Category Archives: interview

Author Interview and Book Giveaway: Don Kistler, Why Read the Puritans Today?

Dr. Don Kistler is a theologian, minister, and author. He has edited over 150 books, and is the founder of Soli Deo Gloria Publications and Northampton Press. Dr. Kistler has spoken at conferences with such notable figures as Dr. John MacArthur, Dr. R. C. Sproul, Dr. D. James Kennedy, Dr. J. I. Packer, Dr. John Gerstner, Elisabeth Elliot, Dr. Sinclair Ferguson, Dr. Michael Horton, Rev. Alistair Begg, Dr. Albert M. Mohler, the late Dr. James Boice, and Rev. Eric Alexander. Prior to entering the ministry, Dr. Kistler coached high school and college football for over fifteen years.

Thanks go to Dr. Kistler for agreeing to answer a few questions for us regarding the Puritans. Let’s get started.

1. Who were the Puritans?

The Puritans were a group of clergymen within the Church of England who wanted to “purify” that church from the corruption they saw within her ranks. There were unsaved men in pulpits, unlearned men who weren’t preaching at all.

2. When did you become interested in their writings?

I first became interested in the Puritans when I was researching my genealogy and found that I came from Jonathan Edwards through my father and Oliver Cromwell through my mother. I started to read them just to see what my ancestors believed.

3. Why should we read Puritan writings today?

We should read the Puritans because they were so God-centered and God-obsessed. They were thinkers, and we need that desperately today.

4. For someone who hasn’t read any Puritan writings, where would be a good place to start?

A good place to start would be my booklet “Why Read the Puritans Today?” to find out what was so good about them. Then read “Heaven Taken by Storm” by Thomas Watson.

5. What are some Puritan works that have influenced you the most?

I’d say that “Gospel Worship” by Jeremiah Burroughs and “Grace” by Christopher Love were life-changing books, as well as anything by Jonathan Edwards.

6. Any closing thoughts?

We become like the people with whom we spend our time, so spending time with the Puritan writers is a good investment in our own life and eternity.

If you would like a copy of Dr. Kistler’s book, Why Read the Puritans Today?, then leave a comment on this post. I will give away two copies.

Update: The winners of the booklett are Scott and Whitestone. Please send an email with your mailing address, and I’ll send it your way.

Author Interview: Douglas Wilson

Douglas Wilson was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule and answer a few questions about his new book, Five Cities that Ruled the World:

1. Tell us about yourself.

My name is Douglas Wilson, married to Nancy since 1975. We have three children, who have in turn blessed us with thirteen grandchildren, with numbers fourteen and fifteen on the way. I am the minister at Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho, and am a senior fellow of theology at New St. Andrews College.

2. Tell us about your new book.

5 Cities was an enjoyable book to write. Joel Miller at Thomas Nelson suggested the topic, and it seemed intriguing to me. Many cities have controlled the world at one time or another, but influence is different from control. These five cities have had monumental influence, far beyond their heyday of political power.

3. Why is it important for Christians to read church history?

First, because the Bible requires us to honor our fathers and mothers. You can’t do this by forgetting about them. And second, if you don’t know where you came from, you can’t know where you are or where you are going.

4. Why is it important for Christians to read secular history?

Because Christian history did not occur in a vacuum. The Incarnation of the Lord Jesus shows us that His body will also live incarnationally, surrounded by and affected by others.

5. Any closing thoughts?

Simply that the story of these five cities shows that everything is connected to everything else. Nothing can really be understood in isolation.

Five Cities that Ruled the World was released this month. You can read my review and purchase the book here.

Interview with Matt Plett, Part 3: Closing Thoughts on Mennonites

6. Are there any common misconceptions that you would like to clear up?Misconceptions that others have about Mennonites? Or misconceptions Mennonites have about themselves?

For non-Mennonites, I would like to reiterate that the word “Mennonite” is not synonymous with dress codes, rules, buggies, and the like. Many of us are mainstream evangelical Christians that share a heritage in the Reformation, in all Five Solas, and so forth. Further, where we live it is common to identify Mennonites by Low-German last names (Plett, Reimer, Penner, Barkman, Funk, Giesbrecht, etc.). While these are all easily recognizable “Mennonite last names”, it is ironic that today we are known by our last names when we have a heritage as a believers church! Because the Mennonites endured so much persecution, it was common for them to become inward looking, and over time “Mennonite” has come to be a culture (we are generally from either a Flemish/Low German culture; or from a Swiss culture originally) as much as a church tradition. This has strengths and weaknesses.

