Monday, June 30, 2008

An interview with Philip Eveson

Philip Eveson is Principal Emeritus
of the London Theological Seminary
GD: Hello Philip Henry Eveson, please tell us a little about yourself.
PHE: Hello Guy. It was good to meet up with you, Sarah and the children last Saturday at the LTS End of Year Service [report] and the special service for my retirement as Principal [report].
I was born and brought up in a Welsh village outside Wrexham. My father was a blacksmith and my Welsh-speaking mother had been in domestic service before marriage. They both had become committed Christians and brought me up to attend church 3 times each Sunday and they also prayed with me at home. I was encouraged to learn key verses and chapters from the Bible and to know the essence of the Faith from parts of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. When I was 12 I confessed my need of Jesus Christ and found assurance of salvation. This was a year before my mother died of cancer. What a comfort it was to know that she was safe in Jesus and to find help in my God and Saviour.
Among the subjects studied at school and university I enjoyed History and Music, Classical and New Testament Greek, Biblical Hebrew, Aramaic, Philosophy, Biblical Studies and Theology. While at Cambridge the call to be a gospel minister grew stronger and I was ordained 40 years ago after attending the Pastoralia year at the Presbyterian Church of Wales Theological College, Aberystwyth.
My first churches were in Newport (Mon.) and St Mellons, Cardiff. I seceded from the denomination for its departure from the Faith and soon found myself in Margaret Thatcher’s constituency first as vice-principal then principal of the Kensit Memorial College. In 1977 I was made Resident Tutor of the new London Theological Seminary that uses the Kensit premises, becoming its principal in 1997. For 25 years I pastored the church that meets on site and have continued as an elder.
I am married to Jennifer and we have one daughter, Ruth who is married to Andrew. They live in Wrexham the capital of North Wales (!) where we hope to retire. We have three grand-children: Joshua Dafydd (5), Nia Ruth (3) and Hannah Grace (2).

GD: Robert Strivens has been named as your successor as Principal. The plan is that you will work alongside him for a year and then retire from LTS. What are your hopes for the future of the Seminary?
PHE: That it will remain true to its foundations, and that more UK churches, particularly Free Church/Nonconformist gospel churches and prospective students, will appreciate what an excellent course is on offer.

GD: What have you enjoyed most about your work at LTS?
PHE: It has been a privilege living among and interacting with men and their families from all parts of the world. I have enjoyed having my mind sharpened as iron sharpens iron as well as being present in the morning times of worship when I have sometimes been deeply moved by the preaching and prayers of the students. It has also been a joy to visit the churches where former students are now ministering whether in the UK or overseas.

GD: Why should men who aspire to the pastoral ministry consider studying at LTS?
PHE: Because the LTS course is dedicated to this one aim of preparing gospel preachers and pastors. The classroom consists only of men having this desire and the lecturers are all gospel preachers with experience in pastoral situations. All the lecturers are men of ability, experts in their subjects but with pastoral hearts and who have particular experience with the British Evangelical Nonconformist Church scene as well as wider mission interests both at home and overseas.
What better place to study Bible background with the British Museum down the road displaying almost more of the biblical environment than in the Middle East itself and with Clive Anderson as your guide what more could you desire! What better centre for the study of English Reformation history and theology, the Puritans and the 18th century Evangelical Awakening than the historic sites of London and the Nonconformist cemetery at Bunhill Fields where John Owen and other famous men are buried just opposite Wesley Memorial Chapel and Museum!

GD: OK, you don't have to convince me, I've already studied at LTS [1988-90]. Now, why doesn't the Seminary award degrees?
PHE: It is true that evangelical colleges have enormous latitude these days in the content of their courses leading to degrees in biblical studies and theology that are recognised by the State. This was not the case when the LTS started. However, with the best will in the world it is not always possible to fit into the curriculum all that is essential for gospel ministry.

Not being bound by a pre-arranged timetable and syllabus enables the LTS to engage with contemporary issues as they appear as well as enabling each student to possess a good grounding in all the theological disciplines. Degree courses normally involve students picking and choosing modules according to their likes and dislikes. Not so at LTS, the bitter and the sweet must be tasted, chewed and digested!

