Wednesday, May 14, 2008

An interview with Arturo G. Azurdia III

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

AA: Well, I’m 48 years old and have been married for 26 years. Lori and I are the proud parents of two children (Katherine Suzanne—17, Jonathan Edward—15), both of whom bring great delight to our lives!

For 24 years I was engaged in pastoral ministry: 5 years as an associate (working with university students), and 19 years as a preaching pastor. I am now the Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology and Church Ministry at a terrific institution in Portland, Oregon (USA)—Western Seminary—a theological school that possesses a decidedly strong commitment to reformation and revival.

My interests include film (my favorite is To Kill A Mockingbird), literature (Wendell Berry and Chaim Potok, in particular), baseball, and the music of Arturo Sandoval.

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

AA: It’s difficult for me to reduce it to one man, because several have had strategic influence on me at various stages of my development.

Shortly after I was converted it was the preaching of John MacArthur that had such a formative influence on my life. He evidenced (and still does!) such a thoroughgoing confidence in the Scripture, and the necessary corollary which suggests that one of the principal aims of preaching is to be relentlessly faithful to text itself.

It was a man named Jim Andrews who first awakened me to the importance of a sermon’s structure and delivery.

In the last ten or twelve years, however, the single most influential preaching mentor in my life has been Dr. Edmund P. Clowney. He taught me that the entirety of the Bible is Christian Scripture, and that preaching isn’t altogether Christian until it displays the influence of the Gospel.

Of course, my all-time favorite book on preaching is Preaching and Preachers by Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. I long to incarnate everything he says a preacher ought to be and do. Of course, each week I feel like I fall miserably short. But every time I read this text I find myself saying to God: “Please make me a preacher like this.”

GD: I'd certainly have to agree with you on the value Lloyd-Jones' book on preaching. Now, what should be the main aim in training men for the pastoral ministry?

AA: Given the present evangelical scene in the USA—my greatest task is to persuade men that the Gospel must never be assumed but relentlessly applied to all of life. We desperately need men of courage who will passionately and winsomely declare the glories of Jesus Christ every week.

At the same time, we need men of genuine piety whose pastoral leadership will express itself, unapologetically, through the instrumentality of prayer rather than through the typical pastoral approach that panders after the latest schemes, fads, and gimmicks.

I must convince men that as pastors they must be theologians, first and foremost . . . and, also, that they must seek to intimately know and wisely love the people who have been entrusted to them by the Great Shepherd.

GD: What should be the relationship between preaching and systematic theology?

AA: Well, this is a bit of a difficult question for me. On the one hand, I very much enjoy the discipline of systematic theology, and my preaching is significantly informed by it. In fact, at Western Seminary I team-teach the concluding systematic theology course.

On the other hand, one of my great concerns with preaching in reformed circles (the circle in which I would place myself!) is that preachers will often use a text as a launching pad to espouse their systematic theology convictions; an agenda that, in many cases, is exceedingly remote from the original intention of the inspired author. And here’s the real problem: though these theological conclusions may be thoroughly orthodox, the power and logic of a text in its original and literary context often gets lost. In my view, this kind of preaching is not expository preaching. I want preaching that communicates the Spirit-intended purpose of a preaching portion.

In our day of widespread biblical illiteracy—and I’m talking about people in churches—it is the recovery of the relationship between preaching and biblical theology that is most needed.

GD: Kevin Vanhoozer is perhaps trying emphasise the same point in his The Drama of Doctrine, where he attempts to "make the pastoral lamb lie down with the theological lion". Who had the greatest influence on your theological development?

AA: Again, it is very difficult for me to reduce this to one particular individual—I have so many theological heroes/mentors. Let me give you a list: John Calvin, John Owen, Jonathan Edwards, B. B. Warfield, Edmund P. Clowney, D. A. Carson, Sinclair Ferguson, Anthony Hoekema, Donald Bloesch. Of course, it must be acknowledged that these various men (and many others) have affected me in different ways, for different reasons, and to different ends.

GD: What do you mean by Spirit Empowered Preaching? [The title of Art's book, published by Mentor, 2007 - see my review].
AA: I mean a kind of preaching that possesses a vitality from another world—a clarity, authority, immediacy, and efficacy that is authored by the Spirit of God.

GD: How may we seek God's empowering presence in preaching?

AA: Firstly, we need to connect our preaching purpose to that of the Holy Spirit’s purpose. His aim is to glorify Jesus Christ through the means of the Scriptures—the Christocentric Scriptures. Therefore, I must be resolutely wedded to His intention in the sacred text: explaining the text in its context, applying the text as was originally designed, and displaying its inner-canonical connections which will lead me to Jesus Christ.

Secondly, we need to pray for that which only the Spirit can supply: potency to transform the human heart.

Thirdly, we need to be willing to suffer. Why? Because the apostolic pattern seems to indicate that God’s power is perfected in weakness. Are we willing to be weak so there are no competitors for glory when God does what only He can do?

Beyond this, of course, we must remember that Spirit is sovereign. “The wind blows where it wishes.” Anything that smacks of a formula is sure to quench the Spirit rather than arouse His empowerment. This is the occupational hazard of the Christian ministry.

GD: Amen to all that! Right, if time travel were possible, which post-biblical historic preacher would you like to hear and why?

