A Short Interview with Tim Carter

A short interview with Tim Carter, who has just published The Forgiveness of Sins (James Clarke, 2016)

You seem to have an obsession with sin! As your new book and your previous book are about sin. What led you to write both the first, and then this new book?

Actually, I prefer to think that I have made progress in moving from writing about sin in the first book to writing about forgiveness in the second: that feels like I am moving in a positive direction! Actually something that bugs me about the church is that we have been given an amazing message of forgiveness, yet we are very good at making people feel guilty…

The first book grew out of a sense of dissatisfaction with the way in which people seemed to assume that St. Paul must have had a really negative view of human nature because he talks about people being enslaved to sin. In that book I tried to argue that Paul refers to sin as a power in the specific context of the debate concerning justification by faith rather than by works of the law: he wanted to define the human plight in a way that made it clear the Torah was not an effective boundary marker separating righteous Jews from Gentile sinners. To this end Paul argues that sin reigns over everyone, whether they observe the law or not, and the only solution is to die with Christ to the power of sin and to live one’s life in the liberating power of the Spirit. In this way the ethnic boundary marker of Torah is replaced by the eschatological boundary marker of Spirit-reception.

The second book arose from the realisation that Luke writes more than anyone else in the New Testament about the ‘forgiveness of sins’, yet he is often criticised for having a weak theology of the atonement: particularly in the version of Luke-Acts found in Codex Bezae, Luke seems actively to avoid suggesting that ‘Christ died for our sins.’ That led me into exploring the link between the forgiveness of sins and the death of Jesus in Luke-Acts. I think that Luke actually sees a close correlation between divine forgiveness and human interpersonal forgiveness.

Sometimes people ask why Jesus had to die before God could forgive us. The answer is that he didn’t, at least not in the sense that the wrath of God had to be satisfied by some sacrificial bloodletting before he could bring himself to forgive us. Rather, in Jesus God himself takes the place of the innocent victim of injustice, and it is from that context of suffering and vulnerability that God extends forgiveness to sinful humanity. Without the cross, the idea that God could just write off the sins of those who perpetrate atrocities against others is abhorrent: only through the death of Jesus does God have the right to forgive our sins. That’s why Jesus’ prayer for forgiveness from the cross (recorded in Codex Sinaiticus) is so important.

Then I found myself wondering about the phrase ‘the forgiveness of sins’, its antecedents in the Old Testament and other Jewish writings, the different ways it is used in the New Testament, and the contexts in which the phrase is used in the early church. The more I looked into it, the more I felt that this subject was important enough and interesting enough to warrant writing a book about it.

How have you found the time to research and write alongside being a local church minister? Have Brighton Road had to hear lots of sermons on ‘the forgiveness of sins’?

It’s taken twelve years! I have benefited enormously from opportunities to share my thoughts at a variety of study groups: Steve Finamore ran a small study group a few years ago; the Colleges ran some conferences for ‘Baptist Ministers doing Theology in Context’ and LST ran a series of annual research conferences; then there was the annual British New Testament Conference. Without the seminar opportunities provided at these events the book would never have been written: I aimed to produce a paper every year, and each of those papers became the basis for a chapter in the book.

The advantage of writing about something like forgiveness is that there is a constant interplay between the reality of pastoral ministry and what I read in the study. And I am fortunate in that I find that studying invigorates my ministry. So, I aim to spend half a day a week studying and make full use of study weeks and sabbaticals to bolster that. Brighton Road have been fully supportive of my studies, and I am profoundly grateful to them. They haven’t had to sit through loads of sermons on forgiveness, but if any of the brave souls who have bought the book actually read it, they will find the basis for a number of sermons in its pages.

Can we expect to see in the future a third book on sin?

I have, on occasion, been referred to as ‘Dr Sin’ at Brighton Road, and I am not sure I want the label to stick! At the back of my mind are some thoughts about guilt and shame which would tie in with the ‘sin’ theme, I guess. But whereas immersing myself in forgiveness has been good for me, I am not sure that exploring guilt and shame would be such an edifying experience. Anyway, there has been a fourteen year gap between the last book and this one, so don’t hold your breath.

What have you been reading recently that you might recommend?

I’d want to recommend two great books that tie in with the theme of forgiveness and atonement.

Simon Gathercole has written a pithy study entitled, Defending Substitution: An Essay on Atonement in Paul (Baker Academic, 2015): in about 100 pages he explores different ways of understanding the death of Jesus and examines 1 Cor. 15:3 and Rom. 5:6-8. It’s a book that can be read at a single sitting, but which stimulates a lot of helpful thinking and reflection.

A second book which is really well written is David Downs’ Alms: Charity, Reward, and Atonement in Early Christianity (Baylor University Press, 2016). This explores how Jews and early Christians all saw atoning value in practical acts of mercy, and argues that this way of thinking can also be found in the New Testament. The challenge that stays with me from reading this book is a practical one: faced with the rise of docetism, the church argued that orthodox belief in the physical death and resurrection of Jesus went hand in hand with caring for the physical needs of the poor. It’s a potent reminder that faith and praxis always need to go hand in hand.

