Thursday, April 07, 2011

Blogging in the name of the Lord: Lewis Allen

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

LA: A 39 yr old Pastor / Church Planter, living in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, working at Hope Church. I’m married to Sarah with five children between 13 and 4.

GD: Your blog is called “Reclaimed”. Please explain.

LA: The name came out of a conviction that is what I am. I became a Christian from a godless adolescence through the witness of a close school friend (Garry Williams, currently at the John Owen Centre) and ultimately through the Holy Spirit’s convicting power as I read the Scripture portions in a Roman Catholic Missal when I was traipsing round Indonesia as a 19 yr old. I began the Christian life as a scared, unsure, and tentative believer in Jesus. The Spirit began to give me an awareness of just what I had been saved from, and a growing sense of what I was saved for. I was and am so deeply thankful to the Lord that He pursued me as He did, and reclaimed me for Himself.

GD: Why did you start blogging?

LA: For a number of years I sent my former congregation in London a weekly email. In this I gave them encouragements, through brief comments on passages of Scripture, excerpts from Church History, and snippets of doctrine. It was an excellent discipline for me to write regularly like this, and members were generous in their appreciation. I sensed that these might be helpful for a wider readership – hence the blog.

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

LA: ‘Theological reflection’ would be too grand a word for my brief posts, Guy, so I’ll have to comment on the blogs of the great and the good! My posts are brief because really good blogging takes a lot of time and energy, which I struggle to find at this stage in my life.

Weaknesses? Sin and ignorance have ways of placarding themselves spectacularly in the Christian blogging world. So often bloggers want to be heard when they have a) little to say of any depth or originality; b) react too hastily to what someone else has said with insufficient thought; c) give in to trying to sound more learned than they are; d) name check with embarrassing obviousness; d) write in order to be noticed, rather than in order to inform, encourage and serve.

Strengths? Blogs are great as lit flares, drawing attention to something really important, or interesting. I rarely read lengthy blog posts, but find them useful for pointing me to books, people and ideas. For Pastors who blog, the demands of staying clear, interesting and helpful surely serve to help us in all of our other communication, including in the pulpit.

GD: How did you feel called to the Ministry of the Word?

LA: As soon as I began to get into the Word as a new Christian I longed to share what I was learning. Within a few months I was involved in discussion Bible studies, then led them, then took every opportunity I could to do personal evangelism, do talks, and then preach. Some of those early sermons were utter failures, and each one tore my heart out. Still, there was this growing sense of ‘this is what I have to do. Use me, Lord, please!’ Others confirmed some sort of fitness for ministry, and the more I preached, the more I know I could do nothing else.

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

LA: I went to Cambridge to read Classics. I loved the subject, but once converted just before going up I wondered if I couldn’t benefit from studying Theology. I was under no illusion that the course would be easy for my faith, but felt ready for whatever fight might come my way. So after two years of Classics I pursued another two of Theology, and it was a great experience. The most helpful part was watching my teachers at work, and discerning the convictions they brought to their studies, and what they took from them. I was taught by atheists, backsliders, and Reformed believers. I saw that Theology is the pursuit of believers, and saw many ‘rising and falling’ before the Lord according to how they handled His truth.

After graduation I did a one year Apprenticeship at the church I was a member of, whilst working part-time, and then followed that by a year’s training on the Cornhill Training Course. CTC knocked a lot of nonsense out of me, and gave me a chance to look carefully at where I might serve, and with what gifts.

GD: You are currently studying for a ThM at the John Owen Centre. What made you want to do the extra study?

LA: The Pastorate absolutely demands that we study, in whatever ways we can. I’m always goaded by Baxter’s comment, "Study hard, for the well is deep, and our brains are shallow." I regret that I didn’t study much systematic theology before entering ministry, and the opportunity to do more guided study for a ThM was too good to miss.

GD: What is the subject of your dissertation and why did you chose that particular area of research?

LA: All work has stalled over the last couple of months, I’m sorry to say! After a few current work projects I plan to get back in the saddle, and will probably seek to study the interface of a couple of areas in interest, the work of the Puritan John Flavel, and the decline in Puritan influence after the end of the 1600s. I’m giving a paper on the latter at the Westminster Conference in December, so if I can manage to see sufficient connections between these subjects then I’ll shape the current work accordingly.

GD: Why should Ministers continue to study theology?

LA: Without growing in our theological understanding and learning how to offer it to others in ways which truly serve their faith, we will become dry, dull and entirely predictable. We will succeed only in shaping congregations after our own image. It’s a terrifying thought, but it’s true.