Among Mennonites, especially liberal Mennonites, it is becoming increasingly vogue to distance ourselves from the Reformation. One recent trend has been to label ourselves as neither Protestant nor Catholic. From a historical perspective, I find this silly. (Read more here.) Many of the liberal neo-Anabaptists I’ve talked with have never even read Menno Simons. That says a lot to me!

The early Anabaptists like Menno Simons were more Protestant than the other Reformers in many key areas as I’ve already mentioned (baptism, the state-church, etc.). Others, like Balthasar Hubmaier, were among the very first voices calling for sola Scriptura. Sure, we’ve had our radicals, mystics, heretics, and liberals, as have all other traditions. Perhaps for this reason I prefer to use the word Mennonite to Anabaptist, as “Mennonite” aligns me with Menno Simons and distances me from the mystics and the unorthodox.

7. Any closing thoughts?

This has been good for me! When I see where many of the liberal mainline Mennonites are heading, I sometimes am embarrassed by, and despair of, the name Mennonite. Whenever I go back and read Menno Simons, however, I am happy to proudly wear the label. I’ll leave you with a few excerpts from his Complete Writings:

“We certainly hope no one of a rational mind will be so foolish a man as to deny that the whole Scriptures, both the Old and New Testament, were written for our instruction, admonition, and correction, and that they are the true scepter and rule by which the Lord’s kingdom, house, church, and congregation must be ruled and governed. Everything contrary to Scripture, therefore, whether it be in doctrines, beliefs, sacraments, worship, or life, should be measured by this infallible rule and demolished by this just and divine scepter, and destroyed without any respect of persons.” (p.160)

“But that he appeals to Tertullian, Cyprian, Origen and Augustine, my reply is, first, if these writers can support their teaching with the Word and command of God, we will admit that they are right. If not, then it is a doctrine of men and accursed according to the Scriptures (Gal.1:8)” (p.49)

“Behold, worthy reader, all those who sincerely believe in this glorious love of God, this abundant, great blessing of grace in Christ Jesus, manifested toward us, are progressively renewed through such faith; their hearts are flooded with joy and peace; they break forth with joyful hearts in all manner of thanksgiving; they praise and glorify God with all their hearts because they with a certainty of mind have grasped it in the spirit, have believed and known that the Father loved us so that He gave us poor, wretched sinners His own and eternal Son with all His merits as a gift, and eternal salvation. As Paul says, The grace and love of God, our Saviour, appeared, not on account of the works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us by the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Ghost which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour, that being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. Titus 3:7.” (p.144-145)

“You see, dear sirs, friends, and brethren, they who believe this are those of whom the Scriptures say, to them he gave the power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name, which were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. These are they who are justified by faith and have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God; and all this, as Paul says, of grace and love. All have sinned and come short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God has set forth to be a propitiation through faith. There is none that can glory in himself touching this faith, for it is the gift of God. All who receive it from God receive a tree loaded with all manner of good and delicious fruit. Happy is he to whom God gives this gift, for it is more precious than gold, silver, or precious stones. Nothing can be compared with it. He that receives it receives Christ Jesus, forgiveness of sins, a new mind, and eternal life.” (p.116)

“For true evangelical faith…cannot lay dormant; but manifests itself in all righteousness and works of love; it…clothes the naked; feeds the hungry; consoles the afflicted; shelters the miserable; aids and consoles all the oppressed; returns good for evil; serves those that injure it; prays for those that persecute it.” – Menno Simons, Why I Do Not Cease Teaching and Writing

Interview with Matt Plett, Part 2: Mennonite Doctrine and Practice

4. What are some doctrinal distinctives of the Mennonites?Most obvious, of course, would be our peace position. This is almost universal among Mennonites (whether liberal, conservative, or fundamentalist/legalistic). The reason my strain of Mennonites came to Canada was because the Canadian government gave us the freedom to not be drafted into military service. Service in the police force, the justice system, and higher (provincial or federal) political office is quite strongly discouraged. Service on town council or municipal government is fairly common, as these levels of government don’t legislate. Mennonites have historically emphasized that we belong to the kingdom of God, and therefore don’t see it wise to become too involved in the affairs of the kingdom of the world.

