bob: He did. I think somebody asked Moody one time, “Do you believe in the second blessing?” and his response was, “I do, and the third, and the fourth, and the fifth.” So, yeah.

What was the spiritual environment in your home? Other than churchgoing, was the Bible read? Was there family time?

Alistair: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, my dad was a very disciplined man. You know, he’d been in the army. And, you know, if you found his Bible, he read his Bible, and the marker was in the place. So, you could pretty well set your clock by it. And so that was part of our lives as well, around the table. I mean, sometimes… I remember, I’ve thought about it often in my own children, of how jolly difficult it is to pull this off with the school buses coming, the thing, and “Where’s the toast?” and everything. But he was just—he soldiered on, you know? And he used to use the Daily Light, you know, from Richard W. DeHaan or whatever it was, just for those times. So it was very brief, and you had the little thing, then a word of prayer, and then we’re on our way.

Our home was also populated by other Christian people. You know, I was thinking about that the other day when we were reading in our team meeting in 2 Timothy, where Paul says to him, “So, Timothy, pursue righteousness, faith, peace, and love along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart,”[2] and the great benefit of the sort of larger environment of recognizing that it’s not just… You know, because when you’re young, you think, “Maybe my parents are just the weirdest people in the entire community.” And then you say, “Oh, no, there’s a number of these really weird people. And they keep coming to my home.” My parents were given to hospitality. If someone was a visiting preacher or something, they would be in the home. And so, I can remember listening upstairs, sometimes of an evening. The discussions about points of biblical theology began to be debated, and…

So, it was actually—it was a very happy environment that was then broken in upon, of course, by the premature death of my mother. If we hadn’t had a framework, we would really have had nowhere to go and nothing to say, nothing to turn to.

Bob: Tell me about your mother’s faith.

Alistair: Yeah. My mother’s faith was genuine, simple, quiet. I’m very, very sensitive to people when people try and press people into public statements and professions, and particularly in public prayer times. My mother would never have intruded in a conversation—in any kind of conversation—except invited. And therefore, it would have been strange for me to hear her pray in that kind of public environment. But it wasn’t because she couldn’t or didn’t, because I do have recollections of hearing both my parents praying for us as children when they thought I was asleep.

My mom was a very funny lady. She loved laughing. I mean, she found humor in some of the strangest places, much to the chagrin of my father. I mean, when we would go on vacation, we would almost inevitably find ourselves “in the funniest church you’ve ever been in in your life.” And my mother’s supposed to be keeping us under control and getting some of the dirtiest looks from my dad, you know.

But she just was a… She was a doer. She was kindly. She was very good at the domestic duties of motherhood and wifedom. And I really got the great benefit of that when for a period of my life, for one year, I was at home, and it turned out to be the last year of my mother’s life, which neither of us knew. And by that time I was probably nineteen, and, you know, you’ve moved into that realm where you’re starting to become friends with your parents. And I would have said that. I would have picked her out as a really good friend, you know, in that context—even though my dad didn’t get half the jokes. That was his problem.

Bob: To see genuine faith in the life of your parents and know there’s not a disconnect—they’re not just churchgoing people. These are people… This is real for them. I look at how many young people today abandon the faith, and I wonder how many of them grew up in the kind of home you grew up in as opposed to just a churchgoing home.

Alistair: Yeah. Yeah, I think so. You know, because when as a youngster you begin to voice your concerns, challenge things and so on… You know, my father, one of his great lines was—I said to him, “I want to go to this,” and he didn’t say, “You can’t go.” Sometimes he said, “No, you definitely can’t go.” But where there was like maybe a marginal decision, he would say, “Well, son, you can go. But you can’t go with my blessing.” Now, unless that means something, you’re in the car so fast and gone that you make the wheels spin. But where there is that connection and where you value that, then it may not prevent you from making dumb decisions in every case, but the fact that it did it enough times for me is the fact that all these years later, I can still recall it.

Bob: A lot of people who have some spiritual awakening in their late teens also have a lapse in their early twenties. Did you go through a rebellion period? Did you ever have a “Do I really believe this?” kinda check-out for a while?

Alistair: No, I think the biggest challenge for me was at the age of twenty to lose my mother and to stand at an open graveside for, actually, the first time in my life, because she preceded the death of her own parents, and for me then to say, “Okay, do I really believe in the resurrection? Do I really believe that the promises of Jesus will be fulfilled?” And, you know, in the goodness of God, as I struggled through that, I said, “Yes, I do believe. I will believe,” you know.

No, as you know, I’m a pretty simple soul, and I trust that the Bible is the Bible. I trust what the Bible says about itself. And if I won’t trust what it says about itself, why would I trust anything else that it says? And again, that’s the product of good teaching. It’s the product, again, of the mercy and grace of God. Because I’m sure you find yourself saying, “Why is it that I believe this? Why is it that I still believe this? I mean, I don’t have to posture this. You know, if you cut me open, I believe this.” This is the grace of God. Yeah.

