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A whirlwind interview with Rico Tice: on Chappo, the church and the gospel we preach

Rico Tice was until recently the Senior Minister for Evangelism at All Souls Langham Place in London where he served for nearly thirty years. From September 2023 he transitioned to working full time for the organisation that he founded, Christianity Explored Ministries. He lives with his wife Lucy and their two teenage children in London.

Micky Mantle has since September 2021 served as the Rector of St Thomas’, North Sydney. Prior to that he was on the staff at St Helen’s Bishopsgate in London.

Micky Mantle: Rico, it is great to speak with you. Really appreciate your time. How did it all begin for you? How were you converted?

Rico Tice: On the sixth of August 1982, my godfather was killed in a cliff fall. He was my uncle as well. I remember the phone call coming in. And I remember so vividly no one in the family having an answer to his death. In the new Hope Explored course18 we have this thing of ‘How do you see life? Does it go up? Does it go down? Does it go in circles? Is it just chaos?’ My family, I think, thought life went up, it got better and better. And suddenly someone’s dead. And there was just no answer. And I hadn’t been told an answer at school either. But a Maths teacher at school said to me, ‘Look, when Christ rose from the dead, He rose to get you through death’.

Sometimes conversion is waking up. And it was such a clear sense of waking up to my mortality. You know the Ecclesiastes verse, ‘God has put eternity in the hearts of men’ [Eccl 3:11], that was woken up. And then a little verse was shown to me: ‘As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field, the wind blows, his place is no more’—we can flourish, but then we’re gone—‘but from everlasting to everlasting, the Lord’s love is with those who fear him’ [Psa 103:15-17]. But if you link up with God, you will live forever. So it’s madness not to link up with God. So my eyes were opened to eternity, that the god of this age no longer blinded me to this age with that death.

And then I kept a diary too, because I thought I was such a great guy that I needed to record my life! And, again, it was waking up to my own sin, as I reflected each day on it.

You know, Rousseau was: ‘the problem is people outside forcing me to misbehave’. So it’s: children are born good and then they’re evil. But I found as I reflected, I was with Augustine: my heart was just evil. I thought, why am I doing that? And the cross was the answer to that diary.

So those two things: the death of my godfather and keeping a diary. And then, fortunately, a Maths teacher, Christopher Ash. He ran a little Christian meeting, and my brother and I both came to faith.

Micky: Praise God for waking you up and using Christopher and that little meeting! It was through the ministry of the Scripture Union Camps that supported those meetings in your school that you were discipled and later encouraged into Christian ministry as an evangelist specifically. Another huge influence on you was our own John Chapman. Can you tell us a bit about him and what stood out for you as he helped you develop as an evangelist?

Rico: Yeah, Chappo’s humanity. He was such a laugh. Chappo was so wonderfully himself.

Also, when he spoke to people, the tone was always one of such love. I suddenly saw someone I could—you know, he just was always for you, Chappo. And he believed in the Holy Spirit, and he taught the truth. And you just felt that tremendous sense of his personal warmth, and the humour.

And the ability to rebuke. So of course, one day driving back from Newcastle [UK]—I’d gone up to a church with him to hear him preach—and he said to me, ‘You don’t believe in the church, do you?’ And I said, ‘Well, I do’. He said, ‘No, you don’t’; he said, ‘You do all this one-to-one work’. And there’s a very strong personal work tradition in the Scripture Union Camps here. He said, ‘The church looks after people’. Do you know, he said that and then in the car next to him, I started to weep. I didn’t show him that. But I did. Because suddenly, the pressure of all these people I was trying to look after on my own as the personal chaplain. But no, it’s the church which looks after people.

So love the church, feed people into the church; that’s were they’re to be. And then you say to everyone in the church that Jesus says, ‘If you love me, feed my sheep’ [John 21]. We’ve all got to be about caring for the sheep. So that was an amazing moment on church. As an evangelist, and for lots of evangelists, the key question is not, ‘Do you love the gospel?’ Or ‘Do you love evangelism?’ So often they do. But do you love your local church? And Chappo, he so much loved his local church.

Micky: So a commitment and love for the local church was a key lesson. What other things stand out to you as you look back?

Rico: The trust that you just get the Bible open and teach it. I remember the Oxford mission in 1993. Chappo was doing Luke’s Gospel and he just simply taught passages about Jesus.

And I’ve always tried to do that. I mean, you know, Chappo did it with dazzling humour. But he just taught the passage. And the clarity! So the power’s in the Word. Now a great question in evangelism is where do you think the power is? It’s in God’s word. So he taught the Word.

Secondly, God is sovereign. So you know, God has put you next to your neighbour. I remember once going up to the Blue Mountains with him and something was shut and he said, ‘Oh Rico, that’s guidance. God’s sovereign, He’s just decided what we’d do’.

Thirdly, identity in the grace of God. Whether someone accepts or rejects you doesn’t make you more valuable. What makes you valuable is that Christ died for you! (I can just hear Chappo’s voice.) So your identity’s in the grace of God. You’re teaching people, and if they’re rejecting you, then you’re secure in the gospel, but their problem is with God, as Romans 1:1 says, ‘the gospel of God’. You’re just the piano; God is the player. You’ve got to let them take that to God, but you be faithful.