Perhaps related to this is our position on swearing oaths. In Canada, we have the freedom to affirm rather than swear an oath in court.

While those last two distinctives make us somewhat unique in the wider evangelical world, Mennonites are actually pioneers in two major areas that many evangelicals take for granted today.

The first is separation of church and state. Menno Simons and other Anabaptists went further than the magisterial Reformers did when it came to the church. We were known as part of the “Radical Reformation” largely because we went further than many others during the Reformation. The Mennonites saw the church as being a group separate from the state and from the world. It was for believers. While many Anabaptists/Mennonites were persecuted not only by the Catholic Church but also by some of the other Reformers for this position, today it is merely assumed by most evangelicals.

The second distinctive is related to the first – believer’s baptism. This is the point over which the Mennonites were originally called Anabaptists (“re-baptizers”). The early Anabaptists were among the first and fiercest proponents of sola Scriptura, and as such saw no biblical warrant for paedobaptism. One of the first defining moments for the early Anabaptists was January 21, 1525 when Conrad Grebel, George Blaurock, and Felix Manz repudiated their infant baptism and re-baptized each other upon their profession of faith.

Many of our Reformed, Presbyterian, and Lutheran brothers continue to baptize their babies, but for those of us who don’t, the practice of being baptized upon profession of faith is originally an Anabaptist/Mennonite distinctive. The practice spread to current-day Baptists through John Smyth’s contact with early Mennonite leaders.

5. How about distinctives in practice?

I already touched on baptism, but related to that are other ordinances. Here again we see variation among Mennonite denominations, but in my own tradition, we celebrate communion three times a year in a separate evening service. In addition to the bread and the cup, we celebrate foot-washing. Brothers wash the feet of brothers, and sisters the feet of sisters. This has always been a special practice for me. I love the way that it fosters humility, an attitude of service, and a special kinship with those whose feet we have washed.

Another practice that is perhaps somewhat unique is our plural lay-ministry. We select ministers and pastors from within the church body. My local church has never hired an outside pastor; all have come from within. In the 90 years that our church has existed, we have only had four pastors! Some may see this as boring or stagnant, but I see it as a sign of stability. We also have a ministerial of several ministers and deacons who all provide leadership. Currently, we have 6 ministers who preach on a rotating basis. The only ministerial members who are on staff are the head pastor and the youth pastor.

Additionally, there is a strong emphasis among Mennonites on living a Christ-like lifestyle. Menno Simons agreed with Luther and Calvin on justification by faith alone, but was perhaps a little more prone to emphasizing the other side of the coin – “faith without works is dead”. One Low German saying that has been popular among Mennonites is translated “when a man is converted, even his cows should notice”. In other words, while being “in Christ” is by grace alone, the necessary result of that grace is a change in lifestyle. Perhaps part of my affinity for Calvinism came as a result of me starting to understand the Calvinistic view of repentance and sanctification. There’s no such thing as having Jesus as saviour and not as Lord.

I think this is where modern day evangelicalism has sadly gone astray. We have people claiming to be “born again” that have never truly repented, never turned from sin, care little for sanctification, and have a faulty view of eternal security. This shows itself every time we see statistics that suggest that Christians live just like the rest of the world. I interpret that data to say that there are many unregenerate, unconverted people who claim to be “born again” but are not.

To be continued…

Interview: Matt Plett and Mennonites, Part One

Thanks go to my friend Matt Plett, author of Seeking to be Faithful, for agreeing to this interview.I chose to interview Matt because he belongs to a group that most of us are relatively unfamiliar with. I’ve found that the more I know about my brothers and sisters who are outside of my particular denomination, the more I am able to see common ground.

Matt has not just given us an edifying and interesting interview; he has also given us a lesson in church history. I hope you will read what follows. In order to help you do that, I am breaking the interview into two–perhaps even three–parts. Here is part one:

1. Tell us about yourself.

I am a 29 year old dairy farmer from Manitoba, Canada. After arriving in Manitoba from Russia in 1874, my family settled in a small village called Blumenort. In 1919, a number of the families in Blumenort moved about 8 miles northwest and started a new village, (originally called Prairie Rose, but now called Landmark). My great-grandpa was in that group, and he bought the land we’re now farming on. My grandpa and dad were both dairymen. When I was 12, my dad sold our dairy farm and moved our family to Oregon. I always wanted to come back to Manitoba, and did so after graduating high school. It was always a dream of mine to start dairying again on the old home place. After working 9 years as a dairy nutrition advisor for a local feed company, it was in God’s providence that the farm I grew up on came up for sale. My wife and I bought the farm and started milking cows 6 months later. I am often amazed at how God’s providence works – farming at the place I grew up on after it was out of the family for 16 years!

