Interview with Steve Nichols

Article by   April 2008
  1. Steve, I want to welcome you to the ref21 blog and I look forward to your insights and contributions. Tell us briefly a little about yourself and your family.

 

We live in Churchtown, Lancaster County, in Pennsylvania.  (I'm not making that up.)  Our neighbors are family, my wife's folks, Amish and Old Order Mennonite farmers, and cows--lots of cows.  I have three children, Ben, who will soon turn six; Ian, who is soon four; and our recent addition, Grace, who has just turned four months old.  Heidi and I will soon be celebrating our fifteenth wedding anniversary.  She has a doctorate in literature and, can I admit it?, received a master's degree from a Catholic university that has a great basketball team.

 

I grew up in a pastor's home in western Pennsylvania.  Every once in a while, I'll still say ain't.  I spent my college, graduate school, and seminary years on the eastern edge of Pennsylvania, and now I'm in the central part of the state.  For the last eleven years, I have been a professor at Lancaster Bible College.

 

  1. You are well known to our readers as someone who has had an interest in Jonathan Edwards and you were kind enough to ask me to join you and your partner in crime, Sean Lucas (the Academic Dean at Covenant Seminary) to speak at last year's Edwards group at the Evangelical Theological Society meetings.  Why is Edwards important to you?

 

I stumbled into Edwards at West Chester University while I was studying philosophy.  I had a great deal of exposure to him, but a prof at West Chester, George Claghorn, was in the midst of finishing his volume for the Yale series on Edwards's letters.  Claghorn mentioned that he'd be glad to supervise a thesis on Edwards if I had the inclination.  I took him up on it.  I then pursued Edwards for my dissertation at Westminsterr.  But here's what hooked me.  I had heard stories of people who, because of the rigors of the dissertation work, had grown weary of their subject by the time they finished.  To stave off that, I took to reading an Edwards sermon early on Sunday mornings.  It was in those times that my appreciation for him significantly took root. 

 

Edwards is also important to me because he cast such a wide net in his pursuit of God.  Nothing, from spiders to the paragraphs in Paul, escaped his mind as he learned and, using his word, "relished" God.

 

  1. You have written a number of fascinating books in church history and I think I would be right in suggesting that you have a burden for making history interesting and fun. Tell us why you think a knowledge of church history is important for the today's church.

 

I'll borrow an illustration from one of my books.  Langston' Hughes' poem, "The Negro Speaks of Rivers," explains how we are deepened and enriched by making meaningful connections with our past.  The flipside is also true.  Without those meaningful connections, we are shallow, we are constricted. 

 

I think church history is also important especially today to save us from the hubris and near tyranny of the present.  The past gives necessary perspective, not to mention how it humbles us. 

 

Because it is important, I try to make church history fun.  Perhaps in some way, the "historylessness" of so many in our current time is due in some part to boring historians.

 

  1. As you think about today's church (let's narrow the field to reformed churches) what do you see as the issues of greatest importance?

 

I think it's always a battle to make sure the next generation knows orthodoxy.  We can't assume that our sons and daughters will just catch it.  We have to teach it and live it in such a way that they understand it and desire it.  The Christological creeds of the early church and the Reformation solas seem like the proper place to start.  We can't spend enough time teaching these and helping people, young and old, appreciate them and connect them to their lives. 

 

  1. Are there things happening in the church today that give you encouragement for the future?

 

Yes, indeed.  One is the weakening of the ascendancy of the American church.  As Philip Jenkins began telling us a few years back, the next Christendom is heading to the global south.  I think those in the global west and north and have much to learn form our brothers and sisters in Christ from these other parts of the globe.  We can gain some healthy perspectives on our reading of scripture and our theology by listening to some of these voices.

 

Also, Colin Hanson has done a fine job of showing the massive numbers of Edwards T-shirt wearing twenty and thirty somethings--which is to say that the voices of Edwards. Calvin, Luther, etc., are alive and well in the current church.  Job security for a church historian.  

 

  1. There are rumors about your questionable taste in music. Are these true? And do you intend to write about it?

 

What you, esteemed Dr. Thomas, fail to see is that the "B B" in B B King actually stands for Bach and Beethoven.  My question to you, the aforementioned Dr. Thomas still esteemed, is thus:  How can you live in Jackson and not be a fan of the blues?

 

  1. And one final question, and you will need to be very careful as you answer this one: when Wales and playing England in rugby, who will you be rooting for?

 

Wales, of course.  (Take that Trueman.)  But, somebody out there is going to have to first explain rugby to me.

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