Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Blogging in the name of the Lord: Paul Wallace

This is the forth in our series of interviews with Christian bloggers. In the hot seat today is...

Paul Wallace

GD: Hello Paul Wallace, and welcome to Exiled Preacher. Please tell us a little about yourself.

PW: Hello Guy, I’m Paul Wallace, I’m 37 years old, I’m the pastor of Magherafelt Reformed Baptist Church, in Northern Ireland. I’ve been a pastor there since about 2003 but have been in full time vocational ministry only since May 2008. I’m married with three children.

GD: Your blog is called "Reformed and Baptist". What made you start blogging?

PW: I think as with most people there was a combination of reasons. One of them was to provide another route for people to become familiar with our church in Magherafelt. Another was evangelistic, I think blogging can be another way of making unbelievers think of eternal things or introducing them to the Gospel, thus I think it’s good to offer posts on history and geography and any other subject of common interest, who knows but that someone who wants to read about Edinburgh history or the Falkirk Wheel will stay on and read some of the more spiritual posts as well. Use tags wisely!

GD: In a recent post, you wondered if blogging might be past its sell-by-date (here). What do you see as the strengths and weaknesses of theology/ministry blogging?

PW: Well I suppose that post sums of most of my thoughts. I think a lot of folks are re-evaluating blogging, I don’t think blogging is past its sell-by-date, but it does need reformation. In many places it has become a pedestal for divisive people to spread their poison, or a medium for overnight character assassination and above all else, an exercise on missing the point. Thus it is virtually impossible sometimes to have a meaningful conversation.

Likewise as Dr. Frame noted the freedom of speech offered by blogging is both an advantage and a disadvantage. To paraphrase the book of Judges, because there is no Internet King every man and women can say what they want, when they want and how they want without oversight or accountability. The biblical reality is somewhat different; most of us would be better off doing a lot less talking or writing and a lot more listening and reading (James 3:1ff.) With blogging one can have a “ministry” now by spending 10 minutes setting up an account on Blogger or Wordpress with zero connection to the Church, with zero accountability to the Church and with no credibility prior to being in what in essentially an influential position.

I also fear that blogging like everything else these days has been afflicted by the cult of celebrity -however in my humble opinion even if you get 20000 hits a day that does not guarantee that you something worth listening to.

That said, there is much edification and indeed education to be had on many blogs. This is especially the case when men have specialist subjects like Michael Haykin (interviewed here) on baptist history.

GD: Which blogs do you find most helpful?