2. What denomination do you belong to, and how did you come to be a part of it?

I belong to Prairie Rose Evangelical Mennonite Church. We are part of the Evangelical Mennonite Conference. This is the local church and conference I grew up in. My great grandpa was a song leader in this church, and my grandpa has been a deacon here for almost 30 years. Again, I see God’s hand of providence in that I am a member here.

Part of the reason our farm was sold was because my parents separated and eventually divorced. They were church members, and divorce was a very foreign concept at the time – at least in our community and our church. Neither of my parents continued to be members after their divorce. I know that many dear people were praying for the situation and especially for my sister and me, as we were 11 and 9 at the time.

My dad remarried, and we attended another church (Nazarene) outside of the community until we moved to Oregon. In Oregon we also attended a Nazarene church. I was baptized at age 17 at Valley of the Rogue Chapel – Church of the Nazarene in Rogue River, Oregon.

When I moved back to Manitoba in 1999, I transferred my membership to Prairie Rose EMC. It felt somewhat odd at first to be a member in a church that my parents were no longer part of (as I recall, my dad was excommunicated and my mom withdrew her membership). I have loved it here. The Word is faithfully taught, the fellowship is warm, and the singing is wonderful.

My wife is from the town of Blumenort (where my great-grandpa originally settled), and also grew up in the Evangelical Mennonite Conference.

As the Lord saw fit, one year ago my sister, her husband, and their two boys moved back here from Arizona (my brother-in-law is from California). Last Sunday we received them into membership in the morning, and I had the immense privilege of doing foot-washing with my brother-in-law at our communion service in the evening.

Sometimes my life feels a little “back-to-the-future-ish”!

3. Are there variations in doctrine and practice within the Mennonites?

Yes! There are considerable variations among Mennonites. At times I have felt like no longer describing myself as a Mennonite because the word didn’t seem to describe anything in particular.

To many people, the word Mennonite conjures up images of beards, black suits, head-coverings, horse-and-buggies, etc. This is certainly true of many sects of Mennonites. However, many of the mainline Mennonite denominations have become very liberal theologically. There are Mennonite churches that work with controversy over rubber vs. steel wheels. Others are dealing with homosexual ordination and the denial of substitutionary atonement. So yes, we have legalism, liberalism, and lots in between. Hopefully some that is gospel-centric!

I would consider my own church to be a typical conservative, orthodox evangelical body. We affirm the inerrancy, infallibility, sufficiency, and clarity of the Scriptures, as well as the gospel of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. We’re not a confessing Calvinistic church (although there are a solid and growing number of us, especially among the under-30 crowd), but in many areas we would have much in common with conservative Presbyterian or Baptist churches. We are not fundamentalist.

Most recently, our church has clarified our position on gender and ordination. As a body, we have (re)affirmed our complementarian understanding of the Scriptures, which mirrors the wider evangelical world. While we have always held this position, re-affirming it in response to a specific situation caused considerable controversy among some. Sadly, a number of people have left over this.

I trust that God continues to use theological controversy to magnify and glorify Himself as His people are forced to study the Bible, pray, think, refine their doctrine, and strive to honour Christ’s commands for the church.

To be continued…

Interview: Brian Hedges on Reading, Reviewing, and Writing Books

Brian Hedges is one of today’s remarkable young pastors. His love for and knowledge of the Word of God is evident as you listen to his expository preaching (I nearly always have some of his sermons on my MP3 player). He also has a love for books–I think he has written book reviews on more books than I have read. You can read them on his blog, Light and Heat, or on Amazon.com, where he is a top 1,000 book reviewer. But most importantly, Brian is a model husband and father, and he is a devoted servant of Christ.
Thanks to Brian for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions for us. I hope you benefit.
1. Tell us about yourself.

