Posted On September 27, 2017

Seven Questions about Books, Life, and Ministry with Michael Milton

by | Sep 27, 2017 | Seven Questions about Books, Featured

Let’s start out by telling our readers a little about you. (Current ministry context, family, joys in life, etc.) 

I am but a filthy sinner saved by grace and called to proclaim the Gospel I once blasphemed. That God should have called this barefoot orphan-boy, reared by my Aunt Eva in the backwoods on the Louisiana-Mississippi border, to be His son is a well-known and oft-repeated story for so many, that of “a brand plucked from the burning,” is a footnote in the larger continuing story of God’s grace. That the Almighty should, also, call this lad to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ Jesus is another wondrous demonstration of Christ being glorified in the weakness of servants.

Having heard the Gospel from my Aunt Eva as a child, my resistant heart remained aloof from the things of God until I heard Dr. D. James Kennedy preach Ephesians 2:8,9. There was a Mike Milton before that moment and an entirely new Mike Milton afterward. I can barely remember the old self, except for the cycle of starts and stops, attempts at answering the great existential questions of life, and tearful defeated brokenness concluding each new attempt. I was twenty-six years of age when I was born again through supernatural in-breaking of God the Spirit. My wife, a holiness Methodist preacher’s daughter, knelt with me as we cried, “O God we didn’t know. Forgive us for our pretense. We fall before Thy gracious gift. We do believe and receive the blessings of the resurrected and reigning Christ. Use us how You will.” I began to follow the Lord God. I walked with Him, and it was at that time that I was increasingly convicted by the final stanza of the great Isaac Watts hymn: “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.” Thus, my wife, Mae, and I began a journey with the Lord that led us from my job in management for a Fortune 500 company in Kansas City to Knox Seminary, an internship under Dr. Kennedy at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, and the Army Reserve Chaplaincy. We returned to Kansas City to plant our first church, Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Overland Park, Kansas. There, I also founded a Christian Academy that is now K through 12. I became the President and the faculty member at Knox Theological Seminary, my alma mater, before, again, “digging in the soil” of men’s souls a second time, to plant Kirk O’ the Isles (PCA) in Savannah, Georgia. I was, then, called to become Senior Minister of the historic First Presbyterian Church of Chattanooga, Tennessee. There, I followed Dr. Ben Haden. I dearly loved our ministry there and hoped to remain there until I was called to glory. Yet, I was honored to have been elected as President and then Chancellor of Reformed Theological Seminary in 2007. After a ministry trip to Africa, I returned with a human virus that attacked my autonomic system. I became disabled. During the difficult time of a medical sabbatical, I entered the school of affliction. There, often unable to rise from bed, I learned a new dependence upon God and that I was but a preacher-boy dispatched by the Master to do His bidding in His perfect timing, not mine. I have been the composer with five musical albums of original music. In my recovery, I recorded the last song of this period, “How a Wounded Bird Flies.” I was surprised that the United States Army Reserve, in which I had served as a Chaplain for over twenty-five years, desired my presence on the faculty at the United States Army Chaplain Center and School at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. I was, thus, mobilized to serve during the War of Terror. After 18 months of active-duty, in which I developed coursework, taught classes, preached, and counseled, I concluded my mobilization. I was called by the Board of Trustees of Erskine College and Seminary to assume the chair of missions and evangelism at that historic institution.

The story could have ended there. Indeed, I am quite content in “shepherding shepherds who shepherd the flock.” Yet, the Lord opened the door for me to serve as the President of the D. James Kennedy Institute for Reformed leadership and, ultimately, a return to parish ministry.

My wife and our college-age son, John Michael, live in a community south of Charlotte, North Carolina. There, we are engaged with a team, in planting Trinity Chapel Charlotte, a mission of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. I continue to teach part time at Erskine Theological Seminary, and I am in my final months as a Chaplain, serving as the Command Chaplain (Colonel) of the Army Reserve Military Intelligence, ministering to over seven thousand Soldiers throughout the United States and the United Kingdom.

My wife and I enjoy traveling throughout the old North State. As a member of the Sons of the Revolution, I particularly enjoy the study of the 18th century America. My Ph.D. research focused on theology and religious studies set in seventeenth-century Great Britain. So, I continue to be intrigued by that period of history and the rudiments of what became an American vision. My reading often defaults back to that period in Church history. I continue to pick up my old Martin D-35 and sometimes even lay down a few Neil Young covers.

I am as excited about the gospel ministry now—no—I confess that I am more excited than when first I answered that sacred call. I have moved into a stage that is sometimes called, “the Keeper of Meaning,” as I encourage, mentor, and strengthen younger shepherds and theologians of the Church. But the vision of preaching the unsearchable riches of Christ grows stronger as my own body, in certain ways, grows weaker.

