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Interview: Matt Walmsley ‘rising theologian’

13 September 2013

'It was a bit like Britain's Got Theologians'

The London School of Theology, the Evangelical Alliance, and Christianity magazine ran a competition called "Rising Theologian", where the prize was a course of study, free of fees. To enter, each applicant had to write a 1000-word essay on the future of the Church.

I won the chance to study a course at the London School of Theology, and I've chosen to do the distance MA in biblical interpretation.

The three shortlisted finalists spoke for five minutes in front of an audience at LST, and were then judged by an expert panel. It was a bit like Britain's Got Theologians.

You can read the essay online; but, in a nutshell, I think the future of the Church depends on Christians' speaking about Jesus, and that can be an unfashionable thing.

Our culture perceives Christianity as essentially moralism. It's not the core of what we believe, but it's what we give off, which is a shame. It's important that we speak, as well as being loving and caring, and doing all the things people are quite happy for Christians to do.

I work for Agapé, a charity. It's the European version of what's called in America Campus Crusade for Christ. We help students have a chance to learn about Jesus for themselves. I oversee our student work in the UK, and there are other things that are going on. I oversee about 45 student staff, and I'm on the overall leadership team - so I go to quite a few meetings. I speak at evangelistic events, and do personal ministry on campus.

I enjoy pastoring and teaching - really listening to somebody, finding out what's going on in their life, helping them move on. And also doing Bible teaching in a small-group context. And I preach at my church quite a bit.

I love the Bible, because it's ultimately by God and about God, and all the best theology is rooted in the Bible. As an academic discipline, theology is fascinating, but I'm most interested in knowing God better personally. I also love it when theology is practical.

I'm not a fantastic academic by any means. I think I'm good at taking intelligent content, produced by greater people than I, and communicating it to others in everyday language. I'd like to spend a good chunk of my life doing this.

I can't bring myself to be a universalist, but part of me would like to be. I struggle with the idea that, although God loves everyone, not everyone ends up saved. I've thought about it, read about it, and am intellectually satisfied - but emotionally bothered by it.

I've spent this summer with my wife, seeing friends, going on holiday, at a staff conference with my colleagues in Agapé, and trying to get some head-start reading done for the MA.

I was born in Blackpool, have lived all around the UK - I was a vicar's kid - and studied in Newcastle, which I now consider home.

As a kid, I had the Western dream: health, wealth, prosperity, popularity. . . I didn't have any idea what job I wanted to do.

My parents are fantastically generous, wise, hard-working, loving people. I aspire to be like them. My wife is my closest friend. But some of my other close friends are effectively family - people who would visit me if I was in hospital.

I'd like to be a more prayerful person. That's probably more important than what I do as a job, I feel. Eventually I would like to be, I think, in leadership in a local church, talking about Jesus, making disciples, and making a difference to my community.

I think the future of Britain is that we'll be financially poorer than we are now, but probably happier. I hope that, as materialism comes to be viewed as an epic worldview failure - which it is, and will be seen to be so - more people will turn to the gospel.

Undoubtedly, the most important choice I made was becoming a Christian, followed by marrying my wife. Outside those, I chose to spend some time living in the Middle East, which was extremely formative for me. I think that when you live outside your own culture for a while, you become better equipped to see your own culture for what it is.

I was living there as part of a missionary team, and seeing another culture, not just being on holiday. It threw a lot of light on the Bible. They have a very direct way of speaking of things which can seem harsh to British sensitivities. That experience formed me as a leader, because you have to develop a thick skin there.

I didn't work as hard as I should have at school. My school was in the top group nationally for truancy; so I always felt I was doing well simply by virtue of the fact that I showed up. The bar was low.

I'd like to be remembered for loving people, being a good husband, and "finishing well".

My favourite place is Tynemouth beach.

My favourite book is the Bible - genuinely. That's not just a Christian answer. It's amazing literature. And anything by Tim Keller; C. S. Lewis's non-fiction; anything on the history of space flight; Private Eye.

I love Genesis 22, Luke 15, Galatians 3, Romans 8. Anything that expresses God's free grace, in any literary form.

I feel guilty that the Psalms are my least favourite part. Whenever I mention that, people look at me as though I shot a kitten; but I can't get away from the fact that they feel mostly very samey to me.

My most reassuring sound is my wife's voice, U2's "Where The Streets Have No Name", and the man who answers the phone at our local Indian takeaway.

Shamefully, the last thing which made me angry was the exorbitant cost of my car-insurance renewal. That annoys me as much as seeing footage of what's going on in Syria.

I'm happiest just hanging out with my wife, devouring a punnet of grapes together while watching The Big Bang Theory.

I pray for people, for God's work in their lives, and for quite a lot of trivial things. But I think God is interested in the trivial things, too.

I'd most like to get locked in a church with secret agent MacGyver. He'd have us out in no time.

Matt Walmsley was talking to Terence Handley MacMath.
His essay can be found at the end of a story about him on eauk.org.

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