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Q&A with Alex DiPrima
Evan: Tell us about yourself?
Alex: I’m a local church pastor in Winston Salem, NC. My wife and I, along with a small team, were sent to plant Emmanuel Church in Winston Salem in 2017. The church has been firmly planted by God’s grace and is thriving. My primary responsibilities as a pastor are in the arenas of preaching/teaching, pastoral care, ministerial training, and helping to lead the church in its vision and mission. I am married to Jenna, and we have three children, Dominic (5), Camden (3), and Judah (2). After undergraduate work at Clemson University, I then completed my Mdiv and PhD in historical theology from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. The focus of my doctoral work was on the life and ministry of C. H. Spurgeon, particularly his evangelical activism and benevolent ministries. In my spare time I like to read, write, spend time with my family, and enjoy hospitality and fellowship in our home. I’m especially passionate about church history, as well as British and American history more broadly.
Evan: What led to your interest in Charles Spurgeon?
Alex: I grew up in a church setting that greatly appreciated and revered Spurgeon. It was a very healthy Reformed Baptist church that saw itself in the direct line of Spurgeon’s theological tradition. My pastors quoted Spurgeon often, members read his books and sermons, and I became acquainted with his basic biography at a pretty early age. I like to say, Spurgeon was like the background music that played throughout my childhood church experience.
I became more personally interested in Spurgeon around my college years and into seminary. I read his sermons along with some of the more well-known biographies. The Lord gave me serious aspirations to pastoral ministry beginning in my teenage years and I read Spurgeon’s Lectures to My Students many times. I was especially drawn to Spurgeon’s preaching, particularly how he spoke of Christ. I remember thinking to myself as I read Spurgeon, could Christ really be this wonderful? It was a glorious experience.
My favorite professor in seminary, Dr. Nathan Finn, invited me to consider doing doctoral work with him, which is honestly something I never thought was in the cards for me. I come from a blue-collar background. Neither of my parents went to college. But as I evaluated his suggestion, it seemed like a really good opportunity for me. I was in my early 20s, newly married, and still a couple years off from a pastoral call. But I told Dr. Finn I would only do it if I could study someone big. I wanted to study someone who could excite and retain my focused attention for a decade, maybe even a lifetime. Dr. Finn suggested Spurgeon, which surprised me, because I assumed surely everything that needed be said about Spurgeon had been said already. I was subsequently blown away when I came to appreciate how little scholarly work had been done on him. I suspect the reason for that is that Spurgeon is not regarded as a theologian, but a popular preacher. Anyway, from my perspective, I felt like I landed on a gold mine. I’ve been with Spurgeon almost daily for close to a decade now and I have never regretted my decision to spend so much of my life with him.
Evan: What have you learned about Spurgeon that has shaped your ministry?
Alex: Many things, but I’d identify three in particular. First, Spurgeon has modeled for me the priority of directing people to Christ, whether one is wrestling with sin, doubting God, struggling with assurance, going through trials, experiencing anxiety or depression – whatever state we find ourselves in, we need to be directed to Christ constantly. And by that, I don’t just mean we need to get our Christology right, but we need to be brought to appreciate something of the disposition and bearing of Christ to our hearers. Sinners and sufferers need to get a sense from us of what the Lord himself is like in his attitude and posture toward them.
Second, Spurgeon taught me the importance of using good, evocative, muscular language to speak about the things of God. Spurgeon mastered the English language. He read poetry often. He was well versed in Shakespeare, Milton, Dickens, and other great English writers . He studied words and sentences. He spoke in beautiful language that dignified the message he preached. There is a sad tendency in our day that says the best way to preach is by dumbing everything down, speaking conversationally, and employing contemporary slang as much as possible. I think that is exactly wrong. If you want to guarantee your irrelevance to future generations, talk that way. If you want to speak in a way that is timeless and ennobling and that will compel and win people not only in the present, but in the future, learn to speak as Spurgeon spoke. Words are your only tools as a minister. Learn to master them, as Spurgeon did.
Finally, I would say Spurgeon has provided me with an example of how to suffer well amidst great trials. I’m particularly helped by seeing how he persevered through severe and slanderous criticism. I’m also encouraged and instructed when I observe how he dealt with the abandonment of friends and partners in ministry. Spurgeon shows me by example how to hold fast to Christ, how to keep on preaching, how to walk with integrity, and how to maintain a kind of holy optimism amidst all that can be discouraging and disillusioning. He has been an extraordinary helper to me.
Evan: What do you hope readers take away from Spurgeon and the Poor?
Alex: There are two main things I hope readers will take away from Spurgeon and the Poor. The first is that I hope more people will begin to appreciate that Spurgeon was more than a great preacher. We know him for his preaching and his faithful proclamation of the gospel. But Spurgeon’s ministry was a ministry that came not in word only, but also in deed. Most Christians have no idea about his orphanage. Most Christians know nothing about the sixty-six benevolent institutions that operated out of his church. Few are aware of how important mercy ministry was to the work of the Metropolitan Tabernacle. I hope that more people will come to appreciate how large Spurgeon’s heart was for the poor, the needy, the afflicted, and the oppressed. He was an even greater and grander man than most people know or imagine.
Second, I hope that many will find in Spurgeon a God-honoring model for how Christians and churches can faithfully pursue the priorities of gospel proclamation and benevolent ministry together. I think Spurgeon gets this right. He shows us that there’s no conflict between word ministry and deed ministry. He shows us that those who are people of the truth are also called to be a people who are zealous for good works and who are known for their good deeds (Matt. 5:16; Titus 2:14). Spurgeon is certainly no friend of those who preach a social gospel. He was crystal clear that the proclamation of the gospel and the building up of healthy churches is the church’s primary mission. But Spurgeon is also no ally to those who jettison mercy ministry or who view benevolence as something that is to be relegated to the parachurch. He teaches that good works of charity and mercy are essential to the work of the church and the life of the individual Christian. He stands in the tradition of the early church fathers, many of the first protestants, and the inheritors of the evangelical movement who believed that Christians are to be known for their generous hearts and their eagerness to do good to all. I think we have in Spurgeon a beautiful blending of evangelistic zeal and warm-hearted social concern that I hope more churches will imitate.
Alex, thank you so much for doing this Q&A! May Spurgeon and the Poor be a helpful work for many. May the Lord continue to bless your family, your ministry, and the ministry of Emmanuel!
Evan Knies is an elder of North Hills Church in West Monroe, LA. He is husband of Lauren and father to Maesyn. He is a graduate of Boyce College and Southern Seminary.
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