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5 Questions on Christianity, Life & Books

The Latimer Trust asks Lee Gatiss


1. How did you become a Christian?


I grew up in a church-going family. But I remember when I was 10 going to a special meeting of the youth group where we had a special speaker who did a special talk. I prayed a special prayer at the end of that. I wouldn’t say my Christian life was then a simple upwards curve of progress. When I was in my late teens, I felt a bit restless. I was excited about all the things that life seemed to offer me. But I couldn’t quite sort it all out in my head.


So I drew a picture of my life on a post-it note. I was trying to bring some kind of order to things, and put it all in perspective so I could get a handle on it. I put a little stick man in the middle for me, and then drew lines radiating out from me to the various areas of my life: family, friends, work, politics, music, and Jesus. Yes, I thought Jesus was important, and I was a good church-going chap, so he got a corner of the diagram.

But a few days after I drew this diagram I went to a Bible talk. The speaker, who I had never met or heard of before, was preaching on “you can’t serve God and money”, you can’t serve God and something else as well.


To illustrate this, he said… “If you drew a diagram of your life….”


At this point I was listening! Had this guy broken into my room and stolen my post-it note or something?!


“If you drew a diagram of your life, who would be at the centre – you, or Jesus?”


He kept saying, “Who’s at the centre of your life? Whom do you serve?”

Well, I was a bit embarrassed. He didn’t know me from Adam, but he hit the nail on the head. In the diagram of my life, Jesus was at the outer reaches, on the fringes, and I was at the centre. Everything revolved around me, and Jesus had to fit in with that.


But that’s not the ultimate truth of my existence. The universe does not revolve around me. And that was the clarity I had been looking for. I think I became much more focused as a Christian after that.



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


I was worried when I was at university that perhaps the Christianity I was getting involved with there was a bit like a cult. I’d had previous experience as a teenager of being sucked into something a bit like that, and I didn’t want to do it again. I found that reading books by Christians in the past and those outside of that rather quirky circle was a good way to reassure myself that what I had committed myself to was indeed biblical, historic, Christianity. So as well as the pastors who preached on Sunday and on the many cassette tapes I listened to avidly, I was influenced by Leon Morris, CS Lewis, James Montgomery Boice, and Jerry Bridges, as well as by Charles Spurgeon, Saint Augustine, John Chrysostom, and Thomas Cranmer. If I had to pick 3, I would say Jim Packer, Don Carson, and John Calvin have been most influential on me. I love that they are both historically-aware theologians and Bible commentators, and I very much envy their clarity and depth of thinking.



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


Read the Anglican formularies. That was what I did when I was considering ordination. Alongside the pastoral epistles, I read the Book of Common Prayer, and I read the 39 Articles. That chimed in with the Reformed and Evangelical faith that I saw in the Bible and which I had been nourished in. Reading the ordination services was especially helpful. Can I truly commit myself to this pattern of life and ministry, I asked myself. Can I make these promises with a clear conscience without crossing my fingers? What is it all about? It helped correct wrong views I had picked up and gave me solid ground to stand on as an Anglican Evangelical.


In the ASB ordinal with which I was ordained, it says a minister is to “provide for the Lord’s family, to search for his children in the wilderness of this world’s temptations, and to guide them through its confusions, so that they may be saved through Christ forever.” That’s what I’ve always tried to do, and it’s a great way to spend your time in this world, pointing people to the next. Best job in the world, despite those temptations and confusions which make pastoral life hard sometimes.



4. Which is the best book you have read recently?


The Reformation as Renewal by Matthew Barrett. It’s a huge monster of a book but really excellent, correcting many false impressions people have about the Reformation. And The Science of Food by Marty Jopson, which was fun and interesting.



5. What are your working on at the moment?


I am series editor of the new 40 volume critical edition of The Complete Works of John Owen being published over the next few years by Crossway. It’s been a labour of love for many years and I’m delighted we now have the first few volumes out. There’s a few more years to go, and it’s intricate work with all the footnotes and up to date introductory material which we’re adding to Owen’s 17th century texts. But it’s good stuff. Sinclair Ferguson says in his commendation that it “deserves to be heralded as one of the major Christian publishing events of our time.” So no pressure then.


I’m also series editor of the new 50 volume Hodder Bible Commentary, which builds on the work I did a decade ago on the NIV Proclamation Bible. We’re hoping to produce fresh and readable expositions of the biblical text for preachers and Bible study leaders, which are doctrinally sensitive and globally aware. It’s been great fun commissioning the volumes and finding just the right men and women from all over the world to write for it, and now I’m well into the editing stages on the first 10 volumes which we’re hoping to publish in the summer of 2024. Coming to all good book shops soon!

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Revd Lee Gatiss is Director of Church Society. He is a speaker and a writer who has written many articles and books. Some of them published by the Latimer Trust can be found here.

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