Monday, February 23, 2009

Blogging in the name of the Lord: Jeremy Walker

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

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

JW: I am one of two full-time pastors at Maidenbower Baptist Church in Crawley in West Sussex (in the UK). The other is my father, Austin Walker. I was born in Crawley in 1975, and God drew me to himself during my teens, although the road was made much harder and longer by my sin and stubbornness. I studied English Language & Literature at the University of Leicester before working for five years for the Ministry of Defence in London, at which time I also returned to the church in Crawley. During these periods, God was again pleased to work in my heart, this time forming a desire for the ministry of his Word (see below). In January 2004 I was publicly recognised as a pastor of Maidenbower Baptist Church. Later that year I married my wife, Alissa, and God has blessed us with two delightful sons, Caleb (now two and a half) and William (going on four months).

GD: Your blog is called "The Wanderer". Please explain.

JW: One main source of the title and tagline of my blog is The Wanderer (or here), an Old English poem that I genuinely enjoy and on which I wrote an essay while studying at university, which explains its relevance. This wanderer is called an eardstapa (‘earthstepper,’ if you like), and this is why my blog address is http://www.eardstapa.wordpress.com/.

Another source is the writings of John Bunyan. The current tagline is the opening line of The Pilgrim’s Progress – “As I walked through the wilderness of this world . . .”, but Bunyan’s other great allegory, The Holy War, begins with a similar notion: “In my travels, as I walked through many regions and countries, it was my chance to happen into that famous continent of Universe.” These two books had a profound effect on me in my early years, and capture something of the idea of an interested pilgrimage.

In addition, the notion of being an outcast and a stranger (echoing that Old English poem again) is a Biblical one. Speaking of the faithful, the writer to the Hebrews describes those who “had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented – of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us” (Heb 11.37-40). Again, there is that seminal text in Psalm 119: “I am a stranger in the earth; do not hide your commandments from me” (v19). This is good company to be in.

My only concern is that the name can sound vague and indefinite. Wanderers are not necessarily going anywhere, but Christians are pilgrims – travellers with a definite destination. However, I wander through various media, seeking to observe things of use and interest, scavenging as I go, and so it does not seem too out of order.

Being a Walker myself, these various themes seemed to chime nicely, and so I went for it.

(Well, you did ask!)

GD: Beginning to wish I hadn't! Now, what made you start blogging?

JW: One motivation has been the Thomas Principle of Double Usefulness. If I am seeking to do something of value in one context, blogging is an opportunity to put it to work in another.

I also had friends who were blogging, or I would occasionally come across or be sent posts from various blogs. As I started to actually keep track of a few more visible blogs, I realised that a significant exchange of information and ideas was taking place on the web, and that – although I don’t know that any blogs are presently as effective as certain preaching and/or writing ministries have been – they are discussing and advancing ideas, and supplementing a lot of preaching and writing (and, for some, may be a primary source of information). I decided to try to keep abreast of and involved in that sphere. The opportunity for engagement and overlap with others trying to advance the cause of Christ is encouraging and attractive; being aware of currents in theology, and keeping abreast also of the spread of error, is necessary.

Finally, there was the desire to contribute to and maintain a Christian presence on the web, and the hope that someone stumbling across some of my material might be won to Christ. I try to make sure that I post something stimulating and useful to unbelievers on a fairly regular basis, as well as summarising my sermons.

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

JW: I think the demand to try to compress one’s thoughts into brief, pointed and clear units is probably helpful. One older volume on pastoral theology suggests that a pastor should always be working on something “for the press.” Perhaps a similar function can be ascribed to the blog? If Sir Francis Bacon was right, “Reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man.” Blogging contributes to those qualities in varying degrees. Ready writing generally demands ready thinking and provides for ready speaking. It is a good discipline with beneficial effects. For one thing, writing something generally helps me work through and analyse and assess more carefully than I might otherwise. It demands a more thorough and careful engagement than I might otherwise give.

I also think that the ability to bring nuggets of stimulating truth on a regular basis can be positive. Blogging can be useful in providing a taste of something more substantial, or a pointer to a sermon, book or essay of greater significance; it might prompt someone to put in a bit more effort in another medium. I think it can be a useful means of catching the momentary glance of a generation for whom attention is generally fleeting. However, I would still call blogging more a means to an end than an end in itself.

