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Michael Green

Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever. (Daniel 12:3, NIV)

This week we heard of the death of Michael Green – theologian, preacher and evangelist.  It was this time last year that he was here in Cambridge, as the evening speaker on our Christian Union events week.  At the tender age of 87, he must surely have been the oldest such speaker ever!

He was a man of extraordinary gifts, mightily used by the Lord.  Born to a clergy home in 1930, he came to know Christ for himself at a schoolboys’ camp.  He went on to Oxford where he took firsts in Greats (classics) and then again in theology at Cambridge.  After a spell as a curate in Eastbourne, he became a theological college lecturer and then principal.  He was a serious theologian (picking up two honorary doctorates along the way). But he was also a preacher and evangelist, and became Rector of St Aldate’s Church Oxford before becoming Professor of Evangelism at Regent College, Vancouver.  For the last quarter-century he was back in the UK, using his “retirement” to teach at Wycliffe Hall in Oxford, writing and doing evangelistic talks all over the place.

In reading some of Michael’s writings, I have found myself thinking a bit differently from him in places.  But I still find myself in awe of such an outstanding servant of Christ, and learning great lessons from him.  Here are a few.

First, he used his gifts in the defence and proclamation of the gospel.  Our Lord Jesus told us that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength (Mark 12:30).  God had given Michael an outstanding academic mind, and he used it fully in the Lord’s service.  For example I recall, as a graduate student, reading his book The Truth of God Incarnate – a vital response to another book by some sceptical theologians of the day called The Myth of God incarnate.  Michael wrote as a theologian with a thorough and credible grip of the academic issues.  How wonderful it is when people use the minds God has given them to love Him this way!

Secondly, he had such a heart for outreach.  He knew Christ and just longed for others to know Him, too.  Stories abound of his never-ending use of daily opportunities to speak for Jesus.  In his early 80s he was hospitalised for a few weeks, but would get out of his bed and go and talk to the other patients and the staff about Jesus.  Some weeks after he was discharged, over 60 people gathered at the hospital to testify to how their faith had started or been encouraged through Michael’s talking to them in that time!   May the Lord help us learn from him to make more use (with such friendly boldness!) of the opportunities He provides!  A word here, a leaflet there.

Thirdly, and relatedly, he was enormously warm and friendly.  Rachel and I had Michael as our guest at the vicarage last year.  His warmth and joy were infectious.  He presented us with two trout which he’d caught in some Oxfordshire stream!  We enjoyed some great chat in the kitchen, and one thing we couldn’t help being struck by was his deep love for and interest in people – not just in general, but as individuals –  which was, of course, also a mark of his Lord and Saviour and his usefulness as an evangelist.  Here is a vital quality in a Christian minister.

Fourth, he persevered in Christ.  He was a kind of Caleb – soldiering on in service right up into his ninth decade.  A friend of mine, on hearing that Michael was coming to Cambridge for the events week, said, “That’s not the Michael Green, is it?  Is he still going?”  I rather enjoyed telling a younger generation how he was one of the leaders we all learnt lots from when we were students!  It’s true that God gave him a level of energy which some fine saints of his age could never muster.  But he is a great inspiration to us to carry on in his Master’s service as He enables, as long as He gives us earthly life.

Daniel’s words, quoted above, seem especially fitting as we thank God for Michael’s extraordinary life and impact.
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