GD: Scary thought. Now, how do you understand the relationship between preaching and the power of the Holy Spirit?

LA: Four convictions are uppermost. Firstly, the Holy Spirit is Sovereign in His pulpit ministry. He will bless or not as He wills, and will use sermons entirely as He wishes. Secondly, and every preacher discovers this, the Spirit especially owns sermons which are carefully prepared. If we engage in exegetical guesswork, are vague in our application, or just meander through our pulpit time, then we grieve rather than honour the Spirit whose Word we handle. Thirdly, we need to be very careful about thinking we know just when the Spirit is really at work through us. Sure, at times in a sermon we sense a great engagement from the congregation, there can be a real stillness and concentration. Is the Spirit at work then? Very often, I think; but let’s be cautious, and believe that He can work in restless congregations and through stumbling preachers. This belief keeps me going!

Fourthly, God has given every encouragement for us to believe that a ministry which is bathed in prayer will be blessed by Heaven. I know all too little of this wrestling for God’s blessing, and see it as a definite area in which I need to grow in my faith and practice.

GD: If time travel were possible, which character from post-biblical church history would you most like to meet and what would you say to him/her?

LA: I’m always deeply attracted to men who’ve worked hard with large hearts for the Lord’s people, the lost and the Saviour. Give me a coffee and cigar date with a Bucer, Calvin, Grindal, Flavel, Baxter, Grimshaw, Venn or Fuller, and I would be a happy man. I would ask each to speak on a subject of their choice for an hour, and would take copious notes!

GD: Why did you leave a “settled pastorate” to plant a church in Huddersfield?

LA: Cutting to the chase, because I came to a conviction that God was moving us on. We were very settled in West London, where I was serving as Pastor of Gunnersbury Baptist Church. After 12 years we felt that we were beginning to get under steam, and it was a fruitful ministry leading a team of two other fulltimers. Quite unexpectedly to us the Lord made us think about other areas of usefulness, and Sarah and I prayed hard, did our research, and took the counsel of wise friends. In brief, we knew that Huddersfield needed a Reformed and Evangelical Church, and everyone we spoke to confirmed that we should be doing it. We moved in September of last year.

GD: How’s it going so far?

LA: Excellent beginnings, with a great core, some of whom have been praying for a church planter and new work for years. Churches of any size here are Pentecostal or Charismatic, so we have a great opportunity to do something distinctive and different, whilst respecting their labours. The work is obviously small, but the potential of doing good in the town is massive!

GD: You are booked to speak at the Banner of Truth Ministers’ Conference in April. What will you be preaching on?

LA: Our love for Christ and our longing for His Appearing.

GD: I look forward to that. You are a “Banner” regular. What makes you return to the conference year after year?

LA: Friends, peace and quiet, time to think, fun, and the opportunity to hear often great preaching. I use Banner as a context in which I do work with my own soul. Do I still love the God of grace; is this still my theology; do I still believe in preaching and the local church; am I still committed to growing in love for Him, His truth, His people, His cause? I always come back with answers to those questions.

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

LA: Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 in G, Iron Maiden’s Aces High, and Too Close to Heaven by The Waterboys.

GD: What is the most helpful work of theology that you have read in the last twelve months? It is a must read because...

LA: With the upheavals of moving I think that serious reading has taken a back seat. I have bought Muller’s Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, which I’m working through. I think it’s a little like Joyce’s Ulysses, in that many have it, many have started it, most have fallen out of it! Quite simply, we younger men need to read big, hard books, including books which show how our beliefs have been handled and shaped by previous generations.

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

LA: Certainly up there is our disinclination towards doctrinal clarity, and clear church order. I think these problems will be more marked as there is more church planting in the UK in the coming years (which is obviously vital!). I see planters who are just delighted to have anyone join their congregations, and are unwilling to put church distinctives to the fore, for fear of being seen as narrow and unwelcoming. I believe that we honour the Lord by a sensitive catholicity of spirit and approach, whilst not neglecting to be clear about what we stand for and why. Evangelicalism’s problems are legion, but this is one I see a lot of in my context.

GD: Which theology/ministry blogs do you find useful and why?

LA: I’m not a big blog trawler, but do check the ones I’ve linked at I look for ideas, good writing, and humour!

GD: You won't find anything like that on my blog, but thanks for dropping by for this conversation. See you at Banner.

1 comment:

Jonathan Hunt said...

Good interview. I'm looking forward to Lewis' contributions at Banner.