I’m 35 years old, married to my best friend, Holly, and have three children –Stephen (7), Matthew (3), and Susannah (2). We live in South Bend, Indiana where I pastor Fulkerson Park Baptist Church (the church is actually in Niles, Michigan, just north of the Indiana/Michigan border). Holly and I have been married for almost thirteen years and have lived here for the past six.I was raised in a godly Christian family; my father was (and is) a pastor. I never resented the ministry or rejected Christianity. I grew up believing, though I didn’t really begin to manifest fruit and personal change until my teen years. As a teenager I was entranced with the biography and journals of the missionary Jim Elliot. His heart for missions and subsequent martyrdom left a lasting impression on me. Following high school, I spent three years in a parachurch ministry, then spent another several years doing itinerant preaching before being ordained to the ministry in 1999.

My greatest regret in life is not finishing college and going to seminary. I make up for it with an obsessive amount of reading and self-study and still think about going back to school. But I probably just need to get over it and move on with life!

2. You are an avid reader. How important do you think it is for Christians to read books other than the Bible? And how important is it for pastors to be readers of edifying books?

Yes, I like to read. Part of that is personality and temperament – I would be an avid reader even if I was an unbeliever. I started reading as a kid and just never stopped. So, in answering your question, I think it’s important to realize that people have different learning styles and some people are more inclined to reading than others. Many Christians today and throughout history have lived in preliterate cultures and couldn’t read. I don’t, therefore, think that reading is an essential discipline to being a faithful Christian. What is vitally important is the intake of God’s Word. But that intake can happen by hearing, as well as by reading.

 

That being said, reading is a tremendous privilege that most Christians in the western world enjoy. And rightfully used, books can be a great aid to one’s spiritual growth. I do regularly encourage people to read books in addition to Scripture – particularly books that explain and apply Scripture, books that unpack Christian doctrine, and biographies and church history.

I do think a pastor’s reading should be extensive. Pastors should read both for depth and breadth. Perhaps I should just describe my own practice. I do several things: (1) I’m trying to read through Scripture using the Robert Murray M’Cheyne calendar (though, admittedly, I’m currently behind!). (2) For my own personal spiritual growth, I read books related to spirituality. Books in this category include a mixture of contemporary authors (John Piper, Eugene Peterson, Paul David Tripp, and others) and a lot of dead guys (Martyn Lloyd-Jones, C. S. Lewis, Saint Augustine, Jonathan Edwards, and the other great “Johns” of the faith: Calvin, Owen, and Bunyan). I also read biographies and sometimes these are more helpful and encouraging than anything else I read. (3) I also read a fair bit in theology and biblical studies. I read both inside and outside of my own tradition and include systematic theology, commentaries, monographs, and both critical and popular level treatments of theological and ethical issues. Some of my favorite authors are J. I. Packer, D. A. Carson, John Stott, N. T. Wright, Craig Blomberg, Christopher J. H. Wright, Thomas Schreiner, and Gordon Wenham. (4) I also try to read for “professional development” – though that’s not the best term for this. What I have in mind is books on hermeneutics, homiletics, leadership, preaching, teaching, pastoral ministry, counseling, etc. (5) Another category of reading (I’m not sure what to call it) includes books from other fields of study, both academic and popular. These would include books on religion, philosophy, science, history, sociology, politics, etc. Sometimes I only spot-read or skim these books and I don’t read as many of these as I probably should. But each year I do try to read several books outside of my normal range of interests. For example, a couple of my current reading projects are Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies, by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff, and Volume 1 of Lou Cannon’s biography of Ronald Regan. (6) Finally, I read a little fiction – maybe three or four novels a year. My favorites have been C. S. Lewis’s space trilogy, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, the Harry Potter series, and most anything by John Grisham. I’m trying to read more classics now, most recently The Fall by Albert Camus. Currently I’m working on The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky.

This list may sound like a lot, but it’s really not. There are plenty of people out there doing the same, if not more. I’m amazed by men like Al Mohler who read between six and eight books a week! I only average about 1 or 1 ½ books a week.

3. Can you give some tips on how to write a helpful book review?

Give an overview of the book’s overall flow of thought. Include a couple of short quotes from the book. Be brief. Be specific. Be provocative. Whet the appetite of the reader. Unless, of course, it’s a bad book! If so, be fair and honest in your critique.

