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Doctor who? (Idea)

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  • Publication: Idea
  • Date: July 2005
  • Author: John S Smith
  • Page: 12
  • Language: English


turning the church inside out to turn the world upside down

UK Director John S Smith raises a few cosmic questions and finds the ultimate answer...

It was in the useful resource Tools for Talks, produced by member organisation Damaris (see p23), that I discovered a piece of information that has eluded me for over 40 years: the Time Lord played by William Hartnell, Christopher Eccleston and a veritable cast of all-stars in between, is not actually called Dr Who. The character's name is 'the Doctor. And the question, 'Doctor who?', is the title of the programme.

Like the Lone Ranger before him, the Doctor is one who raises questions: 'Who was that man?'

How did I miss this obvious fact? The Doctor is a person who provokes questions.

According to Peter, Christians scattered throughout a hostile or at best indifferent society should raise questions. One of the best-known New Testament verses, 1 Peter 3.15, assumes that Christians will be asked questions: 'Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have:

When did someone last ask you the question: 'Why are you as you are?'

The Doctor is asked that question all the time. Why? Because he is different, because he is an alien. He may not look like one - there are plenty of stereotypical aliens on the show, from reptilian forms to formless ghosts - but the Doctor does not belong here. This world is not his home.

More pertinently, his human assistant, Rose Tyler, is an alien whenever she travels with the Doctor to another time period or to another planet.

Pre- and post-Christendom

Peter describes Christians who are scattered throughout the hostile environment of the Roman Empire, as 'strangers in the world' (1 Peter 1.1), and even as 'aliens' (1 Peter 2.11). He was writing to Christians scattered throughout society before it became respectable to be a Christian - and long before Christendom, the period of 1,700 years or so in which for the Western world a Biblical worldview was the default position.

Many observers believe that we are now living post-Christendom, notwithstanding this past April, when all eyes were focused on the death and succession of a pope. In other words, Peter's epistles speak to a situation very much like our own.

We are aliens. There is a sense in which this world is not our home, and this creates a tension.

For example, Peter writes of the new birth, qualifying us for an inheritance that is secure, 'kept in heaven for you: (Paul also speaks of our citizenship being in heaven.) Yet at the same time here we are with our feet on the ground - we don't have liftoff yet - called to be agents for change, part of the process in which Jesus in His death on the cross was reconciling all things to Himself.

We are not here to survive in our ghettos until Christ comes or calls; we are here to make a positive difference in the society in which we find ourselves. Peter describes us as a holy nation - a nation within the nations, reflecting God's character and purposes.

And of course as 21st century Christians we are reacting to our minority status in different ways. Some are calling society back to its Christian roots, fiddling while the last ashes of Christendom smoulder, presenting an angry, judgmental voice to media that's happy to be provided with a negative stereotype. Others are adapting

chameleon-like to every nuance of society so as to fit in, to be accepted, to be left alone or perhaps even welcomed. And some seek a middle way. 1 count Peter among their number.

He does not encourage Christians as aliens to shout in condemnation and judgement at a pagan majority or indeed a pagan authority. On the contrary, he encourages us to, 'Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day He visits us' (1 Peter 2.12).

Good news people

We have to be known more for our good deeds than for our harsh tones. Born-again Christians - that is how Peter defines us in his letter - need to be known as good news people, not prophets of doom.

Indeed a theme that comes through the first three chapters of 1 Peter is that of respect. When people ask us to give a reason for the hope that we have, we are to reply with 'gentleness and respect' (3.15). We are to 'show proper respect to everyone' (2.17), to 'love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honour the king. In those changing verbs - love, fear, honour - we see the different kinds of respect we are to show to fellow believers, to God and to earthly rulers.

We are to work within the law: 'Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every human authority' (2.13). We are to show respect in the workplace (2.18), in the home (3.1-7) and in the church (3.8). Such respect shown at every level of relationship and in every circumstance is an alien concept in 21st century Britain.

it was so alien in the first century Roman Empire that Peter anticipated such counter-cultural behaviour would generate opposition. He noted that people would 'accuse you of doing wrong' (2.12), and that Christians should show respect 'so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander' (2.16).

We should have no illusions. Loyal followers of Jesus Christ must be prepared for unpopularity. We should not seek it or deliberately provoke it, but we should anticipate it. And above all, we should anticipate questions.

The world has changed since the days when we could simply proclaim, 'Jesus is the answer. People now greet that proclamation with, 'What is the question?' Now they're more likely to ask us. 'Why are you as you are?' And we must be ready to answer this question with a 'who': Jesus is the answer.

Changemakers will be equipping Christians not only to live as aliens whose lives provoke questions, but will also be helping them to give the ultimate answer.

Caption: The big question: Rose Tyler and the Doctor (Billie Piper and Christopher Eccleston) try to find some answers.

Disclaimer: These citations are created on-the-fly using primitive parsing techniques. You should double-check all citations. Send feedback to

  • APA 6th ed.: Smith, John S (July 2005). Doctor who? (Idea). Idea p. 12.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Smith, John S. "Doctor who? (Idea)." Idea [add city] July 2005, 12. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Smith, John S. "Doctor who? (Idea)." Idea, edition, sec., July 2005
  • Turabian: Smith, John S. "Doctor who? (Idea)." Idea, July 2005, section, 12 edition.
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