Thursday, October 23, 2008

Blogging in the name of the Lord: Mark Jones

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

Mark Jones

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

MJ: Thanks, Guy, for the chance to share something with your readers. I am 28 years old; I am married (five years to Barbara) and have two children (Katie [3] and Joshua [1]). Currently I am finishing up my PhD thesis on Thomas Goodwin’s Christology at Leiden University (hope to be done by May 09) and I also Pastor a PCA church in Vancouver, Canada. Other than that, I’m a huge Liverpool F.C fan!
GD: Your surname implies a Welsh origin. Are you a member of the great Welsh diaspora?
MJ: Unfortunately, I am not. My father was adopted, so the name is by adoption; I think I’m part Irish, but I try to keep that hidden, if possible ;)
GD: Ah well. Your can trust me with your Irish secret, I'm a Pastor. Your blog is called "Thomas Goodwin". What made you start blogging?
MJ: Crawford Gribben suggested to me that I start a blog devoted to Goodwin during the course of my PhD studies; he’s responsible, then.
GD: So he's to blame. What are the strengths and weaknesses of blogging as a medium for theological reflection?
MJ: I’m not really an expert on blogs, but as far as I can tell there are basically two sorts: ones that share news and others which try to say something meaningful. On the whole, the “news sharers” are where I frequent most often, just to stay up-to-date on the latest news; the blogs, like my own, that try to say something meaningful (i.e. original thought) are made up of more bad than good, in my opinion. I think the weaknesses of blogs have been well-documented; all I will say, however, is that they can be an incredible waste of time for both the blogger and reader; I would hate to cause someone else to sin!
GD: Maybe we should call this to a halt right now. But then again, which blogs have you found most helpful?
MJ: I don’t really have any favourites; I do, however, enjoy reading anything Carl Trueman (see his Blogging in the name of the Lord interview here) writes at Reformation 21; he’s by far the most interesting of that gang!
GD: Why are you so drawn to the Puritan Thomas Goodwin?
MJ: Because he’s not John Owen! Actually, to be honest, it was Crawford’s fault; I was supposed to do my PhD under him at Manchester (until he decided to move to Trinity College) and he suggested Goodwin; I went for it and I haven’t regretted the decision at all. Goodwin hasn’t received the attention that Owen has in last ten years; I think in many ways Goodwin was Owen’s superior, not just in age!
GD: Goodwin was famously one of the five Indy "dissenting brethren" at the Westminster Assembly. Have his Independent views on Church government made you re-evaluate your Presbyterianism?
MJ: Actually, I’ve never been the most convinced Presbyterian; Presbyterians make Acts 15 say a lot more than it does – I hope no one from my Presbytery reads this – and then there are different types of Presbyterianism. I’m quite comfortable with the “Congregationalism” of the 17th Century, which is quite close to modern-day Presbyterianism. Modern-day “Congregationalism”, however, is not what I think Goodwin or Owen envisaged.
GD: Interesting answer. I tend to be olde Indy as in John Ownen's The True Nature of a Gospel Church - Works Volume 16) rather than new Congie. Right, what is Thomas Goodwin's distinctive contribution to Christology?
MJ: Hmmm ... you can read my book when it comes out next year in September! It would be hard to identify a “distinctive” contribution in Goodwin; I would say his understanding of the glory of Christ in both his divine and human natures, especially in light of Christ’s heavenly reward, is something that Goodwin devotes a lot of attention to in a way that brings out the richness of his Christology.
GD: Do you agree with Goodwin's exegesis of Ephesians 1:13 - that the sealing of the Spirit is a post-conversion experience of assurance?
MJ: No. I think Goodwin misinterpreted Eph. 1:13; part of the problem is the KJV translation; part of the problem was Sibbes influence; and part of the problem was Goodwin’s own conversion experience, I think.
GD: Do you accept Goodwin's view that the witness of the Spirit is the highest form of assurance, over and above faith in the promises and the evidence of grace in the heart (see here)?
MJ: Well, this is a complex issue in Goodwin; I commend to everyone Michael Horton’s study on Goodwin’s doctrine of assurance. Goodwin wrote: “I have come to this pass now that signs will do me no good alone; I have trusted too much in habitual grace for assurance of justification; I tell you Christ is worth all”. The subjective element of assurance had overshadowed the objective aspect in Goodwin’s day. I think he’s trying to bring a corrective here; but, I don’t think he succeeds because even the witness of the Spirit can be subjective. There’s lots to say on this issue, but I think Calvin basically got it right and Goodwin didn’t!
GD: I think it’s the other way round, but there we are. How would you advise a believer struggling with assurance of salvation?
MJ: As a Pastor, I know that every case must be judged on its own merits. That said, I think that the Scriptures are clear that the subjective and objective aspects of assurance are helpful. I think the Psalms need to be read and re-read; it’s amazing how often the Psalms will speak to our spiritual state in a way that no other portion of Scripture does. Plus, singing the Psalms leaves a Christian with little doubt which side he/she is on! Prayer, too, is immensely helpful in terms of assurance. But, Goodwin is right; Christ is worth all; and so I would say the objective work of Christ must be uppermost in one’s heart and mind.
GD: What do contemporary Evangelicals have to learn from the Puritans regarding the danger of identifying a political party or cause with the kingdom of God?
MJ: I think we need to be careful with our eschatology; the Puritans, Goodwin especially, had horrible eschatology. Goodwin thought he was living on the verge of eschatological glory (1650-1700s); he thus interpreted a lot of the political events in light of the book of Revelation. A lot of the madness among certain evangelicals today is basically a re-run of the seventeenth century, most of them just don’t know it! In light of history, we need to be very cautious with our ideas of how politics relate to the kingdom of God.
GD: Wise words. Now, if time travel were possible, which figure in post-biblical church history would you like to meet (apart from Goodwin!), and what would you say to him?
MJ: Wow, what a question. I think I’d like to meet George Whitefield and ask him to preach! He must be one of the greatest preachers who has ever lived.
GD: No arguments there. The great Puritan preachers like Thomas Goodwin and John Owen were pastor-theologians. Today, the Reformed churches are blessed with theologians and pastors, but there seem to be few pastor-theologians. What can be done to rectify this?
MJ: Owen and Goodwin were operating with incredible “hard drives”. I really don’t like the present understanding that the scholars in the Seminaries are the experts! Seminary profs are like warm-up drivers; Pastors are the ones who do the formula one racing; the best theologians in the church, historically, have been Pastors. The problem is that for Pastors it is so incredibly hard to keep up-to-date with all the relevant scholarship. I don’t know how some of these Pastors write so many books AND care for their flock. Of course, if one is simply a “Teaching Pastor” (though, I don’t understand how anyone can really preach effectively to their congregation if they don’t know them) then it may be possible to be a Pastor-Theologian. So, I guess my answer is that maybe we should get rid of Seminaries ... but that’s perhaps too bold an idea!
GD: Maybe. Now, you recently advised your readers, "Master at least one systematician; but if you decide to take my advice, I would say that Bavinck's your man!" Why is Bavinck the best for systematic theology?
MJ: I think Bavinck combines systematics with historical theology better than anyone. He’s not always exegetically rigorous, but he gives you a good sweep of the history of doctrine. I like being able to read ST and HT in one go! Saves me time.
GD: There is no doubt lots of time to be saved reading by Bavinck’s four volume dogmatics. Who is your favourite contemporary Reformed theologian?
MJ: I think Richard Gaffin is probably the best Reformed theologian we have right now; he’s influenced me a lot; the Reformed world is lacking high calibre systematicians; where are the Warfield’s or the Hodge’s? I really enjoy Carl Trueman’s work, too. But he’s a historian, not really a theologian.
GD: I’ve a lot of respect for Gaffin’s rich exegetical approach to theology. With him you don’t just get a dollop of doctrine followed by a string of proof texts. Trueman is a very stimulating and provocative church historian. What is the most helpful theological book that you have read in the last twelve months? It is a must read because...
MJ: I’ll go for two: Goodwin’s “The Heart of Christ in Heaven Towards Sinners on Earth” is one of the very best books I’ve ever read; it really is a “must-read”, and I don’t say that lightly. What amazing Christology; and Goodwin combines rich theology with pastoral care for his readers. I also think that Willem van Asselt’s book on Cocceius is probably the best book I’ve ever read in the field of Historical Theology. His book has an uncanny ability to humble anyone in the field of HT. It was worth the $200 I paid!
GD: Care to name your top three songs or pieces of music (not necessarily Christian)?
MJ: I like African music (Johnny Clegg and Savuka) because of my African roots (I was born in South Africa). Other than that, I really like listening to my congregation sing, especially when they sing Acapella; there’s nothing better than hearing human voices praise God.
GD: What is the biggest problem facing Reformed Evangelicalism at this time and how should we respond?
MJ: Our preaching is boring; I’m a huge fan of Martyn Lloyd-Jones and his view of preaching; we’ve become too academic and so many Reformed “sermons” are lectures. We are also very bad at application; many of our preachers couldn’t convict a fly. We need to pray that God will raise up great preachers, not young Reformed guys who know their so-called “five-points”.
GD: Amen to that, brother! And thanks, Mark for dropping by for this enjoyable conversation.
Only one more Blogging in the name of the Lord interview to go in this set. Who will grace the hot seat for the series grand finale? You'll have to wait and see....


