Who am I?
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My Life completely changed when I became a Christian in 1971-72. Not that there were no philosophical and religious influences before then but that they were all swept away in the joy of coming to know my Lord and Saviour
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As a child my parents, who were not Christian believers, brought me up thinking that I should be aware of my cultural heritage – including the fact that the Anglican church is part of the fabric of life in the country – (it was then, especially in the countryside) This meant us attending Sunday-School. This was not an exercise to ‘get rid of the kids on a Sunday afternoon’ for it meant one of them walking us the mile or so to the church each week, waiting and then walking us home again.
At boarding school we attended church every Sunday, usually Matins, at the local Anglican Church. As I grew older I attended catechism classes prior to being ‘confirmed’. In these we were taught by the local vicar that Jesus had died for our sins, and I believed that. After my confirmation, the classes continued and we were taught that Jesus was not an historical character. I reacted somewhat abruptly and called the man a fool and a charlatan; after all, if Jesus didn’t live then he didn’t die: if hJesus didn’t die then my sins are not forgiven. (I was gated by the housemaster, not for my logic which was impeccable, but for my rudeness. – gated? For any non-Brits reading this it has a special meaning over here v.tr. To confine (a student) to the grounds of a college as punishment.
I spent the next several years searching; investigating a wide range of options, Islam, Mormonism, Buddhism, etc. You name it; I probably looked at it. The one thing I didn’t look at again was Christianity, I had been effectively immunised against that: But God had other ideas!
By 1972 I had worked out a nice comfortable way of life, which took account of everything to my complete satisfaction. Interestingly, I did not believe in the ‘Theory of Evolution’ (note the capitals). I had been well taught at school in Physics and Chemistry how science proceeds and when I changed to the biological sciences and entered university to read Botany I assumed that a theory was testable, so, as the evidences in favour or the ‘Theory of Evolution’ are weak to non-existent, I rejected it as THE valid explanation of the diversity we see around us. All sorts of bits of it are good and valid science, but the whole just doesn’t add-up – so I saw it at the time.
My brother had become a Christian and was studying and working at a place in Switzerland called L’Abri and although he could not evangelise me with any success he was wise enough to leave me the first of Dr Schaeffer’s books (Escape from Reason) knowing that I would read anything. Here is not the place to explain what L’Abri is. Let them explain: L'Abri - Main Site and for the UK, The Manor House in England
Everything was accounted for in my neat little philosophy and as a university lecturer I was living a fulfilling and undemanding life. Then my father died. On the same day my first wife left me. (She said afterwards that she didn’t leave before because she didn’t want to upset him!) The not-properly-thought-out parts of my philosophy reared their ugly heads and I fell apart. I managed to hold myself together rather mechanically for about six months but then I was faced with a choice of dropping out into the drugs culture or. …. or what? I knew I had to do something very quickly. In desperation I rang my brother who said I could go to English L’Abri. So I did, that evening, and was overwhelmed with people who treated me as a person not as an ideas man. People who loved me for being me – and not even because I was my brother’s brother. I didn’t have to try being cleverer than they were, it just didn’t matter to them, they seemed to be using a whole different set of standards than I was, Of course these people spent time praying but then I was inured to that by years of meaningless ‘grace’s in school dining rooms. Of course these people talked about God and Jesus. But I was immunised against that. Jesus was a figment of an overactive imagination, not a person. Then one day someone prayed over me (breaking L’Abri rules to do so!) but it was clear to me that at the very least he didn’t think his prayers stopped at the ceiling. I was forced to re-evaluate my whole experience of L’Abri. They thought it was true and some of them were very bright indeed. As a result of this re-evaluation the process began which resulted in my coming to believe in Jesus as my God and Saviour.
1985: The Answer Faith: Christianity as the answer
For me, my conversion was a very philosophical and intellectual process, but in no way does this mean that it was my decision. I wasn’t putting God on trial. He was drawing me to himself. I wanted answers to the problems of life. He provided them, and so much more! I can name a date and a place, but had my name not been written in the Lamb’s book of life from all eternity then I could not have come. If he hadn’t reached out to me I could never have reached up to him. I am asking you to realise that in all that I say here about my conversion I am describing the subjective experience of the objective fact of God calling me and enabling me to answer; of God demanding repentance and granting it; of God asking for faith and pouring it out upon me.
When I say my conversion was ‘philosophical’ it would perhaps be better to describe it as fulfilling in time the divisions describing faith devised by the old Latin Fathers. They divided faith up into three parts, cognoscens, assens and fidens; of knowing something or rather acknowledging that you know something is true objectively; of assenting to that which you know - saying that it is true for you; and finally, faith; the action of living a life based on that which you have acknowledged is not only true for everyone and everything but also that you have agreed to be true for you yourself personally.