4. I understand that you are working on a book. Can you tell us about that?

Sure. The book is called Christ Formed in You: The Grace and Beauty of Spiritual Transformation (subtitle is tentative) and will be published by Shepherd Press either late this year or early in 2010. The book explores how the gospel works in our lives to restore the image of God within us. I’ve conceived of the book as something of a synthesis of the best teaching on spiritual formation and sanctification. I’m trying to connect the dots between the grand narrative of Scripture (creation, fall, redemption, new creation), the traditional theological categories for understanding the Christian life (justification, sanctification, regeneration), and concrete patterns and methods for change (mortifying sin, the use of spiritual disciplines, responding to suffering, and the role of community). Stated like this, it sounds more sprawling and disjointed than it really is (I think!). The unifying theme that weaves all these threads together is the “image of God.” The book is in editing now, with a fine editor named Kevin Meath. I’m sure he will help whip it into shape. We’ll see how the final product turns out.

5. Any closing thoughts?

Just my thanks again for your interest in my life, ministry, and writing. I’m grateful for your blog and appreciate your friendship.

Dr. Paul Wolfe on “Above Reproach”

Several months ago I posted a question regarding the meaning of Paul’s phrase, “above reproach.” Since then I have noticed that people are directed to this blog daily as a result of searching that phrase. I decided that there needed to be a more qualified explanation. Many thanks to Dr. Paul Wolfe, my former hermeneutics instructor, for agreeing to give us one. I hope you benefit.

 

1. Tell us about yourself.I am currently Associate Professor of NT at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. However, I have recently resigned and as of this July, 2009, I will be the new Head of School for The Cambridge School of Dallas.

I completed my doctoral work in Aberdeen Scotland in 1990 and have been teaching biblical studies and theology since then. I have been married 34 years and have 3 children and one grandson.

2. Can you tell us about your radio program?

Laus Deo is a live, nationwide program on Sirius satellite radio #161; it airs Sundays from 4-5 P.M. central time. It is also call-in. I frequently interview authors about their recent books; sometimes I will do a topic myself. The program is an attempt to think through important issues from the perspective of orthodox Christianity. We are coming up on our third anniversary of the program.

3. I understand that you have done some extensive study in the Pastoral Epistles. Can you tell us about that?

My interest in the Pastoral Epistles began in undergraduate school when I wanted to know the NT perspective on church leadership. So I embarked upon a study of elders and bishops. The interest in the Pastorals carried over into my doctoral work under the supervision of I. Howard Marshall at the University of Aberdeen where I investigated the use, doctrine and extent of Scripture in the Pastoral Epistles. My thesis has not been published. However, in 1989 I published an essay entitled “Scripture in the Pastoral Epistles: PreMarcion Marcionism?” in Perspectives in Religious Studies. Also, I have a chapter in the forthcoming book, Entrusted With the Gospel: The Theology of the Pastoral Epistles, edited by A. Kostenberger and T. Wilder, scheduled to be published later this year by B & H.

4. The Google search that most commonly brings people to this blog is, “what does ‘above reproach’ mean?” Can you address that phrase? Is it referring to a man’s entire life, or only to his present living?

The phrase “above reproach” is an important one in the Pastoral Epistles. It is the initial requirement for a bishop/elder in 1 Tim 3:2, essentially reproduced in Titus 1:6 & 7, and in 1 Tim 3:10 about deacons (though a different but similar Greek term), as the goal for widows in 1 Tim 5.7, and regarding the way Timothy was to guard the commandment in 1 Tim 6.14.

The meaning is something like blameless, or without disqualifying criticism. Six of the 8 NT uses of the two different Greek terms are found in the Pastoral Epistles.

Paul states in 1 Timothy 1 that he was considered by the Lord useful for service even though he was formerly a blasphemer, persecutor and violent man (1 Tim 1:12-14). He also upholds himself as an example of faithful Christian ministry; that is, ministry above reproach. How could he say such things about himself and hold others to a different standard? Surely he does not expect others to be blameless for all of their life, but he gets a pass. No, instead he sees the same grace applied to him to be applicable to others. His call to be above reproach applies to the life we live as those who bear the name of the Lord (2 Tim 2:19). The question is, do we pass the test as God’s servants, and not did we pass it as lost pagans.I also think it is important to see that the phrase is an overarching term in the lists of requirements for bishops/elders, deacons and widows. It is the summary requirement, which then is specified in detail with what follows, for example, in one’s relationship with the opposite sex (“the husband of one wife”, or better “a one woman man”), etc. When sin which brings reproach is present within a person’s life, then that person has (at least temporarily) disqualified himself/herself from leadership. The way back to leadership is possible, but the test becomes more specific, strenuous, and demanding in certain respects.

