Monday, January 14, 2008

Blogging in the name of the Lord: Dave Bish

This is the third in our series of interviews with Christian bloggers. In the hot seat today we have...

Dave Bish

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

DB: Hi Guy. I'm 28 and have been a Christian for 10 years. I grew up in a church-going family attending the local liberal-anglo-catholic village church. I faced with the crisis moment of going off to University and realising I could leave give it up, but the gospel found me through Bible readings and Anglican liturgy. Now, I look back and see God opening my eyes to the inescapable beauty and glory of Jesus Christ that that sinful teenager really needed.

During my time at University I met my wife Em who is a music teacher who I'd recruited to sing in my student-band. We still occasionally write songs together through I'm just as happy to be cooking with her, watching weird films or building a garden shed.

Over the last decade I've spent 3 years studying maths, one year selling money in a high street bank, a few months as a pro-web designer for a dotcom at the height of the boom and the rest working with UCCF:The Christian Unions in South East and South West England.

GD: Your blog is called "the blue fish project". What made you start blogging?
DB: I've run the blue fish project since sometime in 1998/9. It was a forum for evangelistic articles and theological musings of a young Christian, all of which are now lost to the sands of time which is probably a good thing.

GD: Why "the blue fish project"? Sounds kind of cool, but is there some kind of deep, hidden meaning?

DB: Thank you. In honesty there isn't anything that deep to it! Some suggest is the phonetic similarity to my name but that's simply not the case.

Essentially when I was a student we developed an evangelistic website to go with a course we were running in our Christian Union. The course initially had a purple and orange fish for a logo and then Ire-coloured it blue which was a great improvement. Later we dropped the course but I kept the website and the fish and developed the name which is probably something of a variation on The Blair Witch Project which was released around that time.

GD: Oh, so that's it? It's just about a blue fish. Ah well. Now, what to you enjoy most about blogging?

DB: I find writing really helps me to think, always has. If that was all then I'd just write a private journal. Blogging adds an audience which means there is some accountability but also the opportunity to encourage and inform others. That adds extra satisfaction and motivation to the writing.

GD: What bugs you most about blogging?

DB: Personally I really enjoy it and don't feel that it's ever been a burden to keep it up. If it was I'd stop probably. About blogging more broadly, much of what is blogged is written from a position of fairly high ignorance. My own blogging included at times I'm sure. I love protestant freedom to study the Bible but wading through the sea of shared ignorance can be a challenge and something we have to be aware of.

GD: Right, you are UCCF Team Leader. What does that involve?

DB: UCCF is the family of University and College Christian Unions in Great Britain, part of a global family (IFES) in 152 nations. We're basically about seeing student-led gospel-loving mission teams active on campus to make disciples. As Team Leader my part in the equation is to supervise local staff who in turn serve these Christian Unions, in my case across the South West. That involves a mix of discipleship and management and several other things. In our region this year we have five staff and nine volunteers who work with us on our Relay-discipleship training programme.

I'm also able engage in some front line student work which includes speaking at CU team meetings, evangelistic events and training weekends. Last term that meant teaching John's gospel in Falmouth and Exeter, Luke's gospel in Bath and speaking on a couple of weekends on 2 Timothy. Ahead I'll be teaching Galatians in Plymouth and engaging with the ideas of Richard Dawkins at Exeter, along with the question of why God sends people to hell.

Looking ahead I'm excited by where UCCF is going. In September we'll-hold our largest student leaders conference (hopefully with 900people), joined by John Piper where we'll launch our fifth gospel project. This is an initiative to release about 400,000 copies of Mark's gospel into the hands of Christian students to give to students who aren't Christians. I'm excited to be developing some of the accompanying resources this term as we head towards the launch. Nothing compares to seeing God's word spreading.

In all this I'm seeking to see students in Christian Unions, grasping a vision for being mission teams on their campuses, centred on the gospel, confident in the scriptures. In line with this my highlight of last term was seeing about 200 students gather for an event we called Transformission, exploring the glory of the cross throughout the scriptures. Solid doctrinal stuff warmly taught by our Theology Advisor Mike Reeves (see forthcoming

GD: How would you assess the spiritual state of student life in the UK?

