I am pleased to post my inaugural interview. Dr. Timothy Ward, vicar of Holy Trinity Church in Hinckley, was kind enough to participate in this brief interview. Dr. Ward is the author of Words of Life: Scripture as the Living and Active Word of God (see my review here).
First of all, thank you very much for participating in this interview—I greatly appreciate it!
Tell us a little about yourself—where you studied, what you’re doing at present, etc.
For the last five years I’ve been the Vicar of Holy Trinity Church in Hinckley, a town in the English Midlands. My theological studies were (working backwards) a PhD at the University of Edinburgh, and undergraduate studies at Oak Hill Theological College in London.
What prompted you to write Words of Life?
A number of things. Ten years ago a then-editor of IVP heard me teaching on Scripture, and suggested that there was a worthwhile book in there. Personally it was an attempt to put the fruits of my doctorate into widely comprehensible form (having previously published them in more heavyweight form). I did feel that, having used up some of my God-given time and lots of other people’s money studying for a doctorate, I was under an obligation to offer what I’d produced to the wider world, in the hope that it would be of genuine value for God’s people. More generally, I have been among those people who have felt the lack of an academically respectable but not too technical work expounding a broad-ranging orthodox doctrine of Scripture. It seems to me that the orthodox doctrine of Scripture stands out as an aspect of doctrine which has been treated especially superficially both by its opponents and proponents. I wanted to do what I could, in particular, to prevent believers abandoning the doctrine without encountering it in its rich historic form – and also to prevent those who firmly hold to a Reformed view of Scripture from defending it too naively.
What reasons do you believe lay behind the move away from inerrancy (for many) in recent decades?
It’s interesting that this is your first question about the book’s content. I say in the book that I hold firmly to inerrancy, but from one perspective the book can be seen as an extended argument that orthodox evangelicals should put inerrancy some way down the list of significant things that they want to say about the Bible. I do understand that this in some way reflects my British situation, in which inerrancy has rarely been a ‘touch-stone’ issue in the same politicised way as it has in the States. (And I do note how regularly American reviewers of my book comment first and at greatest length about my view on inerrancy.) But nevertheless I want to say, I trust as humbly as I can, to those (mostly American) readers for whom inerrancy seems to be the point at which the battle has had to be fought: don’t make the mistake of turning what is currently the apologetic focus into your systematic or doctrinal focus. In other words, by all means fight the battle for orthodoxy where you think it’s most necessary, but don’t let the enemies of orthodoxy set your theological priorities for you. To do so always plays into the hands of those who can always find some reason to reject orthodoxy; recently they might be rejecting inerrancy, but they will inevitably move on to something else. That is all to say that if what someone remembers most from reading my book is what I say about inerrancy, then I have failed to communicate to them the shape and structure of the doctrine of Scripture which I aimed to – I’ve failed to shift the ballast in their understanding of Scripture as much as I wanted to.
…And as for what you ask directly, there are historians of the last century of (especially) American Christianity who have written about the move away from inerrancy with far greater knowledge and expertise than I have. But I could throw in this simple observation. I’m sure that some people have simply wanted to jettison inerrancy as a first step in moving away from an orthodox doctrine of Scripture as a whole. But it must also be the case that some have moved away from it because it seemed to them to be offered as THE touch-stone of orthodoxy, and that seemed to them somehow to represent a skewed sense of theological priorities. And of course, especially in the States, ‘inerrancy’ can function as representative of a whole evangelical-cultural framework, and people reject the ‘inerrancy’-headline as a way of rejecting those parts of that culture which they don’t like. I should stop here, because I’ve probably already passed far too many judgments on a culture which is not mine.
How does your view of Scripture impact your ministry and scholarship?
Great question – because if it doesn’t, what’s the point? As regards scholarship – not much to say there, because that’s definitely a spare-time activity for me. I’m a minister, and that’s what I focus on. So as for ministry, the Reformed doctrine of Scripture (to state the necessarily obvious) puts Scripture at the very heart of ministry. If I am effective as a pastor and preacher, it is only because God works powerfully through the Word by his Spirit. Ironically (given the stereotypical division between ‘Word-focused’ and ‘Spirit-focused’ ministries), having a high view of the Word of God should make me more conscious of the work of the Spirit, because in Reformed theology the doctrines of the Spirit’s inspiring and illumining of Scripture are central to the doctrine of Scripture. (I’m still trying to work on this for myself.)
Thinking of Scripture as ‘God-in-action’, as I do in the book, leads me to ask more regularly and centrally: “What is God wanting to DO to me/us and in me/us, through this text?” Scripture is a means by which God acts, not merely (although of course it is also this) a vehicle for our learning.
What initially attracted you to speech-act theory?
It makes best sense of language as we experience it, and it accords very well with language as Scripture describes it. It has great explanatory power in helping us move beyond a number of sterile impasses.
What scholars have most impacted your theological and spiritual development?
My doctoral supervisor, Kevin Vanhoozer, was a wonderfully stimulating influence. In recent years I have been delighted to discover classic Reformed theology, especially Calvin and Bavinck. Writers like these didn’t loom very large in my initial theological education, but in them I have found the rich roots of what I actually believe.
Are there any current trends in biblical scholarship that either concern or excite you?
If I can add ‘theological’ to ‘biblical’ scholarship, I am among those who are excited by the widely-noted resurgence of Reformed theology among younger scholars and pastors. (That is happening in its own small way in pockets of English evangelicalism, too.) I am increasingly convinced that it is in this theology that we find the richest theological resources for living under Scripture that God has given us. Of course, like all new-ish movements, it currently runs the risk of trendy superficiality, hero-worship and thoughtless excitability. However if we work hard on seeing it mature and settle down then it could strengthen evangelical life for a good time to come. In biblical studies, as far as evangelicals are concerned, the outstanding trend to my mind is the work of Tom Wright. I know that there are difficulties in his work, both in the content and in the manner in which he engages (or frankly fails to engage well) with friendly critics on his theological right (I think here of John Piper especially), but there is no doubt that his project is rich, thoughtful, profound, and hugely respectful of Scripture. If Reformed people end up simply dismissing him, we will do so to our own cost, I think.
What advice would you give to aspiring pastors/teachers?
Mature as a person and as a follower of Christ, and work on this as much as you seek to mature as a preacher.
Are there any publications on which you are currently working?
I have an article for an edited collection to write. My longer-term project is on the theme of the union of the believer with Christ. It seems to me that in popular evangelicalism (and in my own walk with Christ!) it has been arguably the most badly neglected area within soteriology and the work of Christ, and that a number of our (my!) present ills can be traced back to this lack at some point. But I’m a minister, and so for a long while the fruits may only be seen in my preaching, teaching and pastoring here in Hinckley, which is fine by me.
Thank you, again, Dr. Ward for your time and participation!
Αυτω η δοξα,