Blog | Topic: Author Interview
Jan 16, 2014
Most of the time I cringe when I hear someone offer this advice: “You have to do what makes you happy.” I’ve seen too many people follow this counsel to its logical conclusion, only to be hurt and lost. Happiness is fleeting. What makes us individually happy is rarely a way to measure a good life. When we offer advice like this, I wonder if we are more concerned that the person needing the guidance avoids pain and feels better about him or herself. Are you happy in this relationship? Are you happy in your job? Are you happy in your $50,000 convertible? Is happiness really the issue here?
David K. Naugle is professor of philosophy at Dallas Baptist University and has written about shallow attempts to define happiness. His important book Reordered Love, Reordered Lives: Learning the Deep Meaning of Happiness (Eerdmans) helps readers make the connection between happiness and love. The book is instructive for those who desire to pass along Christian faith to the next generation. Naugle writes, “Scientific, economic, and cultural forces have produced a paradigm shift in the way most people understand happiness. It has morphed in the minds of many Americans into a promise of sustained pleasure and painlessness.” According to Naugle, Christians must develop an understanding of happiness that is countercultural: “The happy life consists of learning how to love both God supremely and the world in the right way at the very same time.”
Dr. Naugle is also the author of Worldview: The History of a Concept (Eerdmans), selected as a 2003 Christianity Today Book of the Year. What follows is an interview with him about Reordered Love, Reordered Lives:
(Download the interview as a PDF handout here)
Derek: What motivated you to write about love?
Naugle: Over the years, I have become convinced that people don’t necessarily do what they say they will do, or behave according to their beliefs, or act on the basis of their thoughts or ideas. However, at the end of the day, people will do what they love!
Augustine put it like this in his book Enchiridion: “For when there is a question as to whether a man is good, one does not ask what he believes, or what he hopes, but what he loves.” We are motivated to do what we do by the things we love, care about and desire. Our lifestyles follow our loves; our loves lead to our lifestyles.
It seems to me that this has been the missing element in various Christian programs of moral and spiritual formation. We can’t just impart biblical information and expect much to happen. Our deepest loves, affections and desires must be reordered for lives to change in a Christ-like way.
But our loves and lives remain severely disordered, especially because of cultural influence. No one knows this better than CPYU! In light of the biblical teaching on love which is the nature of God, at the heart of the greatest commandments, and is the chief of virtues (1 John 4; Matthew 22; 1 Corinthians 13), a book on love and the necessity of reordering our loves, seemed like a good idea.
Derek: On the surface, it does seem obvious that love is related to happiness, but what is the deeper meaning? Where do we often get love and happiness wrong in our culture?
Naugle: If we follow the main outline of the biblical story, we discover that God intended for us to enjoy the deep meaning of happiness (or shalom, as it’s called in the Hebrew Old Testament) rooted in rightly ordered loves for God and for everything else under and in Him.
When we sinned, however, we lost this deep meaning of happiness found in God and in his good creation, rightly related. However, we did not lose our love or longing for happiness; in fact, it may have even deepened, even if it was distorted and disordered.
As extraordinarily needy and ignorant people in search of a fulfilling life in a deeply fallen world, we attach our loves in intense ways to whatever we think will make us happy, whether it be people, places or things.
But these people, places or things that we love for happiness’ sake fail us every time. They promise the satisfaction we have been longing for, but they fail to keep their promises. They simply are not made to do so. We end up frustrated once again. As Bono famously sings: “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for!”
Out of this disordered love in search for happiness, our lives become a mess, a wreck, especially because of our idolatries, vices, habits, and addictions. We will turn to crime, violence, and even warfare, if that’s what we think it will take to get what we want, since our deepest sense of self and overall well-being depends on it. See James 4:1-2, for example.
Not only our own ignorance, but the false, misleading messages of our culture through music, TV, films, and advertisements also misdirect us and lead us into a big, ugly ditch (to put it mildly) … all in search of happiness! As Augustine once said, “… what am I to myself but a guide to my own self-destruction?”
This is precisely where the Christian gospel enters the picture. When we believe in Jesus Christ and what He has done for us in His life, death, and resurrection, our sins are forgiven and we are reconnected to God. He then enables us to love God and everything else in God in reordered ways. We don’t reject the world, but worldliness; we don’t reject creation, but its corruption. In other words, we seek to love the created world in a reordered and right way in God as its creator and redeemer.