Interview with Simon Woodman and Helen Dare on Baptist Hermeneutics

Today saw my copy of The "Plainly Revealed" Word of God? Baptist Hermeneutics in Theory and Practice edited by Simon Woodman and Helen Dare (Mercer, 2011), 312pp arrive. The book is the result of a 2009 colloquium which saw a group of international Baptist theologians (plus two non-Baptists) gather to discuss and explore what Baptist hermeneutics might look like. This is a unique and important book which deserves wide reading. Get your copy now. Simon and Helen kindly answered a few questions I sent them:

Why a book on Baptist hermeneutics?

Baptists have always been proud to declare our reliance on and commitment to scripture. We love reading scripture, praying through scripture and discerning what God is saying to us. We encourage each other to read it regularly. We insist that public worship includes not only the reading aloud of scripture but also sustained reflection on it through a sermon. Many of us belong to Bible study groups in which we seek to apply God’s word to our daily lives. In addition, we have produced many biblical theologians, who have had major influence on academic and pastoral contexts.

It seemed strange to us, however, that there has been very little intentional reflection on the process by which we interpret scripture in the Baptist community. Do we just read straight off the page or is it more complex than this? What happens when we disagree over the meaning of a particular passage of scripture? Is there anything distinctive about the way in which our particular community reads the Bible? This is the task of ‘hermeneutics’. So we set ourselves the objective of addressing this; primarily thinking of the British context, but also helped by Baptist contributors from the USA and Eastern Europe and two British non Baptists. The book is the result of a colloquium held at the South Wales Baptist College in January 2009, when over three days we presented papers and discussed ‘Baptist Hermeneutics in Theory and Practice’.

What surprised you? Is there such thing as Baptist hermeneutics?

Although we were asking what we thought was an interesting question, which as far as we were aware had not been asked by anyone else, we had no idea whether anyone else would share our concerns. Many have questioned whether there can be such a thing as Baptist hermeneutics because of the diversity represented by Baptists, or because of a reluctance to impose sectarian labels which might further divide the wider church. It quickly became clear that there was a wide range of approaches to Baptist hermeneutics represented, even within the small group that met in 2009. Some reviewed specific instances of Baptists using the Bible. A second group sought to explore the way in which the Bible is used within local churches as communities of Baptists gather to read scripture together. A third group addressed theoretical issues and the final group considered how Baptists might negotiate interpretative diversity. There was, however, a surprising degree of consensus that this was an important issue and that Baptist hermeneutics was most definitely something that existed and demanded further consideration.

We were also a little surprised (not unpleasantly) by the responses of the non Baptist contributors to our project. Both were positive about what Baptists could offer the wider Christian tradition and we were collectively challenged by one who observed the reluctance of such a group to speak prophetically concerning the issues under discussion. So if Baptists are ever to make progress in issues that threaten to divide us, it is essential for us to be self aware with regard to how we read the Bible. This is not just a topic for academics, conferences and books: it is an everyday reality for all Baptists in local churches. The responsibility of those of us who have spent time considering this in detail is to communicate it clearly and accessibly to those with whom we share our Baptist convictions.

What might a Baptist approach to hermeneutics offer other traditions?

What unites us as Baptists reading scripture is the centrality of Christ as the ‘sole and absolute authority’ (as the BUGB Declaration of Principle has it) and a deep commitment to one another in our engagement with scripture. It would be undesirable to make normative statements about the way in which biblical texts should be read by Baptists: we may still disagree over the meaning of texts. We do however have a common heritage that unites us, and with which we might all identify. It is this that may be offered to the wider church for consideration and conversation, This ecumenical engagement may be mutually enriching as the process of considering Baptist hermeneutics continues. We hope that others can learn from us, but also that we will be open to hearing their critique of us.

Where might this conversation go next? Or, what are your hopes for the book?

We hope that the volume represents the start of a conversation within the Baptist family rather than the final word on Baptist hermeneutics. We hope that future reflection on Baptist hermeneutics will represent a wider demographic: despite our best efforts, we (in common with most academic theological conferences) found ourselves with an underrepresentation of women, ethnic diversity, and varied socio-economic backgrounds.

We believe that if we are to maintain loving relationships as we struggle with the challenges of a rapidly changing society, it is crucial for Baptists to devote time to thinking together about how we read scripture: the process is as important as any conclusions we may draw about particular passages. Therefore our greatest hope is that the conversation we have started will make a difference to the life of both local churches and the wider Union. It is as we gather in community to encounter God in scripture that we are shaped and formed. Therefore we shy away from this issue at our peril!

Interview with John Colwell

John previously answered a few questions here and has kindly agreed to answer a few more with the publication of his new book.

