Thursday, July 29, 2010

Blogging in the name of the Lord: Gary Benfold

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

GB: A Yorkshireman by birth and conviction, I was 'awakened' through hearing Lloyd-Jones preach, and converted as a teenager in a Wesleyan chapel where they loved the Bible enough to move away from Wesleyanism when they saw it didn't fit. I went off to study Business Studies at Bradford University, taught in Rotherham for three years (to give me time to grow up - not sure it worked) and then began to train for pastoral ministry. I'm married to Elaine, and have two adult children and three darling granddaughters.

GD: You have a blog entitled, Who's that Preacher? What made you start blogging?

GB: I was just playing around to see if I could set up a blog - I'm not very computer literate. I didn't take it seriously for quite a while - one evidence of which is that this year I've posted almost as many posts already as in the whole previous five years. But I've continued because it gives me chance to reflect on issues - trivial and otherwise - that catch my attention, and share my thoughts with anyone interested. I've also discovered, just this past month, that the number of 'hits' goes up dramatically if I put a preacher's name in the title!

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

GB: Its weaknesses are obvious: the ignorant share what they don't know all too easily, and stoke up the fires more than is helpful. And light-hearted banter can be taken too seriously by the Reformed Thought Police and get 'slammed' in a national conference. Its strengths, though, will take longer to emerge: though I'm glad to have found my way to Phil Johnson and Dan Phillips, neither of whom I would ever have read otherwise.

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

GB: Oh, easy: Lloyd-Jones and Packer. I'll never forget the shock of reading Packer's 'Introduction' to Owen's 'Death of Death in the Death of Christ', and discovering that my free will wasn't free, and God's free grace really was. Both have exerted immense influence on me since, though I differ from each significantly.

GD: I well remember reading that intro in my lunch break when I worked in a steelworks in Newport many years ago. It's what put the 'L' into my TULIP. Describe your call to pastoral ministry.

GB: Hmm. I was converted just a month or so before I went up to university, and Bradford had an excellent CU - the only Reformed one in England at the time, I think - where we had regular visits from Stuart Olyott and Geoff Thomas and others of similar convictions. But the big turning point for me was a CU houseparty, where the preacher was taking us through 2 Timothy. I'd never heard systematic expository preaching before and I was absolutely gripped - I can still weep when I recall sections of it. I remember thinking 'If I could do that, it would be worth spending my life for.' Gradually over the next couple of years the conviction grew within that God was calling me to spend my life trying to exactly that. Ironically, the preacher that influential weekend was Roy Clements, who has since turned away.

GD: Where did you train for the ministry and what was the most helpful aspect of your training?

GB: I trained at the London Theological Seminary, from 1980-82. The most helpful thing was sitting under men who took the Bible and the Spirit seriously and were passionate about Christ. You were there later, I think - what did you find most helpful?

GD: I ask the questions round here, Gary. Now, what is the most helpful piece of advice that anyone has given you on preaching?

GB: Two things vie for first place: Alistair Begg 'Think yourself empty, read yourself full, write yourself clear, pray yourself hot'; he got it, I think, from Leith Samuel who himself got it from someone else. But it's deceptively helpful: the first thing is to write down everything you think the text is saying, during which some sort of structure will probably begin to emerge. The second stage insists on you checking to make sure you haven't missed the point, or something crucial. The third thing is obvious, I think; and the fourth, too easily neglected.

Rivalling this advice for first place is from Olyott: State, illustrate, apply.

GD: What is the relationship between Word and Spirit in preaching?

GB: You want a succinct answer to that? Are you kidding?

GD: No. But moving on, if time travel were possible, which figure from post-biblical church history would you most like to meet, and what would you say to him/her?

GB: That's fun, isn't it? Who wouldn't love to meet Spurgeon, or Whitefield? But I think I'd settle for Lloyd-Jones, and say 'thank you.'

GD: Did you enjoy the recent Evangelical Ministry Assembly?

