Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Blogging in the name of the Lord: Danny Foulkes

This is the last in a series of interviews with Christian bloggers. In the hot seat today is...

GD: Hello and welcome, Danny. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

DF: Hello Guy! I was born and raised in Liverpool, England, and am an only child. I have been married for the last twenty years, have four children (two of each), and have been in full time pastoral ministry for the last 12 years. Prior to that I spent ten years working in staff management, training, and operating counselling services in Jobcentres in Liverpool, Newcastle Upon Tyne, Manchester, and back again in Liverpool. I first pastored down in Port Talbot in South Wales, at Bethlehem Sandfields for just under six years, and have now been here in South Cheshire at Wheelock Heath Baptist Church for the last six. I am an FIEC Associate, and a convinced Reformed Baptist. I read, listen to music, and support a fine football team.

GD: Your blog is called "Iconoblog". Please explain.

DF: I can’t remember to be honest. I have been saddled with the name for a long time and wish I could easily change it. Unfortunately, people remember it. I would prefer to title it Coram Deo, but someone has that already… I am open to suggestions!

GD: Why did you start blogging?

DF: I sometimes wonder. Originally I began blogging anonymously as an exercise in diary keeping, but that has evolved through several stages over the last couple of years. My blog content has swung between simply being a news vehicle for friends and family to keep in touch, a jotter for theological thinking and practical theological application, some cultural commentary, and in recent times, a Pastor’s Blog attached to our church website. I think it is probably still all of those things.

GD: What have you found most enjoyable about blogging?

DF: The surprising value it has in keeping people in touch with our situation, developing new friendships, and the way that it allows immediate and direct commentary on all sorts of items. When I do write posts that are intended to stimulate and encourage discussion, I have enjoyed the subsequent interaction around God’s word. Some of my postings on Children and Preaching, Harry Potter, and The Passion of the Christ for example have allowed me some very useful conversations.

GD: What are some of the dangers of blogging?

DF: Apart from the obvious potential for self-centeredness, time wasting, posting without adequate thought and then regretting it, unhelpful polemics…? I think one of the dangers I hadn’t anticipated is that you allow people to see you as a person with interests and opinions. Not every reader understands that their pastor is almost as normal as they are – and that can lead to interesting conversations…

GD: Tell us how you became aware of a call to the Ministry of the Word.

DF: I was saved from dead religion when I was just 15. Having been an Anglican choir boy with extreme double standards, I knew lots of religious terminology but had no understanding of the saving work of Christ at the cross. Once I had been born again, I had an almost immediate desire for Christian ministry. At 16 I approached my pastor with that conviction, and he wisely encouraged and counselled me, and in the course of the next 4 years or so, buddied me with several elders who helped define my theological reading and thinking, devotional habits, and channelling of gifts into Christian service. I valued that mentoring process, as it allowed my meaningful contact with men who gave me time, feedback and guidance both in areas of belief and behaviour. In due course, I was encouraged to speak at meetings in my home church, preach at times there, and begin some itinerant preaching opportunity with their recommendation.

GD: Where did you train for the Christian Ministry?

DF: At the age of 23, the elders recommended me to the Evangelical Movement of Wales Theological Training Course. Although learning and studying alongside a full-time job, responsibilities as a church officer in a growing church, and being a young husband and father was difficult, it allowed me to continue to work to support my family while exploring the potential of a call to ministry. I appreciated that, although with hindsight, would have much preferred to study full time. I commenced an MA in Pastoral Theology with ETCW (now WEST) a few years ago that I am now, God willing, about to finally and properly get my teeth into.

GD: Best wishes with your studies. What is the most important lesson that you learned from your ministerial training?

DF: Study full time if you can. I guess that studying in the way that I did was a preparation for the fact that the majority of ministers – particularly in the UK perhaps - have to juggle numerous balls for most of their ministerial lives, with the constant feeling that one is a Jack of All Trades, but Master of very few. I wish I were a better visitor, counsellor, preacher, prayer warrior, church historian, developer of young men, theologian, evangelist, team leader, manager of other pastoral staff, creative thinker and strategist… Doubtless those desires reside in all of us and none would have been solved by my studying full time.