For those who have not read your new book - Why Have You Forsaken Me? (Paternoster, 2010) can you quickly summarise what it's about.

It's a personal reflection on Psalm 22: the first two chapters are largely autobiographical, giving a brief account of the experience of bi-polar illness, then there are a couple of chapters reflecting directly on the psalm, two chapters reflecting on the significance of Jesus words from the Cross in Matthew and Mark and finally two chapters reflecting more generally
on the relationship between God and suffering.

Has this been your most difficult book to write?

Yes (Promise and Presence was more demanding academically but not as
personally painful)

Do you think the use of autobiography and theology is something which we should encourage? Alongside your book is the recent theological memoir Hannah's Child from Stanley Hauerwas.

All theology is inevitably autobiographical - though this is often unrealised and unacknowledged. Surely theology demands truthfulness and truthfulness admits that we read Scripture and inhabit a tradition as the people we are, shaped by specific contexts, communities, and experiences. I had the privilege of reviewing Stanley's 'theological memoir'- I couldn't commend it too warmly: it puts flesh on his extraordinary contribution and
theological development. [John's review will appear in the next edition of Regent's Reviews]

In the book you're fairly critical of contemporary worship, I wondered if you thought there is anything positive we can say about the deluge of new worship songs of the last thirty years?

I don't think it's just contemporary worship that is at fault (though the fault is most marked in contemporary worship and collections of songs). We still manage doctrinal proclamation (though probably not with the same effect as previous generations), we're strong on praise and especially strong on personal adoration, but we're lamentably weak on lament and lament is where a fair proportion of any church congregation find themselves.

You have now returned to local church ministry after sixteen years as a college tutor. Has it been good to get in the same pulpit and visit the same people week in, week out?

Fifteen years actually - I believe God called me to pastoral ministry and, though being a tutor at Spurgeon's had a strong pastoral element, I'm delighted to be back in a local church for the next few years and sharing Word and Sacrament with the same people week by week.

Are you still finding time to read and write?

This past year has been frustrating for a number of reasons with which I won't bore you. I'm woefully behind with my reading schedule (though it is a demanding one) and a number of factors have militated against much writing - just a few reviews and isolated articles.

What three things would you say are important to those, like myself, beginning ministry in a new church?

I'm tempted to say prayer, prayer, and prayer. There may be people who can maintain a walk with God without any formal structure but I commend a formal pattern (rhythm) of prayer as indispensible to the Christian life and certainly to Christian ministry - so establish a rhythm of daily and seasonal prayer and a pattern of retreat. And, whatever you do, don't give way to the temptation to become a mere manager or chief executive - God has called you to be a minister of the Word and Sacrament so don't allow anything to displace that priority.

What is your next writing project?

I'm not sure that I really have one. I've started work on an exploration of virtue (All you need is love?) and I'd like to follow that with a re-examination of the nature of sin and of 'original sin' - but my priority at present is to be a faithful pastor to the people here and within the
community in which I find myself.

In your previous book, The Rhythm of Doctrine, you offered a novel but brief systematic theology shaped around the church year. You weren't sure it would work and were waiting to see what kind of response the book received, before possibly considering an expanded version. Have you been surprised at the positive response and does this mean you will go ahead and offer us the first systematic theology written by a British Baptist theologian for a long time?

As I admit in that book, the aim of writing a systematic theology is immensely pretentious and I'm not convinced that I'm a sufficient scholar for the challenge. Certainly I could only attempt it if life was more free from other and more pressing responsibilities. Neither do I know whether a publisher would be interested in such a long-term project from a relatively obscure writer. But if it did come about I hope it would be even more 'different' than Rhythm of Doctrine suggests. I'm ever more convinced that the only appropriate voice for theological reflection is that of worship and prayer, that the systems that have come from Reformed scholasticism are far too shaped by Enlightenment rationalism (and detachment), that we're too preoccupied with answers and not sufficiently humbled by questions, that the form of much systematic theology itself denies that witnessed in its content. Maybe I'll try a collection of prayers and poems.

Interview with Anthony R. Cross

This is my third and final interview with some fellow Baptists. While Simon is a biblical scholar, Chris is a liturgical theologian, Anthony R. Cross is a baptist historian. Thanks to all 3 for taking part. Anthony amongst many activities is currently supervising my MTh research into recent Baptist thinking on the theology of children.  Anthony has contributed to Baptist history with several volumes on baptism and sacramental theology.  Earlier this year saw the publication of Baptist Sacramentalism 2 (which he co-edited) and On Being the Church which he co-wrote with Brian Haymes and Ruth Gouldbourne. both volumes are in the Paternoster series Studies in Baptist History and Thought, for which Anthony is the co-ordinating editor. I will be reviewing both in the forthcoming month.