Bob: The circumstances of your mother’s death?

Alistair: A dramatic heart attack out of nowhere, just sitting in our house and dying.

Bob: Were you with her?

Alistair: No, my sisters were. I was gone.

Bob: How did you get the news?

Alistair: I was a student at LBC, gloriously known now as the London School of Divinity. And I roomed with a boy from Rhodesia who had been a geography teacher, older than me. And early in the morning of November the second—early in the morning—somebody came knocking on the door. It wasn’t strange for other students to just come storming in the door, but someone knock on the door? And one of us said, “Yes?” And it was the principal, the Reverend Gilbert Kirby. And he said, “I just need to come in and talk to Alistair.” I thought, “Golly! I’ve only been here three months, and it’s like the Bible class again. I’m out!” And especially ’cause he said to Peter, he said, “Peter, could you just leave us for a moment?” I had no idea what was coming.

And he sat down on the edge of my bed, because I was still in my bed, and he said, “Alistair, I can only tell you this one way. Last night your mother died.” And it was just unbelievable. I mean, nothing could prepare you for it. And that was it. That was it.

Gilbert then was a key part of my journey from that point on. I mean, I ended up with Derek Prime in Edinburgh as a result of a letter written by Gilbert Kirby to Derek Prime to say, “You oughta consider this boy.” I hadn’t seen him in a long time, and I was speaking at the Keswick Convention, which is kinda like, you know—was then, in those days—the Super Bowl, you know, you get to play. And there was a ministers’ house party that Gilbert Kirby, now as a man probably deep into his seventies, he was caring for those ministers. I was staying in the speakers’ house party, which was a separate hotel.

But I remember as I came up the hill, he came out of this property. And it was pouring, as it does in the Lake District. And he had a cagoule on. And he saw me, you know, and he just came towards me, and he just enveloped me. I was soaking from his cagoule and everything else. And I don’t think we hardly said anything. We didn’t need to say anything. It was just that. It was that bonding that happens—and we’ve seen it in pastoral ministry—where we deal with people at the extremities of their lives. We may not say much, but we’re privileged to be there. That privilege was given to him, and there couldn’t have been a better person to have essentially had that responsibility than Gilbert. He was a wonderful man.

Bob: How did your father do after your mom passed?

Alistair: Well, actually, my dad—my dad was very good at stuff. My dad, because of his involvement in the Second World War as a batman to a general, knew how to cook and would easily turn out, you know, a really splendid Sunday lunch. But what he did he had to do. He had two children at school. He would stop by the grocery store either on his way into work or out of work. He would come home—and I was gone, you see. I was then at college, and then from college I was in Edinburgh. But he did really, really well. But he lasted for seven years and then remarried. And to my shame, it never really occurred to me to think about what it meant for my father. Because my mother was only forty-six. So I think my dad was probably forty-eight. And as a twenty-year-old, it was all about what it meant to me. And I think I managed to waken up to that later rather than sooner. But yeah, it was tough. I mean, it had to be tough. I can’t imagine doing what he did. But he did. And again, of course, a deep conviction about faith and…

Incidentally, the man’s name was Harper, the Reverend Harper. And it’s the Harper Memorial Church that was built as a memorial to Harper, who was coming to America to preach. Yeah. And that’s where my mother’s funeral took place as well.

Bob: When your dad remarried, was that a challenge for you and your sisters?

Alistair: I think a big challenge for my sisters. A challenge for me only in absentia. Ironically, he married my best friend’s mother. My best friend’s father had died some years previously. I can’t remember the details, but he was a man who had a poor heart, and eventually, heart failure took him out. And so my best friend’s mother was a widow, and his best friend’s father was a widower. And although there was no relationship between the families, despite the fact that we as children were friends and school chums and so on, I guess in the sense of shared loss they found comfort and affection in one another, and so were married.

I would not suggest that for everybody. And my youngest sister, who was only eleven and has only the vaguest recollections of my mother, has a new relationship with her father and this lady foisted now upon her, with all the elements that are attached to that. And none of it was bad or anything, but it’s just so different.

Bob: It’s a challenge, isn’t it? You know, any time we work with families in the best of situation, where there’s loss… Every stepfamily comes out of loss, and so everybody’s processing the loss: “Who was, and who is now, and what’s my relationship with my dad now that this new person’s here?” All of that. The dynamics are fraught with all kinds of disappointment and getting sideways with one another.

Alistair: Yeah. I’ve seen some wonderful illustrations of it. I’ve seen a lot of the other kind, too, in pastoral ministry.

Bob: Your call to pastoral ministry? That happened in your teen years?

Alistair: No, I wouldn’t say so. I wanted to do law. I thought I could be Perry Mason. And I didn’t realize that nobody can be Perry Mason—that there’s no such thing as Perry Mason. But I loved those shows. I think they were in black and white when I was watching them.

