Friday, February 06, 2009

Blogging in the name of the Lord: Tony Reinke

Welcome to the first of a new series of interviews with Christian bloggers. In the hot seat today is...
GD: Hello Tony Reinke and welcome to Exiled Preacher. Please tell us a little about yourself.

TR: Sure. I live in Gaithersburg, Maryland with my precious wife and three young kids (7, 3, 1). I currently serve as the assistant to C.J. Mahaney. I can think of no other individual whose cross-centeredness has provoked me to a greater appreciation of Christ’s work than C.J. So to work so closely with him, to observe cross-centered living up close, is a great honor and I’m sure an experience that will shape the remainder of my life.

GD: OK that's enough nice words about the boss. Let's get down to business. Your blog is called "Miscellanies". What made you start blogging?

TR: About three years ago it became obvious that God was turning the rudder of my personal ministry and in the gap between where I was serving and where I anticipated serving, I decided to launch a blog. I began writing book reviews and receiving free books from publishers, and this whet my appetite for more reading. Having so much excellent theology cycling through my life, I was filled with an ever-expanding list of ideas and topics to talk about. So this all continued growing in momentum and I began blogging frequently. I enjoyed it so much that even after moving into my new ministry role I continued the blog.

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

TR: For theological reflection, blogging can prove too restrictive. I hate to say it but good theological writing takes much time to develop, often much more time than the rapid blog cycle allows. I think for blogs to provide an adequate place for theological reflection, a blogger needs to pace himself or to team-blog with like minded friends. The impulse is to post too quickly, which can bring along weaknesses of too little reflection, and breed loose and misdirected conversations.

However, if a blogger can zoom in on bite-sized topics I think blogging is very useful, uniting communities of people that may be joined by a very narrow interest.

What I love about blogging is the accountability. If you post errors, or (in my case) when you post errors, others are quick to ask for clarity, challenge you, or just slap your arguments silly. Having an error pointed out to a large audience is a humbling experience (I know the feeling well) but this experience also is a means of grace, growing the blogger in humility and training him to research and write more carefully. Augustine said he wrote to learn. I blog to learn.

GD: The title of your blog has an Edwardsian flavour. Do you think that Jonathan Edwards would have made a good blogger?

TR: Edwards would have been a wonderful blogger. Like a Sunday drive all alone on the freeway, Edwards would ride out on horseback to collect his thoughts. And I mean that literally. As thoughts bubbled to the surface of his consciousness, he wrote them on little papers and pinned them to his coat. I bet he looked a little nerdy by the time his pin-the-treatise-on-the-genius horse ride was over. But those notes and his Miscellanies could easily have been a series of blog posts.

The Miscellanies reveal that Edwards was capable of maintaining a cohesive theological perspective while developing and sharpening his theology in fragmentation. This is critical to successful theological blogging. There is no time to develop dissertations each day, so developing fragments within a unity of content is critical.

GD: I think the great man may even have predicted the advent of Christian blogging, writing in Miscellany 262, "The invention of the mariner’s compass is a thing discovered by God to the world to that end. And how exceedingly has that one thing enlarged and facilitated communication. And who can doubt but that yet God will make it more perfect, so that there need not be such a tedious voyage in order to hear from the other hemisphere? And so the country about the poles need no longer be hid to us, but the whole earth may be as one community, one body in Christ". How cool is that? Now, who has taught you most of what it means to preach the Word of God?

TR: I don’t preach much. But my pastors throughout the years have all been faithful expositors and have given me much to learn from: Patrick Abendroth (Omaha), Rick Gamache (Minneapolis), C.J Mahaney, and Joshua Harris (Gaithersburg). Mike Bullmore is a splendid homiletics teacher and I have learned much from him.

GD: You are editorial and research assistant to C.J. Mahaney and books feature pretty heavily on your blog. Some pastors I know seem to make little time for reading. Bunch of slackers. Why should pastors/preachers be big readers?