Why did you, Brian Haymes and Ruth Gouldbourne decide to write On Being the Church?
Brian first raised the idea with me, and then Ruth came on board, and it grew out of a concern that Baptist theology is in need of revision. In fact, we believe every generation needs to revision theology. We shouldn’t simply and blindly accept the tradition into which we come. (This is only speculation, but I think it was shortly after Brian had been to the States and met with the likes of Philip Thompson, Curtis Freeman, Barry Harvey, Beth Newman and Mike Broadway who had worked with James McClendon on a thing often called the Baptist Manifesto, Re-Envisioning Baptist identity: A Manifesto for Baptist Communities in North America [1997]. [In fact, it was through this contact and Brian that I got to know Philip Thompson, now one of my best friends—his The Freedom of God is a very important piece of Baptist theology.]) We also felt that perhaps a different way of looking at many of the key issues for Baptists might shed new light on them. We also feel very strongly that instead of starting from a Baptist distinctive (the doctrine of the church) we should start from what is central to Baptist faith and life—God in Trinity. So we examine the usual themes but beginning with the Trinity. It’s not intended as the final word on anything (all theology is provisional—1 Cor. 13.12), but we hope it will further theological discussion and stimulate (even provoke) further work in these fields.

I’d never written collaboratively before, and it was a strange and challenging process, but one I would not have missed. There are times, reflected in the published book, when it’s clear that we didn’t agree with each other, and there are others when we didn’t agree, but because we were exploring issues we didn’t feel the need to indicate that that was the case. The wonderful, fascinating thing was that though we all come from different Baptist traditions/backgrounds, we all ‘do’ theology in different ways and see things, at times, so differently, nevertheless we agree on most things, and those things on which we don’t agree aren’t problems. Our discussions were enriched by such differences, and we all learned much from each other. We met regularly throughout the years and those times were precious. I miss them—Brian and Ruth—and those times together. I forget who made the comment, but one of them said ‘What are we going to write next?’ (not their ipsissima verba). The best part of the process was the fellowship with Brian and Ruth. We hope and pray the book will be useful.

In the light of a second collection of essays on Baptist sacramentalism, do you think Baptists are now becoming more sacramentalist?
There is undoubtedly a recovery of sacramentalism among British Baptists—there have always been Baptist sacramentalists among both Arminian and Calvinistic Baptists (both Arminius and Calvin were sacramentalists [incidentally Arminius was a Calvinist]). As a result of this British recovery of sacramental theology a lot more Baptists are recovering a biblically-based sacramentalism in North America and further afield.

In recent years you’ve written a lot on the subject of baptism. What do you think are two or three of the most helpful books on baptism that Baptists should read?
Without doubt, George R. Beasley-Murray, Baptism in the New Testament (Exeter: The Paternoster Press, 1972 [1962]). If you can get a copy, also his Baptism Today and Tomorrow (London: Macmillan/New York: St Martin’s Press, 1966).
Then David F. Wright, What has Infant Baptism done to Baptism? An Enquiry at the End of Christendom (Didsbury Lectures, 2003; Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2005) and Infant Baptism in Historical Perspective: Collected Studies (Studies in Christian History and Thought; Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2007).
I also anticipate that Everett Ferguson’s Baptism in the Early Church: History, Theology and Liturgy in the First Five Centuries (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, forthcoming 2009) will be a must read as well.
Also, in a couple of years when its out, mine—please.

You’re a commissioning editor for the Paternoster series Studies in Baptist History and Thought. How did the series come about?
I’m co-ordinating editor, working with Stephen R. Holmes from St Andrews, Philip E. Thompson from Sioux Falls, Beth Newman from Baptist Theological Seminary, Richmond, and Curtis Freeman of Duke, with consultant editors David Bebbington, Paul S. Fiddes, the late Stanley J. Grenz, Ken R. Manley and Stanley E. Porter.
The series originated in a suggestion to me by the then Commissioning Editor for Paternoster Press, Dr Tony Gray. Paternoster originally had just one monograph series, Paternoster Biblical and Theological Monographs, which began in 1997, the brainchild of Prof. I. Howard Marshall and Mr Jeremy Mudditt, whose father founded Paternoster in 1935. Anyway, around 2000, they were receiving more submissions from Baptist authors—they had either published or had already accepted mine (Baptism and the Baptists), Stan Fowler’s More Than a Symbol and Peter Shepherd’s The Making of a Modern Denomination. Paternoster were concerned about appearing to be too Baptist, so Tony Gray made the passing comment that we either reject Baptist submissions or set up a Baptist series. So we did. From that point he let me set it up. I very early consulted David Bebbington who, in time, wrote the series preface we use, and he allowed us to use the three heraldic shields on the cover (see the preface for their explanation), borrowed from the International Conference on Baptist Studies. SBHT was the first of the now five Paternoster series to have a series preface, but also to have series editors, and the only one of the five to use volume numbers (we are about to accept volumes 49 and 50). We also have series consultant editors—this was because, at first, SBHT was the first series of its kind and the names of four world-renown scholars as consultant editors would help establish the academic credibility of the series. David Bebbington as a historian, Paul Fiddes and Stan Grenz as theologians from both sides of the Atlantic, and Stan Porter, a biblical scholar and someone who knows editing and publishing exceedingly well, being one of the editors for the JSNT Supplement Series. When Stan Grenz tragically passed away in 2005 we asked Ken Manley (an historian) to take Stan’s place (if you will forgive the indelicate way of saying that). All five are international scholars who are fully supportive of what we’re seeking to do in the series and to keep the standard high.