But yeah, without delving into all of that, when I stepped away from where I was and took this year out to figure out what I was gonna be when I grew up, I came to another one of these points along the race, where I had a strong conviction that although I had written the script for my life—which was I was going to get a law degree, a BMW 2002, and I was going to marry this American girl called Susan Jones, if I could just manage to keep her on the wire for long enough as I was writing letters across the ocean. I faxed that to God, as one would say, and asked for his signature. He sent it back just with a blank sheet, said, “If you’ll sign the bottom of the blank sheet, I’ll fill in this stuff for you.” And it’s a metaphor, of course.

But I came to a strong conviction that I had my thing upside down—that I was simply asking God to bless my plan. And I had had all these things, you know. I’m taking my school chums to the thing. I’m loading the car up. We had a singing group, you know. In the singing group in the coffee bars of the ’60s, I was the one that did the talk, not because I was any good but because the other two guys wouldn’t do it. So, all of that is in there.

Also I remember I told you that the ministers used to come and stay in our house when they were the visiting preachers. And they would say things to me like “And maybe you’ll be a minister one day, sonny,” you know—which, nothing could be further from my mind than that.

And now… Remember I told you about the Campus Crusade? I had been introduced to all these crazy American Campus Crusade people who had come to London to try and advance the cause. And so those people are, you know, “Hey, sign up, let’s go.” So, I wasn’t ready to do that, but I was fascinated by these young, intelligent, often athletic, zealous people, and I thought, “You know, I admire that. I admire that. They haven’t adopted this because they’ve got nothing else to do.”

So then I said, “Well, what I’ll do is I’ll go somewhere that I can do a theology degree and prepare myself for whatever God has for me. But the one thing I know he hasn’t for me is pastoral ministry.”

Bob: Really?

Alistair: Yeah. “I will not do that. Because I could never tell my friends. Cause there’s nothing cool about that. I could tell ’em I’m involved with Christians in sport. I could tell ’em that I’m involved in a student ministry, or I could tell ’em I’m involved in a music ministry, or… But I couldn’t tell them that I’m a pastor of a church. I mean, that cannot happen.”

And so, the definitive moment that just took the rug out from underneath me was in the spring of ’75, and I was doing things with an English evangelist at the time, for sort of work exposure. And we would go and do youth weekends, and we would meet the people and sing to them and do whatever we were doing, and trying to encourage them, lead them to faith.

And so, one Monday, I have returned from one of these ventures down in the South Coast of England, and I’m sitting at lunch with some of my friends at college and a couple of the faculty members, one of them the Reverend John Balchen, who had Coca-Cola glasses and used to squeeze his eyes all the time.

And so, you know, nobody’s saying much, so I said, “You know, I don’t like these things anymore.”

“What things?”

“These weekends.”

“Why don’t you like the weekends? What, you don’t like—”

I said, “No, I can tell you why I don’t like them. Because they end.”

He said, “Well, what do you mean?”

I said, “Well, I go down there on a Friday night, and I’m introduced to a whole group of people that I’ve never met before. And come Sunday night, I get in the car, and I drive away, and I’ll never see them again. I don’t like that.”

Balchen leans forward, squeezes his eyes together, and he says, “Now, I can tell you why that is.” He said, “That is because God has given you a pastor’s heart. If you were an evangelist, you could come and go. As a pastor, you can’t.”

And I remember, even as I tell it to you now, I remember it: it was like the death knell and the opening up of the future. I remember I went back to my room, and I wept. I wept because I said, “No. You know, this is ridiculous. Plus, I’m twenty-three years old! How do you become a pastor? What does Balchen know? He didn’t know anything—you know, and go through all this?”

Then you get Gilbert Kilby. A notice comes in from Derek Prime. It’s put up on the board, and it’s Derek Prime: “Dear Gilbert: My assistant is moving to take a church on his own. I wonder if you have anybody down there that you may care to recommend?” Gilbert writes a letter to him. I go meet him at the King’s Cross railway station coffee bar. And, you know, the rest is history.

I’ve never applied for a job in ministry. I have never. It was the call of God. When I was ordained and I wore clerical garb—I think you’ve heard me say this before—I might just as well have stood up with no clothes on in front of the congregation. That’s how vulnerable and just—I don’t know. I said, “If I’m gonna do that, I’ll never quit on this. I’ll never quit on this.”

And so, that was it. And then when, you know, when I was ordained, then I trusted the elders. They said, “Yeah, we believe that, you know, your subjective sense of being drawn to this reluctantly is a realistic sense.” And so I trusted them.

Bob: As you look back on the family you grew up in—your father, your mother, the spiritual influences—how did that carry into your own marriage and family and how you chose to raise your kids?

Alistair: Yeah. Well, not as well as I would have liked, I think. I mean, it would be the same, but different. You know this from your own varied career, if we might put it that way. There is, I think, a distinct advantage in being a father who’s in the normal sphere of life—works in a job, goes, comes; Sunday he’s in this, and whatever else it is—both for the individual and also for the child.