This, I believe, is the key to discovering the deep meaning of happiness both now and forever! Reordered love and reordered lives and the discovery of the deep meaning of happiness are the primary benefits of the Christian faith and God’s good news about Jesus Christ!
Thus, the connection between love and happiness, as I try to develop it, follows the major points of the overall biblical narrative, and I can summarize the story like this:
The deep meaning of happiness in God as He intended at creation rooted in rightly ordered loves and lives;
Happiness lost in the fall of humanity into sin and replaced with devastating ignorance and disordered loves and lives;
The deep meaning of happiness already redeemed and one day fully restored in Jesus Christ who graciously reorders our loves and lives through the Christian gospel.
Derek: This is from the review of your book in Publisher’s Weekly: “Many Christians will enjoy this book and be renewed in their quest for true happiness. Others will not, given the author’s insistence that accepting Jesus is the only way to real happiness. In a religiously pluralistic world, the wisdom of Christianity can be shared with everyone if presented correctly.” How do you respond to this?
Naugle: Well, actually, though PW (Publisher’s Weekly) didn’t intended as such, I take their criticism as a compliment. I didn’t cave into politically correct religious pluralism! Furthermore, my goal was to do what PW said I should have done, namely to show how “the wisdom of Christianity can be shared with everyone if presented correctly.”
PW thinks I failed at this, but I think I succeeded (Lord willing), especially by appealing to various expressions of popular culture that show how our disordered loves can disorder our lives and make us miserable. For example, Alan Jackson’s C&W song — “Everything I love Is Killing Me” — hits the nail on the head! And Johnny Cash’s return to faith shows how his reordered love for God reordered his life, and brought him into an experience of the deep meaning of happiness. And what happened to Cash can happen to us as well.
In this sense, then, my book is a form of cultural apologetics, showing how Jesus Christ is the sweet fulfillment of our deepest longings and desires as we search and find the genuinely happy life in Him (I am employing Charlie Peacock’s thoughts from his endorsement on the back of the book).
Derek: What are some practical ways that parents and youth workers can help teenagers “reorder” their loves?
Naugle: In many ways, this is what the seventh and last chapter in the book are all about. There I point out that the deep meaning of happiness we experience now is not perfect and never will be. Presently, we live between the cross and the consummation, at the “hyphen” between the “already” but the “not yet.”
Consequently, at this time in God’s narrative plan for history, we must enroll in the school of Christ for the ongoing mending of our hearts. In Christ’s school of followership, the Christian practices make up the curriculum for life change and consistency. It’s unnecessary to reinvent the wheel on this subject of the Christian practices since so many good books are already available by authors like Richard Foster and Dallas Willard. I recommend them highly.
However, what may be of particular interest to parents, youth workers, and students is my own autobiographical description of “The Disciplines and Me” on pages 193-203. Here I talk about the Christian practices I learned from my mentors early on as a student that have served me well over the years. I talk about the Bible and books, church and community, prayer, the enemies of the Christian life, virtue and vice, thinking, loving and doing, and so on. Hopefully a portion of my own story may be of inspiration in the “how to reorder our loves” department.
Download this interview (.pdf) here.
Apr 1, 2013
In a previous post, I mentioned the work of Kentucky farmer and writer, Wendell Berry. I also mentioned a very good book about him entitled, Wendell Berry and the Cultivation of Life (Brazos Press) written by college professors J. Matthew Bonzo and Michael Stevens. What follows is a short interview with Dr. Bonzo about the book (the interview took place shortly after the book’s release in 2008) that explains why reading Wendell Berry is helpful to college students, parents and youth workers:
CPYU: Some of our readers may not be familiar with Wendell Berry. Tell us a little bit about him and why you think his work is important for Christians to consider?
Bonzo: Wendell Berry is a farmer, writer and former college professor. He has written several novels, volumes of poetry and multiple collections of essays. He has been called the social critic of our age. He continues to farm his land, live simply, and speak prophetically. Berry shows the believing community how easily it is to mistake a culture of death for a culture of life. As a recent Dallas Times editorial has suggested, “Wendell Berry is the man for our time.”
CPYU: What first drew you to Wendell Berry’s writing? How has he influenced your work as a philosopher and college professor?
Bonzo: I found my way into Berry’s work through his short stories where his concern for community and his emphasis on a sense of place resonate. As a professor I work hard to craft a classroom as place where students belong. Learning is a project that we engage in together. And we work hard towards the making of a good life that we share by asking hard questions about how we understand and what we desire. Beyond the walls of education, my family and I run a small C.S.A. (Consumer Supported Agriculture) farm the shape of which has been influenced by Berry’s vision.