What new editions to the series can we expect to see in the next few years?
As for forthcoming volumes, if I may mention author’s names and their subject areas I hope you’ll allow me that shorthand (and forgive the lack of order):
John H.Y. Briggs’ collection of essays on eighteenth century Baptists, ministers and lay
John’s also general editor of the European Dictionary of Baptist Life and Thought, which is a departure for the series, and a resource for European ministers, sponsored by IBTS in Prague
John’s also editing the centenary essays for the Baptist Historical Society
Philip E. Thompson’s The Freedom of God: Towards Baptist Theology in Pneumatological Perspective
With Roger Ward, Philip is editing a collection of essays on Tradition and the Baptist Academy
Keith G. Jones’ study of the European Baptist Federation
David B. Riker on Benjamin Keach on federalism and baptism.
Paul F. Walker on Peter Thomas Stanford, former slave and Birmingham’s first Black Baptist minister.
Damian Brot’s Church of the Baptized or Church of Believers? A Contribution to the Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Free Churches, with Special Reference to Baptists
Keith S. Grant on Andrew Fuller’s Pastoral Theology
Brian Talbot’s editing a collection on twentieth-century Scottish Baptists
Clint Bass on Thomas Grantham and General Baptist Theology
Allen Yeh on the missiology of Orlando E. Costas
Kevin Herlihy on Irish Baptists and their Sources
Karen Smith on the spirituality of Hampshire and Wiltshire Baptists, including Anne Steele
Martin Sutherland on Baptists Thought in New Zealand 1850–2000
Ademola Ajayi on Baptists in Nigeria
Parush Parushev and Keith Jones are editing a collection of papers on James W. McClendon’s theology
Also, we should publish the Fifth ICOBS conference papers form Melbourne this summer, on Interfaces.
We’re just about to accept a volume of church and state and a collection of essays on Baptist women—an interdisciplinary collection of biblical, historical and theological studies by female scholars to be edited by Cynthia Y. Aalders.
So there’s plenty to look forward to.

What theologian/scholar has had the most influence on your theology?

F.F. Bruce. He was trained as a classicist before becoming a biblical scholar and his historical approach to biblical studies (and all he wrote) undoubtedly makes him the most influential scholar on my theological development. The first theological book I ever read was Bruce’s The Apostolic Defence of the Gospel (Leicester: IVP, 1959). In order to do the degree while at Bristol Baptist College I had to re-take ‘A’ levels and my father taught me ‘A’ level RE at home—he was a former head of the RE department of the local teacher training college in my home town, Bromsgrove—and this is the first book he gave me to read. In fact, when my father died last year I kept his copy of the book—the one I had read—and passed on the copy I had subsequently bought. I have always loved reading Bruce’s many books and articles, and am taken at the way he always maintained academic integrity and Christian faith. In fact, his faith shines through his work.
My third year, undergraduate dissertation at Bristol University was comparing F.F. Bruce and Rudolf Bultmann on the historical reliability of the New Testament. At Dr West’s suggestion I sent it to Bruce and he read it and we exchanged a few letters and phone calls. At one stage it was being revised as a TSF (Theological Students’ Fellowship linked to UCCF) monograph, and I travelled to Manchester and met professor Bruce in the lobby of the Piccadilly Hotel. It was one of the most memorable hour and three quarters of my life and the only time I met him. He was a godly, Christian gentleman. Probably my favourite books are Bruce’s Tradition Old and New (Exeter: The Paternoster Press, 1970) and Paul: Apostle of the Free Spirit (Exeter: The Paternoster Press, rev. edn, 1977). These were the two books I took with me and got him to sign when I met him. Favourite books, though, would have to include George R. Beasley-Murray’s Baptism in the New Testament (Exeter: The Paternoster Press, 1972 [1962]). The quirkiness of history, there, is that all three books were published by Paternoster Press, who I have spent the last nine years working for as a freelance consultant editor. They published my doctorate—at Dr Beasley-Murray‘s suggestion at the end of my viva.

What was the last book you read?
Barrington R. White’s The English Separatist Tradition: From the Marian Martyrs to the Pilgrim Fathers (Oxford Theological Monographs; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971). It’s background reading on John Smyth and Thomas Helwys and their exiled congregations’ adoption of believer’s baptism. It’s one of those books I’d dipped into before, but never read cover to cover. Excellent.