So many of those key theological truths came from him.

Micky: You’re perhaps best known around the world for the Christianity Explored course. Tell us about the background and influences in that.

Rico: We owe a huge debt to Michael Bennett for Christianity Explained. And Michael Bennett had got a lot of the Christianity Explained material off Chappo, who’d got it off Dick Lucas, and that was Mark’s Gospel. So there was a real heritage of Dick Lucas at St Helen’s Bishopsgate, and Chappo comes over and does the missions. Does loads of stuff with Dick. Chappo said the most important thing he ever did in his ministry was pick this mad Englishman up from the airport. They became friends, and Chappo did so much ministry, but Dick gave Chappo Mark’s Gospel, and Chappo passed a lot of that on to Michael Bennett. I was running that then. So there was a real legacy of: we use Mark’s Gospel in evangelism, via St Helen’s and ‘Read Mark Learn’, who helped me write it.

Micky: Now the course came about in the 90s when the Alpha course was already well known and being widely used in the UK and beyond. Why did you feel the need to create something else when Alpha was already going?

Now, the Alpha course has been amazing because it put people into groups. Nicky Gumbel would say, ‘Let’s do evangelism, not just one-to-one, but let’s go and tell people but then come and hear back at church in a group. And then you hear other people’s journeys’. We’ve certainly picked that up with Christianity Explored. You know, ‘Here’s Mark’s Gospel, ask any question you want, let’s do a journey together’. And I’m very thankful to God for Alpha and for that model of evangelism.

But for example, ‘How can I be sure of my faith?’ is week three of Alpha. That means they’re asking you to make a profession of faith in week three. I think it’s madness! So, with Christianity Explored, the reason we developed it even back in the 90s, we said they need far longer to look at their sin. Alpha talks about ‘separation from God’ in week four, which I don’t think is enough. They use the word ‘sin’, they talk about the cross, but they don’t talk about wrath and hell, which is what we do from Mark chapter 9 in Christianity Explored. Christianity Explored does sin, judgement, wrath and hell, in order that the wonder of grace be in place.

Then, the ultimate place where people are encountering God with Alpha is the experience of the Spirit on the weekend away. In Christianity Explored, with reformed conservative theology, we’re encountering God as an experience of grace, having been shown how sinful we are. Now you’ve got to decide which one you want to have: do you want to go via experience? Now of course, experience is great, but I can’t legislate the work of the Spirit on the weekend away. I’m not saying it’s not authentic what happens. But I’m saying: what happens to people’s assurance, then? If I’ve come via a Holy Spirit experience on the weekend away—and again, I’m not saying it’s not authentic—what am I expecting as I go on?

With Christianity Explored, you’re going through Mark’s Gospel, you’re seeing your sin, you’re being told there’s a judgement to come. So the resurrection is not just a great hope, it’s a great warning. And then you’re being told the grace of God is amazing. So you’re more wicked than you ever imagined, but more loved than you ever dreamed. You have to decide: go through a Gospel with sin, judgement, wrath, hell, or, again, a helicopter ride round the Christian faith with Alpha? The emphasis is on an experience and an encounter. I think you encounter God through sin, grace, joy, but it’s a different methodology.

Uncle John [Stott] was very nervous of experience being something that leads to liberalism. So he was very worried about Alpha opening the door to that. So often, the spearhead of liberalism into the church is evangelism because you’re trying to cut the ice, be ‘all things to all men’, so how do we grab them? But again, the focus on experience in Alpha made him [John Stott] very nervous because people’s assurance is then in their feelings. And if I’ve had an experience of God and you’ve had an experience of God, of course we can come together.

And of course you can have the most liberal person that will say to you, ‘Well I’ve had this experience of Jesus’ and they are in a very promiscuous relationship, heterosexual or homosexual, but they’re saying, ‘I’m loving this experience of Jesus’. It is what is happening in the Church of England now with the clergy. Because if the clergy are meeting over a claim of personal experience, then the lordship of Jesus can be put on one side.

Micky: You are in the thick of the battle with liberalism in the UK and have recently, in fact, left the Church of England in order to dissociate Christianity Explored from an apostate denomination. Our situation in Sydney as Anglicans is by God’s grace so different. And yet it is all too easy to take that all for granted. What would you say to us about that?

Rico: Well, fight for it. Now, one of the things Chappo told me was you have to fight for things politically. That doesn’t mean that Chappo was underhanded, it meant within the processes that were there to elect officials, you have to have a voice, you have to give time to it. Chappo taught me that the most important passage on evangelism was 2 Corinthians 4:1–6. And therefore we’re always working out what does it mean to distort the Word of God?

And to be careful about that. I think the two issues we’ve got to hold in place are wrath and repentance. So God’s sovereign control, his personal hostility to evil, preaching sin and judgement, crossing the pain line on doing wrath and hell. And repentance. Chappo taught me that I’m for what Jesus is for, and I’m against what he’s against. So as I preach repentance, I hold my nerve, because God will regenerate people. 2 Corinthians 4:1-6. He will send His Holy Spirit to change their hearts, as I hold my nerve and say ‘Jesus is Lord’.

Wrath and repentance are the two words by which our ministry will stand or fall.

Micky: Rico I really appreciate your time. It has been a challenge and encouragement to hear from you. Thank you so much!