GD: But you would not be against Ministers studying for theology degrees per se? After all, you have three yourself. You were also involved in setting up the John Owen Centre, which awards the ThM from Westminster Theological Seminary. What is the vision behind the John Owen Centre?
PHE: No, we are not against theological degrees. Lloyd-Jones made that clear in his inaugural address. With regard to the LTS course he said that we were not out to produce experts or specialists but to prepare men who will be preaching to ordinary people Sunday by Sunday. He went on to say this however: ‘Should a student appear who has a greater aptitude for study than the average, and who feels that he would like to go on to obtain further knowledge…and to become a specialist in some branch or other, he will be of course, at full liberty to do so.’ To use his medical illustration, the LTS course was set up to prepare general practitioners not specialists.
The John Owen Centre, on the other hand, was set up by the LTS Board as a separate institution to promote theological thinking that is biblically faithful, spiritual vital, intellectually robust and practically relevant. It seeks to promote evangelical scholarship of excellence for the good of the church in the 21st century. One of the chief aims of the Centre is to provide and encourage the specialists and teachers of theology, particularly for the evangelical nonconformist churches of the future.
The new principal of LTS, Robert Strivens, is a product of this vision. He is not only a graduate of LTS but was awarded the Westminster ThM through his studies at the John Owen Centre.

GD: I interviewed Robert Strivens earlier this year. It's good that an LTS trained man will be leading the Seminary. Right, who had the greatest influence on your theological development?
PHE: First my Dad for laying good foundations, then John Calvin (I was given his Institutes for my 21st birthday by the young people of the church I attended) and finally Gresham Machen (I found his works in the theological library at Aberystwyth and wished I had seen them earlier).

GD: From whom have you learned most of what it means to preach the Word of God?
PHE: Again three men have greatly influenced me in this area. First, Rev. D.O. Calvin Thomas the minister of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Wrexham, under whose ministry my father and mother were converted. I grew up under this man’s powerful preaching. Second, the godly and convicting preaching of Rev J. Glyn Owen who succeeded him (He was greatly used in the early days of the Evangelical Movement of Wales. He later went to Belfast then Westminster Chapel after Lloyd-Jones and finally Knox Presbyterian Church, Toronto. He and his wife still live in Canada. He was for many years President of the European Missionary Fellowship). Third, Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, whose ‘logic on fire’ preaching gripped me as a youngster when he came on his biennial visits to Wrexham.

GD: No doubt due to the influence of Lloyd-Jones, the Seminary has always emphasised the need for preachers to seek the empowering presence of the Spirit. How would you describe the work of the Holy Spirit in relation to preaching?
PHE: From the ministry of Jesus and the apostles we notice how important the Holy Spirit was both in relation to themselves as preachers and among those who heard. After his baptism Jesus was full of the Spirit and began preaching and teaching in the power of the Spirit. He quoted Is.61:1 and applied it to himself (see Lk.4:1,14-21). The Spirit anointed him to preach the gospel and masses of people were impressed by the gracious words that fell from his lips. They were amazed at his teaching for he spoke with authority. Others were filled with rage and hated him and his message (Lk.4:22-32).
What was true of Jesus was true also of the early gospel preachers. The apostles as a result of Pentecost received a supernatural anointing to be Christ’s witnesses. They were given heaven-sent boldness and preached with unusual power and authority (Acts 1:8;4:8,31,33). Again there were negative and positive responses from those who listened. But now the power of the Spirit so acted upon the preaching in those who heard that thousands were not only impressed but also converted.
The gospel preached is very important but we also need to pray for the Holy Spirit to come upon the preacher and the hearers. If Paul asked for prayer to speak the gospel boldly how much more do we need to pray for preachers today to know a similar anointing (Eph.6:19-20). Paul knew what he needed for he could testify how he preached the gospel with the demonstration of the Spirit’s power (1 Cor.2:4-4; 1 Thess.1:5). We are also encouraged by Jesus to pray for this heavenly gift (Lk.11:13).