There are several weaknesses that come to mind. For one, blogging can be very shallow. The brevity that serves well in some respects can contribute to a lack of depth and development in structure and argument. For another, blogging seems to be inherently ephemeral. What is written one day (or even one moment) before simply gets lost down the line, regardless of the relative value of various posts. (I saw that Justin Taylor also highlighted the structural hierarchy issue in one of your recent interviews.) Again, the medium militates against meditation. Almost by definition, blog-reading is skim reading. Few posts are going to demand, require or receive a thoughtful, prayerful, careful reading. Furthermore, because most posts need to be kept shorter, there is a lack of continuity that prevents the development of a solid argument either over time or in the course of one longer piece.

Then there are some things that straddle the divide, such as the reach of the internet and the availability of blogging to so many people. The former is fine with regard to truth, but a problem with regard to error; there are many who set themselves up as experts on a theme or subject without any real credibility except their ability and willingness to write and comment at almost unfeasible length and with surprising tenacity.

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

JW: That’s a tough question to answer. My father was a key man, as he was the pastor under whose ministry I sat in my formative years. A lot of the structure of my theology and the channels in which my convictions run owe a great deal to the formal teaching I received from him in the church, and the informal instruction from my parents while growing up. I think one of the most significant parts of that legacy is my attachment to the truths of the Scripture as summarised in the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith.

However, given that I did not really develop an interest and start reading theologically until I went to university, my more mature theological development was substantially informed by reading in the Reformers, Puritans, and their successors as I pursued a reasonably voracious but largely unstructured and self-governed reading scheme during my university years.

When I was being assessed for the ministry, my father and several other men provided me with a more structured reading scheme designed to fill in some of the holes. Their selections (and my willingness and ability to stick with them!) added a third layer.

Over that time, a number of names rise regularly to the surface: John Calvin; Hugh Latimer; Charles Spurgeon; Andrew Fuller; John Bunyan; John Murray; John Owen; Stephen Charnock; Robert Traill; Sinclair Ferguson; B. B. Warfield. These are some of the men who have definitely and distinctly drawn, driven, pushed or pulled me in various directions.

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

JW: My mature sense of what it means to preach (and how to preach) has been developed most by reading sermons and the biographies of preachers generously equipped and greatly used by the Spirit of God. In that degree, I am somewhat eclectic, and you would probably see different influences depending on the kind of sermon I am preaching at any time. In that respect, past preachers would include Charles Spurgeon, George Whitefield, John Calvin, Hugh Latimer, various Puritan authors and preachers during various revivals of religion. Of recent or current preachers, I find the clarity and winsomeness of Ted Donnelly, the fire and directness of John Marshall, the passion and earnestness of Albert Martin, and the penetration, warmth and insight of Sinclair Ferguson, to be instructive in different ways. I never heard either Dr Lloyd-Jones or Professor Murray in the flesh. There are particular qualities of a number of other preachers whom I have heard occasionally that I wish I could emulate more. In addition, the faithfulness and sincerity of my own father remains, for me, a model of long-term, committed pastoral ministry. He is also the preacher to whom I have been longest exposed, but my interest in and responsiveness to sermons was fairly limited when I was younger.

You will see from a later answer that during the time in which I was being assessed and then more directly trained, a number of good and faithful men had the opportunity to stick their oar in. Most of them (and their congregations) had an impact in varying degrees on my preaching ministry.

I fear that I am giving the impression in these answers of being an unusually eclectic and distracted magpie. That may be so!

GD: You might say that, Jeremy. I couldn't possibly comment. Moving on, how would you describe the relationship between preaching and the power of the Holy Spirit?