5. Any closing thoughts?

The objective of a life above reproach is to protect the name and doctrine of God from reproach. Peter expresses similar concerns in his first letter. The OT is full of the same concerns about the life of Israel. I am reminded of the words of the author of Hebrews in chapter 2–If they received a just punishment for their sin, how much more should we expect who trample underfoot the gospel of Jesus Christ. That is how serious we must take Paul’s concerns if we are in leadership.

Laus Deo,
Paul Wolfe

Interview: Anika on Homeschooling

Meet my friend Anika Q. Anika is the author of the Christian blog, My Writing Place, which I have often found to be challenging and edifying. Many thanks go to her and her parents for agreeing to the interview. And I appreciate the work that Anika put into it. I hope you find it helpful.

Tell us about yourself and your education.

I am a 17 year old Christian girl living with my parents and three younger brothers in south-east Queensland, Australia. In my primary years my parents educated me through two Christian “umbrella schools”, after my mother taught me to read with her own program. In the last year of primary and for all my high-school years I was homeschooled through a non-Christian “umbrella school”. Since graduation last year, I’ve been studying piano and theory at home and teaching piano part-time.

Describe a typical day at your house.

My youngest brother Mike is in pre-school at the moment, so he only spends roughly an hour a day on full-on school-work with my mother. This time includes a once-a-week maths video segment, daily maths work-sheets, phonics flash-cards and reading practice. Matt is in Grade 6 and generally starts work at 8 to finish about 2 and he studies through workbooks and cassettes sent out by our umbrella school. On a day that runs smoothly, he does Maths and English before morning tea, Science and various Arts subjects before lunch and French after lunch. When it comes to Lloyd in Grade 11, there is really no such thing as a typical day – especially considering that he goes in to a tech institute one day a week to study. It all depends on what has to be done in each of his subjects. He works independently, though my mother tutors him through maths and ensures he gets up in the morning!

What are some of the advantages of home-schooling?

I think that children are able to deal with anti-Christian messages, peer-pressure and bullying better. For one thing, there isn’t so much of it when you’re at home. Additionally, when home-schooled children do face these things, it’s generally in a secure setting. I still had to deal with bad influences as a home-schooled child but I had the benefit of dealing with them in the safety of my own home, or in a setting where my parents weren’t too far away. Also, my parents could easily keep an eye on what I was studying and how it was being taught.

You can get so much more done when you are studying quietly by yourself. It’s common sense that if you want to get something done, don’t try to do it when surrounded by a horde of noisy people. There’s also none of the necessity to run from classroom to classroom, travel to and from school and work at the pace of the rest of the class if you happen to be ahead. The print nature of home-school resources also makes it easier to study wherever you happen to be. Far easier to bring a workbook along on a car trip than a teacher!

And the disadvantages?

There is a lot of pressure on the parents, especially the mother. Not only does she have to do a mammoth amount of work in teaching, but she often has to face the criticism of both non-homeschooling parents and home-schooling parents. Some non-home-schooling parents will question the sense in home-schooling and some home-schooling parents will question the sense in home-schooling in your way. There’s also pressure on the children – I know that as soon as I say “I was home-schooled” or “I was homeschooled in this way” I often need to be prepared for the Spanish Inquisition revisited.

What advice do you have to give parents who are considering home-schooling?

Don’t see home-schooling as an ends – it’s a means. That is, there’s absolutely no point sacrificing family to home-schooling. The whole point of home-schooling should be to benefit the family through their education. God is God, not home-schooling.

Any closing thoughts?

Home-schooling is a great way to form close relationships with your children and to ensure that they get a good education that equips them to serve God. But, home-schooling is certainly not the only way to do either of these things. Even if my parents had sent me to school, I highly doubt that I would have bad relationships with them; even if they had sent me to school, I would still have had the pressure to read constantly and critically in the light of Scripture and I still would have benefited from the long discussions over the dinner table. Most importantly, the encouragement to know God as the basis for all other knowledge would have remained constant. Basically, you don’t have to home-school to have a God-centred view of education.

