Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Calvin 500

Yes, next Friday, 10th July will mark the 500th anniversary of John Calvin's birth. Still wondering what all the fuss is about but can't afford to go to the swanky Calvin 500 Conference in Geneva? Never fear, dear reader. Cinderella shall go to the ball. Well, not quite. But in the next day or so I'll be starting a new series called, "A Very Rough Guide to Calvin's Theology" right here on this blog.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Some thoughts on the life and death of Michael Jackson

I was never really a great fan of Jackson's music, but his passing last Thursday calls for some reflection on the emptiness of modern day celebrity culture. His untimely death has sent his music rocketing back to the top of the charts. He has joined the immortals of rock and pop who died before their time, Buddy Holly, Elvis, Hendrix, Morrison etc. On one level, Jackson had it all, adoring fans, huge album sales and vast wealth. But his life was characterised by self-loathing, disfigurement, and scandal. He paid surgeons to refashion his face, but what he needed was the transformation of his soul. We can only really accept ourselves for who we are when we find acceptance with God. We are his broken image bearers. He accepts us for what we are in Christ, offers us forgiveness and promises us renewal. The Christian is being transformed into the image of the perfect Man, Jesus Christ. This includes not only the restoration of our spiritual lives in true righteousness and holiness, but also the hope of resurrection glory. Our lowly bodies, marked by age, disfigured by sin and bound for the grave will be raised up and made like the glorious body of the Lord Jesus Christ. No amount of plastic surgery can do for us what our mighty Saviour will do when he comes to summon the dead to life. Then those who believe in him will be raised incorruptible and immortal (1 Corinthians 15:50-58). Is that your hope?
Justin Taylor has gathered together some more reflections on Jackson's death here.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Young, Restless, Reformed by Colin Hansen

Young, Restless, Reformed: a journalist's journey with the new Calvinists,
Colin Hansen, Crossway, 2008, 160pp
Colin Hansen, a journalist with Christianity Today spent two years of his life mixing it with some of the top movers and shakers in Reformed Christianity in America. He had begun to notice a resurgence of interest in Reformed theology in some unexpected places and set out to investigate some of the reasons for this theological and spiritual renewal. It seems that a new generation of believers has grown tired with bog standard evangelicalism. They want depth, truth, and reality. And they are looking to Reformed theology, or more precisely, the sovereign God of biblical revelation to satisfy their longings and transform their lives.
Large conferences such as Passion, New Attitude and Together for the Gospel have exposed a new generation of believers to the Reformed faith. The ministry of John Piper is another factor. Piper's preaching (freely broadcast on the internet) and his books such as Desiring God have had a huge impact. Many cite Piper as the reason why they embraced the Reformed faith. But the Minneapolis pastor is certainly not the only influential figure. The long and faithful ministry of R. C. Sproul has had an effect. Al Mohler has been busily taking the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary back to its Calvinistic roots. Thousands of men are now leaving the seminary with Reformed convictions. As well as preachers with a more traditional Reformed stance like John MacArthur, leaders usually associated with the Charismatic movement are helping to spread the word. C. J. Mahaney of Sovereign Grace Ministries is both Charismatic and Reformed. John Piper and Wayne Grudem have also helped to introduce Charismatics, who are sometimes a little light on doctrine to the wonders of Reformed theology. The controversial Seattle pastor Mark Driscoll is reaching the unreachable with a combination of missional engagement with the culture and good old Calvinistic theology.
There are several key features of this renewed fascination with Calvinism. It seems to be a movement comprising mainly of the up and coming generation of believers who are weary with seeker sensitive megachurches. Reformed student missions are having a real impact on American campuses. It is young people who gather in their thousands at the large conference meetings.
The resurgence of the Reformed faith has crossed the dividing line between traditional Calvinistic churches and the Charismatic movement. This has had an impact on the worship style adopted at Together for the Gospel and other big conferences. Perhaps we can see something similar happening in the UK at the New Word Alive events. New Frontiers Charismatics who have embraced Reformed doctrine gather with Free Church and Anglican evangelicals to hear the likes of Don Carson against the backdrop of Charismatic style worship. It is surely a good thing that Charismatics are being drawn to the doctrines of grace. We should rejoice in that. But there are still some differences between the traditional Reformed Churches and our Reformed Charismatic brethren. The use of noisy music groups, song leaders and other accouterments of Charismatic worship is one of them. Then there is the issue of the continuation or not of the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit. Charismatic theology sometimes does not give enough emphasis to the fact that the Holy Spirit is active in the church in, by and with the Word. I'm not saying that fellowship with Calvinistic Charismatics should be curtailed, not at all. We stand united by the gospel of sovereign grace, but real differences should not be swept under the carpet.
The name of John Piper seems to pop up again and again in the book. I hope there isn't a danger of the new Calvinism becoming overly reliant on one man. In the second half of the 20th century Reformed evangelicalism in the UK was dominated by Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones and his death left a huge hole in the movement. Still today discussion in fraternals and conferences can be brought to a shuddering halt when an old timer recalls something that "the Doctor" said on an issue. Leadership of the Reformed resurgence in the States seems to be more collegiate. Perhaps there is less reliance on one central figure than was the case with "the Doctor", but a glance at the index will show that Piper does seem to feature rather a lot in Hansen's account.
Among the new Calvinists there is an appreciation for Jonathan Edwards and the Puritans. A chapter is devoted to Edwards, the 'Big Man on Campus' at Yale university. But above all, it seems that people are embracing Calvinism because they have seen that the Reformed faith is the faith of Scripture, deep and true. And contrary to what a UK-based critic of the new Calvinism had to say (see here), I don't think that what we have here is a merger of Calvinism and worldliness. From what I can see the "Young, Restless, Reformed" aren't simply embracing a form of intellectual Calvinism. They have gathered that truth properly understood transforms lives and calls for radical obedience to Christ. Some of them have endured painful opposition from their churches as they preached the sovereignty of God in salvation. At best they are passionate for holiness and concerned to reach the masses with the gospel of grace. New churches are being planted and there is a strong desire to proclaim Christ to the nations. We should not reject this movement as "worldly" simply because of concerns over musical styles. Reformed catholicity of spirit demands that love for the truth should be recognised and encouraged wherever we find it. Worldliness cannot be defined by a list of evangelical taboos. That approach is more Fundamentalist than Reformed.
Maybe I'm not best placed to judge on this, but I think that Hansen is overstating his case in suggesting that what we have here is revival. However, we should be grateful that many in America are returning to the deep wells of Reformed theology. A recovery of vibrant Calvinism that is God-centred, Christ exalting and Spirit dependent is surely to be welcomed.

Blogging in the name of the Lord: Jon Mackenzie

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

GD: Hello Jon Mackenzie and welcome to Exiled Preacher. Please tell us a little about yourself.

JM: Hey Guy. I am a white Caucasian male of medium build (11st 3os) and short height (5ft 7.5 ins). I was born in ’85 (making me 23) and yet I do not feel like a child of the eighties. My friends describe me invariably as a hyperchondriac (should that be ‘an’ hyperchondriac?) and, consequently, a pedant. I describe myself as a student – it has served me well as an appellation for the last 18 years so why change the habit of a lifetime? If you were to try and engage me in conversation, the following might be good loci from which to begin: theology, sport (almost any – I love football, cricket, golf, rugby (watching – not playing – refer to ‘medium build’), squash (playing), etc., etc.), I enjoy clever literature (i.e. I’m reading a lot of Will Self at the moment), spending time with friends, being active, sucking the marrow out of life. Having read this, you would probably describe me as a narcissist.

GD: Your blog is called "Mixophilosophicotheoligica", please explain.

JM: I first came across the phrase in a work by Eberhard Jüngel (God as the Mystery of the World, if you were wondering (pg 153, fn 1)). It comes from Abraham Calovius originally (a Lutheran scholar in the 17th Century) and doesn’t really mean much more than the mixing of philosophy and theology. Obviously, Jüngel and Barth are careful to avoid any ‘mixophilosophicotheologia’ in their theology. I tend to agree with them – theology doesn’t necessitate philosophy (or vice-versa). However, on my blog I am regularly mixing thoughts on both disciplines and so I thought that the name was quite fitting.