How does being a B/baptist shape how you do theology?
Consciously, it doesn’t. The way I study and write theology has developed over the years and is the result of all the influences on me. I don’t consciously write as a B/baptist, but as a Christian first and foremost, and then an Evangelical and Baptist Christian. I don’t know which comes first—I suppose contexts would dictate which I said first, whether Evangelical or Baptist or together as an evangelical Baptist. By ‘Evangelical’ I mean that scripture is the primary source for faith and practice, but also in the sense set out by David Bebbington in his Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s (London: Unwin Hyman, 1989). However, like F.F. Bruce I am only happy to call myself, and be called, an evangelical—I don’t like additional adjectives. To be honest, I don’t like labels as people think that once they’ve labelled you then they’ve somehow categorized you and know what you think. Ward Gasque presented a paper last year on Bruce and sub-titled it ‘An Unhyphenated Evangelical’—I like that. Labels often tell you more about the person using the label than the person being labelled, and it’s divisive. So, I’m an Evangelical-Baptist Christian and I do theology the way I do. It’s changed over the years and I expect it will continue to do so as I read, listen, think and learn more. The major influences on me have been my father who, as an educationalist, taught me how to learn and to love learning; Dr Morris West, Principal of Bristol Baptist College; Rev. Keith Blades, my minister at New Road Baptist Church, Bromsgrove, who was a great pastor, preacher and evangelist; and, on the study of baptism, George R. Beasley-Murray and David F. Wright, both of whose humility, grace, generosity of spirit, encouragement and desire to be biblically-based in their many writings on the subject have challenged, enlightened and taught me so much.

What do you think will be the major discussion points in B/baptist theology over the next ten years?

The obvious one for me to mention is that there’s an increasing interest in sacramental theology and it would be good to see more attempts to apply this in practice.
Personally I hope that B/baptists will start being more theological and less pragmatic. For me this is something that we need to recover, being the people of the Book not just in theory but in practice. We need a thoughtful and thought-provoking ministry, and theologically literate ministers and laity. The needs of today will not be met by a continuing anti-intellectualism that characterises too many B/baptists and Evangelicals. We need, in my opinion, to move away from superficiality to competent biblical/theological expositors of the word of God from the pulpit, in Bible studies, Sunday school and private devotionals. I have the strong impression from my work with Paternoster’s five academic monograph series that there are more B/baptist pastor-scholars than at any previous time, not just here in the UK, but in North America and further afield, and this is a sign of real encouragement. If we could support more the work of the Colleges in preparation for ministry at all levels—not just pastoral—that would strengthen the church in providing stronger, securer foundations than the superificality that so typifies too much of B/baptist life, thought, worship and mission. 
I hope B/baptists will become broader in their vision of the work of God amongst the whole people of God and not just focused on their own faith and the life, worship and witness of their immediate church contexts. Issues of church and state, persecution and witness, perseverance and faithfulness might well be issues, not least because western governments appear to becoming more Big Brother-ish (interfering, even to the point of interfering with religious freedom) and secularist, and a- if not anti-Christian (even, perhaps, anti-religion).
I also think issues of inter-faith dialogue will continue to be important, as will matters ecumenical (at all levels).
All that said, I’m probably way off the mark and my gifting as a prophet will have been shown as the sham it is!

Can you tell us anything more about your current writing projects?

I’m working on a paper for this autumn, a series of lectures at Regent’s Park College [Ed. These will be given in Hilary term 2009] on ‘Baptist Origins’. My paper is on ‘The Adoption of Believer’s Baptism and Baptist Beginnings’. Then there are the following.
A book on baptism:
Rediscovering the Evangelical Sacrament: Baptisma Semper Reformandum (Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2010–11)
And several edited volumes:
I’m hoping that we’ll get an expanded collection of papers from the Second International Conference on Baptist Studies out in the next year or so, co-edited with David Bebbington, Global Baptist History (Studies in Baptist History and Thought, 14; Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2010), which includes my paper on ‘The Holy Spirit: The Key to the Baptismal Sacramentalism of H. Wheeler Robinson’. The conference papers were originally published in Baptist History and Heritage 26.1-2 (Winter/Spring 2001).
A chapter entitled:
‘Baptists and Baptism’ (provisional title), in Gordon L. Heath and James D. Dvorak (eds), Baptism: Historical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspectives (Hamilton, ON: McMaster Divinity College Press, 2009) (including responses to the other papers in the volume)
Also some dictionary and journal articles:
Chapters on ‘Baptism’, ‘Infant Baptism’ and ‘Christian Initiation’ in John H.Y. Briggs et al (eds), European Dictionary of Baptist Life and Thought (Studies in Baptist History and Thought; Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2009).
‘Baptism’, in Martin Davie, Tim Grass, Stephen R. Holmes, John McDowell and Tom Noble (eds), New Dictionary of Theology (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 2009).
‘Joachim of Fiore’, in David Fergusson, Karen Kilby, Ian A. McFarland and Iain Torrance (eds), Cambridge Dictionary of Christian Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010).
‘Recovering a Biblical-Theological Baptismal Sacramentalism for Baptists Today/Die Wiederentdeckung eines biblisch-theologisch begründeten sakramentalen Taufverständnisses im Baptismus’, presented to the Gesellschaft für Freikirchliche Theologie und Publizistik (Society for Free Church Theology and Publishing), Marburg, 30 January–1 February 2009, forthcoming in their journal Zeitschrift für Theologie und Gemeinde.

