Monday, February 09, 2009

Blogging in the name of the Lord: Justin Taylor

This is the second in our series of interviews with Christian bloggers. In the hot seat today is...
GD: Hello Justin Taylor and welcome to Exiled Preacher. Please tell us a little about yourself.

JT: I’m 32 years old. My wife and I met in elementary school. (My first crush on her, unreciprocated, was in 6th grade. We never dated, though, and the Lord graciously moved heart toward mine in our last semester of college). We have three kids, ages 5, 3, and 9 months. All three were adopted at 48 hours of age. We lived in Minneapolis from 1998–2005, where I was an apprentice at Bethlehem and then worked at Desiring God. I’ve been at Crossway since January 2006.

GD: Your blog is called "Between Two Worlds". Please explain.

JT: I was in my office at home in September 2004, trying to think of a good name for the blog. I glanced at my bookshelves, and saw John Stott’s classic, Between Two Worlds. I thought it seemed to fit since I wanted the blog to cover both the city of God and the city of man!

GD: What made you start blogging?

JT: Almost every day I used to email interesting stories I’d come across to a few guys. I think it dawned on me one day that I could do the same with a little bit of a wider audience. Hugh Hewitt’s book Blog helped encourage me to make a go of it—though I do remember thinking that I was too late to the game and all the good blogs already existed.

GD: Not quite, I didn't start mine until October 2005. Now, what in your view are the strengths and weaknesses of blogging as a medium for theological reflection?

JT: One weakness of blogging is its structural hierarchy: whatever is new is most prominent. (HT: Alan Jacobs for the observation.) You could write the world’s best theological post, but if your next post is a YouTube clip about a guy getting his sweater caught in the garage door as it goes up and down (have you seen it? [No] Pretty funny!) then that suddenly becomes the most prominent thing on your blog. “The medium is the message” is a bit of an overstatement, of course, but there’s still truth to it. And the medium of blogging can communicate the idea that “the newer is the truer, only what is recent is decent,” etc. (Quote from J.I. Packer.)

Another weakness is that most of us read blogs in “skim” mode—which is not always conducive for good reflection and meditation. That can lead to a temptation just to accumulate more info, rather than to be transformed by it.

One strength of the medium is that a good blog can consistently put good and edifying theological material in front of our eyes every day. We don’t have to pay for it, and it’s easily accessible.

There’s obviously much more that could be said, but those are the first couple of things that come to mind.

GD: Your blog carries a lot of newsy stuff. How do you manage to keep so up to date with what's going on in the Reformed world and beyond?

JT: There’s a few blogs I try to check every day. And there are some faithful friends like Andy Naselli who send interesting things my way. As a lover of books and an employee of a publisher, I try to keep my eye on books that are coming out, which is relatively easy given my job and interests.

GD: Carl Trueman is often banging on about the evils of theology blogging (see here), but it strikes me that his pieces on Reformation 21 represent some of the online writing around. What is it with him?

JT: You know, I think Carl is an outstanding writer, theologian, historian, and cultural critic. I don’t think he’s actually much of a blogger (trust me, he’d take that as a compliment!). I’d make a distinction between writing online and blogging. His online writing could be published in print just as easily. As for the substance of what he writes, I think Carl frequently overstates things—but in such a way that is usually quite helpful!

GD: I like his stuff. He is always thought provoking and challenging, even if he's a bit blogophobic. He graced the "hot seat" a little while ago - see here. Moving on, who has had the biggest influence on your theological development?

JT: In terms of living teachers, it would be John Piper and John Frame. (Ever notice that there are a lot of good pastors and theologians named John? Calvin, Owen, Bunyan, Newton, Bunyan, etc.)

GD: I think it's quite wrong that Johns are overrepresented on the "Great Pastor-Theologian" front. I suppose you've got Justin Martyr. But I can't think of any Great Guys. Why couldn't we have Guy Calvin, Guy Frame or Guy Bunyan? It's not fair. Right, what factors under God [apart from some Great Johns] have led to a recovery of Reformed witness in the USA?

JT: That’s a good question, one that I’m probably not as well-equipped to answer as someone like Collin Hansen (who has the gift of sociological observation and synthesis). The danger for guys like me is to take my own experience and extrapolate it outward. With those caveats, I’d say that under God it’s the combined growing desire for authority and authenticity and a growing dissatisfaction with anemic versions of Christianity. When there’s a genuine hunger for truth, Reformed theology grows.

GD: Which aspects of the Reformed movement fill you with hope and what causes you concern?

JT: Hope: the pursuit of truth. If we are genuinely pursuing truth (in God, through his Word), our problems are correctable.

Concern: the lack of love. I say the latter not only about those “out there,” but also about what I see “in here” (i.e., my own heart).

I recently started reading Alan Jacobs’s book, A Theology of Reading: The Hermeneutics of Love. He cites a quote from Augustine (from On Christian Doctrine [De Doctrina Christiana]) that is startling in its starkness: “Whoever, therefore, thinks that he understands the divine Scriptures or any part of them in such a way that it [i.e., his interpretation] does not build the double love of God and of our neighbor does not understand [the Scriptures] at all.”