GD: So, it's got nothing to do with the horrible rabbit disease, myxomatosis. Now, what prompted you to start blogging?

JM: I really could’t say – I started blogging when I was about 15 I think just about life’s little exigencies (my old blog can be visited at but isn’t really worth visiting). I guess being a teenager, it was nice to know that I could feel as though I was making some difference in the world. The blog also introduced me to a whole network of friends who shared similar interests, etc., so I guess it gave me a certain amount of intellectual stimulation.

GD: Talking of intellectual stimulation, I remember your old blog where you made a rather desperate hint about doing a "proper" blog interview. You were afraid of being "left behind". You needn't have worried. Now, what are the strengths and weaknesses of blogging as a medium for theological reflection?

JM: For myself, I am not the sort of person who sits down and has ‘great thoughts’ – I suppose not many people are. I am a firm believer in distraction. One of the primary reason why there tends to be less creativity within the word today is, I think, undoubtedly linked to the inability within today’s society to use distraction properly. So these days, people will listen to music, for example, as a distraction from various epiphenomena so that they can concentrate on something more fully – in my experience, distraction has to be used more constructively – I like to listen to music whilst working because it acts as something outside my thought-process which constantly impinges upon my thinking and causes my mind to wander – to think of things that, without the music to distract me, I would never have conceived. Another technique I used, particularly in Scotland, was golf – occasionally I would play a round on my own when I had to think through an essay topic. The golf gave me a distraction which actually focused my mind on the topic and actually mixed up my thoughts about my game with my essay (it also helped my round – I only ever broke 80 when I played a round with a particularly thorny essay topic at hand!). This is why I love blogging. You get distracted, you related disparate topics, it makes you a better-rounded individual. This is, I think, a theological strength. Theology is a creative endeavour and blogging (properly done) can only benefit it.

With regards to the weakness of blogging for theological reflection, I would say that the blogging ethos is not necessarily apt for theological reflection. Often on blogs, arguments break out which are more concerned with secondary issues (concern to be ‘right’ or at least not to be ‘wrong’, misunderstanding of positions, love of tendentiousness, etc. – I’m pointing at myself more than anyone else). Ultimately, it takes a certain type of self-relation to begin blogging (i.e. I think I have something valuable to say which other people should hear) and sometimes we little egos clash and there is little theological benefit. (Obviously this isn’t always true but I feel as though this is exhibited in my own blogging escapades!)

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

JM: I’m not sure how to tackle this one. Do you mean tangible influences, external influences, creative influence or simply in terms of good advice? I’ll try and cover the whole gamut: in terms of doctrinal directions, I suppose I have been influenced mainly by my parents and various people within the churches that I have attended. To this end, I suppose I would describe myself as ‘Reformed’ (although I’m afraid I’m becoming more and more Lutheran – when pressed, I term myself ‘Refutheran’). However, in terms of classical Reformed theology I would not necessarily be categorised as Reformed. The way I look at it is that the Reformers were those who were ‘most right’ in many ways – however, there are a plethora of other theologians who were ‘more right’ than the Reformers on certain issues. Before I am labelled a ‘post-modern’ I want to say, I am certain that I would be able to tie down some dogmatic (i.e. anti-post-modern) position which I held to – it’s just that my influences are a bit spread out at the moment. I look forwards to a time when I could evince my position more clearly!

Academically, I’d divide my influences up in two ways: lecturers and professors, and theologians whose writings have influenced me. My lecturers at St Andrews were those who were most influencial – particularly Steve Holmes simply because he convinced me that I didn’t have to be embarrassed by my background theologically. Reformed (small ‘r’) theology isn’t the joke that it is made out to be in the Academe. Alan Torrance and Trevor Hart were also influential here.

In terms of theologians my Doktorvater is the German theologian Eberhard Jüngel (a Lutheran). I wrote my undergraduate dissertation on his theological methodology and he formed a large part of my recently completed masters’ thesis. Beyond this, I enjoy the 20th-Century German-speaking theologians (Brunner, Bonhoeffer, Barth, Bultmann, Pannenberg, although not Moltmann as much). Also von Balthasar is a bigger and bigger influence. Then we’re back into earlier theology – Reformation thought (Calvin, Luther, etc.), Patristics (Cappadocians, Athanasius, Irenaeus, etc.), Augustine. If I had to pick three: Calvin, Jüngel, Luther (in Chronological order).

GD: An eclectic mix there. What impact has studying theology at St. Andrews & Cambridge had on your theological position?

JM: A great deal. St Andrews taught me that Reformed theology wasn’t an oxymoron. It also taught me that Reformed theology could be good theology. I think the biggest change on my theological position has been in terms of wiggle-room. Before I began university I was fairly hard-line and unaccommodating with regards to theology – i.e. if it’s not 100% believed, it’s not 100% right. I think I have learned more and more that theology is a human endeavour and, therefore, is liable to human error or even simply human limitedness. To suggest that the totality of what ‘is’ can be depicted in human language is simply absurd. Therefore, theology is undeniably a human attempt to talk about God – it isn’t simply ‘what is the case’. However, the paradoxical part of such a claim is that God himself came into the world to disclose himself. Thus, we should be confident that we CAN talk about God because he enabled it in Jesus Christ. The theologian walks a fine line between over-confidence and mute awe.

Cambridge has taught me that theology is not simply factual but that theology is additionally beautiful. It is not that theology is a boring endeavour done by those who could not function within society. Instead, theology is the greatest of occupations. Theology is beautiful because it seeks to encompass linguistically the transcendent God who is beauty. Theology, therefore, is the interplay between truth and beauty to the extent that the truth about God cannot but be appreciated in its beauty. This is why the Narnia Chronicles are so gripping – Lewis, a true medievalist, appreciated that truth isn’t just cold, hard Enlightenment fact, but that it compels, it provokes a response. Theology should be the same – if it doesn’t produce a response in the hearer, it hasn’t got to grips with its subject matter (God) in the fullest sense.

GD: Why do you think that Barth is once again grabbing the attention of the theological world?

JM: I’ll just tender this question slightly – Barth has been huge in Protestant theology for the last 40 years. I suspect interest in Barth in academia is dwindling now for a couple of reasons – firstly, academia works on principles of originality and (after 40 years) Barth studies is finally drying up (although it will never abate, I suspect) – secondly, people are discovering different theologians. Here’s the point – Barth has been instrumental to theology for this reason: he made theology possible after the Enlightenment. I don’t know if you’ve read Susannah Clarke’s book Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell? It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I found it a fantastic allegory for the development of theology in the 20th Century. Basically, it describes a world where magic has become stale and purely theoretical before the arrival of a couple of ‘practical’ magicians arrive on the scene. The same is true in theology: after the rigours of modernist thinking, theology became simply theoretical – a ‘talking about’ theology rather than a ‘doing of’ theology. After Barth, who simply got on with it and wrote what he thought, rather than tendering it with methodological caveats, theologians realised that the Enlightenment critique was actually not to the detriment of theology, it simply clarified the theological task to a greater degree. Why is Barth great? Because without Barth, we might not be ‘doing’ theology now – we might simply be ‘talking about’ theology.

Barth is now dripping into evangelical thinking much more I agree. This is probably because we evangelicals are always careful to disagree with phenomena until they’re ‘out-dated’ and then we feel as though then we can see what all the fuss is about! I suspect that Barth could be very useful to evangelical theology. Barth teaches us how to ‘do’ theology. People may get het-up about his doctrine of scripture or alleged ‘universalism’ but that is to miss the brilliance of his theology – it was uncompromising in a time when theology had become a psychological study of innate human behaviour. It was Barth who suggested that perhaps theology was right and that God was really there.

GD: The recent book, 'Engaging with Barth' is a good example of "classic Reformed" theologians getting to grips with Barth (see here for an interview with co-editor, David Gibson). What is the subject of you postgrad thesis and why did you choose that particular area of theology? And how's it going?

