Lessons from a Godly life: an appreciation of Richard Bewes

Richard Bewes

Richard Bewes, who has died aged 84, was far more than an influential Anglican evangelical church leader, speaker, writer and composer.

Most of all, so far as I can see, he was a godly man – a person who reflected the character of Christ in all that he said and did. I think it was Professor J.I. Packer who once said something along the lines of, "The holiest people always have a twinkle in their eye."

Of course, we all realise there is much more to holiness than that – but we also understand what he meant: there's no point having all the right doctrine if it isn't reflected in your character.

Many people, including me, will have seen Richard Bewes most often in his wonderful 'Book by Book' DVD Bible Study series. He had an endearingly informal presentational style: sometimes, at the start of the video presentation, you feel (as the viewer) that you have stumbled into the living room of your favourite uncle who is in turn rather startled to see you, but quickly welcomes you in. Indeed I think he actually begins one DVD by looking up as if caught slightly unawares by the camera and saying genially, "Ah! There you are!" It is all very sweet.

But, of course, he was a man of real substance: he was Rector of All Soul's Langham Place, with its 2,500-strong congregation of 70 nationalities. He was chairman of the Church of England Evangelical Council in the 1990s and also chaired the evangelistic UK work of African Enterprise. He was on the board of the British Board of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and organised the three-week long Greater London Mission of 1989.

In addition to all that, he wrote more than 20 books and set up a website called The Sermon which now has more than 250 of his messages. He also wrote a number of articles, including 'Will revival come?', 'Is there a case for leaving a corrupt church?' and 'How to wreck a church'.

So what lessons can we take from the life of this wonderfully endearing, talented and prolifically productive man? Here are a few encouragements I take myself:

1. Steely graciousness.

Richard Bewes was a convinced evangelical in his understanding of the Gospel; indeed, I guess he might well say that to understand Jesus and the Gospel truly would inevitably make someone a clear evangelical. But he was in no way angular, rude or abrasive so far as I am aware. I find it hard to conceive of him indulging in some of the sideswipes, negativity or polemics that these days pass for some forms of evangelicalism on Facebook or Twitter.

But at the same time his graciousness never struck me as soft. There was steel in his doctrine, steel in his determination to get the message out, steel as well as warmth coming from those twinkling eyes. It wasn't grace or truth – it was both together, full on.

2. Powerful preaching.

Paul Blackham, a colleague of Richard Bewes for many years, sums it up like this: "Richard was most of all a mighty preacher. Others gave good lectures on the Bible, full of accurate information and solid content, but Richard's sermons were always so much more than that. He worked so hard at getting the Bible right and would never be satisfied until that truth was shown off in bright, warm and living colours... Many of us were drawn into Church life because Richard spoke with integrity, compassion and warmth."

3. An international perspective.

Having been born in Kenya, he grew up under the influence of the East African Revival of the 1940s. It clearly left him with a lasting passion for Africa and a vision for what God could do anywhere, any time. Later, reflecting on these early experiences, he would write: "Marked features of the Revival were, first, that it stayed within the established churches; second, that those caught up in it were unashamed and bold in their witness; third, that it was anchored in the central truths of the Gospel – and fourth, that it had an ethical dimension. Sin mattered, repentance was vital, holiness was imperative, and Christians should walk in the light with one another, with honesty."

And this leads to the final point I take from the ministry of Richard Bewes:

4. A passion for revival.

He also wrote: "Millions get touched when the Spirit of God is moving in power. Could it happen in the materialistic West? Will Revival come?... Don't say, 'It can't happen today!' He then goes on to add – and if you have ever heard his voice, you can almost hear him saying it: 'The important question is – Are you and I revived? There is a prayer that many before us have prayed; let us make it our own! O God, send a REVIVAL - and begin it in me."

And that, it seems to me, is perhaps one thing Richard Bewes might want us to pray today.

David Baker is a former daily newspaper journalist now working as an Anglican minister in Sussex, England. Find him on Twitter @Baker_David_A