To coincide with recent reviews of two of his books, Mark Tubbs took the time to interview Bill Farley.
Discerning Reader: It's been ten years since the release of your first book, For His Glory. Has anything happened in these ten years to encourage you that the evangelical Church is waking up to God's ultimate purpose?
Bill Farley: I am greatly encouraged by the relational union of many reformed brothers across denominational lines exemplified by movements like "Together for The Gospel.: It reminds me of the formation of English Puritanism at the end of the sixteenth century. They came together around the vitality and centrality of the gospel. That is happening today, and it gives me great hope for my children, grandchildren, and the 21st century.
DR: Interspersed throughout your book For His Glory are warnings against the unbiblical character of word faith teaching. Is there any movement you would see as just as or more dangerous today, or does the word faith movement still corner the market?
BF: Much of the good that was in the Charismatic movement of the 70s and 80s seems to have been leached away by a disregard for "sound doctrine.: All that is left is experience. And experience is not the best teacher when it comes to Christianity unless it is coupled with a passion for objective truth. The seeker movements also concern me. It is hard to find anyone that will mention blood, wrath, sin, Hell, or the fear of God. Yes, these drive superficial people away, but without them there is not much gospel, substantial change, or glory for God. The gospel is innately offensive.
DR: In For His Glory you confessed you are not a cessationist. How has your "continuationism: informed and/or changed your Christian belief and practice in the ten years since this book was written?
BF: My "continuationism: constantly reminds me of my dependence upon God. God's people need more, never less, than objective truth. For the church to function effectively we need healings, miracles, words of knowledge, gifts of tongues, prophecy, apostles, etc. Of course this is messy. It suggests pastoral problems, but the solution is not a form of Christian deism rationally approached through our minds only. The solution is to obey Paul's command. "Pursue…the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy: (1 Cor. 14:1).
DR: Some of your writing influences are apparent, such as John Piper and Jonathan Edwards. Are there any other influences, and who is the influence we would least suspect?
BF: Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones has been a tremendous encouragement. His life in two volumes by Iain Murray influenced me greatly. Iain Murray himself has been very helpful. I have read most of his writing. J. C. Ryle has influenced me greatly as have many of the nineteenth century Scottish theologians—Buchanan, Smeaton, McCheyne, etc. The influences have been progressive. In my twenties it was Watchman Nee (all thrown out today). Then in my thirties I discovered C.S. Lewis, R. J. Rushdoony and Francis Schaeffer. Without a doubt the greatest influence came in my forties and fifties with the Puritans, Lloyd-Jones, Edwards, Piper, etc. Recently I have been reading the works of Warfield and J.I. Packer with great delight.
DR: In your second book Outrageous Mercy you mentioned that your chapter on cross-centered spiritual warfare is more an outline than a blueprint. Do you have any more thoughts on this subject, three years on?
BF: In the eighties I experienced deliverance ministry first hand. However, our success at long term substantial change was minimal. I have come full circle. When it comes to personal problems—lust, fear, anger, resentment, etc.—we de-emphasize "deliverance: and emphasize the spiritual disciplines. "Resist the Devil and he will flee.: We are getting the results we didn't get in the eighties.
DR: The eleventh chapter of Outrageous Mercy concerns cross-centered worship in spirit and truth. As a pastor, what are some practical things you do or say to encourage your lead worshippers to cultivate this understanding of worship?
BF: First, to my great shame, I was very slow to grasp what I wrote in that chapter. We used to call our corporate singing "worship.: Today, we are reluctant to use that word. It implies that singing is the heart and soul of worship, when in fact the worship God seeks is a life of obedience. We now call it "corporate singing.: Second, our music is gospel-centered. We search long and hard for songs that speak about our lost condition, the wrath of God, and His glorious deliverance at the cross.
DR: Which resources would you recommend for pastors and laypeople who would like to promote cross-centeredness both in their own spiritual lives and in their churches?
BF: The first resource would be The Cross of Christ, by John Stott (IVP). However, the most important resource (but the least likely to be read) would be the sermons of Jonathan Edwards in his two Volume Works by Banner of Truth. I cannot exaggerate their impact upon me. It was not any one sermon, but the collective bombardment of ideas about the cross from many sermons that most powerfully impacted me. Finally, I would recommend an old work entitled The Harmony of the Divine Attributes, by Dr. Wm. Bates (Sprinkle Press). Bates was a 17th century Puritan, and a friend of John Owen. This book did more to launch my ideas about the cross than anything else in my formative years.
DR: How do you see God's God-centeredness as informing home and overseas mission? How do you think God's glorification of himself as his ultimate purpose translates to other cultures?
BF: The God-centeredness of God means that all missions, at home or abroad, are ultimately for the Glory of God. Every conversion displays the glory of God's mercy and grace to undeserving sinners. Every culture transformed glorifies God's grace to a people bound in the darkness of sinful ignorance. Evangelism is firstly for God and secondly for people. This safeguards the process. It purifies the means. It stops the adoption of man-centered messages and man-centered approaches to evangelism.
DR: Near his death J. Gresham Machen was able to rejoice in the ;active obedience of Christ.' If you knew God was calling you home to heaven today, what would you name as the most precious aspect of the Cross of Christ to you?
BF: I'm not sure I can isolate any aspect of the cross. As I write, my brother, a committed Christian who brought me to Christ, is dying of brain cancer. He has put all of his hope in both Christ's active and passive obedience. His life before his conversion was very corrupt. Temptations come to fear the judgment seat of Christ. Then he remembers the cross and rejoices. I hope, and trust, that I will have faith to do the same.
DR: What books (authors, topics) are you reading at the moment? Who is the most underrated Christian author right now, in your opinion?
BF: I am reading The Message of Heaven and Hell by Bruce Milne and The Works of Carl Henry, Sam Storms' Signs of the Spirit and When Sinners Say ;I Do' by Dave Harvey. Who is the most under-rated author? This is a tough question. Most of the authors that I read are highly rated. Can I refer readers to Jonathan Edwards? He is highly rated, but in my view not very well read. I wish more Christian leaders would invest mental sweat in his works. His view of God was absolutely immense. Lloyd-Jones used to say that when he needed a vacation he would go back to the eighteenth century. By that he meant he would read men from that era. I would say the same about Edwards. It would be impossible to overstate the impact of his thought on me. I will be forever grateful for God's work in that man.
DR: What's coming down the publishing pipe for you in the near future?
BF: Marvin Padgett at P&R is considering republishing Outrageous Mercy. They are also looking at For His Glory. In addition, I am working on a manuscript on parenting. It will center parenting in the gospel. I am very excited about this. I also have a manuscript on humility almost finished. It takes a different approach to this subject, stressing the impact of humility on the way Christians conduct their ministries.