How would you describe yourself in three words?

Depends what aspect of me your referring to. Also, if you ask my wife, Jackie, you’ll know I can’t handle questions like this. But to show willing… If you’re thinking of my writing: evangelical, detailed, well-footnoted. If you’re thinking about my preaching: biblically-based, long, un-footnoted. If you’re thinking about my character, I’m pleading the fifth. That was painful.

Interview with Chris Ellis on new book on worship

ChrisEllis-s Chris Ellis is a baptist minister, currently pastor of West Bridgford Baptist Church, Nottingham and before that Principal of Bristol Baptist College. His latest book, Approaching God (Canterbury Press, 2009) is a guide to leading worship and this accompanies Gathering: A Theology and Spirituality of Worship in Free Church Tradition (SCM, 2004) and Gathering for Worship: Patterns and Prayers for the Community of Disciples (edited with Myra Blyth, Canterbury Press, 2005).

He has kindly answered some questions. I'll post a review of his book soon.

Why do we a need a book on leading worship?
There is been considerable democratization in the leading of worship in recent years. Far more people are involved in leading – but this welcome trend has not been accompanied by any significant training. I believe worship to be the core activity of the church and of individual Christian discipleship – yet it is often led by people who have little idea of what they are doing. The book attempts to help people to understand what worship is about and what influence it has on the worshippers.

I think it is a very practical book but is more than just a ‘how to do it’ manual. It is a book which will help worshipers as well as leaders because it teaches through encouraging readers to THINK about what we are doing and why we do it this way or that way. To explore worship is to explore God!

Who is the book aimed at?
People who are currently leading worship, people who are thinking of doing so, lay people, musicians, ministers, ministers in training – and WORSHIPPERS

Do you think baptist worship is generally in a healthy place or does it need some serious attention?
I think I’ve part answered that one. But I can make an additional point. Along with other observers, I am concerned about the lack of intercessions in  much Baptist worship. However, I think it is a symptom of a bigger issue which is our inablility to connect worship (and the spiritual life as a whole) to the rest of life. I don’t think we take the doctrines of creation or the incarnation seriously enough and so tend to divorce worship and the rest of our lives. As I say in the book, when we do this worship becomes ghettoised and the rest of life becomes secularised!

It seems that more and more baptist ministers are responsible less for leading worship is this something to be concerned about?
Yes and no. My understanding of ministry is that the primary calling of Baptist ministers is to be pastoral leaders (episcope). As such they should exercise  oversight of worship arrangements and that includes leadership and content. It should also include the training of those who are delegated to lead – and I hope the book will help here.

What theologian/scholar has had the most influence on your theology?
That’s a tough one and I couldn’t limit it to one! Karl Barth reminded me to let God be God; Moltmann excited me with his approach to systematic theology; Alexander Schmemann helped me see worship as communal theology; and Thomas Merton is an on-going companion.

What was the last book you read?
John Henry Newman by Ian Ker – and the current novel is Sovereign by C J Sansom (I’m a sucker for historical fiction)

How does being a baptist shape how you do theology?
I often feel I am on a boundary between the Baptist community and the wider church.
When I look outwards, I want to remind other Christians of

〈        the communal nature of the church
〈        the importance of connecting contemporary concerns with the reading of scripture
〈        and the importance of our personal relationship with God

When I look inwards towards Baptists, I want to remind them of

〈        the importance of theology
〈        the awesome ways in which God has worked and still works through other Christians – especially through the classics of Christian Spirituality
〈        a concern for depth of devotion and relationships in local church life
〈        the danger of pre-packaged programmes. (Some people complain that Baptists are too pragmatic. I don’t think there is anything wrong with being pragmatic as long as your choices are theologically informed and Spirit-led! The problem is that often through laziness or desperation local church leaders choose other people’s solutions rather than seeking to discover God’s leading for their own situation. I believe in reflective practice!)

What do you think will be major discussion points in baptist theology over the next 10 years?
Hermeneutics – now we use the bible in making practical decisions.
Spirituality and Ethics – what is the nature and scope of discipleship?

What I would like to see explored by Baptists is the doctrine of God and, in particular, the implications of taking seriously the transcendence and immanence of God.

Can you tell us anything more about your current writing project/s?
Since I finished Approaching God in the autumn of 2008  I have written a number of chapters for various books including a chapter on the spirituality of ministry, a chapter on prayer in Baptist worship for an ecumenical book on liturgical prayer and a paper on the use of scripture in worship for a colloquium and book on Baptist hermeneutics.

