Thursday, November 06, 2008

An interview with Jeremy Brooks

Jeremy Brooks is the recently appointed Director of Ministries at the Protestant Truth Society, for whom I work on a part-time basis. We discuss his new role and matters of Protestant interest.

GD: Hello Jeremy Books and welcome to Exiled Preacher. Please tell us a little about yourself.
JB: Hi Guy, and thank you for having me on your blog. I've read so many interviews here over recent years, and never imagined that you'd ever be interviewing me! [GD: Fame at last, Jeremy!]

I was born in 1975, the eldest of four brothers. My father had been ordained into the ministry a couple of years earlier. He spent the first six years of his ministry in two different evangelical Anglican churches, and has spent almost thirty years since in four different independent evangelical churches. When I was seven years old, the family moved to York, where my father was the minister of York Evangelical Church for just short of twenty years. So although I wasn't born in Yorkshire, that was as much home as anywhere.

From as far back as I can remember, I believed the Bible and felt called to the ministry. However, I remember making a childlike profession of faith when eight years old, and then being baptised in my early teens. There were times of doubt, as well as many inconsistencies, but what was known in the head increasingly became known in the heart too, and the sense of call to the ministry grew stronger and stronger.

After school, I studied Economics and Business for a couple of years, and then worked in Sales and Marketing - first in the motor trade and then in Christian publishing. After training for the ministry, I was ordained and inducted to the pastorate of Salem Baptist Church, Ramsey, Cambridgeshire in April 2001. I ministered in Ramsey until this August, and began my new role as Director of Ministry at the Protestant Truth Society on 1st September.

I should also say that I married my wife, Lydia, back in July 2000, and that the Lord has blessed us with four children - Eleni (7), Noah (5), Alice (3) and Ezra (1) - and that our fifth is due quite soon!

GD: What made you leave pastoral ministry to join the PTS as their Director of Ministry?

JB: I have to confess that if one of my friends had done the same thing a year or two ago, then I don't think that I would have thought very highly of them. However, the Lord moves in mysterious ways, and slowly but surely everything seemed to point to the rightness of the move. During Summer 2007, we felt that the Lord might be loosening our hands from the work in Ramsey. Then during Autumn 2007 I was approached by another church which had already approached me twice before, so we thought we knew what the Lord was doing. But we were wrong. As previously, that expression of interest didn't result in a call, so we sought to throw ourselves into the work in Ramsey once again. However, the sense that our time there was coming to an end increased rather than decreased. It was early this year that we began to wonder whether the Lord was moving us to something different, and to cut a long story short, I'm now working with PTS.

I have to say that all I ever wanted to do was to spend my whole ministry pastoring one church, as many of my heroes have done. However, what is the Lord's will for some is not the Lord's will for all, and the important thing for any of us is to be where the Lord wants when the Lord wants, and I have no doubt that the Lord wants me where I am doing what I'm doing. We were sorry to leave Ramsey, and the church there were sorry to see us go, but our work there was done, and a new challenge was calling.

GD: Where did you train for the preaching ministry and what did you find most helpful about your training?

JB: I trained for the ministry at London Reformed Baptist Seminary. It was a part-time course lasting four years. It wasn't as thorough as a full-time course, but it was a very practical preparation for real-life ministry. We had many visiting lecturers, including such men as Joel Beeke, James Grier and Robert Reymond, but it was the lectures of the Principal, Peter Masters, that I found most helpful. I wouldn't dot every "i" and cross every "t" with Dr Masters (in fact, I've yet to meet anyone that does!), but I found him always worth hearing, I benefited from his teaching in so many ways, and readily acknowledge that I owe him an incalculable debt.

GD: Who has had the biggest influence on your theological development?

JB: I owe so much to so many, but not least to my father, Richard Brooks, and my father-in-law, Malcolm Watts. It is not an exaggeration to say that I have learned more from these two men outside seminary than many men ever learn inside one!

GD: Some might see organisations like the PTS as a slightly old fashioned and backward-looking. How do you see as the mission of the Society in relation to the churches and the nation in today's world?

