Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Blogging in the name of the Lord: Adrian Reynolds

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

GD: Hello Adrian Reynolds and welcome to Exiled Preacher. Please tell us a little about yourself.

AR: I am a 40 year old Hampshire Baptist Pastor, married to Celia for almost 20 years (in fact we’ve been dating 25 years today!). We have three daughters, Alice (14), Bethan (11) and Isabel (4). Celia is half Welsh (not her fault) so she always sits on the fence at the most important sporting occasion of the year! I play the piano to relax and go fencing to relieve my frustrations.

GD: Your blog is called "Strangers and Aliens". Please explain.

AR: The first book I ever preached through was 1 Peter. It has really stuck with me – especially this pregnant phrase. It sums up all that I am in Christ now in relation to the world, which is what I am often tempted to ignore. My besetting sin is to be too much in love with the world. In my weaker moments, I want the passport!

GD: I'm preaching through 1 Peter at the moment. It's a wonderful portion of Gods' Word. What made you start blogging?

AR: Honestly? Pastoral contact with church members. One or two who needed a phone call a day at a particular moment in their lives. Pressure of time meant that I couldn’t help them as much as I needed. This is a way of keeping in contact with struggling souls. It worked, too!

GD: What are the strengths and weaknesses of blogging as a medium for theological reflection?

AR: It’s my water cooler. As long as people think of it that way, blogging is not a problem. I’m not speaking ex cathedra when I blog. But like all Christians I need to think aloud, sharpen iron against iron, be put right when I’m tempted to drift and just interact with others. I find the hardest thing about being a pastor (see below) the lonely path – I am relational by nature (aren’t we all?) and it serves a purpose. This great strength is also its greatest weakness – it’s public and it’s not always helpful for people to see their pastor thinking aloud.

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

AR: Eric Lane – fellow elder here, author, retired pastor, LTS lecturer and all round wise guy. He doesn’t know it, but when someone asked MLJ a question at the Westminster Fellowship, he was directed to my Eric with the words “there’s no one I know who knows the Bible like that fellow.” I have my own one man University on site. He is 80 and writing a book on how his view of the Law has changed! I love the way he’s always thinking things through again and again and is prepared to change long held views.

GD: Who has taught you most of what it means to preach the Word of God?

AR: Hmm. Robert Murray McCheyne, I think, though I have not met him personally! I do love reading books of sermons as part of my devotions and I love his fullness, winsomeness and yet the way he manages to be direct and authoritative.

GD: Describe your call to the pastoral/preaching ministry.

AR: Left a big job in business and a nice Merc because I could not put it off any more! Read Ezra through one Saturday when the family were out and couldn’t get past Ezra 7.10. Same day, Celia was singing Bethan to bed with the song “I will make you fishers of men” and came down in tears; “What are we doing with our lives?” she asked. It all came together then.

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

AR: Our church (and we) couldn’t afford seminary; so I went to Cornhill Training Course, took the Moore College correspondence studies and moved to Yateley as assistant to Eric, who taught me for a few hours every week. That’s essentially it – and a voracious appetite for reading, of course. I continue to meet with Eric weekly, so my “University” tuition group continues.

GD: What do you find most difficult and challenging about being a pastor?

AR: Easy. Lack of spiritual growth in people who should often (always?) be doing much better. Personally, feeling this too personally and treading what can sometimes be a lonely road.

GD: It's tough at the top. What do you find most thrilling and encouraging about being a pastor?

AR: Spiritual growth in people who should often (by the world’s standard) be struggling.

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/her?

AR: Hard question. So many! I’m tempted to go for Edward VI – a young man who fascinates me; come on, rewriting the liturgy in the middle of Bishop Hooper’s enthronement? However, he is fairly well researched, so perhaps I would go for someone more obscure – say Ulrich Zwingli. I really want to ask him whether he “stumbled” across justification by faith alone separately from Luther (as he claims) and if so, how?

GD: I wonder what he'd say? He'd probably just try to drown you for being a baptist anyway. Name your favourite contemporary theologian. Why so good?

AR: That’s hard! It changes every week. Currently Big Doug Moo – I find his insights into Romans quite thrilling – but it’s likely to be someone else next week.

GD: Moo's a Biblical Scholar rather than a theologian isn't he? You sometimes reference Mark Driscoll on your blog. What do you make of the controversial US pastor?

AR: I try not to be a complete fan of anyone, by conviction! I love some of his stuff, but also find he is, to my ear, unnecessarily provocative at times. I love the fact that Reformed thought is finding a new audience and that they are being thrilled by (largely) the same truths which thrill me.

GD: You've just come back from the Affinity Study Conference: The End of the Law. Did you find it helpful?

AR: Yes and no. Some good papers and thought provoking discussion. I don’t think it’s the kind of subject where we’re ever going to reach a consensus. I was surprised by how some older Presbyterians argued all their case from the Westminster Standards rather than Scripture – it highlighted for me something I hadn’t really seen before. I know they would make a clear case that the Westminster Standards come from Scripture – but in that kind of setting I want to go back to the Word directly, not via a 17th Century assessment. Controversial?

GD: Not really. Some Presbyterians tend to think in a very confession-bound way. Robert Reymond's A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith is basically a glorified commentary on the Westminster Confession. That worries me a bit. While theology should be confessional, Scripture is our ultimate authority. As ironically enough WCF 1:10 states, "The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture." Richard Gaffin shows us a more excellent way. Following the example of John Murray, he is confessional yet his rigorously exegetical approach constantly yields fresh insights into Scripture. Now, you are a member of the Affinity National Council. Could you say a word or two about the purpose of Affinity?