And so, for me, one of the things that has always been so daunting is, for example, you know, weekends are not weekends. There’s none of that wonderful Friday-night feeling. And it’s not even shareable with your children in the same way. Added to that, I’m doing this in America. If it was in Scotland, I would be teaching my children all the things I knew about Scotland and sports in Scotland. I never shot a basketball. I never had my hands on an American football. I never played baseball. So you got this weird role reversal at one level in the raising of your kids—that your children are introducing you to a world. I never rode a school bus.

Now, all of that is superficial stuff. In terms of the drumbeat of “Our focus is on Christ, on the Scriptures; we’re gonna read them together, despite the toast, despite the bus”—all of that we sought to do. And we’re in the happy situation of our children not only understanding that but embracing that, and all at various levels of engagement and commitment, and some that we have more concern for than others. But yeah, it has followed through, despite…

You know, my son, who was just with us over Christmas, from New York, and his new wife, and grandson—you know, he’d tell me when he’s driving the car now the things that his school friends used to say to him, you know: that “your father is the leader of a cult. You’re this. You’re that. You’re the next thing.” Things that we never—he never came home and spoke about them. But they impinged upon him. I don’t think we would lay any great store by that, but it was…

Bob: How did you wind up as a teenager, in America, in the summer? How did that happen?

Alistair: Oh, my late father-in-law would say: because, you know, I am a tenacious Scot. That’s the answer. I don’t know how much of the story you want. But it was this American family—I’d never met an American family—that I’d met when I was sixteen, in suburban London, that introduced me to Americans who were in the UK with Campus Crusade for Christ. And it was one of the girls of that American family that I had set my affection on.

Bob: So, you meet her, and you see her, and you go “Wow,” and—

Alistair: Yeah. Just simple stuff.

Bob: You were sixteen?

Alistair: And she was thirteen.

Bob: Thirteen!

Alistair: Mm-hm. Yeah.

Bob: Did that compute for you, that you’re sixteen and she’s thirteen?

Alistair: I didn’t give any thought to it at all. I never imagined anything, really, beyond the fact that I sat down to lunch at this table, invited to this American home, and around the table were various people, some friends, and there were people in the family, and across from me a girl. And she had the lovely, lovely eyes. And I was just fascinated, captivated by this. And the next day, one of my friends and I went to Carnaby Street in London before we got the train to go back to Leeds, and I got a postcard at Carnaby Street, and I wrote to her. And I said, “It was so wonderful to meet you. And ask your mother if it’s okay if I write letters to you.”

Bob: You were instantly smitten.

Alistair: Yeah. Oh yeah. No, I mean, it was the weirdest thing. It was, you know… throughout my life, every so often I’ve had a dream that we never actually got married, and I wake up in the worst condition possible until I suddenly realize, “No, it’s a dream. It’s a dream. We’re here.”

No, that was where it started. So we lived three hundred miles apart from one another, and then one day, without checking, that guy for Chrysler—what did you call him, the famous one?

Bob: Iacocca?

Alistair: Yeah, Iacocca. Iacocca, without checking with me, took the American family back to America. And so, I had then the problem that it wasn’t there were three hundred miles between us; there were three thousand miles between us. So, I was very sad.

And there’s more to that story. My friend was friendly with her sister. I called them on the phone. I said, “Did you hear that they’re not coming back?” He said, “Yes.” I said, “What are you gonna do? He said, “What do you mean, ‘What are you gonna do?’” I said, “Well, what are you gonna do? I mean, they’re not coming back.” He said, “Well, that’s it.” He said, “You know, it was nice. You know, they live there. We live here. Let’s move on.” I said, “No, I’m not doing that.” He said, “Well, what’re you are gonna do?” I said, “I’m gonna go to America.” It was like, “Yeah, sure you are. Yeah. Why don’t you visit Mars on the way?”

But I put the phone down in my hallway, and I said, “I will go to America. This is not over.” So I wrote letters for another year, and I inveigled a way to get to Explo ’72 with Campus Crusade, knowing that her folks had introduced me to Campus Crusade and discovering that they were gonna go to Explo as well, taking this girl with them. And so, after a gap of about fourteen months, I then met up with her in the Adolphus Hotel—which is where I was staying with these Campus Crusade guys—and she came walking down the stairs.

Now she’s sixteen years old. I hadn’t seen her in fourteen months. And I suppose it could have been that she said, “Hey, hello,” you know, and the summer happened. But no. No, I got through that summer, and then I said, “You know, I’m gonna write to you more and more.” And, I mean, she was here. The boys were here. All the stuff was here. Everything was here. All I had was a pen. No telephones, no faxes, no Twitters, no nothing. We had nothing at all.

And so, that’s how I ended up there, and that’s how I ended up back there in ’75, because we just ran out of postage and decided to get married. But at that point she was only twenty.