JW: In one word, indispensable. A preacher is equipped by the Spirit of God, relies on the Spirit of God in both his laborious preparation and prayerful delivery of a sermon, and depends upon him for the fruit of all his efforts. We ought to look constantly for the immediate agency and powerful operations of the Holy Spirit in all our work, both publicly and privately, in all our pastoring and preaching. When we consider his person and work in relation to the Lord Christ, his work in and upon those whom the Father is drawing to Christ, and his relationship to those who are in Christ, I think that no-one could say any different. He turns a divine spotlight upon the Saviour so that he can be truly seen and known. By him God works that work of new creation, making the light of inward illumination to shine in the hearts of men. By him the Lord writes the law on the tablets of our renewed hearts. By him, Christ indwells his people and they are conformed to the image of the Son in accordance with the divine will, as the Spirit strives against sin within us and assures us of our peace with God. Where do you stop?

In practice, I think everyone who honestly seeks to be a witness to the truth as it is in Jesus, and to encourage and direct the people of God in their sanctification, will come quickly, repeatedly and ever more deeply to the conviction that apart from the power of the Spirit we can accomplish nothing. How much, then, we need to be praying that the Triune God would work powerfully, and that – knowing him – we might know him more; that, having life, we might have more of it; that, having truth, we might understand more; that, loving him, we might adore him increasingly; that, serving him, we might be more holy; that we might never grieve the Spirit by antagonism to his person and work. The preaching dynamic between our glorious God, the preacher he has sent, and the congregation to whom that man preaches must be enlivened along every plane by the Spirit of the living God.

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

JW: I am informed that, when very young, if my siblings and I were kept from church through sickness, I would drag out an old suit and conduct a service – complete in all its parts – from halfway up the stairs. I remember once thinking in my younger years (and I might even have uttered it in an unguarded moment) that I might be a preacher. That was some time before I was converted, and before my more developed resistance to the truth, but even then I confess to thinking that the idea was preposterous.

Into my teenage years, I became bitter and cynical, and forged for myself a downward spiral of rebellion and misery. Nevertheless, God in his mercy drew me to himself, but by means that left me somewhat exhausted spiritually and lacking in assurance. Coming out of that period just as I was leaving for university, I would have said that I was the last person you would have chosen for the ministry of God’s gospel.

As I went through university and got involved in a local church and came to know more Christians in different settings I was given a variety of opportunities to serve, and people began to drop hints, which received a stiff ignoring. I even avoided the Christian Union, having the notion hovering in my mind that involvement in CUs could become a stepping stone to something more. I developed what you might politely call a Jonah complex – fleeing from the call of God – and I do not know that I had many counsellors and overseers upon whom I would have relied to guide my thinking at that stage.

However, during my time at university the Lord was pleased to give me a degree of assurance of salvation, and more accurate and impressive views of the person and work of the Lord Jesus. Having had my own internal Reformation in being saved, and coming to see something of the wonder and glory of God’s grace in Christ, verses like Romans 12.1-2 impressed themselves upon me: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” Gripped by the mercies of God in salvation, I struggled to face what it meant for me to offer myself a living sacrifice to God. I was probably conscious of what it might mean, and not keen to pursue that possibility. I began to feel the pressure of which Jeremiah speaks in chapter 20, verse 9: “Then I said, ‘I will not make mention of him, nor speak anymore in his name.’ But his word was in my heart like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I was weary of holding it back, and I could not.” I went down various avenues to relieve this pressure in small ways, but it continued to develop.

By the time I left university, I had a job in London, and returned to my home church in Crawley. Within a few months, and for various reasons, I was pretty miserable, wandering round with a face like a robber’s dog. I remember the pressure building, and to-ing and fro-ing as to whether I should say anything to someone. I went that year to a Banner of Truth youth conference. I heard a sermon in which a comment was made about Jacob wrestling with God, and the point was made that God was wrestling with Jacob, a somewhat uneven contest (you would have thought that after trying that with regard to salvation, I would have learned my lesson). During the weekend, someone read a psalm – I cannot remember which one – but I remember it adding weight. What made it worse was that my home church was, at that time, going through a torrid period: looking on it as my father’s son, as well as a church member, there was nothing remotely attractive about many aspects of the pastoral office. Anyway, at some point on that Lord’s day, I called my father with a 10p piece (before mobiles, at least for me) and told him that, though I only had a couple of minutes, there was something I wanted to discuss with him when I got home, and that he was to make me tell him what I had in mind on the phone and not let me fudge it or put it off on my return. I did sit down and explain where I was at on my return, and things went from there.