JM: As a general rule, you should never ask a postgrad about his or her thesis unless you have a strong fortitude, lots of time and even more patience. I’ll try and keep it short. I have recently completed my masters thesis which will be worked up into a full PhD thesis I hope. My title for PhD thesis is “The Creative God and the Void called Subject: investigations towards a concept of Christian subjectivity”. The basic premise behind my work is that subjectivity has fallen out of philosophical and theological parlance (to their detriment). As a response, I’m trying to think what it means to be a ‘subject’ (most broadly an ‘individual’) within Christian theology – given that we believe that there is a God who is in control of the world. Ultimately, I am rejecting much of the modernist understanding of what makes us a subject and reversing it – the Enlightenment conceived of the subject in terms of positive ontological content (that just means ‘I’ am male, Caucasian, sporty, brown-haired, etc.) – I am using a modern philosopher who conceives of the subject as a void or precisely ‘nothing’. However, rather than just saying that I don’t exist, this language allows me to talk about a transcendental aspect of the subject – I am nothing because I don’t really fit into the empirical world – I cannot be described simply materially. I then go on to talk about the Christian doctrine of creatio ex nihilo (out of nothing) and talk about how the subject as a void allows us to express God’s interaction within the physical world. My main proposal is that this model actually fits into the Reformation understanding of the human person – so Luther’s distinction between inner and outer man, and the wider Reformation exploration of the Romans 7 man. Working with this language allows me to pass through a simple dualism of physical and spiritual (that is to say, spiritual and physical suggest two concomitant spatial ‘realms’) and suggest that we should think in terms of ‘actuality’ (what is the case) and ‘possibility’ (the options available to God). I’m sorry if this all seems a little incoherent – I’ll be working on making it a little more coherent over the next few years!

GD: What kind of am impact have theological studies had on your Christian life?

JM: I think they have made me more excited. Before I began studying I had almost got to a position where theology was superfluous – it had all been done before and you just pointed people to the right passage in the Institutes - job done. Now God feels much more of a reality to me in the sense that I find it much easier to conceive of him as an ‘actor’ within this world rather than just some remote static point which didn’t move. That is not to say I adopt a ‘process’ position (me genoite!) but to say that God being real is now far beyond a simple epistemological accession to God existing i.e. being ‘real’, but now far more real in the existential sense – I feel as though now I am living in a more tangible relationship with the living God who I can speak about and yet who transcends even my clearest exposition of who he is. My theology doesn’t make me a better expositor – but it does make me a better expector. That is a bad catch-phrase but I feel as though it comes closest to answering your question! Apologies!

GD: What do you hope to do once you studies are completed?

JM: Never suggest to me that being a student is a finite endeavour! I never want to lose the dream. Jokes aside – (tax payers insert joke here as a counter) – I envisage a life in academia. However, I hope to be more useful than simply life-long student – I see myself teaching in the future (be it in university, seminary, etc.). My long-term goal is to allow others to think of their faith in God in such a way that it is evangelical. I don’t see my role as a ‘higher level’ role – bringing others to a position where they can tell others – but rather to excite people about how great God is (even if that is through our own inability to describe how great he is!) so that the only response available is to go out and tell others about the revelation of God through Jesus Christ.

GD: 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?

JM: I imagine Luther would have been fun to hang around with. I wouldn’t necessarily have a burning issue to discuss (apart from possibly the communicatio idiomatum of course!) but it’d be cool to chat to him for a couple of days. If I’m honest, I’m happy enough talking to anyone about theology! The real object of my time travel fantasies would be far less ‘theological’ (I’m almost embarrassed to say). Winston Churchill. Pink Floyd in their hey-day. Cambridge when Fry and Laurie were in Footlights. (I have a strongest urge to meet Hugh Laurie!)

GD: Winston Churchill, Pink Floyd and Hugh Laurie aren't strictly a figures from church history, so I'm not sure that the Exiled Preacher Time Machine can accommodate you there, but Luther would be OK. Care to name your top three songs or pieces of music?

JM: No but I will make some observations: I really like Lily Allen’s music (although there are certain songs I would NEVER listen to). I would only listen to one opera which is Les pêcheurs de perles by Georges Bizet. The Beatles are over-rated. Jazz is actually better the older you get. Learn an instrument as a child – it IS worth it.

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

JM: Richard Muller’s book 'The Unaccommodated Calvin'. I’m presenting a paper at a Calvin conference at our church this summer on Calvin’s methodology. This book has been a real insight into the theological context of Calvin’s writing. It is a must read because we shroud Calvin in mystery, much of which is unhelpful.

GD: I've been reading Muller's 'God, Creation and Providence in the Thought of Jacob Arminius'. It was a challenging read to say the least. What is the biggest problem facing evangelicalism today and how should we respond?

JM: Two things: Dualism where we seem to think that the spiritual is a realm which exists side-by-side with the physical and which will end up in Christianity becoming more sterile and Christians distancing themselves from the world. How do we combat it? Read the Bible carefully to understand how the spiritual realm is quite simply the work of the Spirit within the world. We are physical beings – we are nothing outside the physical realm in some sense. However, as Christians, we know that there is more possible beyond the physical realm – the realm where the Spirit will work within the world according to the purpose of God through Jesus Christ. Secondly, promoting theology to a position it can never hold. In evangelical theology, there seems to be some assumption that theology is the ‘truth’ about God. However, often we humans mess up and so we must be able to conceive that our theology might not be accurate (even though we hold to it 100%). If there were a little more humility within evangelical theology, there might be a lot less misunderstanding between evangelical theology and much of which is unnecessarily opposed to it.

GD: Which blogs do you find most helpful and why?

JM: I guess I follow about 80 blogs (using bloglines) – some theology blogs, others blogs of friends and acquaintances. It’d be hard to list them. I follow Ben Myer’s blog as a rule simply because it is a useful hub for theological blogging. I do enjoy your blog – especially the willingness with which you engage with those who you disagree with, reading around the subject rather than making ad hominem attacks out of context. Sorry for being a creep! I used to love Alastair Roberts blog (alastair.adversaria) but unfortunately he’s packed in for the meanwhile – maybe when he’s ensconced in his PhD position he’ll bring it out of retirement. Alastair is another huge influence – I should probably have answered your questions better! Thinking back there was so much more I could have said which remains unsaid. Thanks for the opportunity to talk about myself to people who are probably bored of me by now. I hope there is something helpful amongst all the sludge.
GD: Thanks for dropping by for this chat, Jon. All the best with your studies!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Ben Midgley on Tips for Preacher's Confidantes

Ben and his confidante, Sian
Earlier today my good friend Ben Midgley spoke to our local Ministers' Fraternal on 'Tips for preacher's confidante'. It was Ladies' Day, so pastors could bring their wives along, hence the focus on 'confidantes'.
Ben introduced the subject in a typically lively and interesting way. The Lord has given us wives that they might be suitable helpers for us (Genesis 2:18). How may pastors' wives best help ther husbands to be better preachers and pastors? A good way to approach this question is to look at the pastoral practice of the apostles. We worked through several passages in Acts that give us a glimpse into the apostles' pastoral work. Rather than commenting on these verses himself, Ben invited discussion from the meeting. There were insightful contributions from pastors and their wives.
Acts 5:3-4 - Peter treated Ananias and Sapphira as grown-ups not children, holding them accountable for their actions.
Acts 6:2-4 - The apostles prioritized prayer and preaching, but did not neglect practical matters. They delegated work to other suitably godly and gifted men rather than micromanaging everything themselves.
Acts 8:20-23 - Peter denounced Simon Magus for offering to buy the ability to bestow the Holy Spirit. We should not be swayed by those who hold the purse strings. In church life he who pays the piper may not call the tune.
Acts 11:4-17 - Peter showed good people skills in explaining his actions to the church. He carried the church with him so that by the end of his address they shared his vision and glorified God for saving the Gentiles.
Acts 15:1 - Paul and Barnabas were willing to stand up to false teachers whose doctrine undermined the gospel and threatened the unity of the church. We need to confront heresy and be willing to stand up to those who would divide the church on secondary matters.
Acts 15:32-35 - At Antioch men with various gifts collaborated to strengthen the believers. We should be willing to allow others to share in the work of exhorting and teaching the church. Is our preaching strengthening believers?
Acts 19:9 - Paul was willing to listen as well as speak.
Acts 20:7-11 - Paul showed even handling of different people and circumstances.
Various points were also made with regard to the manner of the apostles' preaching as evidenced in their letters.
Variety and liveliness. Warmth, humanity and engagement. Intimate without being light, or insubstantial. Deep communion. Variety of tone, adaptability. Respectful to from, practicality and courtesy. Tackling different subjects firmly. Appropriate poetry. Presence. Ultimately Christ centred, reverent and worshipful of God.
With this checklist in mind our longsuffering wives should be able to offer constructively critical feedback when we ask "How do you think the service went tonight, love?"
After the meeting we had a lovely alfresco lunch. An encouraging time was had by all.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Blogging in the name of the Lord: R. Scott Clark

