Rev. Vaughan Roberts was recently interviewed by Mark Earngey, the ACR’s ‘Foreign Correspondent’. Vaughan is the Rector of St. Ebbe’s in Oxford, Director of the Proclamation Trust, and a long standing encouragement to evangelicals around the world. Vaughan particularly enjoyed England’s recent Ashes victory over Australia thus any discussion of cricket in the interview is conspicuously absent from this report.
Vaughan, how significant has the relationship between UK and Australian evangelicalism been to your life and ministry?
Hugely significant. Along with many in my generation, my ministry priorities were shaped by Phillip Jensen’s teaching and example and I learnt Biblical theology from Graeme Goldsworthy. Chappo, Peter Jensen and John Woodhouse have also been important influences through their visits to the Proclamation Trust. Mark and Kathryn Thompson are good friends from their time with us at St Ebbe’s.
You have the weighty privilege of serving a healthy and growing church in Oxford. How would you describe your church growth strategy?
My predecessor, David Fletcher, always said that his only strategy was “gospel and prayer”. I try to maintain that conviction. Spiritual growth (in both evangelism and edification) is a work of God, which he achieves through his word, by his Spirit, in answer to prayer.
What is the Proclamation Trust, and why is it important in the current evangelical landscape?
The Proclamation Trust was started by Dick Lucas in the early 1980s with the goal of promoting a vision for expository preaching and equipping people to do it. We now run a variety of preaching conferences, the Cornhill Training Course and the Evangelical Ministry Assembly. More people are now committed to expository preaching than when PT began but there is still a great deal of work to do. We want to help those who have caught the vision to remain committed to it for the long haul and not allow other good things to squeeze the ministry of God’s word from its central place in their ministries. And we also long to spread the vision for expository preaching in the UK and throughout the world among those who haven’t grasped it yet. It’s our conviction that when God’s word is faithfully taught, God’s voice is truly heard.
What are the most pressing challenges for evangelicals within the Church of England today?
Evangelicals in the Church of England are stronger in many ways than when I was ordained 25 years ago, with an increasing number of growing ministries, and yet we are vulnerable. Complementarians are finding it increasingly hard to find jobs. There is also great pressure for a more liberal position on homosexuality. Things are likely to come to head at General Synod next year and, if there is no immediate change of legislation, it is likely that many clergy will go ahead and bless gay unions anyway. We will need courage, wisdom and unity in our responses to all this.
What advice would you have for young evangelical ministers in the Church of England?
I don’t think I could do better than Paul’s encouragement to Timothy: “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction. … Keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry” (2 Tim 4:2 and 5). We need to keep on doing the job God has given us faithfully preaching God’s word. At the same time, we will need to contend for the truth in the Church of England and, where necessary, break fellowship with those who depart from it. We will need to work closely together to receive the wisdom and support we’ll need along the way. The ReNew conference, led by William Taylor, has been an excellent recent initiative, which has enabled us to be proactive and positive as an evangelical movement.
What help can evangelicals in other parts of the Anglican world be to evangelicals in the Church of England?
We certainly value your prayers. The GAFCON movement is also very important – and we are so grateful to Peter Jensen for the amount of time he has given to it. We may be very much a minority in the Church of England and face an insecure future, but it’s a great encouragement to know that we are part of a global movement, consisting of the majority of church-going Anglicans around the world.
Next year is the 500 year anniversary of the Reformation. What is one Reformation truth you would encourage ACR readers to treasure deeply?
We should treasure all the Reformation truths and I very much hope that next year’s anniversary will remind us of our reformed protestant heritage and how important it continues to be. If I had to pick one truth it would be justification by faith alone. This has been under threat in the evangelical world and it is really important that we defend it and delight in it.