JB: Some undoubtedly do, and sometimes with some justification. The challenge for such organisations is to look both backwards and forwards at the same time! What I mean is that, on the one hand, we shouldn't rubbish our past, as is popular today, but on the other, we shouldn't live in it, but should have a clear, bold, adventurous vision for the future. Regarding the PTS, a lot has changed since 1889, and yet the big picture is just the same. What's true is true, what's false is false, and both church and nation need all the help they can get to know the difference. The mission of the PTS is both to assist the churches in holding onto the true gospel as rediscovered at the Protestant Reformation, and to encourage the nation to treasure rather than despise our great Protestant heritage. I believe that mission is as necessary as ever.

GD: What is your role as Director of Ministry?

JB: The PTS used to have General Secretaries. These were normally ministers, but they were responsible for overseeing both what we might call the ministry and business aspects of the society. What the Council has done recently, is to appoint George Rae (manager of the PTS Bookshop for twenty years) as Company Secretary and myself as Director of Ministry. Therefore, instead of having a minister trying to be a businessman or a businessman trying to be a minster, we have a businessman doing what he's good at and a minister doing what he's called to do. Preaching is central to my role, but I also oversee the team of Wickcliffe Preachers (I like to see that in terms of being first among equals), I'm editing the magazine, Protestant Truth, from the next issue, I speak to the media, and am responsible to the council for the spiritual leadership of the society.

GD: For many people today the very word "Protestant" has almost wholly negative connotations. How would you define what it means to be a Protestant Christian?

JB: You're right that many don't like the word "Protestant", even those who are Protestants without realising it! Nonetheless, I don't think we should give the term up, because it is really a historical term describing anyone who believes the true gospel as rediscovered at the Protestant Reformation. In that sense I see terms like "Christian", "Evangelical", and "Protestant" as really meaning one and the same thing.

GD: Was John Kensit, founder of the PTS a rabble rouser or Protestant Martyr?

JB: Opinion is polarised. Many think he was very much the one, and many think he was very much the other. It is a historical fact that he was killed as a direct result of his stand for the truth, therefore I would assert that he was most definitely a Protestant Martyr. Regarding being a rabble rouser, well I probably wouldn't want to defend everything he ever said or did, but anyone who has ever done anything significant for God has been open to being misunderstood. In a day of largely spineless evangelicalism, a few more Kensits wouldn't go amiss.

GD: Is Roman Catholicism the biggest threat to the gospel in the UK?

JB: All thinking evangelicals would have to agree that Roman Catholicism is a big threat to the gospel in the UK, but whether or not it is the biggest threat probably depends upon your interpretation of Scripture. In many ways it may not appear to be the biggest threat at present, but I believe that Scripture teaches that it is the greatest threat of the New Testament age, and I wonder whether the very fact that it doesn't appear so threatening as sometimes it has doesn't add to rather than subtract from its danger.

GD: How do you view the Evangelicals and Catholics Together Movement?

JB: The short answer would be "A mistake", and the long answer would be "One of the greatest evangelical mistakes of the last century". I have some respect for some of those involved - for example, so many of us owe so much to J. I. Packer - but he and others have been very unwise in seeking to reconcile the irreconcilable in this way. When all's said and done, Evangelicalism and Catholicism or Romanism don't mix. They never have, and never will.

GD: The media (here and here) and blog-land, (here and here) have picked up on your recent criticism of the Archbishop of Canterbury's sermon at Lourdes. What was that all about?

JB: The Archbishop visited Lourdes to preach at the 150th anniversary of the shrine there. This was an unprecedented action which appalled all true Protestants. Lourdes represents everything about Roman Catholicism that the Protestant Reformation rejected, including apparitions, mariolatry and the veneration of saints. The Archbishop's simple presence there was a wholesale compromise, and his sermon which included a reference to Mary as "The Mother of God" was a complete denial of Protestant orthodoxy. At a time when our country is crying out for clear Biblical leadership, it is nothing short of tragic that our supposedly Protestant Archbishop is behaving as little more than a Papal puppet.
GD: I think your concerns are well placed. But doesn't the term "Mother of God" or at least theotokos - "God-bearer" have an honoured place in the Chuch's confession? The term is used in the Definition of Chalcedon (451), which is affirmed by Protestants and Roman Catholics alike.