Why Learn Greek? An Interview with Daniel Phillips


A big thanks to Daniel Phillips who graciously agreed to be interviewed here. I hope you enjoy and benefit from it.

1. Tell us about yourself.

I’m very old (53) and unremarkable — but my wife is remarkable! Together, we have four children, whom we love very much.

Astonishingly, the Lord loved me in eternity past, and visited me with salvation in early 1973 (fuller testimony here). From the day of my conversion, I was filled with ardor for God’s Word — that formerly dead and dull book — and a motivating desire to study it, understand it, do it, and communicate it to others (cf. Ezra 7:10). A pastor I knew identified that as the heart of a shepherd, and I began preparing for pastoral ministry just after my graduation from high school, in the same year as my conversion.

Over the decades, God has blessed me with opportunities to pastor, preach, teach in various institutions, hold conferences, and write. I’ve always seen the internet as a key way to reach a broad spectrum of people with the Word, and so I still do, with a web site, my own blog, a Greek blog (mostly inactive), and the Pyromaniacs team-blog.

2. What ministries are you involved in?

In church, I lead the Men’s Fellowship. I preach whenever I’m offered the pulpit at my home church; in addition, I’ve preached in about eight other area churches. I am looking for a way back into fulltime ministry of the Word. Additionally, God’s graciously given me international ministry by means of the blogs and my web site.

3. I understand that you taught yourself Greek. How did you go about doing that?

That’s not quite right. Before I was saved, I’d been a very undisciplined student. And here I was, going to begin studying Greek fresh out of High School, after an academic “career” in which I’d not made myself study anything hard. So, to get up to speed, I did teach myself the Greek alphabet, and began reading in the Greek New Testament on my own, even before I could understand anything. But then I took four years of Greek at that institution, followed by yet more Greek at Talbot during my M. Div. studies.

But I will say that the classes I took were mostly useful in supplementing the reading of the Greek New Testament that I began within months of my conversion. The most important element has been simply reading and preaching from the Greek New Testament. I’ve read it through many, many times in the last 36 years; and read portions many dozens of times. That has been the most valuable element in my education.

4. How has your knowing Greek benefited your Bible study and understanding?

Immeasurably. I am convinced that it is essential that a pastor be trained in Hebrew and Greek. Otherwise you can’t be a voice; you can merely be an echo. There is no real substitute for it. You say you believe in the plenary, verbal inspiration of Scripture in its original manuscripts? Well, they were in Greek. That is what we’re called to teach and preach.

I do not think that it is essential that Christians know Greek; but I do think it essential that they have pastors who know Greek and Hebrew.

5. What resources do you recommend for someone who wants to learn Greek?

I learned initially from J. Gresham Machen’s old text. When I’ve tutored, I use J. W. Wenham’s Elements of New Testament Greek (which I think is out of print; there was a new edition with audio CD, that I’ve never checked out). If you were to get BibleWorks, you’d get a truckload of language tools included in the basic package. But it’s best if you can be taught or tutored.

The most essential element in learning Greek is loving God, and wanting to know and serve Him. To read the Hebrew and Greek texts is to hear His voice unfiltered. When I taught Hebrew, I always did (and tested on) a lecture titled “Why Learn Hebrew?” The answer: Deuteronomy 6:4-9.

My most important specific suggestion would be to learn the Greek alphabet, then start reading right away. Don’t wait. Read the passages you know. Read John 1, 1 John 1, Romans 1 or 3 or 8. It’s thrilling, and motivating. As you learn more Greek, you recognize more in what you’re reading. But every new-gained glimmer stokes the fires of motivation.

As a young single man, I took my Greek NT with me everywhere. If I waited at a doctor’s office or a bank, or if I had coffee somewhere, I had my Greek New Testament there, and I read it.

6. Any closing thoughts?

The single element that I think would bring reformation to the church would be if the people of God were to demand, and settle for nothing less than, solid, passionate expository Bible preaching based on a study of the Word in the original languages. God grant it, to His glory.

God bless you,
Dan Phillips

Be sure to visit my Biblical Christianity web page and blog, and Hellenisti ginoskeis: do you know Greek?, and Pyromaniacs!