Some of us don’t speak. Some of us speak but ignore the truth. Some of us speak the truth but don’t do it in love. But Scripture of course demands that we put it all together: “speaking the truth in love.”

GD: Help us on this side of the Pond to cut through the hype. What are your early impressions of the Obama presidency?

JT: I’m pretty surprised that things have gone so poorly so quickly. With the majority of Americans, the majority of Congress, and the majority of the media rooting for him, I thought he’d be off to a strong start. He has not seemed nearly as calm, confident, and competent as he did as a candidate. With regard to policy, his decision to increase funding for abortions overseas is deeply troubling, but not surprising. Despite all this, I still pray for him, as the Lord commands!

GD: Name your three favourite contemporary Christian authors.

JT: That’s a tough one. The first three to come to mind: Sinclair Ferguson, D.A. Carson, John Piper.

GD: Good choices and only one John. Yesss! It's great that there has been a resurgence of Reformed literature in the last fifty years or so. But it seems to me that perhaps too much many books published, and there is a lot of duplication, especially when it comes to Bible commentaries. Should Reformed publishers think of slowing down a bit?

Nope! The Reformed publishing houses are relatively small, and represent a tiny fraction of theological books being published. I think there’s still a significant need for more commentaries—especially on the OT.

GD: I stand corrected. Having "The Bible Speaks Today", "Tyndale", "IVP OT", "IVP NT", "Pillar", NICOT, NICNT, "Geneva", "Welwyn" and "Word" etc just isn't enough. I really need more commentaries? Maybe there are some gaps when it comes to the OT, but come on. Now, having having got that off my chest, why do you think that busy pastors should find the time to keep on reading theological works, both old and new?

JT: Pastors—like all of us—have a tendency to forget, and a tendency to get into ruts. The busier you are, the truer this is. Good books—both new and old—can help us remember, and help us to see biblical truth in a fresh way.

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?

JT: Hmmm. I can think of lots of different possibilities, obviously, but I think I’d have to say 18th century England and John Newton. I don’t know that I’d say much—I’d mainly want to listen to him preach and counsel and pray. Newton seems to be such a wonderful example of good, sanctified mental health.

GD: Thanks for sticking to just one, not like that Tony Reinke, who sneakily opted for three, including Benjamin Franklin. This year marks the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth. Apart from the Institutes, which three Calvin titles should all self-respecting Calvinists read?

JT: Others would be better at answering that than me. I think that if you get a set of his commentaries, and have the Institutes, you’re set for a lifetime of good theological and exegetical reflection!

GD: You often refer to C. S. Lewis on your blog. What is it that you find so engaging about the man and his books?

JT: I’m not a diehard Lewis guy. But on some issues he was an exceptionally clear and creative thinker. And he had a way of saying things that is usually very helpful.

GD: Would you describe yourself as a "Christian hedonist"?

JT: Yes in terms of desire; I wish I was more of one in terms of practice.

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

JT: Russell Moore’s Adopted for Life (forthcoming). It’s one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. He brings together a narrative style and insightful theological analysis in a unique way that helps us understand both vertical (spiritual) and horizontal (physical) adoption in a deeper way. I’m also quite excited about Tom Schreiner’s forthcoming book on the Law. I think it will be the new “first stop” in studying this important biblical-theological issue.
GD: Interesting suggestions. Care to share your top three songs/pieces of music?

JT: Sorry to disappoint, but I can’t really think of a top 3! I feel sort of sheepish for saying this, but I don’t listen to that much music. For Christian stuff, I like guys like Andrew Peterson and Fernando Ortega. I’ve also been listening just a wee bit lately to Nickel Creek, Pat Metheny, Sufjan Stevens.

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

JT: Not understanding and applying the centrality of the gospel in all of life. Every other problem facing evangelicalism—and there are many—is an outgrowth of that problem. The solution is to preach the gospel in season and out of season—to ourselves, to our families, to our churches, to our neighbors, and to the nations.

GD: Which theology/ministry blogs do you most enjoy?

JT: Here’s a stab at my top 15:

· Al Mohler
· Tim Challies
· CJ Mahaney
· Doug Wilson
· Denny Burk
· Desiring God
· James Grant
· Russell Moore
· Thabiti Anyabwile
· Tullian Tchividjian
· Pyromaniacs
· The Scriptorium Daily
· Stand to Reason
· Upper Register
· Zach Nielsen

Of course there are others!

GD: Yes, I know a good one by a certain Welsh preacher. But modesty forbids. Anyway, great talking to you Justin. Bye!


Gary Brady said...

Thanks for that Guy (and Justin). What about John Bunyan for another John? (And if you think Guy adn Justin are under represented, what about Gary?)

Exiled Preacher said...

I think Bunyan got a mention. As for Great Garys, well, there's your good self, Gary Benfold and Garry Williams. Not bad for a chav name.

Gary Steward said...

I agree, Gary is under-represented!

Demian Farnworth said...

I found his list of favorite blogs very helpful. And how he manages to cover so much material amazes me. Scares me. And amazes me.

Samuel D. Smith said...

Thank you for this great interview. God be with you, brother.

David O. Donovan said...

Thanks for doing this. Great post.