Interview with Jonty Rhodes

The following is taken from an interview over Zoom with Jonty Rhodes and Joy Woo. Jonty is the author of Reformed Worship, our upcoming release in the Blessings of the Faith Series. He previously wrote Covenants Made Simple: Understanding God’s Unfolding Promises to His People.

1) Tell us a little bit about yourself—your current work, your projects, your family, and your hobbies. 

I’m married to Georgina and we’ve got five kids now, from nine down to eighteen months. Both my wife and I came to faith when going to classic English boarding schools. For me it was a Christian member of staff who invited me along to summer camps and ran a little Bible study at the school. 

Long story short, I am now a Presbyterian minister and part of a little denomination—the International Presbyterian Church (IPC). The IPC was founded by Francis Schaeffer, initially in the Alps, but with two congregations planted in England in the 1960s. I used to say I was 10 percent of English Presbyterian ministers working over here. It’s marginally better than that now, but there are still very few of us! Presbyterianism in England has struggled to get much of a foothold in the country more or less since the days of the Westminster Assembly. But encouragingly we are seeing some growth recently.

As for ministry, I was converted in a different tradition, but slowly read my way to being a Presbyterian. In 2010 eight of us started a little church in Derby, a medium-sized city in the middle of England. When we brought that church into the IPC, I think it was the fourth English church in the denomination. I’m now chair of the church-planting committee for the denomination and have been encouraged to see some fledgling growth since those days: I think we’re currently seventeen congregations, most planted in the last decade. My current job is church planting in Leeds, which is the third biggest city in England. We planted here in 2017, a group of about fifteen of us to begin with, but it’s grown over the last five years to about 120 of us now.

Within IPC it feels like we are trying to plant not just churches but also a whole denomination—a whole way of doing church that is new to England, or at least hasn’t been seen for a very long time. That’s why we’re grateful for American resources and support because, although the Westminster Confession was written here, we just haven’t seen that kind of ministry in action in England for a very, very long time—certainly not in my lifetime. But the IPC and a sister denomination the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in England and Wales (EPCEW) are both growing, and Presbyterianism is becoming a viable option again in England. 

As to hobbies, I used to enjoy cricket, but I’ve got five young kids, so I don’t have hobbies anymore!  

2) What need have you personally seen in the church for a book on Reformed worship? 

In my context, obviously there aren’t loads of people who come from Reformed backgrounds. So we have a lot of folk join our church who are evangelical, and therefore know that worship is important, know the Bible tells them to worship, but may not have a particularly thought-through understanding of what that means. Certainly, they are confused or surprised by how we as a Reformed church worship on a Sunday. 

Part of the hope for the book is to introduce people who are new to a Reformed setting to why we worship how we do, as well as to explain how and what we do in worship. The book talks about the structure of the service, the pattern of the service, and the various elements, but I hope it also helps people understand what’s going on behind that—why we’re making those choices. They’re not just my personal preferences as a pastor, they’re not driven primarily by what’s popular, or even, bluntly, what will get the most people through the door. Rather, we hope our decisions are being driven primarily by what God has to say about worship in his Word. 

What I’ve found—and this was the case for me too, until I started discovering the Presbyterian and Reformed world—is that many people know that God cares that he’s worshipped, but they don’t tend to think that God really cares how he’s worshipped. That was the primary driving force for the book. Linked to that is the centrality of the blessings that are to be found in worshipping God in the way that he does lay out in his Word. To paraphrase the catechism, it’s not just a duty but also a delight. There’s real richness and blessings to be found in our understanding of worship. 

I think many people come to church thinking of worship as primarily a thing they do: “We need to come and worship; it’s about me giving to God.” They are therefore surprised—and pleased, hopefully—to understand the worship service as an event where God is acting, God is blessing and feeding his people. God is the gracious first actor in the service, not us. So who God is affects our worship. 

I hope those things come across in the book; they’re some of my motivation for writing it—and teaching on it. It began as a Sunday school series. Hopefully it will be useful elsewhere, but we’ll wait and see! 

3) What have you learned about the nature of God-honoring worship throughout the writing process? 

If I had to pick one thing, what struck me was the grace of God in worship. At one point in the book, I talk about the idea that God is self-sufficient, and therefore, ultimately, he doesn’t need our worship. He’s not like the pagan gods who need sacrifices to keep them fueled up or their tribe strong. He’s not a God who needs us: he is self-sufficient, he has all the joy he needs in himself, and he’s not dependent on us in any way. And once you get that in your head, it just transforms how you understand worship. Worship is not about me fulfilling God’s needs, but rather it’s about a God who is so gracious and overflowing in love, mercy, and generosity that he allows us to come and worship him. When you see that worship and coming to God, meeting with him, is not simply a duty and it’s not for his benefit in any way, then it must be a blessing! I think that really transforms how you approach worship. The whole series is called the Blessings of the Faith, and when you understand that God is not gaining by your worship of him, you see that the only people gaining are us! 

