An Interview with Angus MacRae (Part 1)
Rev Angus MacRae, minister of Dingwall & Strathpeffer Free Church, Chair of the Board of Ministry, and Moderator of the 2018 General Assembly, talks to Free Church Books about his life, ministry, and the books he has enjoyed along the way. In this first part, he talks about the growth in his faith from childhood through to studying for Free Church ministry at ETS.
Let's start at the beginning: can you tell us a bit about how you became a Christian? As you did, were there any books that were particularly helpful?
I can never remember a time when I was not aware of God. I grew up with Christian influence from my grandparents and parents, and I always loved the Bible and hearing the story-line of scripture. I knew before I went to school that God was my Creator and Judge. I was aware of God’s holiness and the seriousness of sin, even the sins of a child. I knew that there were two eternal futures before me; one with God and the other separated from God forever. I did not want to be lost, but imagined that my prayers and trying to be good were the way to avoid hell and please God.
Although I knew many Bible stories, it was not until I was about 9 or 10 years of age that the true significance of Jesus Christ dawned on me. I understood that Jesus was God’s Son, but I had no sense that Jesus had anything to do with me or my relationship with God. I imagined that I would need to fix my problem of separation from God for myself. It was a children’s book, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, one of the Narnia stories by C.S. Lewis, that opened my mind and heart to see Jesus Christ as the central figure in history. He was the one who had to become central to my life and faith. I read of the death and resurrection of Aslan, who gave up his life for a worthless and selfish coward. That wonderful and gracious lion character resembled and represented Christ.
That book turned on a light in my childish mind and showed me something of the glory of the cross. Jesus Christ had died in my place, taking my guilt upon himself, and rose again to lead me in a new life that will never end. I thank God for showing me Jesus, the one who was crucified for me not in a world of fiction but in this world of real nails, real thorns and real needs.
After that first real sense of Jesus’ reality and significance for you, how did reading the Bible and other books help to deepen and develop your faith?
God placed some wonderful people around me, including Christian teachers and Sunday School teachers in Laxdale and Stornoway. They encouraged me to study the Bible with the help of basic commentaries, and to fill my heart with the Reformed faith from the Catechisms and Confession of Faith. As I started to dig into God’s word, I believe God gave me some understanding of the flow of scripture, of the big picture, and a great love of studying and sharing that message.
Geoffrey Wilson had published a series of Bible Commentaries offering a selection from a wide range of authors. That got me reading Calvin and introduced me to a wide range of authors from across the centuries. It is not helpful to only read older books. Our minds need a range and balance of influences or we can become out of touch with our times. I devoured anything from The Bible Speaks Today series, from IVP. I also found John Stott’s work to be clear and helpful, particularly Basic Christianity, Why I am a Christian, and The Cross of Christ.
My Christian worldview was shaped by reading Francis Schaeffer and Os Guinness. My imagination was fired by the three science-fiction books by C.S. Lewis, Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra and That Hideous Strength, which predicted the madness of a technological age freed from morality and the fear of God, but which also looked forward to the renewal of creation in the power of God and his life-giving Holy Spirit. The Christian faith comes under constant attack. I am thankful to have found wise apologetic books as a student that defended miracles, the reliability of the Bible and how to sensibly relate science and faith without rejecting either.
How long after becoming a Christian did you sense the call to be a minister? Whilst you were a student at ETS, I'm sure you had to read a lot. Did any of the texts you studied have a strong impact on you? Are any of them still firm favourites today?
In my teens I got involved in Youth Fellowships, Scripture Union, Youth Camps, Free Church missions, and was encouraged to help lead Bible studies or to give Bible talks. From that time on, I thought and prayed about how I could serve God and the church and wondered about full-time ministry. Friends gave advice and encouraged me to think about ministry. I felt I should respond to a sense of call and do something about it. At a Free Church Youth Conference, I talked over what was involved in ministry with the late Rev Hugh Ferrier, who was then a pastor in Inverness. His advice and the books he pointed me towards on Ministry and Calling were helpful.
Looking back, I was very young and lacking in life experience, but I do see God’s hand guiding me. I went to study at Edinburgh University in 1985, and while there I applied to become a candidate for the ministry. I think I started to grow up a bit and enjoyed meeting people from all around the world and sharing my faith with all kinds of people. I had an operation for a burst appendix when I was 20 and was ill for several weeks. I could easily have died, but it was a good experience. My faith in Jesus was tested and strengthened and I was more sure that I should offer the rest of my life to serve the church and share the gospel of God. The church accepted me as a candidate, and I studied at what is now ETS from 1988 to 1991. In those years I came to appreciate many authors. Those books I often return to include works by Don Carson, Leon Morris, R.C. Sproul, Jay Adams, John Murray, O. Palmer Robertson, B.B. Warfield, F.F. Bruce and James I. Packer.
Read the second half of our interview with Angus here.