Interview with Justin Taylor - Speaker at our PTG Conference

Justin TaylorIt’s a real honor to welcome to the blog my friend, Justin Taylor.  I’ve known Justin since college as we served together in college ministry and shared the same house with a few other guys. Justin is most known for his blog, Between Two Worlds.  He is the editorial director and associate publisher at Crossway Books, where he most recently served as managing editor for the ESV Study Bible. Prior to that he worked at Desiring God, where he was the Director of Theological Research and Education. He has co-edited a number of books, many of them with John Piper.    We are thrilled to have Justin as one of our speakers at the Promoting the Gospel Conference coming up on October 26-28.  He was kind enough to do an interview with me via email. …………………………………………………………………………............................................   Justin, thanks for making time to do this. It’s a privilege to interview you and call you friend.  For those who may not know you, please tell us a little bit about yourself.

Thanks, Doug! Happy to have this little chat! And glad to be your friend!  About me? Well, the most important thing to say is that I’m a follower of Jesus, by God’s grace.  I’m 33. I’ve been married to Lea for 11 years (but have known her since we were kids). We have three kids, aged 6, 4, and 1. We live in Chicagoland.   I recently became an elder at Grace Community Bible Church. It is a great privilege to serve a church that I love.  That’s at least a thumbnail sketch!

I know that many people, including me, are avid readers of your blog, Between Two Worlds.  When did you start your blog, and what motivated you to do so?

I started blogging in the Fall of 2004. I would often email links of interest to a few friends, and I thought I could basically do the same sort of thing via a blog. I figured that there were, perhaps, other like-minded people out there who were interested in the same sort of things I am (e.g. theology, culture, politics, etc.). If I recall, 2004 was the Year of the Blog. (In fact, one of the guys who broke the Dan Rather story worked across the street from our DG office in downtown Minneapolis). So Hugh Hewitt’s book Blog was also an impetus to me starting the blog.   It basically serves as a collection of links to, and excerpts from, books, articles, and other things that I find to be thoughtful, informative, and edifying (and occasionally entertaining!).

Along these lines, a couple weeks ago you shared an excellent post on “The Lost Art of Reading” where you quoted David Ulin’s article in the LA Times.  How would you encourage pastors and ministry leaders to “swim against the information stream” and put blogging and internet use in its proper place?  And furthermore, how do you personally battle to find the right balance in your own life?

I like the way you’ve phrased this—putting them in their proper place. For virtually all of us, the question is not “if” but “when”—“how,” not “whether.”   Information accumulation and even addiction is a huge problem, and I’ll try to explore this a bit during my talk for the pastors on “The Gospel and the Internet.”   I believe that one of the subtle characteristics of the “flesh” is a desire for checklists, which functionally says, “Just give me the rules.” Frankly, it’s just a lot easier to obey something like “Limit your time on the internet to one hour per evening” than it is to obey the warning, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21).  It can be easy to hit artificial goals without actually hitting gospel-centered reality.   So, as with everything in the Christian life, it comes down to the heart. It’s biblical to examine and test yourself, and it’s also biblical to distrust yourself—which means that you need others to help you see things that you can’t see; to have the sort of friendships and relationships where others are invited to speak into your life.   Half of the ongoing battle—certainly not the whole battle—is being aware of the temptation, the pull, the problem. Most people don’t get even that far. Another piece of the sanctification puzzle is prayer. Paul essentially tells the Philippians that if they want to be “pure and blameless for the day of Christ” they must learn to “approve what is excellent” (Phil. 1:10). If you feel like you are one who “lacks wisdom” in this area, God is both glad to hear your prayer and will be generous in giving you wisdom (James 1:5). But you have not because you ask not (James 4:2)!   One of the things I’ve been thinking about lately—and again, I suspect this will play a part in the talk I will give at LaGrange Baptist Church—is what Pascal taught in the 17th century about “diversion.” I think that’s a big part of the problem, and a big part of the solution. I’ll give just one sentence, which I think is worthy of some meditation: “I have often said that the soul cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room.”