Cognoscens: As I studied at L’Abri I began to find that my questions were being answered by the bible. I was getting more and more answers but no coherence. It was like doing a jigsaw puzzle. I was getting more and more pieces together on the table, but no picture Then, suddenly, one more fact fell into place and suddenly I could see what the picture was going to be. I have since put a lot more pieces into the picture. It is not yet complete, there are still holes, but the whole is clear. For me the one critical piece that suddenly brought the whole picture into focus was the realisation that the 'Fall', the falling of our first parents from grace by sin, conscious disobedience of God by humanity, has to be ‘in history’. Genesis 3 is not some story, it has to be historical fact. I do not say that this is going to be the critical piece for anyone else, maybe for no-one else at all. All I am reporting is my viewpoint of my journey. For me, the historical Fall answered a whole raft of questions about the origin of sin, evil and calamity. Genesis 3 made sense of why Jesus had to come and more importantly why he had to die. I acknowledged that this was a valid picture of the universe, and as such, true to all else I knew.
Assens: As I continued to explore the implications of the truth, I began to realise the fact that I had to accept this wasn’t just a head trip, if this was true it had to affect me. If God was so perfect that he cannot look upon sin and turns his face from evil (Habakkuk) then God wasn’t looking at me. If Jesus did die for sins, then he died for my sins too. So, about three weeks later I asked Jesus into my life as my saviour. As I look back on it my memory says this was still a head event for me, maybe it was at that point still part of the ‘cognoscens’ acknowledging the truth, but I place it differently into the ‘assens’ part of faith because from this point on I was proud to be named as a follower of Jesus and I began to experience the first dim stirring of persecution because of that fact.
Fidens: I then hit a problem about some four weeks later. It really doesn’t matter what the problem was but it was related to my faith and it affected my person and my future. I could not work out how to solve the problem. It was insoluble. I did my old long-established trick of trying to work it out in the privacy of my own head and all I ended up doing was running around the inside of my mind like a squirrel in a cage. After a couple of weeks of paralysing worry I came to my senses. I realised that I had committed my life to someone who had promised to resolve all my problems, someone who said ‘come to me when you are burdened’. So I sought out the person who had prayed over me before and asked him to pray for me again. He did. Suffice it to say, that the problem stopped being a problem within a day. It was still there, it was still a problem but it was no longer my problem, it was God’s problem. Here I date the beginning of my ‘fidens’, my acting on that which I have acknowledged is true for me and for everyone.
When did I become a Christian? In one sense, before the foundation of the world. For me subjectively somewhere in that experience of knowledge, assent and faithful living. Actually ‘when’ does not matter, what matters is that it happened at all.
I wouldn't have you think that this is all there is to it. A dear friend of mine says of his conversion "That night I gave my life to the Lord. Of course, I took it back the next morning! Many, many times I have given my life to the Lord and equally as many times I have demanded it back to go my own way. Each and every time I approach him he has graciously accepted me back." That is, of course, my experience too. He is gracious and does not hold my waywardness against me when I try to turn away from him.
As my life began to be affected by my beliefs I began to realise that I really didn’t know much about this faith I had been given or the life into which God had called me. Being an academic at heart I resolved with prayer and advice from my elders to get that information. So I applied to Covenant Seminary in St Louis, Missouri. It is the seminary that was associated with the denomination that Dr Schaeffer was involved with and where many L’Abri people, including my brother, had studied. My initial interest was in using it as a bible college to give me the information that I lacked. Being the USA, it is difficult to do another first degree so I was entered into the course that trainee pastors take: the Masters program in Divinity. I began attending in August 1974 and graduated cum-laude three years later. Several important things happened during that time
Firstly and most importantly, I married Jill after the first semester in December 1974 and she came back with me to St Louis and we studied together. Secondly I made some very good friends in St Louis. Thirdly I felt that God was calling me to be an elder in His church somewhere and at some time, so the studies were the more appropriate. I also learned that I can teach at sixth-form level but children below that age are not my forté.
On returning to England in 1977. We worked as workers at English L’Abri. I loved that work but even so I was also using that time to give me the practical training to fill out the studies that the three years at Covenant had given me. After 2 years I began to think about working not in the hot-house of L’Abri but in the Church itself. I was preaching about every six weeks and doing lectures at L’Abri but had little time to be involved in the daily life of the Church. Also we were starting our family and I needed a job if I was going to be involved in the Church. My computer training came in handy here and I became a commercial computer programmer. For that part of my story see Computing
I continued to preach regularly and lead services but the stresses of a new family and a new house did not allow me as much time as I would like to be involved in the Church although I was elected as an elder. Elsewhere I have told how I became ill with CFS/ME and the effect it had on my life. As I struggled not only with the illness but also trying to work self-employed to feed my family I realised that I could not also be an elder in the church. I was by then also working with the Korean speaking Churches in our denomination and travelling regularly to preach and teach the English speaking spouses of the Kingston congregation during the sermons. I did not have the energy or resources to do that job and be an elder in my own Church with any integrity. Things came to a head when I was unable to continue with an attempt to extend the work of the Korean Church in Kingston. I decided that I had to back out altogether and concentrate on paying the bills and so I resigned as an elder in 1987.