Bob: Had you had crushes before her?

Alistair: Oh, yeah, every time! Yeah! Yeah, like… Yeah, I mean, always.

Bob: But this was—

Alistair: Yeah, but no, this was—

Bob: You knew this was different?

Alistair: Well, we found out after seven years of writing letters it was different. I mean, the thing that made it different was, it was like… This wasn’t—you know, talking about steps along the way. I mean, we had to—at the beginning, it was just silly childhood stuff. And we have all of our letters.

Bob: Wow.

Alistair: All of our letters—which we’ll have to go and burn someday. But as time progressed, you know, it’s one thing when you’re writing to a thirteen-year-old girl and your mother says, “What is this about?” I say, “She has lovely eyes.” Well, you know, as man to man, she didn’t have much other than lovely eyes as a thirteen-year-old girl. So there was no, like, sexual connotation in it, you know, peculiarly. Not that I was immune to that, or that we are. But as it progressed and she suddenly realized, “This actually could happen—and this could happen”; and so I said, “You know, you’ve gotta go about your life. You’ve gotta go to your high school prom. You’ve gotta do your thing—people take you here, take you there. And I’m gonna proceed like that as well, because I’m not gonna live as a monk, and you’re not gonna live as a nun.”

Bob: So you were dating other girls?

Alistair: Yeah. I said we had to, because it wouldn’t make sense. It would be crazy. This is not—well, this is not the way other people might go at it. But I said, “This is what I want to say to you: you are number one in my affections. If you get moved off the top spot, I am gonna write you a letter, and I’m gonna tell you that I met Mary Lou, and she’s filled up the page so much that it’s only right to…”

Bob: “Goodbye heart. Sweet Mary Lou, I’m so in love with you.”[3]

Alistair: Yeah, that’s exactly right. Was that the Seekers?

Bob: No, that was Ricky Nelson.

Alistair: Was it?

Bob: Yeah.

Alistair: The Seekers did a version of it, I think. Yeah.

But yeah, and so I said, “And maybe we’ll go at it in the same way.” And what happened was that her parents then suddenly realized—although her dad was reluctant, ’cause, you know, I had long hair and other things—but they realized…

Bob: What other things?

Alistair: Well, very skinny jeans, you know. But they realized that these letters that were coming from the Scottish boy were actually good for their daughter. I don’t mean that in any presumptuous way. But the influence that I was having, even from a distance, with the letters were proving to be significant.

Bob: ’Cause there was spiritual encouragement?

Alistair: Yeah, exactly. Because I was encouraging her, then, to get involved. One of the guys who was in the Adolphus Hotel with me by this time was married himself, and I was encouraging her to get involved with his wife, who was also a Campus Crusade girl, which was exactly what happened. And on my shelf over the road here, you know, I have her Living Bible, which is all marked up as a result of the weekly visits with this girl. Well, I don’t want to take credit for that, but I suppose if my influence had been a different one, then it wouldn’t necessarily have supported that.

Bob: So, at age—were you seventeen, eighteen, when you conquered America, when you came to—

Alistair: No, I was twenty.

Bob: You were twenty.

Alistair: I was twenty, ’72.

Bob: And you came with the idea that “I’m going to come, and we’re gonna solidify this,” or just take it to the next level?

Alistair: Well, actually, I said she was sixteen. She wasn’t. She was seventeen. Because I was twenty. It was June of ’72. And no, I didn’t know what it would be like. I didn’t know what chance there was, you know? I had a dog’s chance and no chance. But I certainly was even more resolved.

You know, we spent that entire week together in Dallas. Then I flew to Los Angeles with my Campus Crusade buddies, and then I had previously brokered a deal whereby the family’s visit to a cottage up on Lake Michigan would also include an invitation to me. And so, I was then in that environment. So, although we were never closer to one another than three hundred miles during the whole seven years, on the occasions that we were together, you were in an environment where you could really take a measure of the person. So when I joke about the way in which somebody treats their sister or, for a girl, “Watch the way the guy treats his sister, watch the way he speaks to the mother,” that kind of thing—she had an opportunity to view that, at least up until she left for America. Because her parents came to check out my setup when they realized this fellow was writing letters to their daughter, which was good on their part.

Bob: Right.

Alistair: And so they came essentially to vet us.

Bob: When you arrived—if I remember this right—on the shores of Lake Michigan, you began to see there were other fellows who had interest in Susan.

Alistair: Oh yeah. Oh yeah.

Bob: This was not just a simple process of “I just need to keep writing letters, and this will all happen.”

Alistair: No, no, it definitely—no, it definitely wasn’t. But, you know, what could I do about it? I actually mentioned it again last night: I said, “You know, these guys had muscles in places that I don’t have places.” And, you know, there are funny stories about it. But they tried to teach me how to waterski. They had no interest in whether I could ever get up. They just enjoyed the privilege of humiliating me. They were skiing. Those guys were all the guys that kick the ski and ski in their bare feet. They were dragging me like a dead dog through the water. And Sue was watching this, you know. So does she love me? You know, does she? I don’t know. If she can stand this bedraggled Scotsman being dragged through the water and still say, “Yeah, I think I’m gonna stick with him for another three months,” you know, then there’s something there.