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

JW: I have no formal ministerial training. To avoid any charges of nepotism, once I had discussed the matter with my father, he sent me to our good friend, Pastor Achille Blaize. He then set me a reading list that – with hindsight – was designed to do me good if I survived it, insofar as it was also a test of my resolve. In consultation with Pastor Blaize and a few other men, a programme was developed in which I would continue with my reading and personal study while on the train to and from London, and at nights. I was given some direction in that reading and study, together with a number of preaching opportunities. There was no immediate possibility of my being trained more formally (for financial reasons). A variety of factors meant that I preached more than might have been the case, although I found the twin burden of holding down a responsible job in London (model: Daniel) and trying to teach and preach sometimes two or three times a week over sometimes lengthy periods (model: Paul) something of a challenge. After five years, God in his providence provided for the church in Crawley to take me on full-time with a view to bringing the process to a head. For the next two years, I served and studied full-time. I was sent out several times to different churches that we knew well for three to six weeks at a time. The pastors of these churches had different areas of expertise, and different graces and gifts, and I would live in their homes and shadow them through that period. The churches, though mainly Reformed and Baptist, were of different sizes and ages, with different histories and profiles. However, they were each marked by faithful men seeking to advance Christ’s kingdom by Scriptural means in accordance with Scriptural principles. After two years of this, and despite some final and sometimes painful obstacles, the church recognised me as another pastor alongside my father.

If this all sounds drawn out and painful, I should add that I often think that the Lord has made those things which I ought to value hard for me to obtain, in order that I might prize them highly and hold fast to them.

With regard to the benefits of this system, I believe it broadened my horizons and expectations. I was stretched in my thinking and doing by a number of different men who challenged me in different ways and at different points. One would read pastoral theology with me, discussing it page by page. Another gave me a stack of reading and study to do at my own pace, but quizzed me every few days, expecting me to challenge his thinking and defend my own. Another sent me away to read B. B. Warfield on the person and work of Christ, and when I came back asked me to teach it back to him. From each I got sober, honest feedback about my preaching. I watched men who were not merely theoreticians but practitioners, men who were working out their convictions in the crucible of church life, facing real challenges, joys, and disappointments. They would offer counsel and advice as we worked through the issues of church life. They thrust me into situations which I would never have seen otherwise. Their various personalities and gifts demanded different responses from me. Living with them, there was no place for me to hide. I saw them with their wives and families, working out personal godliness. I could ask them honest questions as we went, and they were men who gave honest answers from a wealth of experience. I am grateful for this process, and the friends and mentors I enjoy as a result of it.

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

JW: Pursuing a close walk with God and cultivating personal holiness as a man before God; loving the people of God with a Christlike, sacrificial love, and serving them accordingly; labouring diligently and without distraction, concentrating on my pastoral priorities; praying as a pastor for those committed to my care as an under-shepherd; and, an apparent lack of fruitfulness in ministry, both with regard to sinners being saved and saints growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

GD: What do you find most thrilling and encouraging about being a pastor?

JW: The humbling reality that I am serving the living Lord of heaven and earth, and the God of my salvation, in order to glorify his name by preaching Christ; the fact that God can, at any time, accomplish what he pleases in his saving and sanctifying purposes, using even me; the privilege of giving myself to prayer and the ministry of the Word; and, those occasional moments when you see or hear of a spiritual breakthrough in someone’s life, in which God has given you a part – someone to whose awakening and regeneration God is pleased to make me a contributor, watching a new light of understanding dawn in the eyes of one of God’s people, seeing someone enlivened and energised to seek the glory of God, observing someone stirred to employ their graces and gifts in the advance of Christ’s kingdom.

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?

JW: I would like to speak to many, but I think I would choose Charles Spurgeon. I believe that he was an unusually Christlike man, and I love the way his redeemed humanity shone in his life and work. I also think that he was more of a reformer than we often give him credit for. I would want to hear him preach and see him live: I think “Watch and learn” would be the order of the day. I would ask him how he might face the challenges and use the opportunities of the 21st century, and see if he would give me counsel on preaching and pastoring. I am sure there would be many surprises and lessons.

GD: Name your favourite contemporary theologian. Why so good?

