5 Questions on Christianity, life and books
1. How did you become a Christian?
I was brought up in the Church and attended Sunday School from a very early age. Our Sunday School was serious – I had to learn not only Bible verses, but large portions of Scripture, by heart. Of course there was also a lot of hymn-singing and Christian teaching too. It was a wonderful foundation for the future, but it was not until I was fourteen years old that I heard the voice of God speaking to me through a sermon on Matthew 22:32-34, where Jesus tells his hearers that God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. Somehow I understood that I was spiritually dead – I knew the truth but it had not become a reality in my life. So that night I got down beside my bed and asked the Lord to put his life-giving Spirit into my heart. He did, and I was born again in Christ.
2. Who is or has been an influential person in your Christian pilgrimage?
This is a hard question to answer, because there have been so many people who have helped me along the way. If I have to single out one in particular, I would choose John Gwyn-Thomas, vicar of my church in Cambridge from 1965 to 1977. His pastoral preaching, tied to the clear exposition of Biblical doctrine, has stayed with me all my life. John was a friend of Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones and represented that approach to spiritual things, which has stood me in good stead ever since.
3. What piece of advice would you give to young ordinands going into ordained ministry today?
I would say that by far the most important thing is to establish a regular pattern of daily prayer and Bible reading. I myself read Morning and Evening Prayer (including the Psalms!) every day and follow the McCheyne Bible reading plan, using the first year in the morning and the second year in the evening. That is the platform on which I build my own devotional life. Ministry is hard and there will be many setbacks along the way, which makes it vitally important to be solidly grounded in the eternal truths that will comfort and guide us through all the ups and downs of life.
4. What is the best book that you have read in 2021?
This is a difficult question. I read (and write) books for a living, so it is not easy to choose one book over the many others that I have read. My reading is also more specialised than that of most other people, which makes it hard to recommend one thing in particular. However, for those who are interested in the history of the Church of England, I would point them to Anthony Milton, England’s Second Reformation. The Battle for the Church of England 1625-1662 (Cambridge University Press). It gives a very clear and wide-ranging survey of how the Church of England established itself on those Reformation principles that continue to guide its committed members today.
5. What are you working on at the moment?
Right now I am working on a Companion to the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. Liturgical revision since the 1960s has seriously weakened the devotional foundation of the Church of England and there is a great need to recover the heritage which the last generation allowed to slip through its fingers. We cannot simply go back to the 1662 BCP, but we must understand its purpose and its theology if we are to flourish as Anglicans in the twenty-first century. Ordinands in particular need to develop an appreciation of our inheritance so that they can translate it into contemporary idiom and further the disciplined spirituality that the BCP was designed to provide as a resource for all Christ’s faithful soldiers and servants.