TR: To feed a flock of sheep requires a lot of food, and books are the pantry by which that supply of food is supplied for the pastor to distribute. More broadly, by reading we come to better understand God. And I think in this way reading foreshadows eternal life (John 17:3). We will never fully know God, we will always be learning and growing in our understanding of who He is. Reading is a precious gift that foreshadows this eternal “learning.”

I talk about this more, and explain some of my personal tricks to reading more efficiently and effectively, on my blog:

On Reading

GD: Thanks for those handy tips. Which writers have you found most helpful and why?

TR: Where to begin? Where to end? Let me see if I can keep this brief:

1. Reformer John Calvin, for his model of careful exegesis of Scripture, his ability to form his exegesis into a cohesive theological system, his pastoral heart in all things, and his love of church planting.
2. The Puritans for their earnestness about God, His holiness, and the dire condition of the sinner. I think every age needs preachers who carry a mantle that has been singed by the fire of hell and dipped in the blood of the Lamb. The Puritans saw eternity drawing close and burned with affection because of it.
3. Octavius Winslow, Horatius Bonar, and C.H. Spurgeon, a trio of 19th century preachers and writers (I believe they were personal acquaintances), for the way they stir my affections for Christ.
4. Jonathan Edwards and John Piper for how they use powerful, Scripture-informed logic to present a magnificently breathtaking vision of God’s supremacy in all things.
5. C.J. Mahaney and Jerry Bridges for the way they connect the work of Christ on the cross to my everyday life, all my decisions, attitudes, successes, and failures.
6. Sinclair Ferguson for his Scottish accent and the way his sermons and books focus my attention on the person of Christ.
7. Herman Bavinck and Wayne Grudem for developing my systematic theology.
8. Bruce Waltke for taking all the seemingly disconnected and fragmented stories from the Old Testament and fitting them together into one glorious portrait of God’s redemptive plan.
9. Peter T. O’Brien’s commentaries for the way they unveil the riches of Paul’s letters.
10. Derek Kidner for how his commentaries unveil the cohesiveness and modern application of the Psalms and Proverbs.
11. David Wells, Albert Mohler, and D.A. Carson for theologically interpreting the culture I live (in the USA at least).
12. David Powlison, Paul David Tripp, and the CCEF organization for helping me battle sin.

GD: You call that brief, what would constitute a long answer? If time travel were possible, which figure from post-biblical church history would you like to meet and what would you say to him/her?

TR: This is always a difficult question for me to answer. But if you insist, my pick would be the 18th century preacher and evangelist George Whitefield. But I don’t think I would have much to say to him, I would just give him “knuckles” (in America that is a practice of affirmation where one man holds out a fist, inviting the other man to make a fist and gently pound the face of the fists together once).

I would be honored to join the crowd to hear Whitefield preach in Philadelphia. I would scan the faces to find Benjamin Franklin (I would stand next to him to gauge his response to the message). But then I would just stand among the 10,000 or so people to soak in the beautiful gospel of Jesus Christ.

Then I would follow closely behind Whitefield with hopes that he was meeting Jonathan Edwards for dinner, in which case I would invite myself in, eavesdrop their conversation, and then get them both to autograph two pieces of paper for me, one of which I would bring home to astound my friends and the other I would sell on Ebay for huge money (assuming that your time travel mechanism could get me back to 2009).

GD: That's kind of cheating. You got to meet George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards and Benjamin Franklin. Then you try to make a fast buck from your trip in my Exiled Preacher Time Travel Machine. Typical American. But coming back to the present, name your favourite contemporary theologian.

TR: My friend Jeff Purswell, the dean of the Sovereign Grace Ministries Pastors College and editor of Wayne Grudem’s Bible Doctrine, is a theological genius who studied under some of the greatest New Testament scholars in recent history. Just watching Jeff answer questions humbles me theologically. It’s great to be surrounded by people whose gifts dwarf your own. Physically, I dwarf Jeff. Theologically, Jeff dwarfs me. Jeff is the giant.

GD: So let me get this right, Jeff is a really smart giant dwarf theologian? Sounds good. Reflecting on the Reformed scene across the pond, which factors under God have led to a widespread recovery of Reformed theology in the USA?