JW: That is not easy, but perhaps Sinclair Ferguson. I remember him saying that he had made the study of “the three Johns” a priority of sorts: John Calvin, John Owen, and John Murray. So, with Sinclair you also get the cream, the condensed goodness, of those men of God. I enjoy the breadth and depth of his understanding of the Word of God. When he expounds a verse of Romans, for example, you know he views it in the light of the whole Bible, has it in the context of the entire book, and sees it within the structure of that particular portion of the book. I appreciate the evident learning that lies behind the simplest pronouncements, and I value the simplicity of his teaching: he can bring truth to bear with clarity and directness at an accessible level. I am grateful for his approachability and friendliness, and willingness and ability to understand and answer questions. I like his humour and his humanity: he is happy in his own skin. I admire the stability and conviction that enables him to minister in a variety of settings without compromise of his conscience and reputation. I also appreciate the Christ-centredness of his teaching and preaching: he never fails to exalt Christ my Lord, and I delight in that. He is a gospel man.

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

JW: Many things concern me. I am distressed by the attitude of many younger Christians (including younger pastors and theologians) to our inheritance of faith and life. Many of the truths that I hold dear have been purchased at high price in past years, decades, and centuries. I see many now squandering their inheritance, and giving up spiritual territory for which men gave their lives because they seem to have no sense of value of the truth, if they even realise what they possess. We have so great a wealth of truth, and yet seem too easily to go through the motions of truly assimilating it in our hearts.

I think there is also an increasing willingness to imagine that one can play God’s game by the world’s rules. John Owen somewhere suggests that where true religion declines, men will turn either to excess and wildness (I think he calls it ‘enthusiasm’ or fanaticism) or ritualism and formalism in order to fill the void. I fear that that is happening as men who sincerely desire God pursue him by means that he has not appointed. I think that there may be a willingness to taste and experiment with spiritual poisons that have long since been exposed as just that. We seek God in places and ways that God has not told us to seek him. If we want God’s blessing, we should seek it where the Lord says it will be found. If we want the water of life, we should stay in the channels where God says it will flow, even if they are now drier than we wish.

On the other hand, we can be far too introspective. This can work itself out in at least two ways. Often we appear to be simply smug. We are confident we have the truth. We look down on those who have less than we have. We pat ourselves on the back within the confines of our Reformed enclaves because of our purity and faithfulness, congratulating ourselves on what we have and are, and assuring ourselves that our smallness and lack of influence are a testimony to our purity and faithfulness, and a mark of our true worth. But those enclaves are too often becoming arid, and the souls within them are shrivelling. We can even turn our backs on the world, and become practically hyper-Calvinistic. Along the other track, I am concerned at a sense of resignation – even fear and despair – that I see among some saints. There are some who ask, “Who will show us any good?” and seem to wonder if God will ever lift up the light of his countenance upon us (Ps 4.6). This can lead to an inability and even unwillingness to bring the truth to bear on our society and to preach and apply the Word of God by all appropriate means and with freshness and vigour – people just batten down the hatches and hope the challenges will go away.

The truth must neither be traded (exchanged for that which is not worth having) nor hoarded (kept locked away where it can do no good, but is forgotten even by those who possess it), but displayed and invested, confident that God will accomplish his purposes.

My main hope is that God is still God. I long to see his church revived and the gospel advancing in this part of his world, and I know that he can do it as and when he wills. I also know that he will be glorified, and am often encouraged to think that the darker the darkness, the more the light of the gospel is demonstrated to be truly glorious. It is encouraging to go on meeting young men – my peers and younger – who are being called into the ministry (though we need many more), a good many of whom have an intelligent and passionate commitment to the truth. I also have the privilege to do a fair bit of preaching outside my own home church: as I do so, I meet many faithful saints with a continuing appetite for the truth, and a longing for God, and a commitment to pray for his glory. There are faithful churches, some smaller and some larger, with faithful saints who are the salt of the earth, and their delight in the truth and appreciation for preaching and constancy in prayer does my soul good. They truly are waiting upon the Lord, and waiting for him. Also, when you think of the availability to the church of Christ of books and sermons expressing ‘Reformed’ truth, I know that one divine spark could light the tinder of truth in men’s hearts, that one divine shower could bring to fruition the seed that has for so long been sown.

