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Interview with Dr Ty Kieser - Keynote speaker at the John Owen International Convention


What follows is a condensed transcript from an interview between Richard Patton, a doctoral student at UTC and Dr Ty Kieser. Dr Kieser teaches theology and church history at Criswell College in Dallas, Texas. His upcoming book Theandric and Triune: John Owen and Christological Agency, published in the T&T Clark studies in Systematic Theology series, is available from February 2024. Dr Kieser will be one of the keynote speakers at the John Owen International Convention held at Union Theological College, Belfast on 24-26th June 2024.

 How did you find your way into Owen studies?

 I got into Owen when I started thinking about grad school, I think most people, at least in my experience, get into Owen through either Death of Death or Mortification of Sin. I don't think those are bad books. Those are those are fine books, but I got into Owen by reading Communion with the Triune God and found there a rich Trinitarian theology. He’s using Latin expressions. He's making careful distinctions between invisible operations and doctrines of appropriations and simplicity, and all these careful technical Trinitarian terms. And he's doing it by engaging Basil and Gregory and Augustine, and he's doing it by engaging Scripture. But these are originally chapel sermons, and he's delivering it in this pastoral mode, or at least oriented toward doxology and worship. I read it and thought this is this is at least the kind of theology I want to do. It's historically informed, biblically engaged, oriented toward worship as well as careful and dogmatically conscious. And by that, I mean thinking about the ways that certain theological conclusions inform other theological conclusions. I found in Communion in many ways a role model in Owen that I've very imperfectly, probably very poorly tried to emulate in terms of mode and method.


How have you sought to use Owen constructively in dogmatics?

 I have sought to engage and draw from Owen in a way that allows us as a church to speak into conversations about the nature of the actions of Christ, specifically. My dissertation is on the agency of Jesus, especially drawn from Owen, and so when we talk about agency of Jesus or the actions of Jesus, let's just say we have some significant problems that we run into quickly. For example, if I said Jesus is an agent and God the Son is an agent. Then does that mean we have three agents in the Trinity? God the Father is an agent. The Son is an agent. The Spirit is an agent, and if so, do we have three separate actors who are then doing three separate things, and if so, how? How do we talk about that? It minimally sounds like a very social model of the Trinity. So, does calling Jesus an agent require us to be social in the doctrine of the Trinity? We also say things like Jesus is a single agent and that single agent suffers and dies. But God the divine nature can't suffer and die. How then do we talk about things like suffering and death if this single agent is divine. We also have things like the two natures of Christ, because that's given as the obvious solution. But every nature that has agency that I know of is itself a distinct agent. And so, do we have two agents in Christ, or do we have dual agency in Jesus? And if so, do we end up with a kind of Nestorian account where the humanity of Jesus does these human things and the divinity of Jesus does these divine things? Into that discussion, considering the ambiguity of the language of agency, I tried to allow Owen to contribute to that conversation and then map Owen's position in relation to other contemporary positions in terms of agency and Christological action.


Tell us about your upcoming book Theandric and Triune: John Owen and Christological Agency.

 The book connects a variety of conversations, bringing together things like doctrine of God, the Trinity, Christology, Pneumatology and then its significance for things such as imitation of Christ. For example, if Jesus is genuinely human and Jesus is genuinely obeying humanly, then, in what way is he a representative for our human actions and our human obedience? So, it has implications for things like imitation of Christ and Christ’s human sympathy with us. This project allowed me to think through the interconnectedness of all these various questions. Even if you don't like Owen and you disagree with me, I think there is value in thinking through the web of connections that are present in this in this conversation. It was valuable and fun for me to write and I'm hoping it's valuable and fun for others to read.


Finally, you’ve spoken previously about theological writing that is clear, coherent, charitable, and courageous. What makes good theological writing?

 Write in a way that follows Jesus’ command and call to love our neighbours. So, we think that applies everywhere except journal publications. And that's just not true. And I'm guilty of not loving my neighbours in journal publications also. But write charitably, which minimally means assuming the best of your interlocutors, you're engaging with people, and you could either assume that they're stupid and or you could assume that they love the Lord and they're trying to be faithful and maybe not doing theology exactly how you would do it.

 Then write courageously, and here's what I mean by courageously we, as graduate students and as scholars, that really love to read and write, we love the learning. But then it comes time to write something, and we have a blank page staring at us. That's terrifying. It's monstrous. I say ‘courageously’ because we need to have the courage to say something. We read all these people that sound really smart, but we have something to say too because we are entering a conversation. Listen first, but then contribute, say something, and do it courageously and in the awareness of your own finitude, you are finite. You haven't read everything. You don't know everything, but you have read these things and you do know some things about these things. Therefore say, I'm going to make this careful, nuanced delineated contribution, and I'm going to say here's what I think. It doesn't have to be the final word. This is a contribution to the discussion.

 One tip for how to write courageously is just to get words on the page because as someone somewhere said, writing is really rewriting and so if you get words on a page, you can then think about editing carefully. I think the neuroticism in writing comes because we think our first draft is our final draft and you must do as many things as you can do to convince yourself that's just not true. The real writing comes in the editing, the pruning, the revising process. In summary, we need courage to think you have something to say, courage to say something, courage to sit down and do it and courage and courage to recognise that what you're doing is meaningful but finite.

*In the interview, Dr Kieser references an article by Prof Crawford Gribben (QUB). The article, "Becoming John Owen: The making of an evangelical reputation", can be accessed here.

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