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  • Rev. Daniel Kirk

A jolt of historical & theological joy

We are all busy! Many of us haven’t managed to slow down even in this time of lockdown. In fact, what with having to adapt to new technology we might even be more stressed than ever. So where on earth do we fit in the reading we would like to do? I struggle to fit in time to read long books. I am a sixth of the way into Calvin’s Institutes and a 150 pages into N.T.Wright’s Resurrection (both started years ago).

I look with longing at Bray’s God is Love, with desire at Frame’s Systematics and positively fantasise over my eight volumes of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall. But if you only have a spare hour and want a jolt of historical & theological joy you could do worse than turn to Latimer's St Antholin Lectures. Here are three that I have recently read, each exactly 33 pages.

Andrew Atherstone, Evangelical Mission and Anglican Church Order: Charles Simeon Reconsidered is the first. He begins by mentioning three ordinations (including university friend Richard Perkins) that took place in 2005 by an African bishop. From there Atherstone launches into a deep analysis of the Anglican Evangelical giant Charles Simeon’s ecclesiology and praxis. Is it true that Simeon was a bastion of Anglican episcopacy and an example of what submission to church authorities should look like? Atherstone shows that Simeon’s practice was much more nuanced and pragmatic than it appears at first. There is much to reflect on here for evangelicals in different denominations today.

The second is Portrait of a Prophet: Lessons from the Preaching of John Owen (1616-1683) by Martyn Cowan. Owen was the most influential Christian writer in the lives of J.I.Packer, Roger Nicole and Sinclair Ferguson but despite his erudition and fame Cowan is careful not to fall into hagiography. Instead he aims to look at what some of his blind spots were in his preaching, ‘ideas that with hindsight have been shown to be patently false’. He carefully works through three, and at the end shows how Owen’s corporate application, his emphasis on providentialism and his eschatological beliefs have much to teach contemporary preachers.

The last is Peter Adam’s ‘To bring men to heaven by preaching’ John Donne’s Evangelistic Sermon. John Donne was a late renaissance man; a scholar, soldier & secretary as well as a leading representative of the metaphysical poets. He was also a reluctant clergyman and Adam shows that although not technically a Puritan he was a ‘true servant of the Reformed church’. His evangelistic preaching is analysed to show how the importance of the bible, the gospel of Jesus Christ and his atoning death and the emphasis of effective preaching is evident throughout. The section on ‘effective preaching’ has much to teach preachers today and the whole booklet leaves one wanting to dive into one of his poetic and powerful sermons.

John of Salisbury said that ‘Bernard of Chartres used to compare us to dwarfs perched on the shoulders of giants. He pointed out that we see more and farther than our predecessors, not because we have keener vision or greater height, but because we are lifted up and borne aloft on their gigantic stature.’ Dipping into even short essays on great pastors from the past helps us see things in our generation in a fresh way. Of course if you have time and prefer big volumes, you could tackle Preachers, Pastors and Ambassadors; St Antholin Lectures Vol.2, where you will find two of these booklets with eight more thrown in, and a great introductory essay by Lee Gatiss. Enjoy!


Revd. Daniel Kirk is the Vicar of St Michael's Gidea park.

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