We need a sense of Christ’s church as both fortress and outpost, standing firm in the world and carrying forth the gospel to the world, and doing both in the power of the Most High God. He can give us that.

GD: With 2009 being the 500th anniversary of Calvin’s birth, tell us three vital insights that you have gained from the Reformer.

JW: The three things I would suggest – and they are interlinked – are:

Commitment to the Triune God himself. B. B. Warfield put it in this way: Calvinism “lies in a profound apprehension of God in His majesty, with the inevitably accompanying poignant realization of the exact nature of the relation sustained to Him by the creature as such, and particularly by the sinful creature” (Works, 5:354). This is really the starting point of Calvin’s Institutes. Calvin is a man captured and captivated by the Triune God, and who therefore sees himself also in proper perspective. Until we perceive God accurately as revealed in Christ, our eyes opened by the Spirit, we can neither be saved nor can we serve. When God opens our eyes, then we begin to begin to know and adore him as he is. That believing view should once and for all bind us with humble joy to the God of our salvation, recognising that what he does he does for his glory, and we should do the same. It sets our compass for time and for eternity; it will keep us faithful.

Commitment to the truth of God in the Scriptures. Calvin knew that God was known pre-eminently through his written down revelation, and he set himself to know him and obey him as he has revealed himself and his will. We should be instructed by his honesty in handling the Word of God, his readiness to submit to all its nuances, and not to impose his system on Scripture, but to have Scripture fashion his system. I appreciate that a man of his genius is ready to say – repeatedly – that he has reached the limits of revelation as God has given him light, and that he must go no further, but pause and worship where he cannot understand. There is a wonderful integrity to his teaching on this account. When dying, Calvin could say, “I have taught faithfully, and God has given me grace to write, which I have done faithfully as I could; and I have not corrupted [mutilated] one single passage of Scripture nor twisted it as far as I know; and when in a position to arrive at an artificial meaning through subtlety, I have put all that under my feet, and have always aimed at being simple.” I think if more preachers and teachers could say that with sincerity and in truth, the church would be substantially healthier. Under this heading I would include his preaching and teaching ministry. He sought not only to understand and follow God’s Word for himself, but to communicate its truth with simplicity and clarity to those whom he served. What sermons and commentaries that attitude produced! What a model for Christians, especially those who preach and teach!

Commitment to the service of God. This is really the outworking of the former two. Because God is who he is, and because we know him as revealed in Scripture for our salvation, how can we but consecrate ourselves and our all to his glory? When I read of Calvin’s life and labours, his Christlike willingness to serve, and to suffer in serving, I know myself a spiritual pygmy. Calvin gave himself entirely to God. Again, Warfield: “He who believes in God without reserve, and is determined that God shall be God to him in all his thinking, feeling, willing – in the entire compass of his life-activities, intellectual, moral, spiritual, throughout all his individual, social, religious relations – is, by the force of that strictest of all logic which presides over the outworking of principles into thought and life, by the very necessity of the case, a Calvinist” (Works, 5:354-5). That being so – and I think it is – I submit that we need more true Calvinists.

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

JW: I would suggest that our biggest problem is inaccurate and shallow apprehensions of the glory of God shining in the face of Christ.

I think this lies at the heart of so many other problems: it contributes to the coldness, slowness, and dullness of our hearts; to our tendency to worldliness; to our problems with true worship; to our readiness to search for solutions apart from the gospel; to our ineffectiveness as witnesses for Christ; for our tendency to idolise certain men; for our lack of freshness and initiative and vigour in gospel endeavour; for our readiness to search for solutions to the problems of the world apart from the gospel; it allows us to concentrate on building our own empires rather than that of Christ; it contributes to our fear; it robs us of our joy; it undermines our faith; it cripples our hope; it enervates our preaching; it dilutes our praying. Only let Christ be enthroned in our hearts as the Lord of Glory, our Immanuel, seen and known and felt as he truly is as the Son of God and Son of Man, and we shall have our perspective made right and willingly lay all the faculties of our redeemed humanity on the altar as living sacrifices.

