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5 Questions on Christianity, books & life

The Latimer Trust asks Jake Griesel


How did you become a Christian?

I grew up in a godly Dutch Reformed Christian home in South Africa, but became rebellious and hardened against the faith during my teenage years. I was never an atheist; I always knew in my conscience that God existed and that Christianity is true, but, as Paul put it (Romans 1:18), I suppressed the truth in unrighteousness, and loved my sin too much to repent. In October 2008, however, at the age of 19 during my first year at university, I was involved in a potentially fatal car accident which the Lord used to change my life forever. In my sinful stupidity I had reckoned that, after a long life of rebellion against God, I would one day be able to repent on my deathbed, be forgiven, and still ‘make it to heaven’. But the car accident taught me in no uncertain terms that I cannot presume upon tomorrow (James 4:13-15), and I realized right there and then that, if I had died that day, I would have entered eternity still in my sins. It was a desperately needed awakening to my devastating predicament before a holy God. The Lord used that accident to shock me into life, and for the first time in my life I truly believed that Jesus Christ came into the world to seek and to save that which was lost (Luke 19:10), including even me, a wretched sinner. I started reading my Bible with a new regenerate heart soon after that, and it changed absolutely everything. By the grace of God I am still trusting in Christ and desire to spend my life in his service.


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

Various friends and pastors have shaped my Christian pilgrimage over the years, as well as numerous Christian authors from past ages (I study and teach on them for a living, so hopefully they have had some impact!), such that it is difficult to single out one in particular. Nevertheless, one author who has had a lasting impact on me is Zacharias Ursinus (1534–83), professor of theology at Heidelberg in the Reformation period and chief author of the Heidelberg Catechism. I read Ursinus’ commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism during my first year of undergraduate theological studies, and despite having only occasionally revisited it since then, it gave me a firm theological foundation that is still serving me well today.


What piece of advice would you give people going into fulltime ministry work today?

Be confident in and faithfully administer the ordinary means of grace that the Lord has given to his church: the word and the sacraments. These have been divinely designed and appointed to direct us to Christ, and therefore are the essential ingredients of a Christ-centred ministry. Indeed, they are definitive of the church – as Article 19 of the Thirty-nine Articles states, ‘The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ's ordinance in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same.’ Just as God has ordained that plants should grow by means of water and sunshine, so he has ordained that his church should grow through these, as instruments by which he works in us to shape us into the image of Christ. It is when churches lose confidence in the means that God has appointed that they start resorting to all kinds of artificial gimmicks that God has not instituted, and which do not confer his blessing or grace. Let ministers be confident that the Lord would bless and work through the means of grace which he himself has instituted. Whatever else is done in ministry should revolve around these.


Which is the best book you have read recently?

Without doubt Anthony Milton’s England’s Second Reformation: The Battle for the Church of England (Cambridge University Press, 2021), which I read as soon as it came out, having greatly anticipated its release for some time. It is by far the most detailed, nuanced, and comprehensive account of the struggle for the Church of England’s shape, identity, and future in the decades between the accession of Charles I and the Restoration settlement (1625–62), and has really set the terms of discussion for all future scholarship of the Church of England in this crucial period. Another excellent recent book is Stephen Hampton’s Grace and Conformity: The Reformed Conformist Tradition and the Early Stuart Church of England (Oxford University Press, 2021), and I’m about to embark on Peter Lake’s massive new book On Laudianism: Piety, Polemic and Politics During the Personal Rule of Charles I (Cambridge University Press, 2023), the latest in a succession of major recent studies on the early modern Church of England.


What are you working on at the moment?

Besides other smaller projects, I am currently slowly but surely chipping away at a monograph on the theology of John Pearson (1613–84), a major Church of England theologian of the seventeenth century, who after the Restoration was Master of Trinity College and Lady Margaret’s Professor of Divinity at Cambridge before becoming the bishop of Chester.

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Jake Griesel (PhD, University of Cambridge) is Lecturer in Church History and Anglican Studies at George Whitefield College in Cape Town, South Africa. He is the author of Retaining the Old Episcopal Divinity: John Edwards of Cambridge and Reformed Orthodoxy in the Later Stuart Church (Oxford University Press, 2022) and the co-editor of Reformed identity and conformity in England, 1559–1714 (Manchester University Press, 2024). He was a successful recipient of a Latimer Trust Grant.


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