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

R. Scott Clark

GD: Hello R. Scott Clark and welcome to Exiled Preacher. Please tell us a little about yourself.
RSC: Hello Guy. Thanks for the invitation. I became a broadly-evangelical Christian in the mid-70s. I found the Reformed faith (or perhaps I should that it found me!) about 1980. I was raised in the midwest of the USA and attended seminary at Westminster Seminary California and served a congregation in Kansas City, Missouri (pronounced "Miz-ur-rah" in Kansas City) from 1987-93. For the next two years my family and I were in Oxford, UK pursuing graduate studies. After that we were in Wheaton, IL at Wheaton College. I've been back at Westminster Seminary California since 1997.

GD: Your blog is called 'The Heidelblog' please explain.
RSC: The title is a reference to the home of the German Reformed Church and theology, Heidelberg. It's also a pretty blatant plagiarizing of Kim Riddlebarger's "Riddleblog."

GD: What made you start blogging?
RSC: I began the HB as a way to comment on the Heidelberg Catechism (1563), a worthy project from which I've been diverted and to which I need to return. Somewhere I read that "writers write." I needed a place to write on a regular basis and to try to do on a more public basis what I found myself doing privately by email, namely, answering questions.

GD: What are the strengths and weaknesses of blogging as a medium for theological reflection?
RSC: One strength is that it has taught me certain particularly sinful habits and attitudes and thence it has taught me humility. It regularly reinforces to me the limits of my abilities and reading. The immediacy of the medium puts me quickly into contact with a wide range of questions and issues of which I would otherwise be ignorant. It usually takes months or longer to get an article into print and it usually takes at least a year to get a book into print. Because it can be done so quickly it can be a great way to start or have a conversation and to try out new ideas. It is not a good medium for presenting detailed, careful, academic research. Because blogging lacks editorial controls it demands of the writer the virtues of self-control and prudence—virtues that are not as much in evidence in me as they should be.

GD: Who has had the greatest influence on your theological development?
RSC: Packer's 'Knowing God' and Calvin's 'Institutes' were the first Reformed works I read. I'm sure that they have shaped me in ways of which I'm not even aware. Bob Strimple's biblical-exegetical approach to systematic theology at WSC laid strong foundations. Bob Godfrey's lectures in church history put me into contact with the whole Christian tradition. Reading 16th- and 17th-century Reformed orthodoxy (especially Wollebius) Recently I think I've been most influenced by Mike Horton's series with WJKP and by Darryl Hart's work (especially, 'The Lost Soul of American Protestantism').

GD: Why should today's Christians be interested in church history and historical theology?
RSC: Christians are redeemed by Christ alone (sola gratia, sola fide) to be a part of the covenant community, i.e. the visible church. The church did not begin last week. It has a history and every Christian, by virtue of the the fact of being a Christian, is a part of a historic tradition. Consider the very name "Christian." We are given the name of Christ in baptism. It is a historic name (given to us by others). It is the name of a historic person, God the Son who entered into history to be our Redeemer. Thus our faith itself is grounded in the history of salvation. The Christian faith is unavoidably historical. The way we worship, the way we read Scripture, the way we think of God, man, Christ, sin, salvation, the church, sacraments, last things, and the Christian life are all conditioned by history. Thus the question is not whether we are going think about history but whether we are going to do it well.

GD: There has been a reassessment of the value of scholastic theology in the last few years. What can Reformed Christians learn from the scholastics?
RSC: Much in every way. They mediated to us a theology, piety, and practice. Many of the great Protestant confessions were formed by and under the influence of Protestant orthodoxy. They gave us our vocabulary, a hermeneutic, an approach to worship, to prayer, to the Christian life that we've been begun to recover.
For much of the modern period we were tempted to try to think of the history of the church after the medieval period as consisting of the Reformation and modern churches. We sort of leap-frogged the post-Reformation church and theology. In this view we were too often willing victims of Enlightenment hostility to a rich resource for theology and church life. Now, however, thanks to the pioneering work of a number of scholars in the 70s and 80s we've begun to clear away the vines from a solid old footbridge between the Reformation and the modern church and we've found there was much to learn. My students can't imagine what it be like to be without Ursinus, Ames, Wollebius, Turretin, or Wtisius, just to name a few.

GD: David Bebbington famously claimed (in 'Evangelicalism in Modern Britian') that evangelicalism is largely a product of the 18th century Enlightenment. What do you make of his thesis?
RSC: It's all a matter of definition. If the adjective "evangelical" is used in its original Protestant sense, then "evangelical" simply means "confessional" or "magisterial Protestant." It refers to the recovery of the biblical (and Pauline) doctrine of justification in the Reformation, the Reformation doctrine that acceptance with God is by God's undeserved favor alone and received through faith resting in and receiving Christ and his righteousness imputed alone as the ground of acceptance with God. It refers to the notion that salvation (justification and sanctification) is mediated through the visible church, through the preaching of the gospel and administration of the sacraments. It refers to the hermeneutical/theological distinction between law and gospel. As a matter of sociology and modern history, the modern evangelical movement is, in many important ways deeply influenced by modernity. The theology, piety, and practice mediated to us by the so-called "First Great Awakening" is at least partly indebted to the idealism of the Cambridge Platonists. The subjectivism of modern the evangelical movements is indebted to Romanticism. Modern fundamentalism was influenced by Enlightenment rationalism. In 'Recovering the Reformed Confession' I describe the subjectivist impulse of modern evangelical religion as the Quest for Illegitimate Religious Experience (QIRE), i.e. the desire to experience God without mediation. This quest was fueled partly by a reaction to the doubt and fear created by early modern criticisms of the faith. The rationalism of modern fundamentalism reflects the Quest for Illegitimate Religious Certainty (QIRC) or the desire to know things the way God knows them as distinct from the way he reveals himself to us. It is a desire to get behind revelation.
There is also a real question as to whether there really is such a thing as "evangelicalism," at least in North America. The project of the modern evangelicals, especially since the mid-1940s was to form an alliance organized around a common religious experience and a high view of Scripture. The movement was intentionally churchless. The minimalism of the neo-evangelical movement, however, did not prepare it well for what was to come. Today, in North America, it's almost impossible to say what makes one "evangelical" since there is no common doctrine of God, man, Christ, salvation, church, sacraments or last things. For example, the split over "Evangelicals and Catholics Together" revealed that there was no longer even a common definition of "the gospel" or of justification and that was the material doctrine of justification. There's been no shared doctrine of Scripture since at least the early 70s. Thus, Darryl Hart, in 'Deconstructing Evangelicalism', has questioned whether "evangelicalism" even exists anymore.

GD: You have written on "Recovering the Reformed Confession". If "the Bible alone is the religion of Protestants", why do we need confessions of faith?
RSC: In the book I use the word "confession" in two ways. In the first and narrow sense it refers to those public, authoritative, ecclesiastical summaries of the Word adopted by the Reformed churches in the 16th and 17th centuries. In the broader sense, however, it refers to the theology, piety, and practice of the Reformed churches that forms the context for those documents and in light of which they must be read. I wrote the book to try to encourage those who identify with the Reformed faith to see the confessions as the definition of the adjective "Reformed." Too many folk think that the doctrine of predestination is the alpha and omega of Reformed theology. The Reformed churches know nothing of such a definition! The Reformed churches confess much more than divine sovereignty and predestination. They confess a holistic theology, a distinct piety (that is neither pentecostal nor sterile), a churchly, sacramental practice of the faith. So the confessions themselves are essential to being Reformed and to recovering an authentic Reformed identity and life. Confessions are unavoidable. Every Christian has a confession, even if very brief. "No creed but Christ" is still a confession. The church has always confessed her faith whether in the Shema of Deut 6:4 or in 1 Tim 3:16, to name but two places. So the question is whether one will have a confession that reflects the scope of biblical revelation and practice. The original evangelicals were confessing people. Modern evangelicals have experimented with churchless, "creed-less" Christianity for two centuries and it has been a failure. We should take note of Luther, Bucer, Bullinger, and Calvin and of all the great Protestant churches of the Reformation in virtually every place. They were all confessing churches.