We should respond by preaching Christ and him crucified to all the world. I do not mean by this just preaching “Calvary sermons” but a full-orbed gospel that declares Jesus in his saving and reigning fullness, Lord of faith and life, head of the first and of the new creation, with rights over men by virtue of his creative and redemptive work. We must make him known as Saviour and Lord in every sphere of life. We must work out and practice his gracious government in our lives as members of churches, families, and societies. We must proclaim God in Christ in all his majesty and mercy and might: preach him as such, pray to him as such, live for him and before him as such, sing of him as such, obey him as such, delight in him as such. This is why we need the Spirit of God to work powerfully among us: he will glorify Christ by taking what belongs to him and declaring it to us (Jn 16.14-15). If we believe in Jesus as Lord and Christ, we must live before him as such and make him known as such in dependence upon him, within and beyond his church.

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

JW: Not really! This is one of those questions where I would like to give a cheating answer, and sub-divide by style, tradition and/or period. That would give me endless choices, which is helpful as I don’t think there are three stand-out pieces for me: I listen to a lot of soundtracks, hymn and psalm compilations (some of the older Welsh hymns come near the top of the list for me), instrumental (everything from Beethoven and Mendelssohn through to Ludovico Einaudi), and still remember fondly some of the music from my days at university.

However, I know you get shirty about cheating answers, so I offer three pieces of instrumental music (i.e. neither hymns like those of William Williams nor choral works by men like Thomas Tallis nor more up-to-date stuff) that generally make me stop concentrating on other things to concentrate on them:

Going Home (Theme of the Local Hero), Mark Knopfler.
Farewell to Stromness, Sir Peter Maxwell-Davies.
The Battle (from The Gladiator soundtrack), Hans Zimmer.

GD: What? Me get shirty when interviewees surruepticiously try to get away with listing more than the mandatory three pieces of music? Never! Now, what is the most important theological book that you have read in the last twelve months? It is a must read because....

JW: That is tricky. As I look over my reading list there are perhaps two that stand out for me, and I give them together because they deal with the same truths in different ways (a formal cheating answer!). They are the most important in the sense that they have done my soul most good and I would most want others to be captured by the same truths. They are In Christ Alone: Living the Gospel Centered Life by Sinclair Ferguson (which I reviewed here) and Life in Christ: Walking in Newness of Life by Ted Donnelly. Sinclair’s volume is almost a complete, boiled down Christology in itself, holding up the person and work of the Saviour, and pressing home those things upon us. As I read it through, I found myself wanting both to meditate and to preach on each of these texts as fresh insights and delights were brought to my heart. Ted Donnelly’s book is more focused and perhaps more ‘popular’ – what does it mean to be in Christ? Both books consider who Jesus is and the benefits of our saving union with him. They overwhelm you with a sense of the wonder of the gospel, and the glory of the God of the gospel. To know what we must be, we must know who we are; to know who we are, we must know our standing in Christ. These books instruct us on what it means to become and to be a true disciple of the dying and risen Jesus.

While there have been some other books on the same or related topics that I have enjoyed, few have accomplished in the same way the binding together of such simplicity and clarity and profundity on such a glorious theme in modern dress. They are both humbling and uplifting, constraining and liberating.

GD: Hmmm. A "formal cheating answer", that's a new one. But with books by Sinclair Ferguson and Ted Donnelly, I can't compain too much. Right, which blogs do you enjoy reading and why?

JW: I don’t know that I enjoy reading many blogs – it tends to be particular posts rather than particular blogs, either something that serves a particular purpose or meets a particular need or advances a particular interest. I prefer more substantial and stimulating posts. I was recently disturbed to discover that I follow over 50 other blogs from a variety of points on the theological compass, but I tend to skim them through an online reader and pick out what seems valuable.

GD: Well Jeremy, thanks for dropping by for this conversation.

JW: The pleasure and privilege are mine. Thank you for inviting me.

GD: No problem. Great talking to you. Bye!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I found this blog very interesting. Jeremy is one of my favourite preachers. I frequently download his sermons from sermonaudio.com. Thanks for the interview. It is wonderful to see a young man wholly committed to uplifting and glorifying the true biblical Jesus in this postmodern, post Christian world. Chris, Brisbane, Australia.