Bob: At what point did you say, “We’re done writing letters, it’s time to solidify this”?

Alistair: Well, I was so foolish and naive about everything that I bet I told her that, you know, when I was eighteen—you know, “If we keep this thing going, you know, I’m gonna marry you, if you’ll let me.” And so, I think in the winter of ’73, the Christmas of ’73, I came to America—

Bob: A year and a half after Explo.

Alistair: Yes. I came to America. And I actually sat down with her dad, and I said, “You know, this thing here, this is killing me. Because I live and die for the letters from your daughter. I mean, I’m not messing around. So, I don’t know how this is gonna work out, but I want you to know, that’s how serious I am. And I want to know that you’re okay with that. And if you’re not okay with that, I want to know that too.” Because it really was—it was just devastating for me. And so, I think then, and I said to Sue, you know, “Maybe we can make this happen.”

So, I think that was in the winter of ’73. She then came in the summer of ’74. Of course, my mother had died in the November of ’72, and we roamed around Scotland with my dad. Bless his heart, you know, he took us around. It must have been so hard for him.

Bob: This is none of my business. Your first kiss?

Alistair: Sue.

Bob: Where, when, how?

Alistair: In the back of a friend’s car. I said, “Don’t look through your rearview mirror here, James.”

Bob: How long had you been writing letters at the point you kissed her for the first time?

Alistair: I kissed her on that Sunday night.

Bob: When you met her?

Alistair: Yes. I kissed her in the back of the car before she got out. She didn’t know what had happened to her!

Bob: That first… She’s thirteen? You’ve just had dinner with her, and you said—

Alistair: No, no. No, we went to church! It was very spiritual. She did not go to church in the evening, because she wasn’t old enough for the youth group! But like you say, it’s none of your stinkin’ business.

Bob: You’re a rather roguish young man, to—

Alistair: Tenacious Scot! Listen, there was something about the whole thing that was almost cosmic, you know.

Bob: Yeah.

Alistair: Yeah, it was. But it wasn’t right. I mean, if I’d got some guy doing that with my daughters, you know… Like, my one granddaughter is ten, but I always say to girls now—and I meet girls at church and everything; they come, and their parents introduce me: “This is so-and-so.” I say, “How old are you?” And she’ll say, “I’m thirteen.” I say, “Watch out for Scottish boys.” They don’t know what that means, but I say, “Watch out for Scottish boys.”

Bob: How did you propose?

Alistair: Oh, I just said, “We’re running out of postage. Will you marry me?”

Bob: Nothing fancy?

Alistair: Nothing fancy. No. We went out to dinner. I think I bought a ring in, like, a department store. I mean, none of this should be—you know, I mean, there’s no reason, there’s no earthly reason why Sue would buy out for this. And her sisters, you know, they felt sorry for her: “Oh, look what’s happened to Sue. I mean, look: she married a guy who’s gonna be a pastor.”

Bob: Yeah, let me ask you…

Alistair: “We’re gonna have to send care packages to this girl. I mean, this is a terrible thing! What are we gonna do?”

Bob: She could have had no idea what she was signing on to as a pastor’s wife.

Alistair: Oh no, she couldn’t—especially not in Scotland in the ’70s.

Bob: Yeah.

Alistair: No, it was devastating for her. And looking back on it now, I mean, I could weep thinking of what it meant for her. I mean, we got on a Russian ship and came across the ocean, and although she had lived in England from the age of thirteen, it wasn’t her home, and Scotland certainly wasn’t her home. And, you know, when we would come out of the Charlotte Chapel where we were in Edinburgh, she would beg me for the car keys: “Please give me the car keys. I want to be in the car.” And the reason was because she’s shy and she can’t… I’ll be here, you know, and I’d be like, “No, you can’t have the car keys.” And looking back on it now, that was really wrong.

Bob: Yeah.

Alistair: Yeah. I should have actually just said, “No, let’s go together.”

Bob: Yeah.

Alistair: But I was… You know, I was…

Bob: I remember having lunch with an elder from our church and saying, “I have wondered if I’m called to pastoral ministry.” And he said, “I could see that.” He said, “Have you ever asked if your wife is called?” And I thought, “That thought never dawned on me.”

Alistair: Yeah.

Bob: And it was kinda like, “Well, of course I should ask that question! And she’s gotta be a part of this.” ’Cause the pressure on a pastor’s wife… You were clearly called.

Alistair: Right.

Bob: She was signing up ’cause she’s in love with you.

Alistair: Right.

Bob: And all of a sudden, it’s like, “Is this my calling too?” Right?