The next task is to complete the editing of a book on Isaac Watts and his eighteenth century London congregation for a project published by Eerdmans on the history of worship through case study. After that there is nothing planned but I would like to explore further the relationship between spirituality and theology.

How would you describe yourself in three words?
Held by grace

Interview with Simon Woodman

SWphoto2 Simon Woodman is a Baptist minister and has been Tutor in Biblical Studies at South Wales Baptist College since 2004. He is also a fellow baptist blogger (see here) and author of The Book of Revelation (which I reviewed here).

Last year you published The Book of Revelation. Why the interest in Revelation, which seems often misused or never used in church?
I fell in love with Revelation when I was in my late teens, and have continued to find it a much-misunderstood and therefore sadly much-neglected text. Either that or people become obsessed with it and end up in all sorts of strange places. Trying to avoid either extreme, I firmly believe that Revelation has a very important message for our time: challenging us to step away from our addiction to the ideology of empire, challenging us in our consumerist attitude towards the rest of the world, and challenging us to regain a perspective which places God revealed in Christ by the Spirit at the centre of our lives and at the centre of the world we live in. The key verse in Revelation is, I think, 11.15, when the voices in heaven proclaim "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign forever and ever." I wonder what it means for us to join our voices with those of heaven to proclaim in the present the in-breaking kingdom of God? I've got a paper being published later this year on how the book of Revelation can be a Gospel for the Environment, where I conclude that although human ingenuity may or may not solve the current ecological crisis, when humans persist in dancing with empire, they always inevitably end up embracing Babylon.

What theologian/scholar has had the most influence on your theology?

Do I have to choose only one? If so, then I think it has to be Richard Bauckham. Not only has he published ground-breaking work on the book of Revelation (and other subjects), but he writes in language I can understand. In both of these senses, he's a bit of a hero of mine. But coming in close behind are J.D.G. Dunn (whose work on Paul is similarly both brilliant and comprehensible), Christopher Rowland (always creative, exciting, and accessible) and D.S. Russell (who combines the heart of a Baptist pastor with the mind of an apocalypticist).

Back in January, you hosted an international colloquium on baptist hermenuetics. How did it go? And whats happening to the papers?
This was a really successful colloquium, which I co-hosted with Helen Dare. The inspiration for it was a simple question: Does being a Baptist make any difference to the way we read the Bible? So, to answer this, we got together a good group of biblical scholars, and asked them to give papers on the subject of 'Baptist Hermeneutics'. A full list of who was present and what papers they gave can be found here. The papers from the colloquium will be published sometime in 2010, in a volume from Mercer University Press. Hopefully they will take the conversation started at the colloquium to a wider audience, and will stimulate further debate around this issue.

What was the last book you read?
The most recent book I read was work-related: Brian Brock, Singing the Ethos of God - On the Place of Christian Ethics in Scripture. It's a wonderful exploration of theology and ethics, and repays the effort it takes to read it in depth. The most recent non-work-related book was Ben Elton's dystopian post-apocalyptic fantasy Blind Faith, which is both an easy read and, in true Ben Elton style, a thought provoking and funny satire on the world we find ourselves in.

How does being a baptist shape how you do theology?
That's a really good question. I think I am 'dissenting' to the core, and so find myself valuing direct engagement with scripture over and above church dogma. I think I bring to my theology a threefold emphasis: a Christological focus, a gathered-congregational understanding of the church, and a believer-baptising expression of discipleship. This makes me (some might say) an anti-Christendom revolutionary intent on destabilising the church in the name of the gospel of Christ. They might say that, I couldn't possibly comment.

What do you think will be major discussion points in baptist theology over the next 10 years?
I hope we can negotiate the sexuality and gender debates with grace and love, and I hope that, important as these debates are, they will not define us. I think there is much to be done in terms of exploring the implications of the love of God in Christ for the totality of his creation: This includes how we relate to those beyond the traditional boundaries of the church, how we relate to those who cry out to us from the depths of their poverty, and how we relate to the created order whose groans are getting louder. The key question, it seems to me, is how do we learn to sing the song of the in-breaking kingdom of God to a world which remains firmly enthralled to the tune of another kingdom?

Can you tell us anything more about your current writing project/s?
I've got a number of projects on the go at the moment. I'm working on a paper on preaching, looking at the time Hanserd Knollys got stoned in the pulpit (Valentine's Day 1645). I've a collaborative project in the offing looking at the book of Revelation in contemporary culture. And I'm continuing to think about what it means to do biblical studies as a Baptist (see my answer to the colloquium question above).

How would you describe yourself in three words?
Tall, dark, and handsome. (Or, alternatively, as someone who had better remain nameless once put it to me in a job interview: Arrogant, opinionated, and dismissive