GB: Oh yes. They're usually uneven, and this one was too. But it was great to hear Vaughan Roberts on Whitefield, saying things a Proc Trust Anglican needed to say; and electrifying (to me) to hear him describe Whitefield's first preaching in London and point to the door through which I'd entered a few minutes earlier and say 'He entered through that door; came down that aisle, and climbed into this pulpit.' Wow - history lives.

GD: I wasn't there, but I've just started listening to the MP3 downloads (see here). Good stuff so far. Should Evangelicals welcome the pope's visit to the UK in September?

GB: I don't think Evangelicals should care one way or another - he's just another leader of another false religion. But Englishmen (sorry, Guy - the British) should care very much. As I understand it, he still claims to be a head of state, and still claims jurisdiction over England. Isn't that right? [Sure is.] And he may be prepared to keep quiet about it for 'the long game' - the Vatican certainly thinks in centuries - but we mustn't think he isn't serious. Unless and until he repudiates all such claims, then he shouldn't be welcomed - should he?

GD: Certainly not. Care to name your top three songs/pieces of music?

GB: Beethoven, Violin Concerto (played by David Oistrakh); Beethoven, Piano Concerto no. 5 ('Emperor') (played by Ashkenazy); Bruch, Violin concerto (played by Janine Jansen).

GD: Is Elvis' version of "Bridge Over Troubled Waters" really better than the Simon & Garfunkel original?

GB: Oh yes; but Peter Masters' version far outstrips them both.

GD: I'll take your word for it. You are sometimes confused with fellow pastor-blogger Gary Brady. For those who can't tell the difference, which one are you?

GB: The one without a famous father-in-law. The slim one. The old one. The one who doesn't speak Welsh. (Spot the odd one out).

GD: You're both a bit odd. Right, what is the most helpful theological book you have read in the last twelve months? It is a must read because...

GB: I've re-read parts of Knowing God by J. I. Packer - it's theology that thrills the heart. If I may be frank - I wouldn't read some of the stuff you review. I'm not criticising anyone else for reading it, but I can't see how it would actually help me reach the lost or build up the saints... in fact, I think it would get in the way. Please feel free to shoot me down.

GD: I've always believed that pastors should read widely and deeply. I don't think that books have to have a direct relevance for pastoral ministry in order to be worth reading. That's my excuse anyway. Now, what is the biggest problem facing evangelicalism today and how should we respond?

GB: The thing that troubles me most is the defeatist and backward-looking attitudes of some of the Reformed movement in the UK - you may have heard me on this before. I don't say it's the biggest problem facing evangelicalism, but it certainly doesn't help. I could go on about this. I certainly don't want to be unkind to anyone. But I wish there was a conference in the UK like 'Together for the Gospel' or 'Resolved'. I've thought about starting one myself - a conference for happy Calvinists! But I might be the only one there...

GD: Lastly, which blogs do you especially enjoy reading and why?

GB: Pyromaniacs; Dan Phillips' Biblical Christianity - both of them for their combination of insight and wit and - sometimes - outrageous comments. Yours, of course - mostly to spot the spelling errors. (Just kidding). Melanie Phillips, for a different - and I think often more accurate - perspective on current news.

GD: Well, thanks for dropping by for this chat, Gary. I am to typing what Les Dawson was to playing the piano. Or as Eric Morecambe once said, "All the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order." I shall try and keep the typos coming just to entertain the pedants. See ya!


Jonathan Hunt said...

Oh dear, oh dear oh dear. You really should vet your interviewees better.

You are both very, very naughty boys and you should not have a sense of humour because you are ministers. Don't you know that?

Gary said...

Actually Guy, when I heard Les Dawson play piano, he was pretty good. But I'll not say any more, in case 'two supposedly reformed ministers discussed the work of a crude comedian on their blogs'

Exiled Preacher said...

I was thinking of when Dawson would deliberately play the wrong notes for comic effect. But enough of this levity.