Thursday, February 22, 2007

Blogging in the name of the Lord: John Kilpatrick

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

GD: Hello John and welcome. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
JK: Hi, Guy, I'm an awkward Scot, living in London, married to Gill, father of two grown up children, and minister of High Road Baptist Church in North Finchley.
GD: Why blog?
JK: To encourage the others to do better. When Abraham Kuyper's newspaper, 'De Standaard', was launched in the Netherlands, it propelled a confessedly Reformed movement (which included the delightfully named Anti-Revolutionary Party) into existence. It survived various disasters (like the PM not understanding Hitler until it was too late) to produce seven prime ministers of the Netherlands and a model for how to do theology in the public arena. I don't think that anything other than web journalism has the potential to have such an impact today. I don't aspire to reproduce Kuyper's we-are-everlastingly-right, De Standaard editorials but I'd like to be part of the movement that does. Keeping a journal myself gives me the right to comment on others which I ought to do more than I do, I think.
GD: Your blog is called the "Hired Shepherd", why?
JK: We had a spot of bother at the High Road with a friend who didn't want to leave the building, in which he was squatting. I wasn't there when he was persuaded to go and he kept asking where I was, depreciatingly as: 'Where's the hireling?' (Alluding to the AV of John 10.) I thought that the description was fairly accurate since none of us can know if we are any more than just hired shepherds until tested unto blood. I don't claim that it's actually a title of honour but I'm not sure that using it is just inverse pride either.
GD: You seemed to start blogging with some enthusiasm and then stopped, only to pick it up again recently. Why the hiatus?
JK: I got terribly frustrated with myself. I tried to mix it with the big boys on the cessationism issue and produced one post (When Perfection Comes) that was far too long for anyone to have to plow through and got sidetracked. When I lost the ability to comment on other people's posts and couldn't work out how to paste text into Hired Shepherd any more I got too embarrassed to try to post the text of the Scottish 'Negative Confession' for a third time and gave up. This year I was so gripped with disbelief that Gary Brady in particular could be so much smarter than I am to produce a journal with so many bells and whistles (I like the content as well but it's the seemingly effortless production of things like embedded photographs that make me jealous.) I was advised to upgrade my blogger and goaded into reappearing.
GD: Gary recently revealed that he pinched his best ideas from me. He's the blogging equivalent of a magpie with chronic cleptomania. You published some useful stuff on Thomas Boston, was that part of a research project?
JK: Yes, as it happens. I'm doing a thesis with the John Owen Centre on 'The Doctrine of Adoption in the Writings of Thomas Boston' and so I occasionally had pages of stuff that I thought could be presented to literally scores of people through Hired Shepherd.
GD: How are your studies going?
JK: Don't ask! I'm not going to finish by mid-March which I think I would need to to meet my absolutely final deadline. I want to finish the book but I don't think that I'll be able to present it for my degree now.
GD: Oh, I wish I hadn't asked! What are some of the difficulties of pastoring "an incredibly small" church?
JK: Basically, there is such a thing as the too-small church and pastoring it properly is either a gift that I don't have or it can't be really pastored at all because of its size. Our friend Hugh Hill did a seminar once years ago about the differences between having less than thirty members and more and all my observations would say that he was right. I never heard of John Lanferman until the other day but Andrew Fountain reports him as saying that before a church plant "goes public", there are five areas that need to be covered:
1. Preaching
2. Worship Leader
3. Someone to head up children's ministries
4. An "integrations person" to make sure newcomers get integrated into the life of the church
5. Cell-group leader/organizer
It is very difficult to all of these things properly as a one-man-ministry but I agree that the dysfunctionally small church tends to fall down on at least one of these areas. I fear that I might have found a way of nurturing the root of bitterness by making excuses where I should have been forgiving and seeking forgiveness. I also fear that I'm institutionalized to being an agent for preventing the renewal that we are supposedly looking for.
GD: We're quite small too. But our people have been willing to get involved in all sorts of things. There has been a willingness to take risks and start new ventures for the gospel in the area. What are the joys of being part of a small church, there must be some?
