This interview contains examples of a contextualising Welshman in conversation with an Australian. Those involved in cross-cultural mission, take note, you might learn something. (Or not).
GD: G'day mate, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
MJ: OK - I am an Aussie studying here in England, at Oxford, with my wife and four children. The topic of my doctoral thesis is a theological investigation of martyrdom. I am an Anglican by background, but from Sydney, which means that I am a peculiar type of Anglican! I was ordained in 2000 and I have worked as a School Chaplain, a church planter/pastor and I have lectured in theology at Moore College in Sydney.
GD: Why did you enter blog-land?
MJ: When I was coming the UK I wanted to have a way in which my friends back home shared in my work. Partly, I saw blogging as a real way in which I could be accountable to those who were sending me and praying for me, but also as a way in which I could get feedback on my work.
GD: Your blog is called "Blogging Parson". Please explain.
MJ: Oh, yes. In the first years of the colony of Sydney town, the Chaplain was a man named Samuel Marsden, an evangelical. He had to perform duties as a magistrate, and legend has it that he was particularly cruel to the convicts who misbehaved: so he became known as the "flogging parson". This is most certainly an unfair evaluation of the man who subsequently took the gospel to New Zealand where he is revered. The title ain't perfect, but since he is one of my spiritual forebears...
GD: Now I get it. When I first saw your blog, I thought you were the Blogging Parsnip. Then, being observant n'all I realised that it was Parson. Anyway, I like the story behind your blog name. I remember reading about Marsden in Iain Murray's Australian Christian Life From 1788 (Banner of Truth Tust). By the way, you have another blog called "You" too don't you?
MJ: Yes: while I was a school chaplain I realised I was continually addressing a different way of being human. I decided to put some of these things together into book form. Then someone suggested that a blogged book could make for an interesting and engaging format. It is still an experiment, but some of the discussions I think have been excellent.
GD: What have you found most enjoyable about blogging?
MJ: I love to write. I love to try out ideas and have them discussed and exposed. I think as preachers/teachers we are always struggling to find ways to put things and blogging gives you a way to do that. I really love 'meeting' people from all over the world.
GD: What are some of the dangers of blogging?
MJ: It's all the Welshmen...;-) Well, it is addictive and distracting. I get kinda obsessed about how many hits I have scored. Blogging invites polemic and controversy, because you get debate going that way. And so I think I have come across as more polemical than I am at times, more of a curmudgeon than I am. Also, because blog entries are short and instant, they can be a substitute for the real business of thinking hard, which takes enormous effort and sustained concentration. It is easy to be sloppy in your thinking on a blog.
GD: What do you mean "All the Welshmen?" Cheek! You once did a very prescriptive post on blogging. Are you trying to impose some kind of Act of Uniformity on Christian bloggers worldwide?
MJ: Naturally! Of course! What a good idea. It would prevent a lot of blogging guff and mindless typing, that's for sure!
GD: So, you admit it, then! I suppose I'd better ask you this next one: You studied to Moore College, Sydney, did you learn anything useful?
MJ: Sure did. Moore is very strong on OT and NT, and on integrating them with Biblical Theology. These are indispensable roots for a theologian to have. I do feel weaker on philosophy than my counterparts in Ethics and Systematics here at Oxford, but often I think that is a small loss! [Aside to readers: Click here and scroll down to the comments to see the Exiled Preacher and Blogging Parson cross swords over "Moore Theology" - ed].
GD: Name your top Archbishop of Canterbury ever, is it a) Thomas A' Becket or b) William Laud?
MJ: Thomas Cranmer of course! Becket was an interesting fellow, and he features in my thinking about martyrdom, BUT: he was perhaps more politician than holy man. Actually, come to think of it, Cranmer was no mean politician either!
GD: Cramner wasn't in the question, silly. But spookily, the answer was right anyway. Your profile mentions some daggy music that you are into, would that be Neighbours title song, special remix edition?
MJ: Down Under, by Men At Work. Anything by Rolf Harris. Kylie Minogue. Germaine Greer's Greatest Hits. etc. (you know, whenever I say something about 'Australain Culture' here, I get looks which tell me people are thinking of bread mould...) I prefer Home and Away to Neighbours: Neighbours is too Melbourne.
GD: What, no Waltzing Matilda? Don't you like classical music? Moving on, Do you agree that Kim Fabricus is really Ben Myres' blogging alter ego with a funny name, if you had a blog alter ego, what would you call him?
MJ: Benedict the Seventeenth: God's Dachshund.
GD: That sounds barking mad! I'd call mine Jake Coolikus and get him to write hymns with lots of dodgy doctrine and downright doggrell. That way, no one would know that it was me! More seriously, you are doing doctoral research on the subject of martyrdom. Why?
MJ: Well it all came out of a desire to think through what the humanity of Jesus means for our humanity. It evolved from there ... martyrdom is a flash-point for the theological themes at work in that discussion I think. I also think in the west we have lost the sense of what discipleship of Jesus may cost.
GD: Now that sounds like a worthwhile subject to research. I wish you well with your studies. Next question, what would you say is the biggest challenge facing Evangelicalism today?
MJ: Hmmm, only one? I think funnily enough it is to retain and renew our confidence in Scripture and not to prioritise our spiritual experience or pragmatism or even our dearly held traditions (for which the Reformers themselves would castigate us!). This means hard work, hard thinking, as always. I would also add, evangelicals risk becoming a victim of our own success, especially in the US: there is already evidence of a backlash.
GD: Name the most helpful work of theology that you have read in the last twelve months. It is a must read because....
MJ: Can I say Calvin's Institutes? (it is re-read). I just think as a Biblical Protestant you have to start here. He is so sensible most of the time. And rigorous without being tedious or scholastic or speculative. The chapter on prayer is terrific! And he is less 'Calvinist' than you think! More Calvinists should be more like Calvin, I reckon.
GD: You certainly can say the Institutes. I'm reading the chapter on prayer at the moment. It is very moving and helpful. A must read indeed. Lastly, which blogs do you enjoy reading most and why?
MJ: Well, Faith & Theology with Ben is the pinnacle of Theoblogs, partly because of the diversity of people who respond to the discussions. And it is consistently interesting and suggestive of books to read and so on. I always read my mate Byron Smith's Nothing new under the sun - he writes beautifully, and has mastered the art of the blog series. His series on eschatology was outstanding, and a great corrective to some dearly held (but non-biblical!) evangelical nostrums.
GD: I sometimes don't agree with Ben the Barthian, but I can't diss him too much because he once allowed me to do a post on Lloyd-Jones in his For the love of God series (here). Your mate Byron is due to appear in the hot seat soon. Anyway, time to bring this little chat to a close. Fair dinkum, Michael, it was bonza talking to you. Thanks.
The Blogging Parson has left the building....
Coming soon, the Byron Smith interview.