This is the part of a series of interviews with Christian bloggers. In the hot seat today is...
GD: Hello Byron and welcome. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
BS: God made me about 28 years ago and gave me new life in Christ (at least as I experienced it) about 16 years ago. Jessica married me about six and a half years ago. Tim gave me a job as a ministry assistant at All Souls Anglican Church, Leichhardt (Sydney, Australia) about a month ago. You granted me an interview about six hours ago.
GD: Yes, people often regard an Exiled Preacher interview as one of life's little milestones, like being born and stuff. Now, why blog?
BS: Because there's not enough material on the internet. Someone's got to fill in the blanks.
GD: I loose sleep over those blanks. They must be filled. Your blog is called "Nothing New Under the Sun", please explain.
BS: The title is obviously taken from a refrain in the book of Ecclesiastes, which is an extended reflection upon the futility of life in the face of death. This is an important biblical perspective that Christians can be too quick to dismiss from our experience: the world groans under the futility of its bondage to decay (Romans 8.19-23). However, "Nothing New Under the Sun..." is only the first half of my blog title; the rest is found down the bottom of the page: "...of course, under the Son, everything will be made new". Futility is not denied, but it has a used-by date in the light of God's promised future, anticipated in Jesus' resurrection and the coming of the Spirit. God is the one who does a new thing, and that is our hope. It is this eschatological perspective that I hope to bring to various topics on my blog.
GD: What have you found most enjoyable about blogging?
BS: The delightful people I've met.
GD: Kind of you to say so. What would you say are some of the dangers of blogging?
BS: The terrible people I've met.
BS: More seriously, the general danger of the internet: the ability to be anonymous and so avoid responsibility for your actions.
GD: You list "escapist eschatologies" as one of your pet hates. What's that supposed to mean?
BS: Those ways of thinking about the future which purport to be Christian, but which end up being an excuse to write off creation, the body and/or our present life as irrelevant. This might be because of a view that God will destroy the world in the end and so it doesn't matter if we trash it in the meantime, or based on a Platonic dualism in which the soul is waiting to escape the prison of the body at death, or through thinking that the goal of the Christian life is getting to heaven and so nothing here and now matters but for that.
GD: Is that why you did your series "Heaven is not the end of the world?"
BS: Yes. It is something of a hobby horse and I thought I'd start putting some thoughts down. It took sixteen posts before I stopped, which was a little longer than the four or five I'd first conceived...
GD: This subject is close to my heart too and I enjoyed your series very much. But when Christians die, they do go to be with the Lord don't they?
BS: I hope so (and believe this is what the Bible teaches), but I don't think this is the focus of Christian hope. I think we have taken a minor New Testament idea and turned it into the main game. Instead of going to heaven, our hope is for God to make all things new, things in heaven and on earth, for Christ to return to his creation in his human resurrection body and to raise us to live here in transformed bodies, powered by God's Spirit.
GD: The doctrinal significance of the resurrection of Christ is often neglected in evangelical systematic theology. Do you think that this is partly to blame for "escapist eschatologies"?
BS: Yes, though the blame doesn't fall simply on a theological oversight; there are broader social and intellectual movements at play. In particular, individualism means that we think only of our own destiny, neglecting that of humanity and creation as a whole; consumerism makes us think of faith as providing for our needs, rather than realising that we are being called into God's story; and a lingering dualism makes us think that what happens to our mind/soul is more important than what happens to our body.
GD: What was the most important lesson that you learned at Moore College?
BS: Don't be late for lunch.
GD: At the end of last year you informed your readers that you have been diagnosed with throat cancer. How is your treatment progressing?
BS: First, a clarification: although the cancer has affected my voice, it is located in my chest, having begun in either my oesophagus or trachea. I finished my final radiotherapy today and had my last chemotherapy on Wednesday. For a fuller update, see here.
GD: What effect has having cancer had on your Christian life?
BS: It has turned up the volume. My groaning for new creation is louder and more fervent. My trust in God is more urgent. My thanksgiving is more regular.
GD: Personally, I don't think that I really appreciated the glory of the resurrection hope until I was seriously ill some years ago. Have you been able to continue with your preaching ministry?
BS: Preaching has only been a small part of my ministry for the last few years and it continues (with a good microphone and less vocal expression) as such. Evangelism and discipleship in small groups have been more my focus and while I have had less energy and concentration recently, having cancer certainly brings lots of opportunities to talk about what really matters!
GD: How have other Christian bloggers responded to the news of your cancer diagnosis and treatment?
BS: I have been overwhelmed by the support and prayer from so many total strangers (or rather, brothers and sisters I haven't yet met outside comment threads and emails). One particularly touching gesture was that Ben Myers (of Faith and Theology) set up an account to which many contributed so that I could purchase books from my Amazon Wish List.
GD: How has your theology helped you during your period of ill health?
BS: By reminding me that it's God, not theology, who is my help. Of course, the two are not so easily opposed, but it is important to keep this priority.
GD: Yes, "Our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth." (Psalm 124:8). I'm sure that many people will have been encouraged by the way in which you have responded to your cancer diagnosis and treatment with such faith and hope. Please be assured of our prayers for you and Jessica at this time. Name the most helpful work of theology that you have read in the last twelve months. It is a must read because....
BS: City of God by Augustine. It is a must read because for sixteen hundred years it has fed and stimulated the greatest minds of the church.
GD: I haven't read enough Augustine. But I'm enjoying his Confessions at the moment. Name your top three songs/pieces of music.
BS: U2: Wake Up Dead Man, Mozart: Requiem (esp Lacrimosa), Tom Waits: Jockey Full of Bourbon
GD: What makes you laugh?
BS: My own failures. And cry.
GD: Lastly, which blogs do you enjoy reading most and why?
BS: Faith and Theology - Ben sets the benchmark for theological blogging. His was the first blog I regularly read and remains an outstanding source of discussion, reviews, links and scholarship. His generosity and gentleness both on and off the blog are an encouragement and an inspiration. The Blogging Parson - Michael is in Oxford writing a PhD on martyrdom and Christian identity. He has been a colleague, lecturer, reading partner and remains a friend. We agree on so much, which makes our disagreements much more interesting. Chrisendom by Chris Tilling - no other blog makes me laugh as regularly or as hard. With some excellent NT scholarship thrown in.
GD: Ben's blog is always theologically stimulating. Even when I have disagreed with him, he has been courteous and friendly. Michael was sitting in the hot seat yesterday. That Chris Tilling is a very naughty boy and I sometimes have to tell him off. Anyway, thanks very much for stopping by for this conversation. It's been great to have you here at Exiled Preacher.
Blogging in the name of the Lord will be back soon...