GD: How would you define the biblical concept of revival, and what can we do to promote such a work?
PHE: The Holy Spirit came ‘in state’ at Pentecost (to use the Puritan Thomas Goodwin’s expression) so that we now live in the era of the Spirit. That unrepeatable event does have elements in it that are repeatable as we see from Acts 4:31. These include the four ‘greats’ that Luke gives us: ‘great power’ in preaching, ‘great grace’ in that God’s gracious activity was powerfully at work in the church, ‘great fear’ both within and outside the church at God’s awesome judgements and ‘great joy’ experienced at the blessings received through God’s servants (see Acts 4:33;5:11;8:8).
Iain Murray, in his book Pentecost – Today? The Biblical Basis for Understanding Revival, helpfully draws a distinction between the Spirit’s more ‘normal’ work since Pentecost and the ‘extraordinary’. He defines revival as a heightening of the normal. Revival is a ‘larger giving of the Spirit’ and it results in a greater degree of life in the churches and many unbelievers are converted and added to the churches.
We can ask God to burden our hearts that we might have that spirit of supplication. Revival has more often than not come about through the earnest prayers of God’s people. We have biblical support for this. The unique coming of the Spirit at Pentecost was in the context of a people united in communal prayer (Acts 1:14;2:1). That was special in that they were specifically commanded to wait for the promise. But later in Acts 4 we are told that after they had prayed they were all again filled with the Holy Spirit. Such praying is by Christians who have an on-going ever deepening relationship with the Lord, are actively living the life of faith, obediently serving the Lord day by day, and concerned for God’s kingdom and honour in a community that hates the gospel of God.

GD: You recently published a friendly, but critical analysis of Moore Theology in Affinity's theological journal, Foundations. What, in a nutshell is your problem with "Moore theology"?
PHE: May I say, first of all, that I admire the work and witness of the people at Moore Anglican College, Sydney and I have benefited enormously from the writings of such men as T.C. Hammond, Broughton Knox, Graeme Goldsworthy and Peter O’Brien. Peter Jenson, when he was principal, was also kind enough to let me loose on his third year theology class.
There are a number of concerns I have and they relate to their particular biblical theology approach and their strong reaction both to Anglo-Catholicism and to the Charismatic Movement that was very noticeable at one time. a) They have this view that because every Christian is in ministry, it is wrong to speak of the gospel minister as having a special call to a special ministry. Because we are all called to be Christians and to be holy there is no such thing as a divine call to be a minister of the word. b) They have also taught that the Spirit and the Word are so wedded that there is no need to pray for the Spirit. c) Because worship is what Christians are to be engaged in everywhere and at all times, they believe that coming together on Sundays is for building one another up in the Faith and not for some special act of worship. Asking for or expecting God’s special presence in such gatherings is not considered necessary and is often seen as a throwback to Old Testament times.

Unless steps are taken to counteract what has been forcefully propagated in articles and books written by people emanating from Moore, it could lead the next generation of evangelicals to possess a very low view of the ministry of the word, which at present they are most keen to support. It could also lead to a very cerebral Christianity. All that we have been saying about revival and of the presence of the Spirit in our preaching, items that men like John Knox, Jonathan Edwards and Charles Simeon both taught and experienced, will be lost leading to spiritual poverty and death.

GD: You wrote an early critique of the so- called "new perspective on Paul", The Great Exchange [available online here]. Many others, such as Cornelis Venema [The Gospel of Free Acceptance in Christ- see review here] and John Piper [The Future of Justification - available online here] have recently joined the fray. Why should we be so concerned about the new perspective?
PHE: The most eloquent exponent of the new perspective is the bishop of Durham, Tom Wright. Piper’s new book is a particularly helpful response to all that the bishop has written on the subject in the last ten years.
There is much that is commendable in Wright’s works but it is his particular view of what the gospel is and what justification means that is unacceptable. This is why in some respects he is more dangerous than those who clearly deny the Biblical gospel.
If Wright’s gospel is only about the proclamation of Christ’s lordship then how is this message a help to those who by nature are in rebellion against Christ’s rule?
If justification according to Wright is not one of the most important parts of the gospel but about who is a member of God’s covenant community then how is a person put right with God?
If Wright’s view of justification – as a doctrine relating to the church and having nothing to do either with the Protestant emphasis on the imputed righteousness of Christ or the Roman Catholic one which includes imparted righteousness – were to be accepted then the centuries old divide would be over and the Pope would be happy. The implication of Wright’s teaching would make a person’s standing in the church more important than his or her standing before God. The assurance that Christians enjoy in Christ would vanish as their concern would be about their own righteousness at the last judgement rather than trust in Christ’s blood and righteousness alone.

GD: You have written well received commentaries on Genesis and Leviticus (Evangelical Press) and a Lloyd-Jones travel guide (Day One). Are you hoping to write more in the future and if so what might we expect from you pen (or keyboard!)?
PHE: I hope you will see a small booklet out soon on the remarkable revival that took place at the beginning of the last century in a large village near where I was born. I have also been asked to write the Welwyn commentary on the book of Psalms. There are other topics I would like to tackle if I have the time.

