Interview with Iain D. Campbell

Derek Thomas Articles
  1. "Iain D.," 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. Perhaps you can begin by giving us a geography lesson as to where exactly it is you live and minister?


Thanks Derek. It's good to be part of the team. I'm already inventing my aliases...


I live and work on the Isle of Lewis, which is not really an island since it is joined to the Isle of Harris. But the whole island forms the largest and most northern of the chain of islands known as the Western Isles or Outer Hebrides of Scotland. We are about 20 miles off the northwest coast of Scotland. The largest town is Stornoway, with a population of some 15,000. The Western Isles has a population of 35,000.


I grew up in Stornoway, and professed faith in the church there in 1977, when I was almost fourteen. The congregation is still the largest congregation of my denomination, the Free Church of Scotland. When I left school I studied biblical languages at Glasgow University prior to my theological course at the Free Church College in Edinburgh.


I ministered on the Isle of Skye from 1988-1995, and since then I have been the minister of Back Free Church, a two hundred-member congregation of the Free Church of Scotland just six miles outside Stornoway ( This is a bilingual congregation, and I preach regularly both in English and in (Scots) Gaelic.


In 1984 I married my childhood sweetheart, Anne, who is currently Principal Teacher of our Council's provision for children with high support needs. These vary from autism to celebral palsy, and can be very challenging.


We have three children - Iain, who is almost 21, is working in Stornoway; Stephen, a year younger, is on second year at Glasgow Caledonian University, studying Business and Management; Emily, who is almost 17, is still in High School. Stephen and Emily are both members in my congregation.



  1. What are some of the distinctives about life and Christianity on the islands of Scotland?


The northern part of our chain of islands is predominantly Protestant; the southern islands are predominantly Roman Catholic. The two religions have co-existed fairly harmoniously within our shared cultural context.


The Gospel was relatively late in coming to Lewis; it was not until the beginning of the nineteenth century that there was any robust witness to Jesus Christ. But since then, from about 1822 onwards, evangelical religion in Lewis has been marked by a series of revivals, which have contributed to maintaining a strong church with a strong commitment to the Reformed faith. Some of these revivals have been well documented, although I have to say that the most well-known of them were not necessarily the most significant.


The net result of all this has been that we have a high church-going population relative to the general population of Lewis, with as many adherents (non-communicant members) attending our services as communicant members. This gives us a great opportunity for evangelistic preaching. The strength of the church also gives us an opportunity for commenting publicly on various matters affecting our society, and although mainstream broadcasting networks can be a bit cynical, the Gaelic media has been very hospitable to, and welcomes comments from, representatives of the local churches.





  1. You are an "exclusive unaccompanied psalm singing congregation."  Can you explain this tradition to our readers?



It simply means that in our public services of worship our praise in song is confined to metrical versions of the psalms, and there is no instrumental music to accompany it. Our church has produced a new version of the psalms in recent years, so our hymn-book is a combination of the 1560 Scottish Psalter and the more recent Sing Psalms.


It leaves us a bit eccentric in the eyes of some, but that all depends on where the centre is. A lifetime of worshipping with the words of the Psalms certainly embeds the sentiments of Scripture on one's mind and memory. The Psalter represents the Songs of Zion, which celebrate the both the history and the application of redemption.


I realize there is a theological issue here - how can we sing songs in worship which do not praise Jesus? My response is simply that if Jesus is not the God of the psalms, I don't know who is. I also note that the early Pentecostal preaching on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus is grounded in the sentiments of the Psalms. So I do not accept that the Psalms are inadequate for New Covenant worship, and I enjoy speaking on the redemptive, Christological and even Trinitarian strands of our hymnody.


We are often caricatured, of course, as being anti-hymns and anti-music, but nothing could be further from the truth. We have always appreciated good hymnody as we have appreciated good books, and our house is full of musical instruments (my children have a real flair for making joyful noises - as I write this my daughter is filling the air with a Scottish tune on the accordion).


But as a denomination we have taken the view that simple is best, and that the hymn-book of God's providing is sufficient for our worship. We have also regarded the best music as the music of the heart.


So we have a precentor leading our singing - someone who will stand up in front of the congregation and strike up the tune. Sometimes that can be done well, in which case there is nothing to compare, in my view, with a congregation singing God's word in God's worship. Other times it is done badly, and there is nothing to compare with that either!