GD: What does your family think of your blogging habit?

DF: Although I do try to blog as often as I can, I’m not sure that my frequency allows such an appellation. I tried for some time to encourage them to develop an interest in posting to our family blog, but to no avail. They accept it as another of my many idiosyncrasies.

GD: You were pastor at Sandfileds Aberavon, where Lloyd-Jones' was the minister in the 1920's & 30's. That must have been interesting. What was it like, being an Englishmen in the heart of Welsh evangelicalism?

DF: When I was in Wales, I would occasionally hear it said that English pastors are not accepted as readily as their Welsh brothers. I have to say that was never my experience. I was welcomed with open arms and with a generous spirit by my ministerial colleagues and by their churches. Despite being an English Reformed Baptist in his first pastoral charge, with firm cessationist convictions and some abiding questions regarding the phenomenon of revival, I was very blessed by the love I was shown. Speaking culturally and theologically, the emphasis in some quarters of Welsh reformed evangelicalism upon tradition, the suspicion of some regarding certain bible translations & movements in hymnody, and the occasional unwillingness to give ground on secondary matters was at times frustrating. I greatly valued my ministry at Sandfields, and also the opportunities I was afforded for much wider involvement.

GD: How do you evaluate Lloyd-Jones' continuing influence over evangelicalism?

DF: I love Lloyd-Jones. I own pretty much all that has been printed and have read a great deal of it. Pastoring the congregation where he began his ministry was quite daunting, as his memory in many ways could still be strongly felt – I asked the church to remove all the photographs of him and his deacons from the vestry when it became my study as it was a little difficult to have him watching me every day! His influence has been very extensive, hasn’t it? He epitomised expository preaching, lifted God before men’s eyes, and modelled a serious and thinking Christianity that was in fellowship with the church of the ages. He was God’s man to raise a significant rallying cry amongst evangelicals. It strikes me that we currently lack a man of his stature in the UK. If you go to the States, there are several men who could fill that role – John Piper, John MacArthur, Al Mohler – but we are without such a figure I think.

I do think that the ongoing ripples from the events at Keele in 1967 have not all been helpful. I love my Anglican friends – I cannot understand why they remain Anglican, but I value them and learn much from them. We must be careful not to be smug or ghettoised (is that a word?) in our independency. Surely Lloyd Jones would never have wanted that. My other concern is that he is at times quoted with undue reverence and imbued by some with excessive weight. Our brother taught us much and we ought to give thanks. He is now in the glory and fresh challenges face us – he was so gifted, but is not our final authority. John Brencher’s little book ‘Martyn Lloyd-Jones and Twentieth Century Evangelicalism’ was not as unhelpful as some have suggested, and brings some balance to our understanding of this tremendous man of God.

GD: I have heard of, but not read the Brencher book. Like you, I owe a huge debt to "The Doctor". But I find it a bit depressing that sometimes when his opinions are cited, all discussion is brought to an end. We need to face the issues of our day is in a way that is faithful to Scripture just as he did in his day. But talking of Lloyd-Jones' infulence, how do you view the Welsh emphasis on revival?

DF: I believe we have a sovereign God who is in complete control. He is the only one who can revive the church of Christ and awaken godless societies to life. We cannot work up revival, and I believe we must reject Finneyism out of hand. I observe in my reading of history that the extraordinary work of God by his Holy Spirit is at times greater than others, and that currently we are in leaner days in the West. I pray and long for God to stir his church and sovereignly send a greater and more manifest expression of his blessing upon us. I think I would share all of those convictions with my Welsh brothers. However, I am sometimes concerned that there is an excessive emphasis upon revival in some circles. If our belief in revival and our anticipation of a greater move of God stirs us to love him more, work for him harder, pray with greater fervour, and evangelise with greater urgency, then I am right behind it! If, however, its absence discourages us to inactivity, leans us toward hyper-calvinism and instils in us an unhealthy historical nostalgia that lauds the past and despises the present, then I am less helped.