GD: What factors under God have led to a widespread recovery of Reformed teaching in the States?
RSC: If you're referring to the 'Young, Restless, and Reformed' movement or the increased interest in divine sovereignty among some segments of evangelicalism, that is a cause for encouragement. The doctrines of grace essential to the historic evangelical faith but they are just an on-ramp to Reformed theology. The most obvious cause for a turn to the doctrines of grace is the vacuous, narcissistic, therapeutic, and moralistic nature of so much modern "evangelical" theology, piety, and practice. The baby-boom generation largely wrecked what they inherited from Carl Henry (and that inheritance was problematic). It is not surprising that the children of those ruins have begun to cast about for an alternative. I hope they don't try to add a doctrine of divine sovereignty to the rickety house of modern evangelicalism.

GD: If time travel were possible, which figure from post-biblical Church history would you most like to meet and what you say to him/her?
RSC: Oh, this is very difficult choice for a historian! I have questions for some many different people. I think I would enjoy talking to Luther more than to Calvin (whom, I fear, I might find a little solemn). I would ask Luther about his view of baptism (did he really teach baptismal regeneration?) and his view of Calvin.

GD: Martin Luther said that when it comes to contending for the faith we should fight for the truth that is most under attack at any given time. Where is the battle raging most fiercely today?
RSC: The most fundamental question of the modern (early and late) period has been the authority and reliability of Scripture. The great question of the pre-modern period was, "What has God said?" The Roman and Protestant communions gave different answers but they they agreed that divine authority is pre-eminent. In the modern period the question became, "Has God said?" Of course that's not a modern question The current attempt to revise the doctrine of justification is probably a manifestation of that problem. It has been in the background for the last two decades but it appears to be re-emerging into the foreground. Related to both of these is the hermeneutical crisis of the last several decades. These were the formal and material issues of the Reformation: sola Scriptura and sola fide so it shouldn't surprise us too much to see that they are the most basic issues we face today.

GD: What is the most helpful theological book that you have read in the last twelve months? It is a must read because?
RSC: This is very difficult to answer. For one thing my interests tend toward history and historical theology. One volume that stands out might be Herman Selderhuis, 'Calvin's Theology of the Psalms' (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007). Everyone should read it because it's a model of how to read texts and how to write about them winsomely.

GD: Care to share your top three songs or pieces of music?
RSC: In no particular order here are three tunes I always turn up.
Green Onions, Booker T and the MGs
I Wanna Be Sedated, Ramones
Gimme Shelter, Rolling Stones

GD: Tell us three things you know about Wales and the Welsh.
RSC: The Welshmen I know (and have known) have
1) a wonderful grasp of the English language
2) a dry sense of humor
3) dislike generalizations about the Welsh

GD: You must be thinking of your colleague at WTS, Hywel Jones, who was Principal of the London Theological Seminary when I studied there many years ago. Do give him my regards. Now, what is the biggest problem facing evangelicalsim today and how should we respond?
RSC: There are three great problems: Christlessness, Wordlessness, and churchlessness. The very fact that there is likely no such thing as "evangelicalism," i.e., virtually no common confession among those who identify themselves as "evangelicals" signals the magnitude of the problem faced by those who identify themselves as evangelicals. They are bound together by a common experience of or quest for the immediate experience of the divine but they are united in and defined by little else. Such could not have been said about the original evangelicals. The original evangelicals were united by their understanding of the gospel, the doctrine of justification and the unique and normative authority of Scripture as God's Word and by their conviction that God has promised to work savingly in the visible, institutional church through Word and sacrament. Modern evangelicals have really been gradually becoming Anabaptist in their approach to theology, piety, and practice since the 1970s. However passionate the Anabaptists were they were not Protestants and they were not evangelicals. The Christian hope is not grounded in immediate experience of the divine presence nor in continuing, extra-biblical revelation, but in the good news of the risen Savior revealed in the inerrant, canonical Word of God and sealed in divinely instituted sacraments and administered in the visible church.

GD: Which blogs do you enjoy reading and why?
RSC: I'm subscribed to more than I should admit. I am enjoying many, including this one. If I had to pick five (with apologies to all the other outstanding blogs):
Martin Downes, Against Heresies
Darryl Hart and John Muether, Old Life Theological Society
The Confessional Outhouse (Zrim, Rick, and Ruberad)
Creed or Chaos (Brannan and Chaos)
These, among others, come to mind because they are consistently faithful or thoughtful, and thought provoking or all three. I always learn from them.
GD: Well, that just about wraps things up. Thanks for dropping by for this conversation. Bye!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Random day

Slightly random day today. We headed off to the Haynes Motor Museum in Sparkford, Somerset. I'm not a great petrol head, but it was a nice pre-father's day treat. The vid shows a rubber-burning rally car demo. Wish I could say that I was behind the wheel of one of the motors, but there we are. After all that excitement we headed for the tranquility of nearby National Trust property, Montacute House and found a Dalek in the grounds. How random is that?
Some geeky info: I installed Internet Explorer 8 earlier this morning and ever since I've had problems getting the blog to load. I keep getting an "Operation aborted" message. A friend of mine has experienced similar problems. Looks like blogger and IE8 are having compatibility issues. But never fear, I've found a way round it. Hit the "Back" button when "Operation aborted" flashes up and the blog should load OK.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Worldly new Calvinists?

You might have thought that the resurgence of Calvinism in the States, associated with the ministry of men like John Piper, John MacArthur and Al Mohler would be the cause of joy and gladness in the Old Country. Apparently not, at least for Peter Masters, pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle, who accuses the "new Calvinists" of "worldliness". His first missive on the subject can be found here. News of this magisterial rant has crossed the Pond. Needless to say, some of our American friends are none too impressed with the article. Dan Phillips, recently interviewed here puts up a good fight. His post includes links to some more helpful blogs on the subject. I won't be weighing in on this one just yet, as I'm only a couple of chapters into the book that provoke Masters' ire, Young, Restless, Reformed by Colin Hansen. Suffice to say that not all UK Calvinists are so dismissive of the renewed interest in Reformed doctrine in the USA. Some of us are quite pleased about it, grateful to God, even.
Reading Masters' rather judgemental polemic put me in mind of a "more excellent way" shown by the Puritan, Thomas Goodwin,
“As for my part, this I say, and I say it with much integrity, I never yet
took up party religion in the lump. For I have found by a long trial of
such matters that there is some truth on all sides. I have found Gospel
holiness where you would little think it to be, and so likewise truth. And
I have learned this principle, which I hope I shall never lay down till I
am swallowed up of immortality, and that is, to acknowledge every truth
and every goodness wherever I find it.”
(Cited in Evangelical Spirituality, James M. Gordon, SPCK, p. 8)
Iain D. Campbell on Calvinism and Worldliness at Ref 21.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Stricken Deer: pastoral lessons from the life of William Cowper

At yesterday's Westcountry Reformed Ministers' Fraternal, Paul Williams of Swindon Evangelical Church spoke on the life of William Cowper. In discussion we considered how we may best minister to people suffering from mental illness.
Paul made seven applicatory points:
1. Chronic depressives may be inconsistent when expressing despair about their spiritual sate. Cowper fluctuated between high assurance of faith and deep doubt.
2. We should try and understand the reasons why a person is suffering depression. Cowper was deeply affected by the death of his mother when a child, the remoteness of his father, the brutality of a school bully and failure in love.
3. We should cultivate a healthy self-forgetfulness. John Newton would take Cowper on his pastoral visits and ask him to lead Prayer Meetings to try and get him out of himself.
4. Beware of the temptation to escape.
5. A despairing life may minister to others.
6. Cowper was greatly helped by the friendship of John Newton.
7. Those given to depression need to be constantly reminded of the mercy of Jesus.
Here is an excerpt from Cowper's poem 'The Stricken Deer'
I was a stricken deer that left the herd
Long since; with many an arrow deep infixt
My panting side was charged when I withdrew
To seek a tranquil death in distant shades.
There was I found by one who had himself
Been hurt by th' archers. In his side he bore
And in his hands and feet the cruel scars.
Paul's 'Travel With William Cowper' is available from Day One here.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Blogging in the name of the Lord: Dan Phillips