Gaelic psalm singing has its own distinctive tradition, where the precentor develops his own style of 'lining out' each verse - singing a line of the psalm which the congregation then repeats. That can be very moving. Examples of psalm-singing in both Gaelic and English can be found on the audio section of our website.


In spite of the peculiarities of our own worship style, I feel at home among Christian brethren everywhere. But when I preached in First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, and we were singing Psalm 100 and the organ was dropped on the last stanza - well, I could have been in Lewis (perhaps even in Heaven!).



  1. Can you identify for us what you see as the main issues before the reformed church in the UK at the present time and how the reformed faith is equipped to deal with it?


Generally the spiritual temperature in the UK currently is not very high. Scotland is well served by several Presbyterian denominations, although over the course of the twentieth century there have been several splits and re-alignments. Even in small town Lewis it is possible to find four or five Presbyterian denominations in the one locality.


The Anglican Church in England and Wales has some good men in it, but on the whole it represents a very social gospel. The best preaching there is in independent evangelical churches.


There are some congregations, both in Scotland and England, which are centres of clear, powerful expository ministry, and these have been growing. Since my main mission field is a Scottish one, I should just comment on the needs of Scotland: first, to guard the authority of Scripture; second, to communicate the doctrines of the Reformed faith, and third, to engage critically with the culture in order to reach the lost with the Gospel.


These could be said about any church anywhere, of course, but I have to say them about Scotland, not least because the Scottish Faculties of Divinity in the main Universities, as well as Presbyterian Church Colleges, were the seedbed for destructive views of the Bible to emerge over the past two hundred years. This was the area of my doctoral research, and I observe how the legacy of that critical approach has undermined confidence in the Scriptures as God's Word. We need jealously to guard the inspiration, inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture.


There are some theological establishments now which are training men to do exactly that, and we are thankful to God for it.


Our main weakness is our dividedness as a body of believers in Scotland. Old denominational differences have not been easily laid aside. I think we need a clear grasp and vision of our Reformed heritage, along with a spirit of unity among believers generally.



  1. You have written a number of books, including a volume on the Lord's Day. Can you summarize for us the importance of the Lord's Day for the church of today?


I take my starting point with the Westminster Confession of Faith, which states that God, 'by a positive, moral and perpetual commandment', appoints that one day out of seven be kept holy. It goes on to teach that while this day was on the last day of the week in the Old Testament, it has been changed to the first day of the week in the New, by virtue of the resurrection. The Lord's Day, says the Confession, is the Christian Sabbath.


This was the theology and the practice in which I was reared, and my subsequent theological reflection has led me to conclude that the Confession is right. My sabbatarian  theology, therefore, is cumulative, and is built up over a series of stages: the permanence of the ten commandments, the abiding relevance of the fourth, the change of day in the New Testament. These positions can, I think, be defended from Scripture.


I appreciate that many Christians don't follow through with this, and argue that every day is holy under the new covenant, and any kind of sabbatarianism is just new legalism. But the clincher for me is Christ's statement that the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath. I don't think he meant that he was lord of the Sabbath just for three years of public ministry: part of his lordship over my life is that I gladly devote the first day of the week to him, in an extended quiet time. It is the day he has made, in which we should rejoice and be glad.


My problem with trying to sacralise every day of the week is simply that you end up secularizing: if everything is holy, nothing is holy. I don't see what is to be gained by the argument that the Lord's Day is no more special than any other, or that it is just a convenient day on which to worship (shouldn't God be grateful??). It is rather a weekly reminder to us that we are citizens of a better kingdom than this, and God in his wisdom loves to bless his word to his people on his day.


I love the quotation that 'Christ did most of his miracles on the Sabbath day - and still does'. I do have a passion to restore the first day of the week Sabbath in the consciousness of believers, while at the same time avoiding a pharisaical sabbatarianism.



  1. Apart from theology, what interests do you have and will you be blogging about them?


Sorry - I'm very boring when it comes to other interests. I like reading all kinds of stuff, watching detective drama, walking the dog on our local beaches, and trying to land a plane with Microsoft Flight Simulator. I won't be blogging about these things, although I have been known to get a flash of inspiration while battling a severe Hebridean north westerly gale, so I'll share such moments with you.



  1. One of the reasons I have asked you, a fellow Celt, to join us on this blog is to keep one of our English bloggers in his place when the rugby season is upon us.  Can I count on you?


You're talking about the Reformation 21 version of The Trueman Show? Yes, of course you can. I have to admit that the rugby season will probably pass me by, but isn't that the game in which Scotland spectacularly thrashed England just last week....?