Guest Post by Robert Sagers
If you’ve spent any amount of time scouring the Christian blogosphere, you’ve likely encountered the near ubiquitous line at the bottom of many a post: “HT: JT.”
That’s because Justin Taylor is so good—perhaps the best—at pointing us all to so many resources on the Internet, in print, and elsewhere.
Justin was kind to answer some questions about how and why he got into blogging, his work at Crossway (and his past work for John Piper), his current projects, and speaking “with a gospel-accent.”
Robert Sagers: Justin, please tell the readers of Kingdom People a little about yourself—where you’re from, your family, and how you came to Christ?
Justin Taylor: I’m from Sioux City, Iowa. I grew up in a great family and first prayed the sinner’s prayer when I was 4. And then again when I was 4 1/2. And about a thousand times thereafter!
My wife Lea and I met in elementary school (though she was a year ahead of me) and we went to the same United Methodist Church. I fell in love with her in sixth grade. She reciprocated at the end of college!
I don’t know when exactly I became a true believer. As I mentioned, I was a church-going, sinners-prayer-praying kid, but became somewhat cold to the Lord, though was externally a goodie-two-shoes. At an FCA camp in Colorado, between my freshman and sophomore years, I began to understand the work of Christ and the sufficiency of his righteousness for the first time. Whether that was conversion or renewal, I’m not sure it matters. Everything changed after that.
RES: What were you doing before you began working at Crossway? How did the Lord direct you to move to begin working for a Christian publisher?
JT: Before my work at Crossway I was at Desiring God, working as the theological director and serving as John Piper‘s theological assistant/editor. Our six years at Bethlehem marked me in more ways than I can possibly recall.
I wrestled for years as to whether I should become a Professor (which would mean getting a PhD) or become a Pastor. I have some giftings for both, but neither was a perfect fit. When the opportunity came up to serve as the Managing Editor of the ESV Study Bible, it seemed like the Lord had designed a job fit perfectly for me. Crossway has been a wonderful vocational home for me.
RES: What is your role at Crossway? What is your role at your local church? What is your role with your family? How do you see each of those roles fitting together?
JT: I’m VP of editorial at Crossway. A big part of my work is acquisitions and working with our publishing team. I’m an elder at our church, with some teaching duties and occasional preaching. With my family, I’m a father and a husband—and of course I’m also a son and a brother.
In some ways I suppose the term “shepherding” could apply to each of these roles of work-church-family. In publishing I’m working with our team to help select, steer, shape, and shepherd edifying books through the publishing process. At church I’m trying to work with the other pastor-elders to lead, teach, and love God’s people faithfully. And in my family I’m trying to guide and care for my wife and kids in a way that will show them grace, truth, and love.
RES: How, when, and why did you first get into blogging?
JT: In one sense I guess I’ve always had a blogger’s instinct. After all, “show & tell” was my favorite subject in elementary school!
In the fall of 2004 I did a quick read of Hugh Hewitt‘s book entitled Blog. I think that book helped to nudge a lot of people to start blogging. (Joe Carter is another example.) I was already sharing links to news stories and books with a small group of friends and thought I could just continue doing this to a wider audience. My main principle, I suppose, was that I’d post something if I found it sufficiently interesting and thought others might think the same. I think I’ve matured a bit since then and “found my voice” (as they say). I still want to keep things interesting but also try to make sure it’s edifying in some way.
RES: Many of your readers may want to know how it is that you blog so much. How do you find the time?
JT: I think it’s a combo of things: (1) I really enjoy blogging, and when you enjoy something it’s easier to find time to do it; (2) there are some things I don’t do anymore (e.g., I hardly ever watch sports like I used to—cue the small violin…); (3) a lot of my blogging overlaps with stuff I’m already doing, have already read, etc. (e.g., it’s pretty easy to blog about a Crossway book that I’ve known about for over a year); (4) I’m more of “pointing” blogger than I am a “producing blogger.” For example, Tim Challies only posts once a day, but if I tried to produce as much original stuff as him or as thorough of book reviews I wouldn’t be able to do it.
RES: People may be helped by hearing a bit about the discernment process you go through in deciding whether or not to post something on your blog.