David Reimer said...

Great interview -- great series! Thanks so much for these!

David Reimer

Guy Davies said...

Thanks for your encouraging comments!

cath said...


I've just clicked through from I'm-not-sure-where (although I think i might have dropped by before some other time?)

Just to say this was extremely interesting - especially the bit about Goodwin's views on assurance. I've read (ie worked my way very slowly through!) a couple of things by Goodwin and found him very helpful. In fact I owe him a huge debt for at least some sections of 'Justifying Faith'. That's only from a personal, layman's point of view though, not with a view to any serious theological analysis, so this little insight is very interesting. Maybe I should start reading the thomasgoodwin blog :)

Guy Davies said...

Hi Cath,

Did you see the post below this one, on Goodwin's Perspective on assurance? I link to it in this question in the interview:

GD: Do you accept Goodwin's view that the witness of the Spirit is the highest form of assurance, over and above faith in the promises and the evidence of grace in the heart (see here: )

cath said...

Hi, that was a quick response :-)

I had a look at it and I think I agreed with it, but can I plead my ignorance and ask what exactly was Calvin's view and how it differed? Surely it wasn't a question of the reality of the witness of the Holy Spirit, so maybe it was something to do with the relative prominence or role of his witness? (sorry if i've picked something up wrong...)

(and no worries if that can't be answered by instant reply :-) )