Alistair: Yeah. Yeah. No doubt about it. And, I mean, poor Sue, you know. Because when we went to the church on our own in ’77, you know, the expectations on the pastor’s wife were the expectations on the pastor’s wife. The pastor’s wife is the chairman of the ladies’ thing. She leads the thing. She does the devotional and everything. Sue was—well, she’s twenty when she’s married. So now she’s twenty-two, maybe twenty-three. And all these old—well, what seemed old then—Scottish ladies, they didn’t know what it cost her.

The meetings would be on Tuesday afternoons, I think, and she would be a wreck, you know, all the way up until twenty minutes before the meeting. She was actually very, very good at what she did. She didn’t believe it, she didn’t want it, and it was no—you know, she wasn’t about to sing solos or play the piano for them. But she was fine. Because God brings good friends into that environment. And there were a couple of ladies there who became more than big sisters to her. And that was her salvation.

Bob: Did she ever have a season early in the marriage where she thought, “What have I done?”

Alistair: Oh, probably. No, you know, we were actually—we were united in the thing, you know. We look back on it now, you know. Here we are in one of the most-visited cities of Western Europe, and we never did anything. You know, we had no money, and I wanted to please Derek Prime so much that, you know, if he said, “Go visit ten people,” I would visit twenty people. And we didn’t suffer from it, but she was gone from her mom, her dad, her siblings—everything that really represented security in her life—and she was hanging it all on companionship with me. But she knew that that was going to happen. Only, our wedding was set for the sixteenth of August. The encounter with Balchen took place in maybe April.

Bob: So this was just months before the wedding?

Alistair: Yeah. And so she didn’t… Her father didn’t know if I was employable. He didn’t know if I could support his daughter. And I didn’t know either! I mean, in the providence of God…

I mean, Kirby told me, Gilbert told me, “There is not a man in the entire United Kingdom to whom I could send you who will be of greater benefit and help to you than the man you’re going to.” He said, “You don’t know that, because you don’t know him. But you will know that.” Now, how did I get that opportunity? How did I get that opportunity? That is, you know, “This is the Lord’s doing. It’s marvelous in our eyes.”[4]

And the church, you know, welcomed us and “the American lady.” They liked “the American lady.” And that’s what they would call her: “Aye, we’ve got an American lady as our pastor’s wife. She’s American.” So, she lived as that. She lived as “the American lady.” We come back here, it was easy for her, because she’s—yeah! They’re all American ladies. Now we’ve got “the Scottish man.”

Bob: The financial change… ’Cause she had grown up in a—

Alistair: Yeah, pretty nice setup, yeah.

Bob: And now she’s living off the associate pastor’s wages in Edinburgh.

Alistair: She’s good. She’s very, very good. She used to make things. She used to make things. You know, the ’70s are the era of, oh, strange stuff, you know. But she can sew. She can do stuff. So she would make these things, and then we would drive around and sell them in stores. And she would go in, and she’d come out and say, “I sold ten of them.” I’d go, “That’s really good! That’s really good!”

She’s not a lazy person. She decided she was gonna work as a helper in basically a senior citizen’s home. And she would get up in the morning; she’d go away and feed porridge to old men who couldn’t find their teeth and stuff like that. No, she would make a go of it. She’s got far more of a spirit of adventure than myself. And, you know, she would never be stuck. I mean, I would be stuck. She wouldn’t be stuck.

Bob: Did you think, or did she think, you would live in Scotland your whole lives?

Alistair: It never, ever occurred to us to think of anything other, because by the time we were two years into it, Sue had a miscarriage in Edinburgh. Then our son was born. And so all the formative elements of her life in sort of grown-up and married life were all now formed in the Scottish framework. She was very contented, she was very happy. My sisters loved her from the age of thirteen. I mean, they met her when she was, I think, fourteen. And to this day they’re the best of friends.

So, everything was good. It wasn’t quid pro quo, you know: “Maybe if I do x years here, you’ll come and do x years there.” No. But when the invitation came from America, then, as I say, it was a relatively easy thing for her to come back into an environment that was not strange to her.

Bob: And did that invitation… Was part of your calculation that she had sacrificed to be with you, and so now, to come to America—

Alistair: No. Not in any sense, no. She never asked that question. She never posed that. No. The real question was “What do I do with this invitation?”—which I first declined and which came again a year later.

And, you know, I came here as a very reluctant prophet. I had been in America enough by this time. I mean, I came in ’72. Now we’re talking eleven years later. So I had been north, south, east, and west in America. I’d been in Vermont. I’d been in New England. I’d been down in the Southern states. And I knew that if you want to go somewhere in America, you’re not gonna go to Cleveland, Ohio—not if you’re sort of choosing. So it didn’t hold any appeal in that way. The challenges that were represented in it were fairly daunting.