DB: The ever growing student world is marked by the same apathy and antipathy as the rest of society towards the gospel. Ultimately any analysis is going to be both negative and positive. Our campuses are full of human beings who will be the movers and shakers in the years ahead and by and large they do not know Christ. The harvest field is big and ever growing. Many of those have never set foot in a church, never opened a Bible and don't know the first thing about the gospel. Some of the baggage is clearing away but evangelisation is hard.

That said, I see great signs of life in many students. It was a delight to see 700 student leaders at our national conference last September centred around exposition of Romans and training tracks on Doctrine of God, Revelation, Salvation and Creation. I rejoice at the appetite I see in Christian students for the word of God, and their passion to make Christ known where they are.

GD: I suppose that University Christian Unions attract a large range of students with an evangelical church background. This must give you a good insight as to what is happening in the churches. What gives you encouragement and what causes you concern in what you see?

DB: Again much of both. Clearly many churches are doing outstanding ministry to teenagers. I'm blown away by the maturity, depth and clarity of many first year students who throw themselves into godly living and gospel proclamation. I've met students in the past term who have come to study but consider making Christ known to be vital, and they're seeing friends become Christians!

The other side of the coin is an often woeful Biblical illiteracy which leads to a small and lifeless Christianity that easily compromises with the world and lacks joy. Whilst many churches must be opening the Scriptures with their teenagers it would appear many are-not. That is deeply concerning.

The situation is never too pessimistic though. God changes people through his word, and opportunities abound to open the scriptures with students and see them transformed by the Spirit.

GD: UK Christian Unions have been subject to some discriminatory measures in the last few years. What's going on?

DB: They say what happens in society has previously happened in the Universities. If so, there may be challenging days ahead. A number of Christian Unions have begun to feel pressure from Students Unions Equal Opportunities policies that exclude societies who wish to have membership and leadership restricted to those who share the convictions of the society. Basically that means it breaks the rules for a Christian Union to insist on having Christian leaders.

This has played out in some loss of privileges and difficulties in obtaining facilities at times. We're hopeful of resolution and glad of partnership with the National Union of Students in developing guidelines for Students Unions and Christian Unions. As our society at large grapples with the shift from being a so-called Christian nation to being much more pluralistic we need to engage with these kind of issues. Things may not always workout in our favour, and I'm reminded that we're never promised an easy life as we life and speak for Jesus.

GD: You are also involved in the excellent "BeginningWithMoses" website. What kind of things might readers find over there?

DB: Our goal is to draw people into God's word with a particular emphasis on Biblical Theology, keeping God's word in it's context in God's story of salvation. The site is overrun with book blurbs and reviews and articles. The two star attractions I would say are David Gibson's paper Assumed Evangelicalism which many have found to carry incredible insight into the state of the church. The second is our Biblical Theology Briefings which are papers we commission from preachers who provide their sermon text and their working, helping us to see why they said what they said, what pitfalls they tried to avoid and what resources were helpful.

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

DB: The shockwaves of Norman Grubb's question in 1919 are clearly influential as I've spent most of my Christian life involved in the ministry of UCCF. I suppose two people have been particularly formative. One is Graeme Goldsworthy through his books on Biblical Theolgy, like Gospel and Kingdom which set my bearings in approaching God's word (along with Peter Jensen's The Revelation of God). Six weeks waiting for a credit check to come through so I could start working for a bank in the summer of 2002 was well invested in Biblical Theology, shortly after which I found myself caught up in

Secondly, John Piper's work has been influential. I suppose I've felt the effects of his work especially with reference to the sovereignty of God and to preaching (via the heavyweight The Justification of God and heartwarming The Supremacy of God in Preaching). In the Christian Union at Bath I was often involved in leading worship, and I observed the strange effects of my keyboard playing on people as we sang. That drove me into God's word and to seeing the connection between the glory of God and evangelism, particularly in Acts 17v16-17 as Paul is provoked by idolatry and so proclaims Christ. It was a life changing moment when I opened Let the Nations be Glad in 2002 to find that someone else had noticed this connection before. My Christianity was gradually rewired from defaulting to a fairly arminian charismaticism to being a God-centred Reformed Charismatic.

