5 Questions on Christianity, life & books
1. How did you become a Christian?
It’s not easy to keep this short! I come from a non-Christian family and background, and got all the way to university and beyond without coming across much in the way of Christian input. I met my wife Catherine at college; we got married soon after graduating, and she comes from a very similar background. It was only when we were both doing post-graduate studies in Oxford that we came across a Christian keen to talk about his faith. Catherine was involved in a particular physics experiment as part of her research, and he was one of the others on the team — and more than willing to talk about Jesus every day and whenever we wanted. Which is what we did. We were curious, I guess. And I liked a good argument. I wanted to prove him wrong. Over a period of about two years he chatted, answered questions and gave us stuff to read — chief among which was a copy of the New Testament, which we both read for the first time. During this period, he moved to Paris, but we continued to communicate by letter. (This was back in the 1990s.) We were wondering what to do next, and he suggested going to see David Fletcher, who was at the time the Rector of his church in Oxford. So we met up one lunch-time, went round and rang the doorbell of the Rectory, and when David answered, said something like, ‘Hello, we think we’d quite like to become Christians’. The funny thing in retrospect (though we thought nothing of this at the time) was that he sent us away, saying he was too busy! (It did turn out later there was a good reason for this.) But we arranged to meet another time. When we did, he sat us down with a Bible each, asked a few questions and told us the gospel. It was an eye-opening moment for us — we felt like we were hearing some things for the very first time. I wouldn’t have used these words, but what I felt at the time was a deep conviction of sin. When David asked us what we wanted to do next, I said we knew what we had to do, which was to pray, and pray for forgiveness. So I did, and Catherine followed a few minutes later.
2. Who is or has been an influential person in your Christian pilgrimage?
I take it the idea here is to talk about people outside the Bible? If so, there have been many good influences. I’ve been blessed with a number of good Christian leaders, bosses and friends who have encouraged me over the years. To pick one example, I have been greatly influenced by Peter Bolt, who was my PhD supervisor at Moore College in Sydney. He showed me how it was possible to do serious biblical scholarship that was actually helpful and useful for real-life Word ministry.
3. What piece of advice would you give young ordinands going into ordained ministry today?
I’d start with the advice I’d give any Christian brother or sister: remember that it’s always about Jesus! Keeping your eyes fixed on him will be your greatest joy and your greatest struggle. So make that your top priority. And keep coming back to him when it drifts from being your top priority (which it will). For those thinking about Christian teaching or leadership, the key is to find the best quality training you possibly can: one that is clear and serious about Scripture and has faithful Word ministry as its goal in every aspect. Develop good, lasting habits of study, language-learning and prayer. And don’t stop learning! The moment you find yourself stubbornly not changing your mind in the face of Scripture is the moment things have gone wrong.
4. Which is the best book you have read in 2021?
Actually, looking back, 2021 was not a great year for me as a reader. I made some poor choices and ended up being quite disappointed with some of the books I read. An exception was Carl Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2020). This was also very useful for things I was teaching at the time — one of those books that saves you from having to read volumes and volumes of other much less readable books! It’s a helpful analysis of how the current Western attitude to identity and sexuality is actually not a surprise, but the natural outcome of the history and evolution of thought over the last couple of hundred years.
5. What are your working on at the moment?
I’m half way through writing a commentary on Matthew for a new series to be published by Hodder. I’m enjoying working on Genesis again for our Cornhill Plus course next year. And I’m reading a lot on biblical theology in preparation for some teaching later this year — hoping that I’ll be able to write something on this sometime soon.