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5 Question on Christianity, life and books

Ben Sargent

1. How did you become a Christian?

I became a Christian when I was 17. My family went to Church when I was a child, but the moment I had any choice not to go, I took it! I think I always had a vague idea that there was a God. The God I believed in was something like a fairy godmother: someone to help out when everything went wrong and when all other possibilities had failed. With hindsight, I can see that there had been some faithful Gospel ministry at the Church I went to as a child, but I was deaf to it. I was so deaf to the Gospel that when, one Easter Sunday morning, I felt compelled to return to Church, it was as though I was hearing about Jesus Christ for the first time. From that point on, I was eager to hear more from the Bible. I was blown away by the realisation the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead meant that my fairy godmother view of God was wholly inadequate. As the lord of history and victor over death and hopelessness, I saw that Jesus Christ was worthy of my praise and service, rather than the other way around. As the months went by, I was gripped by the realisation that I was saved by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, not from myself and with no reason to boast.


2. Who is or has been an influential person in your Christian pilgrimage?

I’m not sure I’d want to embarrass one of the many people who have been such an important influence on me since becoming a Christian, most notable of whom is certainly my wife Kelly. It’s probably easier to mention someone from the past I continue to learn a great deal from. Huldrych Zwingli, the 16th Century Zurich reformer is someone I have long drawn inspiration from. Zwingli, though certainly a deeply flawed figure, taught tirelessly from the Bible and encouraged everyone to read it for themselves, supremely confident that God speaks through his word. I want my preaching to allow the Bible to speak for itself. Zwingli was determined to take people with him as he led the Church through unprecedented change: he openly encouraged the Zurich town council to engage with his ideas and, if they agreed with them, to implement them. I’d like to do the same in the way I lead local Churches in the New Forest, as I run our diocesan evangelical fellowship and as I serve on General Synod. I’d like to be someone who readily finds friends and allies with whom to make common cause. When Zwingli’s reforms were threatened with violent destruction, he found his battle-axe and went out to protect the city. I know my natural bent towards an easy life and away from sometimes-necessary confrontation. I’d like to be someone who bravely contends for what is right.


3. What piece of advice would you give young ordinands going into ordained ministry today?

I was given excellent advice when I went to Wycliffe Hall in 2007. Richard Turnbull, the principal at the time, told us that the purpose of our ordination training was to strength our love for Jesus Christ. He said that nothing else would sustain us on the long road ahead. He encouraged us to be realistic about the level of support we might receive from senior clergy and dioceses. I’ve certainly had very low expectations of support and encouragement from the Church of England beyond my parishes. Whilst this may seem rather pessimistic, it has saved a lot of disappointment I might otherwise have had and has meant that I’ve found support through excellent clergy friends and the people of my own Church family. Don’t be too professional or distant from them. If you don’t invest personally in Church, they won’t either. You may discover that you end up with some truly life-giving friendships. However, no amount of good friendships will keep you going if you neglect your relationship with the Saviour.


4. Which is the best book you have read in 2021?

I’m an embarrassingly bad reader. I read a lot, but I hardly read anything from cover to cover. I read a great deal as part of my academic research. Last year, I greatly enjoyed reading Allen Brent’s two books on Ignatius of Antioch: Ignatius of Antioch and the Second Sophistic and Ignatius of Antioch: A Martyr Bishop and the Origin of Episcopacy. I also read everything we particularly encourage the Church family to read – a lot of accessible Good Book Company books generally. For bedtime reading, it’s Russian history: last year I read Simon Sebag Montefiore’s history of the Romanov dynasty and Natasha’s Dance by Orlando Figes.


5. What are you working on at the moment?

I’m in the closing stages of a monograph on Ignatius of Antioch’s use of the Old Testament. This has been a really interesting topic, quite closely related to much of my previous work on the use of the Old Testament in the New. Ignatius’ comparative lack of reference to the Old Testament has been interpreted as evidence of a quickly advancing parting of the ways between Christianity and Judaism. The real situation is much more complicated than that. Ignatius uses the Old Testament much more than traditionally thought. I’ve also been working on things related to the theology of abuse and safeguarding. It is generally quite difficult to find time to research whilst leading local Churches. One practice I’ve found very helpful since beginning a doctorate in 2009 whilst a full-time curate, is to write a little bit – perhaps just 100 words – every day. It works: I finished the doctorate just 18 month later whilst I was still a curate!


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The Revd Dr Benjamin Sargent is the Vicar of Bransgore and Hinton Admiral in the Diocese of Winchester. He is the author of numerous scholarly articles on biblical interpretation published in Churchman, Evangelical Quarterly, and the Heythrop Journal. The books he has published with the Latimer Trust can be found here

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