Working that out into a life and ministry that loves the gospel of grace former colleague Marcus Honeysett (author of Finding Joy) was very helpful. He tells, in Finding Joy, of the day he asked a Christian Union "when you do evangelism, why do you do it?" only to discover "because you make us feel guilty when we don't" - adventures with Marcus, and the deep pleasure of studying Galatians with many have worked the doctrines of grace into my heart and from their into life, firstly in my ministry as a husband and then with UCCF, my local church and beyond.

Looking ahead I'm getting into Calvin's Institutes and the Puritans, mostly thanks to the energy of UCCF's Theology Advisor Mike Reeves. Already they're stunning and shaping me.

GD: Last year, IVP published Pierced for our Transgressions: Rediscovering the glory of penal substitution. Why is IVP/UCCF so passionate about defending penal substitutionary atonement?

DB: The centrality of penal substitution is hardwired into the whole history of IVP, UCCF and the global IFES family. We formed through a break away from the Student Christian Movement about 90 years ago, when a student, Norman Grubb asked "is the atoning blood of Christ central to what you do?". The reply given was "we believe it, but it is not central". And so Grubb and his gospel partners walked away to start what we now call UCCF The Christian Unions. We're passionate about it because it's absolutely vital. Take away penal substitution and everything else falls apart eventually.

History has shown us that by keeping this at the heart of what we do vast numbers of students have been reached with the gospel as this movement of cross-centred mission teams has spread globally. It would seem that this has had a deep impact of the church in the UK and Ihope will continue to do so.

It's no surprise that we in UCCF found ourselves at the heart of controvery over penal substitution last year. In our day the goalposts have moved. The SCM leaders still believed the doctrine and that can't be taken for granted today. Still we press on in good company, illustrated through the endorsements on Pierced for our Transgressions and the birth of New Word Alive this coming Easter.

150 years ago Charles Simeon was involved in student work in Cambridge and said that nominal Christians could prove the importance of the cross, but it's real Christians who glory and delight in it, and would shudder at the thought of glorying in anything else. UCCF cannot move from such cross-centred ground.

GD: I'm reading Pierced for our Transgresstions at the moment and very good it is too. What is the most helpful theological book that you read in the last twelve months? It is a must read because?

DB: If we take Pierced for our Transgressions as a must read then I'd have to say, Sam Storms' Signs of the Spirit is my 2007 book of the year. The essence of the book is Jonathan Edwards classic but virtually unreadable Religious Affections. Storms interprets the book to make it an incredibly readable guide to what real Christian life looks like.

GD: I haven't seen Storm's book, but I didn't find Religious Affections inaccessible and I read it as a relatively young believer. But anything that introduces people to the riches of Edwards can't be bad. Care to share your top thee songs or pieces of music?

DB: In an attempt to sound slightly cultured, I really like Elgar's Enigma Variations but that comes from a very narrow classical experience. More recently I enjoyed Eyes Open by Snow Patrol. I spent a week listening to the album whilst preparing to preach on Ecclesiastes 1 last year, which was good. On a more 'worship song' level Grace Unmeasured by Bob Kauflin of Sovereign Grace Ministries is a real favourite for it's devotional reformed theology.

GD: If you like Elgar's Enigma Variations, you should try his Violin Concerto (Nigel Kennedy) and Cello Concerto (Jacqueline DuPre). Eyes Open is a good album with some great songs. But I'd better not say any more about by enjoyment of pop/rock music. One of my informants tells me that some preacher is going around denouncing pastors who make lists of "worldly music" on their blogs. I wonder who he's getting at? I don't really go in for 'worship songs', unless it's Welsh Revival Hymns or something. Now, which theology blogs do you most enjoy and why?

DB: Martin Downes writes from deep wells of study and wisdom so I always appreciate his blog. Likewise Adrian Reynolds is very helpful. Neither of them blog as much as I'd like but I know I'll always find good reformed theology from them and they should be more widely read than they are. Outside the UK, Mark Lauterbach is a great blessing to the church with his consistently gospel-centred blogging. I'd also want to include photo blogger Dave Simpson, who doesn't strictly write anything. He is however a Christian with an eye for the mundane, spotting things that God sees and we often neglect.

GD: Well, thanks for dropping by for this conversation Dave. It's been great talking to you.

The next candidate for the "hot seat" is......

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