JK: I don't want to be cynical but that question sounds like 'what are the joys of having two broken legs.' I am thankful for what God gives and my life is not without joy but linking joy with the church stubbornly remaining too small for ~ a century? — sorry, can't do it. We should be glad that so many people say that they are praying for us but when we are used to being told this to sweeten the pill as people are giving us their reasons for not staying with us we could surely be forgiven for wishing that people would stop praying and start staying instead.
GD: We studied at the London Theological Seminary together (1988-1990), what is the most helpful thing that you learned while at the Seminary.
JK: 'Life is hard and then you die?' well maybe. In reality what I needed to learn was that becoming narrow is no solution to facing shallowness. I learned that it takes a deepening of experience to bring it home to us that 'Salvation is of the Lord.'
GD: I used to say, "Life's had and then you die" rather a lot didn't I? It sometimes made an appearance in my sermons. But I've had to drop it because it wouldn't go down too well in pastoral visits. The most important lesson I learned was from Hywel Jones, the then Principal (latterly of WTS). He took me aside for a little chat after I has "preached" at morning devotions. He asked me how I would have felt if my Mum had served me with some unmixed, uncooked cake ingredients, instead of baking a proper cake. I think the he was trying to tell me that my message had all the ingredients of a sermon without being a sermon. It had no form or shape. It was too raw. At least I think that's what he meant. Maybe he just wondered if my mum had sent me any cakes in a food parcel? Anyway, for as long as I have known you, you have had serious reservations about the value of Systematic Theology. Why is that?
JK: I think it started with ignorance and frustration because the so-called Systematic Theologies that are most surely possessed among us are introductions to Systematic Theology or lectures on Systematic Theology instead of being Systematic Theologies in their own right and nobody points out the difference. I got terribly frustrated with Berkof for example because the Banner of Truth doesn't tell us that it is an introduction or that Berkof wrote an introduction to that introduction which is needed to explain what Berkof thinks Systematic Theology is, for example. Now that I've learned from Carl Trueman about the importance of prefaces and things like that, my dislike of Systematic Theology is more of a grumpy old man posture but I want to use that to get students to understand the difference between an introductory textbook and the real thing. The real thing is Bavinck's Reformed Dogmatics and, if they don't write them like that any more at least they've translated this one. I'm eagerly awaiting vol. four.
GD: Tell us your top three songs/pieces of music.
JK: The Cathedrals, 'We shall see Jesus'; Runrig, 'An Ubhal As Airde'; Deacon Blue, 'Bethlehem's Gate'.
GD: Interesting choices! Name the most helpful work of theology that you have read in the last twelve months. It is a must read because....
JK: Paradigm Shift in the Church Christian A. Schwarz is a must read because Natural Church Development is the baby in the Church Growth Movement's bilgewater.
GD: Do you visit other blogs, if so which ones have you found helpful and why?
JK: I've enjoyed this series of yours especially since a couple of the fellows you've interviewed are new to me.
GD: Thanks, I've enjoyed chatting to people too.
JK: I don't want to point to anyone in the big league to give them particular praise though I think I go where everybody goes and there seems to be a general rule of thumb, the largest numbers go to the most generally useful blogs. I've followed Stephen Dancer's lead in listing GenevaNetters as a separate commodity and inordinately proud I am to have understood the instructions enough to have produced the list. I like the community feel of reading stuff written by people I've corresponded with, liking it when people post frequently as they see fit and not liking it when they don't post for months on end. You know who you are! I'm not sure whether I've found inspiring or just downright terrifying the engaging in polemics that some GenevaNetters have done with the emerging church for example or with anti-creationists but I love to see a good argument being built and presented well.
GD: John, its been good to catch up with you. Thanks for dropping by for this conversation.
This series of interviews will end tomorrow with a very special guest....


Gary Brady said...

Thanks for that John and Guy. I specialise in bells and whistles. I'm glad to kow it's got John back to it. I'd not realised. PS Guy, how about aseris now on non-bloggers, starting 'Why don't you blog ...?' We know a candidate, eh?

Guy Davies said...

The trouble with that suggestion is that these interviews are inteded to be interesting and enjoyable. Can you think of a non-blogger who can do that?

J. K. Jones said...

Thanks for these posts. I am new to blogging, and I find the part about not being able to put in the bells and whistles encouraging.