I came out of a genuine sense of oughtness. That’s the honest truth. I mean, I came willingly, but I came fearfully. And the fact that, you know, thirty-seven years later we’re talking about it is an indication of the forbearance of the congregation, of the tolerance of the lay leadership, who, I surely must have driven them nuts in the—I still probably drive them nuts—but I must have really done a number on them in the early days. And again, that’s an indication of the grace of God, you know, softening those things and creating affection even in the rough-edged elements of interpersonal relationships.

Bob: When I think about motivations for marriage, some people say, “I want to get married because it’s better to marry than burn.” Some people say, “I want to get married because companionship, a cord of three strands…” Some people get married because they read, “Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together!”[5] Which was your motivation when you got married? If you could calibrate… I mean, all of that’s in there.

But I guess I’m thinking back to my own marriage. I got married because I liked being around this person who loved me. I liked being loved. I didn’t have noble views of marriage: “We will get married, and we’ll serve the Lord together.” I was just thinking, “This just feels good to be with this person.” I’ve grown from there, but that’s where I started.

Alistair: Yeah. Yeah, I would be where you are on that one. I mean, I got married to Susan because I couldn’t imagine living my life without her. I wanted her to be my friend. I wanted her to be my friend in life. It’s Abigail Adams, you know. I wanted to become her dearest friend in all of its dimensions, in terms of physical relationship with one another and everything. Yeah. Yeah. I wanted to become one with her. I didn’t want to write letters to her anymore. I couldn’t handle it any longer. I wanted… No, I wanted to be married.

Bob: So, if you’re sitting down with a sixteen-year-old young man today…

Alistair: Well, this is a different day. That’s the first thing. No, this is a different day. I mean, the level of—the crushing level, I mean… Yeah. Anyway, finish your question. Sorry I interrupted you.

Bob: No, you’re on the same track I’m on.

Alistair: I’m anticipating it, yeah.

Bob: It’s a different day. What counsel do you give young men and young women about thinking rightly about marriage in this day?

Alistair: Well, one of the things I say—and, you know, they say, “Well, you say this, but what about…” The safety valve for me in this whole thing—like, “You kiss this girl in the car before she leaves.” But I was three hundred miles away. That would have been a real problem if I lived three doors up from her or something. I mean, it was just so bizarre. It shouldn’t have happened, it should have happened, who knows?

Bob: You’re writing letters as opposed to hanging out.

Alistair: Writing letters! No, there’s no… Yeah, we don’t hang out. There’s no way to develop that except these crazy letters.

What I would say to somebody… One of the things I say to them is always “Never assume that a friendship has to be more than a friendship when it begins”—especially in our sexualized environment, where the phenomenal, ridiculous pressure and notions that are attached to all of this, the terms of engagement… Christian young people are gonna have to be prepared to set boundaries for themselves that are regarded as absolutely ridiculous by their surrounding culture. It’s one of the ways in which the teenager can actually prove that we are a peculiar people. And so, you know, I want to encourage them and help them in that regard.

And also because, as I think we probably can acknowledge, many of the marital difficulties that we deal with in pastoral ministry, I find myself, when they walk out the door, saying, “I don’t think they’ve ever been friends. I don’t think they’ve ever been friends. I don’t think it was that their friendship dissipated. I don’t think they started as friends.” And especially if you add a physical dimension to the relationship on the front end, that may actually become a driver for things.

So that’s one of the things. Enjoy developing friendships without putting the added pressure on the thing in male-female relationships. Look to role models that can help you with this. Be honest with whoever it is in your sphere of influence, whether it’s your youth pastor or whatever else it is. Realize that he knows exactly what’s going through your head. He understands exactly the concerns and the passions and stuff. I don’t know much beyond that, just as I think about it just now.

Bob: On our wedding invitation we had 1 John 4:19: “We love because he first loved us.” Has there been a verse that’s marked your marriage? Anything that the two of you have come back to you as kind of formative to what your relationship, how God has brought the two of you together? And if not—

Alistair: Well, “And the two shall become one.”[6] Our wedding rings—engraved into hers was “And the two,” and engraved into mine was “shall become one.” So, I guess the whole notion of “We two are one.” Although I thought about one this morning, when I was reading Genesis 12, where the king says to Abram, “Take your wife and go.”[7] I thought, “We’ve gotta be able to work that in there somewhere.”

Bob: In the middle of a pandemic, especially.

Alistair: Yeah, yeah. Or, as we say, “And now, as I present to you the bride and groom for the first time, I have a word for you: George, take your wife and go.” Yeah.


[1] Kris Kristofferson, “The Pilgrim, Chapter 33” (1971).

[2] 2 Timothy 2:22 (paraphrased).

[3] Gene Pitney, “Hello Mary Lou” (1960).

[4] Psalm 118:23 (paraphrased).

[5] Psalm 34:3 (ESV).

[6] Genesis 2:24 (paraphrased). See also Matthew 19:5; Mark 10:8; Ephesians 5:31.

[7] Genesis 12:19 (paraphrased).

Copyright © 2022, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.