This is the first in a new series of interviews with Christian bloggers. In the hot seat today is...
GD: Hello Dan Phillips and welcome to Exiled Preacher. Please tell us a little about yourself.
DP: Greetings, Guy, and thanks. I feel welcome! I'm a hopeless sinner saved in Christ by God's grace alone. I needed His grace in eternity when He chose His own, I needed it when the Holy Spirit opened my eyes to my desperate need for Christ in 1973, and I need it all the more today and every day. Thank God for His mercy, shown at Calvary. My dear wife is the amazing Valerie, our four children are Rachael, Matthew, Josiah, and Jonathan. My Master of Divinity in Old Testament came from Talbot Theological Seminary. I've had the joy of teaching in various seminaries and Bible colleges or institutes, and have pastored three churches. Currently I'm between pastorates, looking for fulltime ministry of the Word. I'm also hard at work on my first book. (I've a contract with American publisher David C. Cook.)
My dear family aside, life's greatest joy for me is digging into the Word, and opening up its treasures for others to see for themselves.

GD: Your blog is called Biblical Christianity. What made you start blogging?
DP: Since the day I was saved I've looked for ways to get the Word out. God has blessed me in written and spoken communication. From the early 1990's, I've used the internet any way I can to try to make Christ and His Word the issue, using news groups, message boards, and then my own web site ( — very low-tech!). I first heard of blogging through an American radio talk show host named Hugh Hewitt, who was making a lot of the potential of blogs for self-expression and connection.I wasn't so much interested in self-expression as I was in a more effective way to communicate the Word, in its application to all of life. So, in November of 2004, I sallied forth. Now that I blog at Pyromaniacs, my own blog is a bit more far-ranging, while Pyro is almost without exception Biblically oriented. An astute reader said the latter is like hearing a pastor teach and preach, the former is like being able to "hang around" with a pastor and chat about a variety of things. Sort of cyber-"Table Talks."

GD: As you mentioned, you are also part of the Pyromaniacs team blog. How did you get involved there?
DP: Started as a big fan of Phil Johnson; I'm still that! I had known of Phil's Spurgeon blog, and his bookmarks. Then someone put me on to his Pyromaniac (singular) blog. I loved Phil's crisp, clear, mature way of writing, coupled with his bright mind and razor-sharp wit. Reading him was refreshing, theologically educational, informative, sharpening — and I virtually always agreed. I started commenting on his posts. Sometimes I tag-teamed, taking up a topic and developing it on my blog. It actually went back and forth that way.One day, to my lasting astonishment, Phil wrote that he was about to start a team-blog, and asked me to join up.Honestly, I feared he had me mixed up with another "Dan." I was afraid to answer... but shortly I did. If it was a mistake, he's been gracious enough not to say anything for the past three years. For which I'm thankful!

GD: So, yourself, Frank Turk, and Peccadillo are real people, not expressions of Phil Johnson's multiple personality disorder?
DP: I'm not a psychologist, but I can say that Frank is surreal, Pec is really scary, and I am really old.

GD: So you don't emphatically deny my multiple personality theory. Interesting. Now, the best thing about Pyromaniacs is the nice graphics. I just make do with stuff from Google Images. How does Phil create all that snazzy artwork?
DP: There it is again: "I like the pictures best." Perhaps we should do a month of graphics only?Seriously, I agree: what Phil does is amazing. The Po-Motivators are genius. As to the blog, if it has a Pyro logo in it in my posts, it's Phil; I gather the others. Frank also is a handy graphics dude. Frank loves Gimp. Phil uses Photoshop and something else. I own Photoshop, but haven't learned to use it yet.

GD: What are the strengths and weaknesses of blogging as a medium for theological discussion?
DP: Paul would either have blogged, or asked one of his apprentices to blog. I'm convinced of it. That is one of the apostle's characteristics I admire most: he used everything he had, for all it was worth and all he was worth, to get out the Word. Synagogue kick you out? No problem; rent a school hall. Go to the center of commerce and communication. Write letters, raise it to an art form.A great strength of blogging is that folks like you and me can open up the Word, unedited and uncensored, to the entire online world. On my own blog, I have visitors from every continent except Antarctica — including Islamic countries, China, India, places I will likely never visit. I can't go to them, but they come to me. Anyone can say anything.
Which is also the weakness: anyone can say anything. Crackpots and cultists of all varieties can make a pretty blog and pedal their goods. So there is great need for discernment.But if you ask me whether I prefer a free medium such as it is today, or one policed and controlled by some government agency — I'll take freedom, without hesitation, and I'll ask God to help me make the most of it.

GD: Who has had the greatest influence on your theological development?
DP: If this doesn't sound too pretentious, I sincerely hope the Bible has. What converted me was the Spirit's opening my eyes to Jesus as He is in the Gospels, and specifically to John 14:6, against the backdrop of my own deep conviction of sin. Every major formation in my theology has come from interaction with the text of Scripture.
But I've had teachers to whom I'm forever indebted. J. Gresham Machen had a strong impact that has lasted over thirty years and counting, particularly his What Is Faith? Cornelius van Til's The Defense of the Faith had a major influence on my worldview and apologetics, as well as my degree of Calvinicity. John Owen's Death of Death hammered me flat on the subject of particular redemption; I have never yet seen an effective response to his painstaking, meticulous, strike by stroke argument. Garry Friesen's Decision Making and the Will of God showed me the sufficiency of Scripture for life's decisions; Jay Adams' Competent to Counsel its sufficiency for personal and relational issues. We'll talk about Spurgeon later.
That's really just for starters!

GD: What with the "Young, Restless and Reformed" thing and Calvinism making it big in Time Magazine, its seems that there is something of a resurgence of the Reformed faith in the USA. What factors under God have lead to this Calvinistic renewal in the States?
DP: Part of it is that God has raised up and blessed a diverse lot of godly men who love Him and His word, and communicate it effectively. Each has opened up new groups of disciples to the doctrines of grace, groups which had otherwise been closed. Calvinism is no longer seen as a Presbyterian doctrine. John Piper and Mark Dever and Al Mohler and Tom Ascol reach Baptist audiences with the sovereign grace of God, John MacArthur reaches dispensationalists and the more independent, baptistic-minded. Mahaney similarly reaches charismatics. Plus these men are willing to partner and minister together in ways that show that no single denomination or confession "owns" the truths of God's sovereignty in salvation.
I think that's key. I vividly remember how shocked, and even horrified I was the first time I heard straight-up Calvinism. It sounded like flat-out heresy, to someone who defined the Gospel by the Four Spiritual Laws. But that was Charles Spurgeon, and I thought well of him. Then I found out Packer was one, too.
It helps when you find that what strikes you as odd and offensive is held by someone you already trust, like a MacArthur, or a Begg, or a Sproul, or a Packer, or a Piper. You're likelier to give it a listen, a second look. And so I think God has used these men to get American Christians to look afresh at Scripture, and hear it speak more clearly of the mighty and invincible God revealed in its pages.

