The Latimer Trust asks Andrew Kirk
1. How did you become a Christian?
I grew up in a church-going family. I was confirmed at school, when about 15 years old. It was expected as a kind of Christian rite of passage. I never turned my back on the Christian heritage I had inherited from my parents. However, the commitment was more formal than personal and real. At the age of just over 18 I was enlisted in the British Army to do two years of military service. In those days conscription (national service) was obligatory, unless one had an exemption.
After three months of initial training the regiment I was in moved to Berlin to be part of the post-war presence in the city garrisoned by the four nations most heavily involved in defeating the Nazi war machine – France, Great Britain, The Soviet Union and the USA. Their main task was to be part of the sentry duty guarding, on a revolving monthly basis, three of the most senior Nazi leaders, detained at that time, in Spandau prison – Donitz, Hess and Speer.
At the beginning of the time in Berlin (January 1956), I got to know the regiment's chaplain, a Presbyterian minister from Northern Ireland. He helped me to understand what the core nature of the Christian Gospel was all about, putting one's trust in Jesus Christ as one's personal Saviour and Lord. I committed my life to Jesus in the chapel at the barracks where the regiment was housed. It was a question, in my case, of moving from a formal religious adherence to a special relationship to the living God through the Son who had given his life for me.
2. Who is or has been an influential person in your Christian pilgrimage ?
This is a difficult question to answer as there have been several. Whilst I was studying for a theological degree at King's College, London, Dick Lucas, then working with the Church Pastoral Aid Society was someone that I used to visit from time to time, just for a chat about matters Christian. His office was in the Strand in London, close to the location of King's. He helped me to maintain a sure confidence in the authority and reliability of the Scriptures, in spite of the liberal teaching I was receiving in the academic setting in which I was studying.
I finished my initial training for Ordination at Ridley Hall, Cambridge. In 1963, an American evangelist to Switzerland, Dr. Francis Schaeffer, largely unknown to the Christian public at that time, gave some lectures on contemporary culture to students there. It was the time that the notorious book by John Robinson, Honest to God, delighted the liberal, intellectual elite and confused Bible-believing Christians. As I said in an Afterword to his best known book, The God Who Is There, 'what impressed me about what he said was...that he demonstrated how it fitted into the complex history of modern thought and culture, non-theological as well as theological...I began to realise that we had...a man to whom God had given a special gift of understanding the mentality of the twentieth century and of identifying himself with people affected by it'.
At the beginning of 1967, I was on my way to Mexico to do an intensive course in Spanish with a view to teaching Biblical studies in Argentina. Whilst in Argentina I became a friend of two more people who influenced me to widen my appreciation of how God's word written speaks to all cultures and histories. Dr. Rene Padilla and Dr. Samuel Escobar, one Ecuadorian and one Peruvian, lived and worked in Argentina at that time, working in student ministry with the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students. They were both main speakers at the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelisation in Lausanne in 1974. Their addresses were electrifying and deeply challenging, speaking from a non-Western perspective on the call to make disciples of all nations. I recall that at the Congress just three people, after their plenary talk, were given a standing ovation, Francis Schaeffer and Rene Padilla were two of them, the third was Malcolm Muggeridge. Samuel Escobar was part of the committee that produced the first draft of the Lausanne Covenant.
Finally, in the company of many people across the globe, Dr. John Stott would be the fifth person I would mention. I had the privilege of working with him at the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity for the first eight years of its existence (1982-1990). He was, and through his books, recorded sermons and other addresses still is, a person of immense wisdom and penetrating insight into where the Church before and after the millennium needs to fix its gaze.
3. What piece of advice would you give young ordinands going into the ordained ministry today?
I am not sure I am at all qualified to say anything very much, certainly nothing particularly profound. However, if pressed, I would say, above all, be a person of prayer; never spend one single day without praising and thanking God for his immense graciousness towards us, being profoundly sorry for letting him down and asking him to strengthen your faith and keep you mindful to pray for others.
Then, spend time learning more about what God's Word says and how it relates to the issues of everyday life in all their magnitude. As a leader, in whatever sphere of ministry God has called you, be humble, unpretentious, an encourager of others, a team-builder. As Paul says, 'consider others better than yourselves. Do not attempt 'to look to your own interests, but also to the interests of others'. Treat everyone with the dignity, which is theirs, as created in God's image. Learn how to suffer abuse and offence as a disciple of Christ, who suffered for you without rancour or bitterness.
4. Which is the best book you have read recently?
As a matter of fact, in order to prepare a paper on the present consequences of the Living in Love and Faith process, I have been reading a book by a Mennonite scholar, Darrin W. Snyder Belousek, Marriage, Scripture and the Church: Theological Discernment on the Question of Same-Sex Union (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2021). The title may not sound exceptionally exciting and uplifting. It covers a lot of the ground that has already been treated in numerous other books and articles. However, Darrin Snyder argues the case for the orthodox view of marriage with much care, excellent attention to the relevant Biblical passages, says why the deviant view is not in accord with God's revelation, nor in the best interests of those who have entered into an intimate same-sex relationship. He shows why every conceivable argument that commends same-sex union to the Church lacks proper theological and ethical discernment.
I am about to take up the task of reading God's Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011) by Gordon Fee. As it stretches to 915 pages, I will not be lost for something to read for a very long time to come!
5. What are you working on at the moment?
My latest book is with the publisher. It should be a finished product by the end of this year.
The purpose of this study, A Tale of Two Worlds: Why Contemporary Western Culture Contends against the Christian Faith (the publisher is Kingdom Publishers) is to respond, from a Christian perspective, to the way in which the Christian faith is currently being treated in the Western world. During the last sixty years, Western nations are systematically spurning their long Christian heritage. This may seem surprising, since it has been the bedrock, for hundreds of years, that has moulded them spiritually, culturally and morally and been the main focus of the way in which they have understood their corporate identity. In its place, an amorphous secular humanism has taken centre stage as the key alternative interpretation of human existence. The latter's belief system now dominates contemporary cultural, social, legal and political discourse. The conflicting narratives suggest that two contrasting worlds, existing side by side, are engaged in a conflict about what is ultimately true, especially about what it means to be human. The book offers a biblical-theological examination of this reality, using the false opinions, currently in vogue, around abortion, sexuality, marriage and the family as indicators of the world in opposition to Christian belief and action.
As mentioned above, I have also been preparing a paper on the likely consequences of the Living in Love and Faith process within the Church of England. It has been an exercise in attempting to pinpoint the theological and ethical confusion that is manifest in the leadership of the Church at the present time. I endeavour to show how this has come about, why it will greatly damage its future ministry and mission, if allowed to continue, and what would help it to regain its commitment to God's calling to be faithful to his purposes in the world he has created, redeemed and sustains.