JT: After a while things become largely intuitive and you have to stop and think about the explicit, unarticulated criteria. I don’t really have a checklist or anything. But I try to make sure it’s edifying on some level, and that it’s something sufficiently interesting. I get asked to blog various books and such, and the thing that often holds me back is not that it’s bad, but that I’m not that excited about it. I don’t want to blog something merely because someone has asked me to do so.
Also, I tend to run controversial things past a couple of friends whose value and wisdom I trust. If I do go ahead with the post, I usually tweak something as a result of their feedback. And the fact is, I have quite a few blog posts that are drafted but never end up seeing the light of day.
RES: In what way(s) do you think God uses blogs to advance the purposes of the gospel of Jesus Christ? In what way(s) do you think Satan uses blogs to advance the purposes of the gospel of antichrist?
JT: The goal of the gospel of the kingdom is for God’s people to become increasingly conformed to the image of Christ. The goal of Satan’s counterfeit ministry is for people to be increasingly conformed to anything but Christ.
I think sometimes we put blogs in this unique category of communication. Yes, there are some special contours to the medium, but by and large they are simply one way in which we speak to one another—in exhortation, correction, critique, praise, humor, confession, etc. Insofar as they consciously seek to emulate and advance kingdom values, making much of Christ, they will be Christian. Insofar as they don’t, they aren’t.
RES: If you could change one thing about the blogosphere, what would it be?
JT: I once wrote in a blog post that we need “more arguments and less arguing.” What I meant was that we need better reasoning and less rancor. I think I’ve seen an improvement—to some degree—in the comments section of my own blog.
I think many of us have a long way to go in letting the grace, beauty, and power of the gospel saturate our heart and mind to the extent that we simply speak with a gospel-accent.
RES: You don’t just point to the writings of others; you’re also an accomplished author and editor yourself. How did you get into writing and editing? Is there anything that you’re working on currently?
JT: With regard to editing: I remember in college helping a friend prepare for a talk he was going to give to a large gathering of Christian students. And I realized—I’m not the one being asked to give these talks but somehow I can help a friend like this take a good talk and make it better.
Working with John Piper was an enormous privilege, especially to edit his materials, which are so rich. I sometimes joke, though, that being Piper’s theological assistant is kind of like being the Maytag repair man!
As far as current projects: There are a few things in the works, but the big project, which will extend over a number of years, is a series of books I am co-editing with Steve Nichols called “Theologians on the Christian Life.” These will be scholarly-informed but accessible introductions to how key theologians thought about what it means to live the Christian life: Sean Lucas on Edwards, Steve Nichols on Bonhoeffer, Fred Sanders on Wesley, Derek Thomas on Bunyan, Timothy George on Augustine, Carl Trueman on Luther, Phil Johnson on Spurgeon, etc.
RES: Is there anything else that you’d like to leave with the readers of Kingdom People?
JT: I’d just encourage all of us in the “Christian blogosphere”—bloggers, commenters, etc.—to band together to think through what it might look like to put into practice this vision called for by David Powlison:
We should actively intend good, seeking to “give grace to those who hear.” That takes thought about one’s motives, tone, framing, balance of emphases. . . . Thoughtful work on that topic will break new ground, applying the call to “speak truth in love” into an instant-information context where all errors, blunders, sins, failings, and mere clumsiness are potentially available for public scorn. What does it mean to forebear each other in such a world? What does it mean to cover sins in mercy (not cover-up, but true covering in mercy), to allow others to find care and restoration in their own interpersonal context, rather than attempting to humiliate them before the whole world? What does it mean to express the sort of communal tenderness that Dietrich Bonhoeffer captures so well in Life Together—a communal life that includes reproof as a form of love?
But the leading edge of our argument is to place checks on the tendency we all have to snide, sneering, self-righteous, gossipy, malicious words. Any growth we can make in the direction of Ephesians 4:29 will make life much more joyous for all, and bring much glory to our God. And even criticisms I make become more hearable when I the critic am not posturing, but actually care about others. When I don’t care, my bad attitude and superiority becomes my actual message. Love is patient, love is kind . . . and then love is candid.