All these things again demonstrate the grace of God—the love of God—for his people. It’s not so much that we have to worship (though we do) as that we get to worship. In reality, because of our weakness and because of our sin, we don’t always bounce out of bed on a Sunday morning. Even pastors, I’m afraid, aren’t always full of the joy of the Lord and just desperate to get to church. It could be life circumstances—you’ve had a horrendous tragedy that week—it could just be the grind, it could be anything. There are all sorts of reasons why we don’t spring into action on a Sunday morning as we should. But if I’ve got a settled conviction that it is both good and a blessing to come before the Lord, then it’s going to get me there even when my emotions don’t.

4) If you were challenged to summarize the message of this book in one sentence, what would you say? 

I’d say that the book is about . . . the blessings of worshipping God, as he has revealed himself to be in Scripture, in the manner that he’s laid out for us in Scripture. 

I found it hard to find introductory books on worship that didn’t presume a basically Reformed background . . . but in the editing process, Amanda Martin shared that this was the “friendliest and cheerfulest” book that she had read on the regulative principle. That encouraged me, because I think sometimes books on worship can become excessively combative—dare I say it, perhaps especially those from a Reformed perspective. But actually if you get a really biblical, Reformed view of who God is, then it should make you gracious, friendly, and cheerful! So I’m glad it came across that way and not as a kind of “worship wars round 58,” or whatever we’re on now. 

I also hope it’s setting out an explicitly biblical case for why we worship in this way. I wonder if the English context helps here, too, because (I guess like many Reformed churches in the USA) we just can’t get away with saying, “Well, the Westminster Confession says this, so this must be the right way to do it . . .”  Almost no one new to us cares what the Westminster Confession says—or even knows what it is! So we’re constantly having to go back to first principles and show why the Confession says what it does. I hope the book does that in a cheerful, charitable way!

Interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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A Universal Problem by Edward Welch

The following is an excerpt taken from When People Are Big and God Is Small, Second Edition: Overcoming Peer Pressure, Codependency, and the Fear of Man by Edward T. Welch.

Don’t think the fear of man is a problem only for shy, withdrawn types. Isn’t the angry person or the person who tries to intimidate also controlled by others? Any form of one-upmanship qualifies. What about the manager who is working to be more productive than an associate in order to get ahead? The endless jockeying of egos in the corporate boardroom is an aggressive version of fear of man. And do you think that the super confident superstar athlete is somehow above seeking the good opinions of fans and sportswriters? Aggressively asserting that you don’t need anyone is just as much an evidence of the fear of man as the more timid examples we have seen. Fear of man comes in these packages and many others.

Have our criteria included you yet? If not, consider just one word: evangelism. Have you ever been too timid to share your faith in Christ because others might think you were an irrational fool?

Fear of man is part of our human fabric. How nice it would be to actually feel comfortable in our own skin rather than needing to be somebody or searching for that drop of love or sliver of approval from someone. Yes, nice, but it seems like a mere dream.

The Search for a Biblical Response

A common answer to the fear of man is “I just need to love myself more.” That would make us less dependent on the affirmation of others, but it is a paper-thin solution and never gets us to comfortable-in-our-own-skin contentment.

An answer that has more depth is “God loves me more than I know.” God can fill us with love, so we don’t have to be filled by other people. But even this answer is incomplete. The love of God is the answer to every human struggle, but sometimes we can use it in such a way that God’s job is to make us feel better about ourselves, as if feeling better about ourselves were our deepest need. God does not promise such things.

The purpose of this book is to take the answer deeper still. As we step further into Scripture, we will meet people such as Abraham and Peter, who slipped into the chasm of the fear of man and brought others down with them. We will look at the subtle ways in which our fear surfaces in our lives. Then we will find God’s way out.

To really understand the roots of the fear of man, we must ask the right questions. For example, instead of asking, “How can I feel better about myself and not be controlled by what people think?” a better question is “Why am I so concerned about self-esteem?” or “Why do I have to have someone—even Jesus—think I’m great?” We will look at these topics from many angles throughout this book. Included in the answer is the fact that we need to think less often about ourselves. We’ll talk about why—and how.

The most radical treatment for the fear of man is the fear of the Lord. God must be bigger to you than people are. This antidote takes time to grasp; in fact, it will take all our lives. But my hope is that the process can be accelerated and nurtured through what we study in this book.

Regarding other people, our problem is that we need them for ourselves more than we love them for the glory of God. God sets us the task of needing them less and loving them more. Yes, it is counterintuitive, as so many of God’s ways might first appear, but settle into them and you find yourself on the road to freedom and rest.

One important note before we begin exploring. Our interest is in the human experience of being dominated by the real or imagined opinions of other people. God has given us two ways to enter in. One is the fear of man, which follows what we bring to that problem. The other is shame, which is what other people bring, and other people can bring a lot. When you have been wronged or abused by other people, they will have an enduring impact in your life. What might surprise you is how much God says to you in your shame.

Fear of man and shame are relevant to all of us. I have delved into the details of God’s words on shame in another book,* so while I will discuss both here, I will focus on the fear of man.