You're right that the term theotokos is more accurately translated "God-bearer" rather than "Mother of God", and you're right that that term was used in the fifth century and is accepted as a part of Protestant orthodoxy. However, that term was used at that time not to make much of Mary but to make much of Christ, and to assert his divinity at a time when it was popular to question it. The term has since been mistranslated and misused by Roman Catholics to make too much of Mary. When assessing the Archbishop's recent remarks, it's important to remember that he wasn't speaking to a fifth-century audience, but rather to twenty-first century Roman Catholics. Therefore, he can't hide behind what the term really meant, but must accept that his Roman Catholic audience will have understood it in accordance with their theology rather than ours.

GD: Quite. In the light of Roman Catholic misuse of the term, Donald Macleod wisely said, "We certainly cannot feel free to use theotokos without careful elucidations and safeguards." (The Person of Christ, IVP, 1998, p. 188). Rowan Williams signally failed to do that. Now, should para-church organisations like the PTS intervene on controversial, yet secondary issues like Bible versions or hymn books?

JB: Yes and no! It depends which such organisations. Regarding the PTS, our mission is bigger than Bible versions and hymn books. Therefore, within agreed parameters, people of different persuasions can work together, and we respect such differences of opinion. However, some organisations have a more specific mission, and are surely free to do so.

Also, I think the phrase "secondary issue(s)" has become rather over-used. It was Dr Lloyd-Jones who popularised it, and I have great respect for him (I wouldn't dare not to when being interviewed by a Welsh preacher). However, I think Dr Lloyd-Jones understood a secondary issue to be something that wasn't of primary importance, whereas most evangelicals today understand it to be something of no real importance whatsoever. Therefore, although I don't think that Bible versions and hymn books are primary, in the sense that these things are not essential to salvation, I do think that they are far from unimportant. Surely having as accurate a Bible as possible and rendering the most acceptable worship we can should be two of the most important issues to any Christian or church.

GD: If time travel were possible, which figure in post-biblical church history would you like to meet and what would you say to him?

JB: There could be so many, and yet there's only one. It would have to be Charles Haddon Spurgeon. No figure of history has had a greater effect upon my life and ministry than the Prince of Preachers. I'd be happy just to listen to him preach, but if he had time to talk, then I'd start by saying "Thank You", and see where the conversation went from there.

GD: Is it possible to be faithful to Scripture and truly contemporary?

JB: I would go so far as to say that it is impossible to be truly contemporary without being faithful to Scripture! Nothing is ever more contemporary than the Bible and the message of salvation in Jesus Christ, so the more faithful we are to Scripture the more relevant we'll be to our generation. We must remember that man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart, and what counts is what lasts. Sadly, I believe that much so-called contemporary evangelicalism won't last very long at all, because it leans harder upon the wisdom of men than it does upon the Word of God.

GD: Care to name your top three songs or pieces of music?

JB: I must confess to being something of a Philistine in this department. I'm not really musical, and although I can appreciate all sorts, I'm really no connoisseur. I suppose the impressive thing to say would be that my tastes are somewhat eclectic, but that would be code for the fact that my appreciation of music is a mile wide but only an inch deep!

GD: What is the most helpful theological book that you have read in the last twelve months? It is a must read because?

JB: To be honest, I'm not sure that I've read anything earth-shatteringly brilliant this last year, but I've read a lot that I've appreciated. One such book, would be the rather large and awkwardly shaped volume of The Works of Andrew Fuller republished by The Banner of Truth. I wouldn't say that Fuller's Works are among the first that a young minister should have on his shelves (he's not as high as some, not as deep as others, and not as sweet as many), but as I've dipped into them at various times during recent months I have found them again and again to be helpful, stirring, and enlivening.

GD: Ever thought of starting a blog?

JB: Yes ... many times ... but never for more than a few seconds at a time!
GD: Probably just as well. Thanks for dropping by for this chat. Every blessing for your new ministry.

1 comment:

Gary Benfold said...

Does Jeremy believe that the Archbishop's visit to Lourdes is the biggest problem in his ministry? I would have thought that Williams was so far from orthodox that this would almost be an improvement...