Not too long ago, on the first Sunday of Advent, I had the opportunity to deliver a sermon from the pulpit Hugh Latimer used during his days as a fellow in Cambridge. As someone who hails from North America, the experience was a bit surreal and, in the midst of it, I was reminded of how grateful I am to be in England to complete a PhD in theology. In my case, this undertaking comes after some six years of parish service (including church planting) and is providing me with a much-desired opportunity for deeper reflection on questions that sit at the intersection of doctrine and discipleship. The support I have received from the Latimer Trust is one of several crucial factors which has made possible my current research.
While my project ultimately falls in the domain of systematics, it has a robust historical component, therein standing as an exercise in theological retrieval—in the spirit of Michael Allen and John Webster, among others. Along these lines, I am plumbing the early Reformed tradition on the British Isles, with special attention to the legacy of William Perkins. Like Latimer, Perkins was also a Cambridge divine, though his program unfolded in the context of the Elizabethan Settlement.
Perkins’s influence on English Protestantism has been recently been mapped in Brown Patterson’s excellent volume. And his contribution to the wider inheritance of early Reformed Christianity has been rightly celebrated by Jim Packer, in his St. Antholin Lectures. Notwithstanding, many aspects of Perkins's theology remain under-explored and under-appreciated. In a very modest way, my doctorate seeks to rectify this lamentable state of affairs. My larger aim, however, is not historical explication, inasmuch as I intend to draw on Perkins as a conversation partner (and source inspiration, as it were) for contemporary reflection on the question of self-development. As is well known, our’s is an age of preoccupation with so-called “self-realisation.” How might Christians engage this pressing cultural concern in a manner that is not only biblically attuned and theologically rich, but also intelligible and capable of gaining purchase in our moment? The research of sociologist Christian Smith, among others, suggests that there is a pressing need to contemplate these matters.
As I continue to discover in my reading, Perkins’s legacy is a fertile source for reflection on this topic. His writings—especially on sanctification and Christian life—are profoundly attuned to what might be called the “humanising work" of God's redemptive grace. Indeed, one of his foremost concerns as a theologian and pastor was for every person to experience concrete (even if partial) renewal through Christ in every aspect of their life. In appropriating from Perkins, I ultimately hope to offer a framework for thinking theologically about what it means to mature as a human in a socio-cultural context where “self-realisation” is the name of the game.
I am grateful for the Latimer Trust’s commitment to on-going research, scholarship, and writing which brings the truths of scripture and the legacy of the Reformation before today’s church in an accessible manner. It is an honour to contribute to this mission in my own small way. I pray that God would raise up others to further the good work which is being enabled by Latimer research grants.
If you are currently undertaking research, and are interested in applying for a grant from the Latimer Trust, you can find more information here.