AR: Affinity is an evolution (a good one) of the sometimes rather negative British Evangelical Council. It is radical in that brings together those of different ecclesiologies but centred on the truths of the gospel. So it has (and has always had) Baptists, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Pentecostals and, now, Free Anglicans. Some of the work is to present a united case in the world on social issues, for example abortion. Another area of work focuses on how we can work together in missions; yet another is a theological think tank (though, given the differing views, this perhaps works only so well). My particular area is gospel partnership – seeking to help churches understand what independence and interdependence look like in the 21st Century. I am convinced that this is an important job – but bigger than anyone realised.

GD: Some people have expressed concerns about the Affinity sponsored Gospel Partnerships that have been springing up around the UK with the aim of bringing together Free Church Evangelicals and their Anglican brethren. It seems that the issue of separation from the theologically mixed denominations, raised by Lloyd-Jones in 1966 has been kicked into the long grass. Also there are differences of emphasis between Evangelical Anglicans and Nonconformists over matters like the relationship of Word and Spirit in preaching, not to mention the doctrine of the Church. Care to comment?

AR: Ooh, that’s a big question. Firstly, Gospel Partnerships are not Affinity sponsored, though some of them (not all) do associate with Affinity through their own choice. The whole issue of Free Church/Anglican is coming to the fore again – you are right – and is one that needs some careful thought. It seems to me that many free churches are in mixed denominations! I’m an FIEC pastor, and the only church service I’ve ever walked out of was in an FIEC church. It was terrible! The local Anglicans I work alongside are thoroughly Reformed and operate as Free Churches anyway! I am more happy partnering with them than other free churches which compromise on just too much. I think Evangelicalism is too weak in the UK to ignore this issue for much longer; both the Free Church and good (I use the word advisedly) Reformed Anglicans are different beasts than they were in 1966.

GD: What features of the Reformed scene in the UK cause you concern and what fills you with hope?

AR: The greatest concern that I have for Reformed theology is the inability of some who hold Reformed views to think freshly. I think this marked out all the Reformers; but we seem to have come to the point where the Reformed canon is closed much like Scripture. I believe in reformed; always reforming, but see little of that in some who claim to be truly Reformed. This doesn’t mean we must change; but we must create an environment where we are wiling to think about it. As for what fills me with hope, the weakness of evangelicalism in the UK is making us think through partnerships we hold dear and where allegiances truly live – I think initiatives like New Word Alive and the work that is being done through UCCF are hugely encouraging. UCCF is full of Beautiful People – I mean, students who are reading Athanasius? When I was a student, few people got beyond Joyce Huggett. Bring it on!

GD: Some of us seem to believe in semper reformanda, so long as it doesn't change anything. Its good that things are looking up in the student world. With 2009 being the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth, tell us three vital insights that you have gained from the Reformer.

AR: One insight above all others: always reforming. I have on my bookshelf two copies of the Institutes – one from 1536, the other the 1559 version. Comparing them is hugely informative. One positive insight: prayer; it was first reading Calvin that made me more committed to prayer (still a long way to go, of course!). One negative: church and state don’t mix. I’m with Professor Paul Helm on this – principled pluralism. I think he says “the Constantinian Settlement was the worst mistake ever made in the church.” I agree. My love of church history shows the effects of this rearing its head again and again, not least (sometimes) in Geneva. By the way, we’re going to do a Bible Study series in the summer on Calvin – his life, learning and legacy. If anyone has any insights, do send them to me!

GD: What is the biggest problem facing Evangelicalism today and how should we respond?

AR: Black spots. Huge swathes of the country with little or no Evangelical witness. I know Christians who have to travel 30 miles to get to a church – not passing anything on the way. The only way this is going to get fixed is when stronger churches get together and think strategically about the gaps and how to plug them, perhaps financing and resourcing struggling churches.

GD: By "black spots" for a moment I thought you were going to say that our biggest problem is zits! I was waiting for you to say "And we should respond with a good dose of Clearasil." I'm glad you elaborated on the opening words. We do need to find some way of linking larger churches with smaller under-resourced fellowships. Perhaps the Gospel Partnerships could do some good in that area? Right, care to name your top three pieces of music?

AR: I have very varied tastes. I love anything with a piano (being a pianist myself) from jazz to Billy Joel! But top three: (1) Carmen by Bizet (against all the influence of my parents, I love opera) (2) Bach’s St Matthew’s Passion and (3) Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony. I am not just a classical nut, but these are the tunes I play when I need music most!

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

AR: Bob Letham’s “The Holy Trinity” – a great doctrine and one which many pastors don’t grapple with – just listen to their praying! Surely if there’s one doctrine we need to delve into and delight in it is this? Special mention to the Dutch Reformed Translation Society for Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics.

GD: Good choices. I enjoyed Letham on the Trinity (here). His book is a real challenge to make the Trinity more central in the proclamation, life and worship of the Church. I'm slowly woking my way through HB's Reformed Dogmatics (here). Great stuff. Now, which blogs do you enjoy reading and why?

AR: Anything by a Welshman. Gary Brady; Martin Downes; some chap called Guy Davies. Like many, I guess, I tend to use Bish’s blog as a stop off point – casting my eye down his blogroll every now and again.

GD: Well that just about wraps things up. Thanks for dropping by Adrian. Great talking to you!

AR: No problem – an easier way to experience Wales than having to actually go there…..
GD: What's that supposed to mean, you cheeky Englishman? You just wait until we trounce you at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday.

1 comment:

Rob S said...

"AR: Black spots. Huge swathes of the country with little or no Evangelical witness. I know Christians who have to travel 30 miles to get to a church – not passing anything on the way"

This is a problem here in Canada, as well. There are areas, like where my parents live, where the evangelical witness is not strong at all.