AA: This is an easy question for me to answer: I would want to sit under the preaching of George Whitefield. The reasons for this are simple: 1) He was relentlessly committed to the proclamation of the Gospel; 2) He was a warm, kind-hearted Calvinist; 3) He possessed a robust love for human beings—often expressed in great acts of social benevolence; 4) He was ecumenical in the best sense; and, 5) His preaching was uniquely empowered by the Spirit of God.

The only other historical person who might come close to this is C. H. Spurgeon—who, of course, also loved Whitefield.

GD: Good choice, (and second choice)! Are you looking forward to speaking at the Evangelical Movement of Wales' Aberystwyth Conference in August [9-16th]?
AA: Yes, with great enthusiasm. It is a distinctly high honor. This will be my third trip to Wales, and I find myself possessing such an affinity for the Welsh people. Moreover, I hope that I am a present-day Welsh Calvinist Methodist!!!

GD: I look forward to hearing you preach at the conference. I'm sure you'll given a very warm Welsh welcome. But it might be wise to bring an umbrealla to fend off the famous Aber rain. I note that you are due to speak on 'The New Creation: Revelation 21-22'. Would you agree that many evangelicals have an unduly Platonic and "spiritual" understanding of future glory?

AA: Well, please pray for me. My plan was to preach Rev 21-22, but I am having some second thoughts. I want to make sure I preach what will prove most timely and effective for the days we’re together.

Of course, Rev 21-22 is such a significant text for several reasons. For one, it is where the biblical story culminates. Here everything comes together. For another, it concretizes the eternal state. Now, of course, the language is apocalyptic. But the new heavens and new earth are not about an ethereal existence in a formless state. In my mind, the nature of eternity is best anticipated by the resurrected body of Jesus Christ. It is real, substantive, and expresses the fullest and finest expression of what God designed humanity (and, by extension, all of creation) to be. I don’t know of a more helpful book on this subject than Anthony Hoekema’s The Bible And The Future.

GD: May you know the Spirit's empowering presence as you declare God's Word. Now, care to tell us your top three songs or pieces of music?

AA: Do you mean Gospel music? [Not necessarily, but that's fine - GD]. If so, I must say that am so deeply thankful for the work of Keith and Kristen Getty. Their music (along with Stuart Townend’s music) is so satisfying to me: theologically robust and aesthetically beautiful. In terms of more traditional music, three of my favorites are: 1) And Can It Be?; 2) O, The Deep, Deep Love Of Jesus; and, 3) Before The Throne Of God Above (with the contemporary tune).

GD: I don't think I've heard of the Gettys, but I too like Townend's hymns. We sing a nice mixture of old and new at Aber. What is the most helpful theological book that you have read in the last twelve months? It is a must read because?

AA: Him We Proclaim: Preaching Christ From All The Scriptures by Dennis E. Johnson (P & R Publishing). It’s a must read because it is a warm-hearted apologetic for apostolic hermeneutics—reading the Bible backward as well as forward. It shatters the notion that to preach Christocentrically from all the Scriptures (especially the Old Testament) one must resort to allegory. I read a great deal in this area, and this is an exceedingly helpful work by an exceedingly fine Christian man and scholar. In my mind, it is a must read for every preaching pastor.

GD: Sounds like a good book. What would you say is the biggest problem facing evangelicalism today and how should we respond?

AA: I think I’ve already mentioned this earlier. And, of course, it must be kept in mind that my response reflects the limitations of my own cultural (i.e. American) context. In my mind, the most significant problem facing evangelicalism today is that evangelicals are assuming the Gospel—and, because of this, I fear we are a generation away from discarding it altogether. The reasons for this are many: the legacy of the seeker-sensitive movement with its emphasis on pragmatism, the rise of postmodernism, theological preaching that lacks the evangelical priority, et al.

How should we respond to this? Christocentric preaching and teaching! Christocentric ministries! We need to pray for a generation of pastors who will be: 1) courageous enough to disregard popular ministry methodologies that undermine the Gospel; and, 2) consumed enough with God’s glory to cease measuring success by the numerical size of a congregation.
GD: If evangelicalism isn't Gospel-centred then it isn't evangelicalism at all. Well Art, thanks very much for this conversation. See you in Aber!


Anonymous said...

Mr D! Not heard of the Gettys? You probably have - they co-write with Stuart Townend (and on many of his famous new hymns). The website is here. They are currently in Alistair Begg's church in Ohio, and it is encouraging to hear how they check their words with people such as Alistair and Vaughan Roberts before going into print. This kind of careful thinking is what sets this new breed of hymnwriters apart from those who just seem to put down on paper what comes into their heads!

Great interview by the way!

Rev. said...

I was just surfing the net and came across your blog and this interview. Nice!

Gary Brady said...

Bit behind Guy, but can you tell us about this Donald Bloesch. I think it could be important.

Guy Davies said...

Hi Gary,

I don't really know that much about him part from the fact that he tends toward a Barthian doctrine of Scripture and does not agree with biblical inerrancy. He is referenced by McGowan in The Divine Spiration of Scripture, but I've only given the book a very quick glance.

Here's the wiki page:

Theopedia was down when I tried to bring this page up:

That's it, I'm afraid. Why the interest?