PW: I find small, shall we say intimate, blogs most helpful and edifying; those where ordinary folks just share what the Lord is teaching them from his word, or sharing experiences which reveal his wonderful purposes in their lives, or where ordinary pastors of ordinary churches share their meditations. They tend to not have hundreds of comments, they tend not to be argumentative and arrogant. (See my blogroll for examples).
I also appreciate some blogs where substantial critiques of books and movements are posted, emphasis on substantial, which in this context means biblical argumentation based on Biblical truth not on personal opinion and prejudice. For example Iain Campbell’s excellent Creideamh .
So I like blogs like yours, Martin Downes’ Against Heresies (interviewed here), of course I appreciate my friends over at Reformed Baptist Fellowship, as well as a scattering of other folks from around the UK and USA. I do check into the big hitters occasionally, especially Church Matters the 9 Marks blog, because they are very much local church based and centred on the development and ministry of the local church.
GD: What does your family think of your blogging habit?
PW: Well my wife has a blog too ( Home but not alone) so she can’t really criticise! And she is a much more frequent poster than I am. Since I’m not a daily poster by any means, it has virtually no impact on family life. The children just know I have one that’s about it.
GD: What makes you laugh/cry?
PW: Mater from "Cars" makes me laugh.
Preaching and participating at The Lord’s Supper which so vividly reminds me of Christ’s atoning sacrifice and of my communion with Him, not infrequently raises very real affections and emotions in me. I’m not given to crying as such.
GD: How did you feel the call to pastoral ministry?
PW: My call to the ministry was, and still is, related to both the spiritual gifting and “inward” calling, and providential opportunity to serve - “external” calling. I believe there must be both. In a sense then I feel the Lord had been preparing me for service for many years prior to taking up office, but in His time gave me a irresistible desire to serve and a providential sphere in which to answer that call. The assurance that God has inwardly called me to the ministry (a subjective judgment) has been verified by the church’s recognition of gifting and grace which (an objective judgment).
GD: Where did you train for the ministry and what did you find most useful about your studies?
PW: I have no formal training for the ministry, as in College or Seminary, but have many years of informal, local church based training, though I am presently studying again with Reformed Baptist Seminary. In a way it would be true to say that the church I now serve was the location of my training.
Probably the most influential and useful study I have done was Hermeneutics, get this one right and you’re well on the way to being a dependable pastor.
GD: Who has had the greatest influence on your theological development?
PW: On Calvinsm: Loraine Boettner, then theology general: A.A. Hodge, he was my first systematic theology professor! - Outlines of Theology was my meat and potatoes for a couple of years in my late teens. Then John Gresham Machen whose works I devoured and which started to connect everything together.
GD: Who has taught you most of what it means to preach the Word of God?
PW: Can I have two? [Oh alright then - GD] Firstly my former pastor and co-pastor Robert Briggs and secondly Professor Edward Donnelly who I believe to be the most gifted and effective preacher I have ever heard and yet is the simplest preacher I have ever heard. Preaching is much better caught than taught and I am very thankful for having sat under the preaching of these men regularly.
GD: What is the best bit of advice anyone has given you on preaching?
PW: A summary of what preaching is about: “Tell them what it says and then tell them what it means to them”.
GD: What are the most enjoyable and the most challenging aspects of pastoral ministry?
PW: This will sound selfish perhaps but the most enjoyable and challenging aspects of the pastoral ministry are for me one and the same thing - there is the joy and privilege of studying God’s word every day and there is the challenge of having to do so and be accountable to God for it, (not to mention the frequent difficulties encountered in studying it).
GD: The Reformed tradition has been overwhelmingly peadobaptist. What does it mean to be a Reformed Baptist?
PW: It means for me that I am as close to historic Reformed orthodoxy as my conscience will allow, and that is pretty close. There is all sort of talk about what is and what is not “Reformed” and that’s a discussion that is necessary, however there are few paedobaptists today who are strictly aligned with the magisterial reformers on every detail and so by definition being “Reformed” allows for some movement.
For me Reformed means not only adherence to the five solas, not only adherence to and preaching of the 5 points of Calvinism, but also adherence to the three primary marks of a Reformed Church which were and are; preaching of the authentic Apostolic doctrine and application of the same in evangelism and worship, biblical discipline in the church and, proper administration of the sacraments.
Granted my paedobaptist brothers would say I’m at least 25% out on that last point but here I stand I can do not other! I must say I am quite amazed at some of the folks who are still deemed “Reformed” just because they are paedobaptist and in spite of their seismic shifts away from Reformed orthodoxy on the most essential doctrines such as justification, inerrancy etc. I’m not at all convinced that infant baptism and that form of covenantal theology that supports it is the sine qua non of what it means to be Reformed.
For a good summary definition I would fully agree with your readers could consult the links posted here.
GD: Name a top Reformed Baptist theologian.
PW: Dr. Sam Waldron - Owenboro, Kentucky.
GD: If time travel were possible, which figure from post-biblical church history would you like to meet, and what would you say to him?
PW: Oh that’s a hard one! I think it would have to be John G. Paton (if I must choose one) and I’d just ask him to tell me the whole story of his life, I think he was an exceptional example of God’s grace in almost every aspect of his life. His autobiography is wonderful, but I just know there is so much more, and he’d be so good at telling it.
GD: In your profile, you describe yourself as amillennial. I'm with you there. Is it me, or do you also think that premillenialism seems to be gaining ground in Reformed circles? Have you any thoughts on why this might be, and should we be concerned?
PW: Can I be provocative and suggest that it may not be so much that premillenialism is gaining ground in Reformed circles but that it is the other way around? As Colin Hansen has observed there have been many young people won over to the doctrines of grace in the last 10 years, and it seems to me the main areas of growth have been in constituencies that are premillenial and/or dispensational. Should we be concerned? in that I believe premillenialism is wrong - Yes, but nevertheless “the truth shall set you free”!

This is however related to concerns I have about the reformed resurgence in general, it seems to be somewhat disconnected from a covenantal understanding of Scripture which leaves a vacancy that dispensationalism will only too quickly fill given such high profile proponents as Dr. Macarthur. Likewise it seems to be a resurgence that is largely unrelated to the historic confessions which are good sentries of what is biblical. I think until these “resurgents” rediscover the riches of a confessional heritage they will lack a permanency of conviction on anything other than the doctrines of grace, which in turn will make the whole movement no more stable than mainline evangelicalism i.e unstable. I fear sometimes that Calvinism for some is a sort of a theological avant garde movement.
GD: Care to name your top three songs or pieces of music (not necessarily Christian)?
PW: I don’t hardly listen to Christian music at all, so I'm relieved to see the parenthesis!I’m a real eclectic but mostly listen to classical...here are a few favourites. Ralph Vaughan Williams - Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis, Vítezslav Novák - Slovak Suite, Coldplay - In my Place.
GD: Some evidence of good taste there. I sometimes wish I hadn't asked that question. Peter Mead said he liked We Are The Champions by Queen - on my blog! Now, what is the most helpful theological book that you have read in the last twelve months? It is a must read because...
PW: George Smeaton - The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit (Banner of Truth) and you must read it because the only people who seem to talk about the Holy Spirit much (apart from in relation to regeneration) are the charismatics. Smeaton’s work is one of the few full size works on Him from a confessional Reformed perspective indeed it is the only one I'm aware of.
GD: What is the biggest problem facing Reformed Evangelicalism today and how should we respond?
PW: Apart from what I have already mentioned I’d have to say that at a pastoral local church level and therefore I assume at a global level also, the biggest enemy is materialism and the cult of self, it is endemic and diametrically opposed to New Covenant Christianity.
How should we respond? By elevating Christ and Our Eternal inheritance as often as possible....and by every year, at least once preach on Phillippians 2,3 & 4!
At a theological level I fear at the amount of high brow theological iconoclasm that seems to be going on at present. How to deal with it? Less separation of Church and Seminary would be a good start.
GD: Well, thanks for dropping by for this conversation, Paul. Bye.

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