GD: All you Pryo guys seem to be big Spurgeonistas. Some of you even have Spurgeonic whiskers. What do you find so helpful about the great man's life and ministry?
DP: I love Spurgeon because he is like a beggar who has happened onto a vast fortune, and delights in plunging his hands deep into the piles of gold coins, then letting them run and tinkle between his fingers for all to see and marvel — and he bids us come, dig in deep, and take to our heart's delight. Only it isn't gold, it's better. It's the riches of Christ, the glories of God's redeeming faithfulness, His condescending love, His precious promises. No one shows Christ as lovelier, nor God's grace as richer, than does Spurgeon.
But even more, Spurgeon reaches me because it isn't theory to him, it isn't interesting doctrine or textbook cures he's reading off. I think some pastors read a passage, and think, "That's really interesting! What great ideas! I'm really excited about teaching and explaining those concepts, and refuting error with them!"
Not Spurgeon. Scripture was life to him, as well as truth. He knew dark sorrow and trial, hatred and persecution, frightful depression. He had to run to the cabinet and find healing for his own wounds. What he holds out to me, he has tried first, and found more than sufficient. He knows the darkness I've known, and he's found light, and he points the way. His preaching is not only true; it rings true.
His sermons and writings have been a balm to my soul more times than I can say.

GD: News of Mark Driscoll is beginning to waft across the Pond. What do you make of his ministry? Should we smile benignly at his antics or frown in holy horror?
DP: Oh, dear. That's a sticky subject. I'd say "proceed with caution, if at all." True, the tree is large, and has lustrous, shiny fruit. But look closer: the fruit has spots and marks that alarm me.

GD: You recently wrote, "All of the coolest guys are amillennial". Thanks for that. But John MacArthur once had the cheek to claim that "All self respecting Calvinists are premillenial." What has Plymouth (home of J. N. Darby) got to do with Geneva?
DP: You're very welcome. It doesn't get much cooler than Calvin and all. But then again, we've got Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, the apostle John... not a shabby crowd, either.
Did MacArthur say "Are," or "Should be"? Regardless — being no MacArthur student — I answer for myself.

Why am I a Christian? I was in a mind-science cult as a teen, which taught a spiritualizing, allegorizing approach to Scripture that sought a "deeper [read: "alien"] meaning" behind every text. A large factor in my conversion was when the Holy Spirit would not let me get past John 14:6 until I had dealt with Jesus' actual words, and asked myself, "If He had meant to say what they words seem to mean, could He have said it more clearly?" The answer was "No." Jesus really was the one and only way, truth, and life; the one and only way to a relationship with God. The ordinary, common, grammatico-historical sense of the words of Scripture — carrying the meaning to writer/speaker and readers/hearers — was the means of my salvation.
Why am I a Calvinist? I was a sloshy Calminian. But I became convinced that, when Paul said we were dead, that we were blind, that none seeks God, that we naturally hate God and lack the ability to submit to His word, that we were slaves to sin, he meant exactly what he wrote. That when Christ said none has the ability to come to Him unless drawn by the Father, and that all of those so drawn will come, He meant exactly what He said. That when Paul said Christ came to save sinners, and not merely to provide them with the opportunity to get themselves saved, he meant exactly what he wrote. The ordinary, common, grammatico-historical sense of the words of Scripture — carrying the meaning to writer/speaker and readers/hearers — was the means of my becoming a convinced Calvinist.
But then the same people who would argue right in line with both of those previous 2 paragraphs turn around and tell me, "Yes, but you see, when that same Christ and those same apostles and prophets talk about future conversion and vindication and restoration of and blessing and ministry for Israel, Judah, and Jerusalem, you have to understand that those words mean something that none of the writers, and none of the readers, would ever have taken them to mean. Those verses do not mean exactly what they say! Though, on the other hand, when those same writers speak of judgment and rejection and misery for Israel and Judah and Jerusalem, those verses do mean exactly what they say."
When they do that, though they are my betters in a great many ways, I must demur.
And so, I am a dispensationalist for exactly the same reason I am a Christian and a Calvinist. Thank you for the graciously-offered soapbox. I yield it back.
GD: We're going to have to disagree on that one I'm afraid. I like to think that we amils have Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, the apostle John... and Calvin on our side. Cornelis Venema makes a very good case for amillenialism in his The Promise of the Future, Banner of Truth. But shifting from the future to the past, if time travel were possible, which figure from post-biblical church history would you most like to meet (apart from JND), and what you say to him/her?
DP: Another terrific question. (JND isn't even on my list.) I've actually taken the longest on this question. I keep coming back to Spurgeon, though I'd don't know that I'd want to talk to him so much as hear him preach, or attend his lectures to his students, or be at a less formal gathering with him and hear him talk.

GD: What is your early assessment of the your President and the "Leader of the Free World", Barak Obama?
DP: Obama is the triumph of postmodernism. America elected a hollow image, a human projection-screen, prepped and served by our media. They gave arguably the most powerful office in the world to a man with no accomplishments, no preparation, and no qualifications. Worse, they elected a faux-Christian who sat under a viciously racist, marxist ministry for 20 years, who embraces abortion in every form and wants to crush liberty under totalitarian governmental control.
Otherwise, no opinion.

GD: So I guess he didn't get your vote. What is it with evangelicalism and right wing politics in the States?
DP: Perhaps because a lot of people have noticed that the Ten Commandments are very private-property, small-government, and pro-life? They go where their distinctively Biblically-rooted values have even an occasional serious welcome.

GD: There's also some stuff about caring for the poor and social justice in Scripture, so I don't think the right have it totally right. Now, care to name your top three songs or pieces of music?

DP: Handel's Messiah. Magnificent. Never tire of it.
And Can It Be? Soul-stirring, eloquent exultation over the Gospel. I'd like this sung at my funeral, if the Lord tarries.
Before the Throne of God Above has also done me a lot of good, lifting up Christ's priestly sacrifice and satisfaction.
GD: List three facts about Wales.
DP: I'll list four:
It isn't actually in America. Rather well east of here.
My dear wife's people come from the Pentyrch, Wales. Her great-grandfather changed his surname from John to Johns.
That same dear wife and my dear daughter had a wonderful time in Wales a few years ago, tracing family roots
Catherine Zeta-Jones isn't really Spanish! She's Welsh!
GD: You gave me four facts rather than three and didn't even mention Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Shame on you, man! The Taffia will be out to get you. Moving quickly on, what is the most helpful theological book you have read in the last twelve months? It is a must read because...
DP: I'll say Kevin DeYoung's Just Do Something, because he brings Scripture and wisdom and confronts my weakness for over-analysis, over-thinking, and wanting to know everything, be guaranteed of success, before making a move. Really good book.

GD: What is the biggest problem facing evangelicalism today and how should we respond?
DP: Here's exactly what I think it is: failure truly to understand, believe, embrace, and live out a robust conviction of the authority and sufficiency of Scripture. I see that as the common theme behind the various church-growth fads, the Emerg*** movement, crippling forms of mysticism and charismaticism, and pulpit ills in general. We don't really believe Scripture is enough. It must be supplemented with techniques, programs, experiences, exercises, entertainment. The Reformation put the pulpit (for the preaching of the Word) at the center, and we're working hard to move it aside and replace it with a thousand and one distractions. "Preach the word!" Paul cried to Timothy as he finished his own course. God grant us ears to hear, greater hearts to grasp, bolder lips to proclaim, and stiffer spines to stand on the Word alone.

GD: Stirring stuff. But one more thing. I've noticed that Pyromaniacs links to the blog of our mutual friend Martin Downes. For some strange reason there is no link to my blog. I'd just like to point out that 'Exiled Preacher' would fit very nicely between 'Eddie Exposito' and 'Expository Thoughts' on the blogroll. Just saying that's all. I won't mention that I link to the Pyros. Oh no.
DP: Actually, it's pretty simple, and you'd be welcome. CLICK
GD: Oh, thanks. And thanks very much for this conversation. Bye!

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

An interview with Timothy Ward

I speak to Tim about his new book, Words of Life: Scripture as the living and active word of God and we reflect on some of the challenges facing evangelicals today.
GD: Hello Timothy Ward and welcome to Exiled Preacher. Please tell us a little about yourself.

TW: I'm married, we have a young son, and I'm Vicar of Holy Trinity church in Hinckley, which is a mid-sized town between Coventry and Leicester.

GD: Your book, 'Words of Life' was recently published by IVP. What is the main thesis of the book?

TW: That the Bible is the Word of God (a fact which most readers of this blog already probably know). I try to demonstrate and articulate biblically, theologically, doctrinally and practically that to encounter the words of Scripture is to encounter God-in-action - or (the other way round), that Scripture is the means by which God presents himself to us as the faithful covenant-making God.