I have not preached in our church since then although I have married a couple of people and buried another. I have twice taught a six-part weekly evening class course ‘Hermeneutics and Exegesis’ to small groups in the Church. For years I had a regular twice-yearly weekend session in a church near Cambridge of lectures discussions and sermons. I helped ‘fill the pulpit’ in a Church in Havant for some months in 1992 until they appointed a pastor and then became a fairly regular preacher in a small Church of mainly elderly people that met in an Old People’s home in Petersfield – I loved it. All these things ceased when I became too ill to continue to do anything much in 1997. I also lectured to L’Abri on Science and the Philosophy of Science – especially in the area of the Creation/Evolution debate. This also stopped in 1997 – well almost stopped, for I have given two lectures to L’Abri since then and also a half-day on the Enlightenment for students and young adults in the Church.
When the church decided to divide in 2001 my theological knowledge was quite involved with helping set up the whys and wherefores of Trinity Church and I am occasionally asked for advice by one of the elders of IPC too and so all my training is still being used.
2006 saw an unhappy time in the church. Trinity Church had searched out, called and installed a new man as a pastor. He is from a different background than our previous elders: an Irishman from Northern Ireland he has been a career soldier in the British Army and an then an evangelist in the army. He is a bit more organised than we are used to and a bit more decisive too. He also has not had the blessing of the L'Abri teaching and is therefore has a different emphasis than we are used to. Sadly, despite a lot of effort it became obvious that the original elders could not work with him. As frequently happens with these problems what were minor differences of theology and practice became major personality clashes. The result is that the church has divided into two churches. In my personal opinion this is something that possibly we should have done some time ago, but sadly it was not handled very well and there are damaged relationships that will take a lot of mending. Praise God that reconciliation is a part of a Christian's calling for we will need all the help from God we can get.
My part in this is partly a rejoicing that my health allowed me to be involved; as I have said elsewhere from somewhere (sic) I was enabled to do more than I have been able to do for the past ten years. Four people from the church, longstanding members, were asked to attempt a resolution of the problem and I was one of the four. All four of us, completely independently, for we were not allowed to know who we were, felt that the new pastor needed more support and room to operate than he was getting. Maybe it was at this point that the personality clashes began to have a life of their own. Certainly for me I saw no attempts to negotiate once we, the four, had made it clear that we supported the new man despite our own personal reservations. From the perspective of my health I was rejoicing that I had the energy to be able to be involved in the church. From the perspective of what was happening to our church it was devastating and also quite enervating.
There was one great thing that was happening though and that was the BETS courses were up and running. BETS means "Better Equipped To Serve" and I am acting as a tutor for the training. My finding (being given) the energy and enthusiasm to keep these classes going throughout the times of stress was a wonderful gift from God. As BETS is a ministry of Trinity Church I am no longer involved in it, (although I do some marking for the Open Bible Institute)
As the church situation deteriorated the original elders resigned and all previous ex-elders (including me) were appointed to an Interim session which met over the summer to keep the church going while we awaited a report on the situation from an external body. However my health, and in particular the emotional lability and instability related to my illness meant that I could no longer be involved in the tensions within the interim session so I had to resign. Shortly after that the church divided. Jill and I remained in Trinity for we felt that despite our personal misgivings about the future the new man had been searched out, called and installed by the church and it would be dishonouring to walk away from that commitment.
The wedding of our eldest, Ian, to Buffy in Iowa coincided with the actual fact of the division so we left a bitterly divided single church and came back from that happy occasion not knowing what we were coming back to. What actually has happened is that both the churches have had an explosion of gifts and people getting involved. Truly God is good and works thing to his glory despite our sinful failures.
One of the 'getting involved' was me having to fill in at very short notice. Jim, the pastor, was rushed to hospital with a severe asthma attack and I ended up preaching to my own church for the first time, to the week, in 20 years. It was to the youngsters too, definitely not my area of talent but God works despite out limitations and it was a very blessed time. As Jim says; there we were carefully working out how to use John to make least stress on him and .. God just does his own thing. BETS has also continued with a good number of people.
I have given a lecture (on Fermi's paradox) to L'Abri and another sermon planned to finish off this exciting year (2007).
I continued to preach fairly regularly at Trinity throughout 2007 and into 2008. I have since amicably parted company with Trinity Church. I have minor disagreements with Jim on emphases and because all three churches from this stable are active and functioning in this geographical area we felt free to go to one of the other sister churches where ai am more in agreement with their emphases. In fact, as far as Church government is concerned, I have always been a Presbyterian by conviction so we went back to the IPC in Liss from which we had parted in 2001. I am doing some preaching and my theological knowledge is being used by the elders there.
Over the last few years I have been engaged in a 'translation' of the Westminster Confession of Faith and the other documents created by the Westminster Divines during the period of our history known as the "Commonwealth" (or as "the interregnum" if you are of a royalist persuasion). These documents are the subsidiary standards for all Presbyterian Churches as well as many other churches and there is sometimes confusion of meaning because our language has changed considerably in the 350 years since they were written. Accordingly, I have made an attempt to convert these documents into Modern English. The results of my labours can be downloaded from the theology pages of this website