I know you love to read.  What is the most important theological book you’ve read recently and why?

I’m not nearly the disciplined reader that I’d like to be, and (unlike many people of a similar theological bent) I feel little compulsion to finish books that I start! I also end up reading quite a few books before they are published (given my job, friendships, and blogging).   I’m not sure I can give a good direct answer to your question. What if I cheat and instead list a few of the books in my laptop/pile on my desk/stack next to my bed?

·      Hunter Baker, The End of Secularism

·      Tim Keller, Counterfeit Gods

·      T. Desmond Alexander, From Eden to the New Jerusalem

·      Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Worship

·      Jonathan Dodson, Fight Clubs: Gospel-Centered Discipleship

·      Jason Meyer, The End of the Law

·      Craig Blomberg, Jesus and the Gospels

·      Carl Trueman, Histories and Fallacies (in manuscript at Crossway)

·      Grant Horner, Meaning at the Movies: Becoming a Discerning Viewer (in manuscript at Crossway)

·      Dave Harvey, Rescuing Ambition (in manuscript at Crossway)

As a father of three young kids, what books (along with the Bible) do you read to your children?  Recommended Bibles? Storybooks? Etc.?

We’re pretty eclectic, using a number of different things. Three of our favorite Bible storybooks are:

(The first does the best job of telling the “big picture” of God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule; the second does the best job of showing how the OT stories are resolved in Christ; and the latter—sadly out of print—does the best job of giving good, accurate retellings of the major stories, using realistic comic-strip style drawings.)

When Starr Meade’s The Mighty Acts of God comes out this February we’ll probably use that as well. We try to do some Narnia reading and from various books. Our favorite picture book right now is a Fool Moon Rising, a brilliantly illustrated and profound parable about what it means to glorify God, not self.

Switching gears … many people know that you spent a few years working at Desiring God, and in particular, with John Piper. Out of all the things you learned from Piper, what do you appreciate about him the most?

That’s a tough question, simply because there’s so many things to choose from. His fingerprints are all over my life and thought.  One of the things that stands out is that “what you see is what you get” with John Piper. There is not John Piper the Public Figure and John Piper the Private Guy—with one persona and way of being in one sphere different from the other.   Another thing is his humility. Given his levels of knowledge and passion and popularity, it’d be easy to assume that he is arrogant. But precisely because he loves God and his truth so much, he welcomes and listens to criticism and observations from others.   Finally—I know you asked for just one!—John Piper is one of the most careful readers and thinkers that I know. I think it may be one of the blessings associated with the fact that he is, by his own confession, a “painfully slow reader.” But I have yet to meet anyone with a better nose for ambiguity and a better ability to ask good questions that yield insightful, penetrating answers.

After working at DG, God led you to Crossway Books.  Could you tell us about your role at Crossway, and what you enjoy most about your position?

For the first few years the majority of my time was spent as the managing editor of the ESV Study Bible a labor-intensive, all-consuming project which at the same time a wonderful joy and privilege to work on. My title is now “editorial director.” I oversee the content that goes into new Bible products at Crossway, and serve as an associate publisher and acquisitions editor in the book department.

And the last question just for fun … when Justin Taylor gets to stop and relax, besides reading and blogging, what does he like to do?

I really enjoy woodworking, playing the guitar, and archery. (Well, truth be told, I’ve never done any of those—but I’ve always wanted to claim a cool hobby or pastime like that. . . . )   The real answer is that outside of my roles at work and church I just enjoy being with my family—spending time with Lea, playing with the kids, or walking our dog.

Thanks so much, Justin.  I look forward to seeing you at the PTG Conference!

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*PTG Conference Details: Oct. 26-28 at LaGrange Baptist Church in LaGrange, KY

I'm really looking forward to this gospel-saturated conference! We've lined up a group of gospel-rich pastors and authors!  Paul Tripp (keynote) will speak on the gospel and how pastors can develop leaders in the local church.  Justin Taylor will address the gospel and the internet as well as defining and defending the gospel.  And Pastor Tony Rose will speak on the gospel and the pastor's soul. 

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