GD: Yes, should long and pray for revival and be active for the gospel in our present situation. You are now pastor of Wheelock Heath Baptist Church. What encouragements have you known and what challenges are you facing?

DF: We have known some growth in recent years, for which we are very thankful. Some of that has been through conversions, and some through the arrival of new friends from other parts of the country and believers leaving more Charismatic or liberal causes seeking a Reformed expository ministry that seeks to disciple folk in the Word and creatively reach the communities in which we live. Due to space constraints and other strategic reasons, 18 months ago we left our church building on Sunday mornings and began meeting in a local Secondary School. Since then we have continued to grow – but with growth comes challenges! Maintaining, discipling and mobilising a congregation that is theologically diverse can be a real challenge. We value your prayers. In particular, we would value prayer for our current Asst Pastor Ben Griffin who leaves us for missionary service with UFM in August, and the arrival of our new Asst Pastor Gary Aston who begins in September. We hope to appoint additional elders by the end of the year also.

GD: That's encouraging. What have you found to be most effective in evangelistic outreach?

DF: Having an Evangelistic Action Team that creatively promotes and spearheads our evangelistic outreach! Committed people who love souls and stimulate us to do the same. We have particularly been encouraged by running Men’s Breakfasts and Ladies’ Outreach evenings.

GD: Who was the most influential figure in your theological development?

DF: In person? Stuart Olyott taught me to love the Bible, and my pastor in Liverpool, Bill Bygroves taught me to love people. In print? Hendriksen’s commentaries, and almost everything put out by Banner or Evangelical Press. The first book I ever read was The Sovereignty of God by A W Pink. What a classic!

GD: Who has taught you most about preaching?

DF: In my developmental years, Stuart Olyott and Bill Bygroves. More recently, I have listened a great deal to John Piper, Art Azurdia, and John MacArthur.

GD: Some good role models there. I notice from your blog that you are a John Frame fan. I've just read his Salvation Belongs to the Lord and appreciated it very much. I hope to get into Theology of Lordship series, when I've got enough pocket money. What is it about Frame that you find so helpful.

DF: He writes well, is really incisive, and warms my heart as he fills my mind! He leaves me with a sense of God.

GD: What would you say is the biggest challenge facing evangelicalism today?

DF: I am sure there are many far more qualified than I am to answer that. Some are obvious – the crumbling of so-called evangelicals in the face of challenges over the atonement is troubling. The rush at all costs to adopt seeker-sensitivity or emergent themes bothers me. The retreat of some evangelicals into disputes over secondary matters and the mutual labelling and libelling of Reformed ministers saddens me. The apathy of many Christians in the UK while paganism and secularism are rampant is appalling. I think the UK is faced by the need to express a robustly reformed and confessional Christianity in terms that people can understand, and for us to grasp the nettle of appropriate fellowship and co-operation with those who share almost all of our distinctives, yet who differ in secondary concerns. Reaching lost people – what a challenge that is! The encroachment of Islam, the influx of post-Soviet bloc immigrants… the list is endless.

GD: We do face some huge challenges. How we need God's grace and wisdom to deal with them effectively. Right, what is the most helpful work of theology that you have read in the last twelve months. It is a must read because....

DF: Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics – because he is simply outstanding.

GD: Tell us your top three songs or pieces of music

DF: Far too difficult! I can tell you my top three from this week if you like…

Symphony 6 by Vagn Holmboe
Freedom Fields by Seth Lakeman
Through the Window Pane by The Guillemots

GD: Interesting. My top three would change from week to week too. Lastly, which blogs do you enjoy reading most and why?

DF: Tim Challies and Green Baggins because they are so clear and insightful. Oh, and this one.

GD: Well, thanks very much for this conversation, Danny. It's been great talking to you.

This concludes the present set of interviews. Blogging in the name of the Lord will hopefully return for a new series in early 2008.

1 comment:

Andrew and Carolyn said...

Thanks for this Guy, I really enjoyed reading Danny's answers.

(And your questions of course!!)