TR: Great question. [You're too kind.] Collin Hansen in his book, Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist's Journey with the New Calvinists (Crossway, 2008), has done a good job collecting many of the places this rising swell among young reformed folks.

I think people are becoming skilled in tapping the various spheres of theology to listen for an empty echo. People want real, honest answers to big questions. And Calvinism provides, often mystery-filled, but honest, thoughtful, and biblical, responses.

Also, I think it is partly due to the intentionality of the older generation of preachers to train and invest in the younger generation. Organizations like Together for the Gospel and The Gospel Coalition both reflect this.

GD: I'm thinking of bringing out a UK version of Hansen's book, Old, Breathless, Deformed: A Blogger's Journey with the Ancient Calvinists. D'you think it might sell? More seriously, what is the biggest problem facing Evangelicalism today and how should we respond?

TR: Given my shortsightedness, I don’t know that I could pinpoint this biggest problem (see David Wells). I can tell you that from my own experience I suffer from a lack of delight in God’s glory. Too frequently I find myself motivated in my actions for no greater purpose than to impress others, acting out of self-righteousness, or out of fear of what others will think of me. For one day—just 24-hours—I would love to experience the ecstasy of acting purely out of a motive to glorify God. So I don’t know if this is the biggest problem Evangelicalism faces, but it’s one of the biggest problems in my heart.

GD: In a sense that's right. The biggest problem facing Evangelicals is the spiritual condition of each individual Evangelical. Now, care to name your top three pieces of music?

TR: This is a dangerous question because I will offend someone with my favorite music. I appreciate lyrics that point me towards the cross. The great hymns do this as does anything produced by Sovereign Grace Music. Shai Linne (rapper) has crafted some of the most pointed reformed lyrics in our modern day. Although I admit it feels weird reading Thomas Goodwin to the intense bass thumping through the speakers. But those are two favorites that come to mind.

GD: What is the most important theological book that you have read in the last twelve months? It is a must read because...

TR: In the past year I have soaked in Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck (1854-1921). On systematic theology he is a brilliant and creatively gifted to combine careful exegesis, historical theology, and biblical theology into a unified dogmatic theology that he then connects to science, politics, and psychology. His four-volume Reformed Dogmatics (Baker Academic) is a masterpiece and was translated into English in 2008. It was named the second book in my top 15 books of 2008 (behind the ESV Study Bible). Also Saved by Grace: The Holy Spirit’s Work in Calling and Regeneration (RHB, 2008) and Essays on Religion, Science, and Society (Baker Academic, 2008) were two other excellent Bavinck titles translated and published in 2008.

I never read Bavinck without coming away with a greater view of God, of the depth and continuity of theology, of seeing how the unified plan of God in global history that finds its apex in the cross of Jesus Christ, but which has as its ultimate hope the re-creation of the world, of grace restoring nature, so that everything broken by sin is reset to the way God intended.

GD: I'm about halfway through Bavinck's Reformed Dogmatics Volume 1, so I second your admiration for the great Dutch theologian. Which blogs do you enjoy reading and why?

TR: Feeling the pinch of low-grade guilt, I must admit I have never maintained a blogroll on my blog (a little list of links to other blogs). But my friend Justin Taylor has a must-read blog and C.J. Mahaney has a lot of wisdom communicated on his, too. These would be great places to start, especially for pastors.

GD: Justin has agreed to take his place in the hot seat sometime soon. Thanks for dropping by Tony, its been great talking to you!

TR: My joy!
GD: Spoken like a true Piperesque Christian Hedonist. See ya!


Anonymous said...

Guy, thanks for this interview it is excellent and I'm sending it to some friends. I couldn't agree more with the Bavinck discussion. He is a rich source of theology and I hope the English translation of his Reformed Dogmatics will spread and gain influence in the English speaking world. I think he will be a great theologian for the english reformed world to gather around. Thanks again for this interview, it was a blessing to me!

Boaly said...

Yeh, thanks for the interview. Thouraghly enjoyed reading it. Thanks too to Tony for such clear, Christ Centered Answers

Anonymous said...

this is well done (good questions and length); I appreciate it, brother!