Catching up with Tim Chester
Today in 1517, Martin Luther published his 95 theses.
1. How does your work as a pastor influence your writing?
In a big way! All my books are either written to me so I can sort out something in my own mind or for my congregation to help them grapple with the issues I know they’re facing. So I very much write with a particular group of people in mind. I like to think this ‘particularity’ makes my books more generally helpful because it means they’re grounded in real life. I used to have occasional bouts of angst about whether I was really a pastor, a writer or a theologian. My split life means in some ways I never quite excel in any area. But I’ve decided that for me the sweet spot is in the interface between all three. It’s my calling to bring them into dialogue with one another.
2. What’s your favourite book you’ve read this year?
I’m currently writing a book on John Stott, one of the dominant figures in twentieth-century evangelicalism, in Crossway’s Theologians of the Christian Life series. So I’ve spent the year ‘hanging out’ with Stott and that has been a great joy. It would be hard to pick out one of his book so I’ll pick two! I’ve concluded that the best place to start with Stott are The Cross of Christ and The Contemporary Christian (which is about to be reissued as five smaller, updated books).
3. Why was it important to you to write about the Reformation?
The initial impulse came from a recognition that the 500th anniversary of the Reformation (which took place last year) might well receive coverage in the wider culture, but that this coverage would either view the Reformation as a sad mistake or a dead issue. So Mike Reeves and I wanted to show how the teachings of the Reformation continue to be relevant. In part this is because the differences between Catholics and Protestants continue to be important. But it’s also because the Reformers have much to say that challenges the assumptions of modern evangelicals.
4. How does Martin Luther’s teaching resonate with you?
As a young man, I was hugely influenced by what Luther called ‘the theology of the cross’. People have all sorts of assumptions about what God is like, Luther said, but these get completely turned upside down by the cross. So you’ll never get an accurate understanding of God unless you look at him from the perspective of the cross. Only by grace do we see glory in the shame of cross, triumph in defeat, power in weakness, wisdom in shame. But this perspective also radically transforms our understanding of what it means to follow Jesus – we follow the way of the cross. You’ll find different applications of this idea cropping up again and again in my books, especially in The Ordinary Hero.
In writing Why the Reformation Still Matters and Rediscovering Joy it was Luther’s teaching on justification that particularly resonated with me in a fresh way. There’s one point where Luther talks about justification being brittle. He does not at all mean by this that what Christ has done is brittle: we are justified in Christ through his finished work and that is rock solid. What Luther means is that our confidence in Christ’s justifying work is brittle because we are beset by sin, shame, guilt, doubt and temptation. The answer is to keep coming back to the word of the gospel written in the Bible, preached in the church, embodied in the sacraments. We need to keep hearing this word to sustain our weak and weary hearts.
5. What’s next for you in 2019?
I’m currently working on a book on the sacraments, prompted in good measure by my work on the Reformation. I suspect many Christians are uncertain what to make of the sacraments. Why has Christ give us water, bread and wine? What do they ‘do’? I want to help churches and Christians treasure the sacraments and approach them aright.