In terms of my credentials, I am a Presbyterian minister, honorably retired from the Presbyterian Church in America, with dual credentials in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, serving, at once, as a pastor, educator, Chaplain, author, and composer. After three decades of service in the United States Armed Forces—Navy and, then, Army — I will retire from my service as an Army Chaplain in February 2018, Lord willing.

What are you reading right now? 

I must confess that I employ a method of reading that I call “reading stations.” This method allows me to read several books simultaneously through each day. One of my “stations” is a book always in my briefcase, another is having a book at the bedside, and, yet, another station is having a book on the table next to my favorite chair. At this time, I am reading Lex Rex by Samuel Rutherford, in preparation for annotations that I will make for a new release of that classic;  William Manchester’s The Death of a President: November 20-25, 1963; Listen to Your Life Speak by Parker J. Palmer; and Jay Tolson, Pilgrim in the Ruins: A Life of Walker Percy (Walker Percy, with Flannery O’Connor, is my favorite modern author). As a boy I sat on the front steps of Walker Percy’s home in Covington, Louisiana. My father was a friend of his. I never knew of him as a famous author, just an “old man” (my age now) and his wife. We picked strawberries and would bring them some.

What are some books you regularly re-read and why? 

I have found that I return to collections of sermons, prayers, poetry, as well as chapters with them certain models. My library is happily filled from baseboard to ceiling with an eclectic mixture of English literature, histories, especially biographies, and studies from the English Civil War, the American Revolution, the War Between the States, and the World Wars.

I have read and re-read Willa Cather’s My Ántonia, the wonderful story of immigrants in the American heartland. It is a sort of Little House on the Prairie with some of the most beautiful writing I have ever read.

So, too, I have returned to Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions by Donne, the prayer journal of Flannery O’Connor, and the poems of Gerard Manly Hopkins and Dylan Thomas (A Child’s Christmas in Wales is read in our home, out loud, each Christmas; the only way to read Thomas). I do so enjoy diving into select chapters of books that have become old friends, like Walker Percy’s The Last Gentleman. 

As to “Why?” I suppose that I read such books—and reread them—because they are the stone that is thrown into the deep, hidden pool, creating ripples in the otherwise unmoved waters of my soul.

Of course, I must read weekly from various commentaries, preferring Jean Calvin and Matthew Henry over all others. I’m now reading through DA Carson’s Commentary on Matthew. 

What biographies or autobiographies have you read recently? 

I believe that I mentioned Tolson’s excellent biography of Walker Percy. I recently read two works by Candace Millard: one, The River of Doubt, about Theodore Roosevelt, and the other about the young Churchill, Hero of the Empire. I commend them both.

Speaking of biographies and such, is there any particular one that has influenced you a great deal in your faith? 

There are two that have been significant in my growth as a believer and have shaped my outlook as a preacher: the great George Whitefield, volumes 1 and 2, by Arnold Dallimore, and; the two-volume work on D. Martin Lloyd-Jones by Iain Murray.

If you were sitting down with a fellow believer and they asked for your top five book recommendations on Christian living, what would they be? 

  • Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald S. Whitney;
  • The Lord’s Prayer by Thomas Watson;
  • The Book of Common Prayer (1662 English revision; 1928 American edition)
  • Evangelism Explosion by Dr. D. James Kennedy; and
  • The Westminster Larger and Shorter Catechism.

What books have molded how you to serve and lead others in the gospel? 

  • A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 by W. Phillip Keller 
  • The Reformed Pastor by Richard Baxter
  • The Saints Everlasting Rest by Richard Baxter
  • Turn it to Gold, D. James Kennedy
  • The Christian in Complete Armour by William Gurnall
  • A Chance to Die: The Life and Legacy of Amy Carmichael by Elisabeth Elliot
  • A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life by J. I. Packer

Finally, let’s conclude with this question. What are you learning about life and daily following Jesus? 

Hans Urs von Balthazar wrote in Credo about the difference between “looking” at a doctrine and “seeing through” a doctrine. I seem to be learning that God’s greatness is incomprehensible in ways I had previously considered cognitively but not existentially. Thus, I am learning that God is not only Lord of the seasons of our lives, but He is to be sought in the transitions between the seasons. There we might know Him in the silence of an unwanted solitude. Indeed, beyond and through the mysterious and often thick foggy bluish blanket of the events that trigger the unwanted transitions to new seasons one can make out the image of One walking on the water. I hear Him saying, “Come follow Me.” I can see, even if I cannot see through to the other side. And I am finding contentment in this limited vision. I must follow Him by faith. Yet, such a method of following the Lord home is so much more satisfying.

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