Let’s get started.


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* Edward T. Welch, Shame Interrupted: How God Lifts the Pain of Worthlessness and Rejection (Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press, 2012).

AVAILABLE NOW – The Gospel of Jesus: The Four Gospels in a Single Complete Narrative by Loraine Boettner

The Gospel of Jesus weaves the entirety of the four gospels into a continuous, highly readable harmony that can be used as a helpful Bible study aid. With marginal references and clearly indicated editorial changes, this new giftable edition of a classic work features the modern Christian Standard Bible® translation and includes maps, dates, and locations.

Below is an excerpt taken from pages 112-113.


The Gospel of Jesus: The Four Gospels in a Single Complete Narrative

Author Interview with Robert Letham

The following is an interview with Robert Letham. He is the author of The Holy Spirit, The Holy Trinity, Union with Christ, The Westminster Assembly, and The Lord’s Supper.

1. What led you to write The Holy Spirit? How did you become interested in exploring the Bible’s teaching on this topic?

For decades I have considered that the central point of the Christian faith is to know God, to enjoy him, and to seek to glorify him. Since God is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, on our part that entails a commitment of our life to that end. So when the publisher approached me to write on this, I had little difficulty agreeing.

2. What are the main things you learned from researching The Holy Spirit?

A lot, too many to number. One, which I mention in the introduction, is that it is far too much for one individual to write on the Trinity, and then on the three hypostases. The responsibility is overwhelming. Yet, at the same time, we can do so – since God has made himself known – and indeed, we must do so, even though at best we stammer and stutter, while the result cannot be anything less than inadequate to the reality of the one about whom we write.

3. How does The Holy Spirit relate to the other theology books you’ve written, for example, The Holy Trinity, and to other books you are working on for P&R?

It is one of a trilogy on the divine hypostases and is due to be followed by one on the Son and another on the Father.

4. What are some important truths that you would like readers to remember from reading The Holy Spirit?

  • The indivisibility of the Trinity and the resulting inseparability of all the works of God. The Spirit does not go off on his own to do his own thing, for his particular work is undertaken in inseparable harmony with the Father and the Son. We cannot think of the Spirit’s activities in isolation.
  • While the incarnation was for the immediate goal of securing the atoning death and resurrection of Christ, effecting our justification, its ultimate purpose, and that of the atonement too, was and is for the transformation of Christ’s people by the Spirit. In tandem with this, he effects the total renovation of the cosmos. We need to see the whole process of salvation in this light.
  • The danger of reading the Bible in isolation from the history of interpretation expressed in the overall consensus fidelium. This, almost invariably, finally ends up in heresy. Paul tells us to submit to one another in the fear of Christ (Eph. 5:21). This doesn’t require agreeing with one another on everything but it does indicate that there are boundaries within which the consensus of the church has operated under the direction of the Spirit. We will be wise to recognize these and respect them. I see the task as inherently conservative, with a great stress onressourcement. Any advances, to be valid, should occur within that context.

5. What do you see as the purpose of The Holy Spirit?

To clarify our thinking, understand the biblical teaching on the Spirit in the light of how leading figures in the church have considered it down the years, and thereby to sharpen and focus our worship of the one who is life itself.

Daily Excerpt from Daily Devotions with Herman Bavinck: Believing and Growing in Christian Faith by Donald K. McKim


“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matt. 28:19)

Basic to Christian faith is our belief in God as the divine Trinity. We confess one God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We believe in one God in three persons. The Trinity is three distinct persons in the one divine being.

This belief emerged in the early Christian centuries. On the basis of the Old and New Testaments and consideration of the overall witness of the Scriptures, the church affirmed its faith in the triune God: God as three persons in unity. In the familiar Apostles’ Creed, we confess that we believe in God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit as the three persons of the one God. The Trinity revealed to us is identical with the Trinity that is the very nature of God. We trust this God; we surrender ourselves to this God. This is the God of our life and our salvation. The church baptizes Christians in the triune name (Matt. 28:16–20).

Bavinck maintained that “the Article of Faith of the Holy Trinity is the heart and core of our confession, the distinguishing mark of the Christian religion, the [praise] and the consolation of all true Christ- believers.” The doctrine of the Trinity is not abstract theological speculation. The Holy Trinity is the living God who is to be worshiped, adored, and served. The triune God is with us throughout our lives—in all situations—saving us, helping us, and bringing us comfort and hope. The three persons of the Trinity can be known; their work in the world, the church, and our lives can be recognized. God’s presence with us—as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is the deepest reality we know, in life and in death.

“Thus,” wrote Bavinck, “the confession of the Trinity is the core and the main element of the entire Christian religion. Without it, neither creation, nor redemption, nor sanctification can be purely maintained.” We cannot explain everything about the Trinity. But we can worship the triune God who is revealed as our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. We praise “God in three persons, blessed Trinity”!

Reflection Point: Think of the three persons of the Trinity and what Scripture says about each of them. Contemplate the ways you are aware of the work of the Trinity in the world, the church, and your own life.