GD: Kevin Vanhoozer was your doctoral supervisor and his influence can be clearly seen in your work. What was the subject of your doctoral studies?

TW: It was on the sufficiency of Scripture, examined particularly from a philosophical and hermeneutical viewpoint. It was published a few years ago as Word and Supplement: Speech Acts, Biblical Texts, and the Sufficiency of Scripture. My new book, 'Words of Life' represents an attempt to put some of the insights in that book to work in a broader outline of the doctrine of Scripture. (Reading that back makes it sounds rather dull, which I trust it isn't!).

GD: Why do you think that speech-act theory is so valuable when it comes to formulating a doctrine of Scripture?

TW: Speech-act theory asserts that to speak is to act, and that language-use is a variety of interpersonal action. That model of language accords remarkably well with what Scripture has to say about language and about itself, when spoken either by God or by us. The particular cutting edge of this is that many understandings of the nature of Scripture, whether liberal or evangelical, have gone astray in forgetting this basic point. Classic examples would be when we are expected to choose between revelation as either propositional or effective/active, or when the question of biblical inerrancy becomes the thing that excites us most about Scripture.

GD: John Webster and others have criticised the oft used analogy between Christ as the living Word of God and Scripture as the written Word of God (see here). How do you see the relationship between Jesus and the Bible?

TW: Scripture itself gives the same label, 'word', to both Jesus and the proclamation of the gospel (and by extension to itself). That points us to the closest possible relation between the two. Jesus' instructions to the disciples in Matthew 10 reveal that for someone to reject the message of Christ delivered to them verbally simply is the same as rejecting Christ personally (v.40). The word that lurks in the criticism of Webster et al is 'bibliolatry', but strictly speaking that is not something which orthodox believers have been guilty of. Where orthodox doctrine of Scripture has gone astray it has tended more to lead people into obsessiveness about micro-interpretations of Scripture, while being relatively careless about the virtues of love, justice, hospitality, etc. The solution to that problem is not to drive a theological wedge between Christ and Scripture, but instead to insist all the more radically that, if we want to be faithful to Christ, we will be faithful to the whole of his word.

GD: Andrew McGowan has argued that evangelicals should abandon biblical inerrancy in favour of infallibility (see here). Do you agree with him?

TW: No. However I do agree with him that it is never helpful to sound (either to ourselves or to others) as if we thought that the ultimate bedrock of the authority of Scirpture is its errorlessness. As I read his much-discussed book it seemed to me that that was his primary point; his focus was on the use of inerrancy, although he did make some (possibly infelicitous) 'errantist' assertions along the way.

GD: What have you found helpful when it comes to your own personal Bible reading?

TW: No one should imagine that possessing a reasonable level of knowledge of the doctrine of Scripture is automatically evidence of high degree of faithfulness in personal Bible reading. I struggle with discipline in this area as much as anyone in my church family. And that's the key word - discipline... along with regularly asking: "What is the Lord wanting to do to me and in me (not just 'teach' me) through this Scripture?"

GD: Give us three key works on the doctrine of Scripture.

TW: Warfield, 'The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible'
Bavinck, the relevant section in 'Reformed Dogmatics'
Packer, ''Fundamentalism' and the Word of God'

GD: Please tell us how you felt called to the Ministry of the Word.

TW: A few people I trusted said that some Bible-talks I did while still at university weren't too bad. And a conviction grew that if I did anything else I would be running away from what I ought to be doing. And (if this isn't too flippant), I'd get to be doing full-time what I'd probably be doing in my spare time anyway!

GD: How did your theological training help to prepare you for the work of the Ministry?

TW: How long have you got?! In some ways well (preaching, New Testament), in others not so well. I wish I'd had more formal training in solid historic Reformed theology.

GD: What is the best piece of advice that you have received on preaching?

TW: Early on: just tell them what God says in the Bible. More recently: passion is good.

GD: What is the relationship between Word and Spirit in preaching?

TW: He breathed out the word I'm preaching; he's alive to illumine it for me; I must open myself as preacher for him to work through the word in me as a believer in my preparation; and unless he 's choosing to be at work in the hearts and minds of my hearers then they're just powerless sounds in the air.

GD: There has been something of a resurgence of evangelicalism in the Church of England over the last few decades. What factors under God have been used to stimulate this resurgence?

TW: That's an interesting perspective. Some (within the CofE) would say that, although undoubtedly a higher proportion of Anglicans would now own the label 'evangelical' than 60 years ago, it's far from certain that there are more real evangelicals than there used to be - witness the emergence of the sub-group usually known as 'open evangelicals', some of whom are evangelical, and some of whom would simply have been called 'liberals' previously.
What there has probably been a resurgence of is thoroughly confident, more properly theologically educated evangelicals in the CofE. There are two key factors in that, I think:
(1) the influence of Sydney Anglicans and Moore College, especially on Oak Hill (giving confidence and good theology, even though sometimes pretending that they weren't intellectuals). And in all this the long-term influence of Dick Lucas and the ministries he oversaw is certainly very significant.
(2) the emergence of a generation of ministers in their forties who had no first-hand knowledge of Keele or the Stott / Lloyd-Jones debates in the 60s, and so who are less bothered than the previous generation to spend time trying to prove to the Anglican established that they are kosher Anglicans.

GD: How do you see the relationship between evangelical Anglicans and the Church of England as a whole?

TW: I think that as an evangelical I'm a real Anglican, and that liberals and Catholics are more out of place in the CofE than I am. However as regards what happens in the future, I am quite uncertain. A fracturing of worldwide Anglicanism is beginning to happen (see the post-Gafcon launch of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans.)

GD: What do you think that evangelical Anglicans and their Free Church brethren have to learn from each other?

TW: evangelical Anglicans have to learn:
- compromise isn't always healthy
- preaching can/should be impassioned to be really faithful to Scripture
- not every new cultural and theological trend needs to be ridden
- to keep repenting of their (often unacknowledged) feelings of cultural superiority towards Free Church people
- to wear posh clothes less often (see previous point)

Free Church people have to learn... I don't think I have any right to say this, but since you ask:
- compromise is sometimes necessary in gospel ministry (I can't enact every consequence of all my principles all the time)
- to leave behind their feelings of spiritual superiority towards evangelical Anglicans ("we're the ones who held the line through time tough times - so where do you bunch of jonny-come-latelies spring from?")

GD: Well, I did ask. Now, if time travel were possible, which figure from post-biblical church history would you like to meet and why?
TW: John Calvin - who else? (and wish him a happy 500th birthday).

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

TW: Herman Bavinck, 'Reformed Dogmatics'. Large and hard-core, I know - and I had the privilege of a sabbatical (i.e. long holiday) to read it. But it's broad in learning, deep in insight, warm in spirit, praise-inducing and prayer-provoking to a degree that surpasses anything else I know. And for someone whose own training in ministry was lightest in the area of systematics and historical theology, and who's had to play catch-up ever since, I felt like I was reading it 15 years too late.

GD: I second that choice. Care to name your top three songs or pieces of music?

TW: Anything by Bob Dylan will do fine - or Leonard Cohen, if I'm feeling especially cheery.

GD: What is the biggest challenge facing evangelicalism today and how should we respond?

TW: The biggest? No idea. I tend to think mostly about how to keep myself and my church faithful to Christ and his word, and how to hold out the word of life to the people of my town. The temptations that face us here are the same which face evangelicals everywhere, I think: those who are tempted to down-play the crucial inherited biblical doctrines need to hold their nerve and not sell their birthright for a mess of mythical cultural credibility. And those who are tempted to batten down the hatches and declare themselves the faithful remnant need to look up and out and be ready to venture much more in order that the Lord may save some.
Thinking particularly of England, I do think that there is now the opening for a profound rapprochement of evangelicals from free and denominational backgrounds. I hope we explore properly the possibilities of that, but I'm not confident that we will have the largeness of heart to make it work.
GD: I wonder if the increasing hostility that evangelical Christians are facing in the UK will help us to put our differences into perspective. But that just about wraps things up for now. Thanks for dropping by for this chat, Tim. See here for my review of 'Words of Life'.