GD: Writing a commentary on Psalms will keep you busy! What (aside from writing) do you plan to do in your "retirement"?
PHE: When I came to London I ceased practising the piano and pipe organ. I hope to restart these hobbies along with some gardening. If preaching opportunities come my way I shall count it a privilege to take the gospel to needy parts of North Wales.

GD: Care to name your top three songs or pieces of music?
PHE: Bach, Beethoven and Bruch are among my favourite composers. So my top pieces of music would be a Bach choral, a Beethoven symphony and Bruch’s violin concerto.

GD: What is the most helpful work of theology that you have read in the last twelve months? It is a must read because...
PHE: Bavinck’s four volume Reformed Dogmatics recently translated from the Dutch is readable, informative and one of the most superbly rich presentations of the Reformed Faith available today.

GD: I've just taken delivery of the complete set. Great stuff. Now, what in your opinion, what is the biggest problem facing evangelicalism today and how should we respond?
PHE: There is too much emphasis on worldly means to further God’s kingdom. As a result there is little interest in Christian doctrine, an appalling ignorance of the Bible and personal daily communion with God has all but ceased. This may seem very pietistic and old-fashioned. We should respond in the way the New Testament directs, which means back to basics and to the points that we have made earlier. We must earnestly contend for the Faith for we have an enemy who wishes to spoil, twist and destroy. We cannot take anything for granted and old battles have to be re-fought. We need to urge Christians to be alert and prayerful and to be light and salt in their communities. Above all, we must proclaim boldly the whole purpose of God in dependence on God’s Spirit, calling on young and old to repent of their sins and to turn in self-despairing trust to Jesus Christ the only Saviour from the divine wrath that we all deserve.
GD: Well Philip, thanks for dropping by for this conversation. May you and Jenny know the Lord's richest blessing as you continue to serve him.
If you are interested in finding out more about the work of the London Theological Seminary, see here for contact details.

6 comments:

Andrew and Carolyn said...

Thanks once again, Guy, for an excellent interview. The sentiments about degrees and preparation for ministry are particularly helpful, as are the statements about our need to get back to basics.

I really enjoyed this, it's given me plenty to think about.

Exiled Preacher said...

Glad you enjoyed it, Andrew.

Matt Turner said...

Mr Eveson, you have great taste in music! I won't forget one time you came to preach at Hyde Street Chapel- I put a record on before dinner and after a while said 'This is Brahms by the way' and my mum said "I think he knows that, Matthew".

Augustinian Successor said...

"There are a number of concerns I have and they relate to their particular biblical theology approach and their strong reaction both to Anglo-Catholicism and to the Charismatic Movement that was very noticeable at one time. a) They have this view that because every Christian is in ministry, it is wrong to speak of the gospel minister as having a special call to a special ministry. Because we are all called to be Christians and to be holy there is no such thing as a divine call to be a minister of the word. b) They have also taught that the Spirit and the Word are so wedded that there is no need to pray for the Spirit. c) Because worship is what Christians are to be engaged in everywhere and at all times, they believe that coming together on Sundays is for building one another up in the Faith and not for some special act of worship. Asking for or expecting God’s special presence in such gatherings is not considered necessary and is often seen as a throwback to Old Testament times."

What is wrong with a strong reaction to Anglo-Catholicism and Charismaticism? If one holds to sola Scriptura and sola fide, then one is bound to have a strong reaction to Anglo-Catholicism and Charismaticism. No, never mind about classical Protestantism with the debate over the finer points of theology, including the sacraments and on liturgical issues, the relationship between the Spirit and Word, and yes revivalism. But we are talking about the solas of the Reformation which all Protestants hold dear, Puritans, Anglicans, Lutherans, etc. Indeed, that statement by Philip Eveson is most unhelpful and more likely to confuse rather than clarify.

James said...

Thanks for this interview. Philip Eveson has been a great blessing to many in the UK and beyond. His warm-hearted Christianity is definitely contageous and encouraging. Though never an LTS student I did complete the ThM course through the John Owen Centre (traveling to London first from my home in Los Angeles and then later from Alberta, Canada) and was always blessed by the time of fellowship with Philip and Jenny.
Thanks again for the interview,
James Dolezal

jide said...

Thanks Guy! This is very informative. It's also great to learn more about Mr Eveson.

His last reply, most especially, requires a lot of thought! He is simply a great servant of the Master.

I share your prayer for him and Jenny. Hope you and Sarah are doing great.

Quick question - why are you in voluntary exile?

Jide Oyabayo