CPYU: What were your motivations for co-writing your book Wendell Berry and the Cultivation of Life?
Bonzo: The book is an act of friendship. Michael and I wrote nearly every word together. We simply had a conversation about Berry, sometimes straying into talking about high school football, parenting, or lunch. The conversation grew out of two classes we taught together on Berry’s thought. We saw the impact his vision had on students’ lives. There aren’t many books written on Berry, especially doing the kind of synthesis we wanted to do. Thankfully the editors at Brazos agreed with us.
CPYU: The majority of our readers are parents and youth workers. How do you think this demographic would benefit from reading Wendell Berry?
Bonzo: Berry’s insight in what makes up a healthy community and his awareness of the forces that work against such practices are essential in a world that apparently has been stripped of meaning and purpose. As my wife and I raise our son, we intentionally try to equip him with the resources to lead a good life, a life which witnesses to the reality of the kingdom of God in our world. Berry’s wisdom reminds us of the goodness of creation, the havoc we fallen people wreak on creation and each other in the name of efficiency and wealth, and the healing that is a’comin’.
CPYU: Why do you think college students should read Wendell Berry?
Bonzo: College students are setting the habits and practices in place that will shape their lives. Berry invites us to be intentional about our habits and practices by forcing us to think about our future lives in relationship to the environment that makes that life possible and in relationship to the families, households, and neighborhoods in which we will dwell. Quickly we realize that a life overflowing with gratitude is the only proper response to what God has given us.
CPYU: For people who are new to Wendell Berry, where do you suggest people start reading?
Bonzo: It is hard to go wrong. If you start with an essay, I would suggest “The Body and the Earth.” If you are going to start with his novels, you may want to begin with an early work like A Place on Earth to set the context of his fictional village Port William. Jayber Crow is probably my favorite novel. There is a new collection of his Mad Farmer poems just out that I highly recommend.
CPYU: Do you have a favorite quote by Wendell Berry?
Bonzo: From the poem “Marriage:” “We hurt, and are hurt/and have each other for healing/It is healing. It is never whole.”
Mar 21, 2013
The mission of the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding is to help parents, youth workers, educators, and others understand teenagers and their culture so that they will be better equipped to help children and teens navigate the challenging world of adolescence. Studying and better understanding culture is at the heart of what we do.
In his very important and influential book, Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling (IVP), Andy Crouch invites readers to consider a more holistic way of thinking about culture. He writes, “Culture is what we make of the world… We make sense of the world by making something of the world. The human quest for meaning is played out in human making: the finger-painting, omelet-stirring, chair-crafting, snow-swishing activities of culture. Meaning and making go together—culture, you could say, is the activity of meaning making.” One of the many advantages to thinking about culture in this way is that it implies responsibility. Andy asks, “What does it mean to be not just culturally aware but culturally responsible?”
In December 2012 Andy became executive editor of Christianity Today, where he is also executive producer of This Is Our City, a multi-year project featuring documentary video, reporting, and essays about Christians seeking the flourishing of their cities. A few years ago, for a different publication, I interviewed Andy about his book and its implications for parenting and youth ministry. I think Andy’s wise words are worth paying attention to as we consider how to pass along the Christian faith to young people:
CPYU: What motivated you to write Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling?
Andy: It seemed to me that we needed a new vision for the relationship between Christians and culture. On the one hand, much Christian energy has gone into criticizing culture (and there is plenty to criticize, in our society and every other). On the other hand, many Christians simply consume culture fairly uncritically, absorbing the values of the dominant culture with alarming complacency.
Yet the biblical picture of human beings is of cultivators and creators of culture—neither critics nor consumers. Being “cultivators” means that we are meant to discern and preserve what is best in our cultures, and pass that along to the next generation. Being “creators” means that when our cultures are deficient in some way, we are meant not simply to complain or withdraw, but actually create new cultural goods and institutions. We’re meant to be culture makers.
CPYU: What can parents and youth workers do to help shape young people into becoming culture makers?
Andy: The first thing I would encourage is intentionality. There is nothing wrong with consuming culture, for example, but let’s make choices about what kind of culture we want to consume together, rather than just watching whatever’s on. The biggest fashion trend right now is not any particular brand of clothing, but customization. There’s tremendous energy for being culture creators among young people that we can recognize and encourage.
Then I would encourage us to model and teach the importance of disciplines, the practices without which we will always be cultural amateurs. We need to move beyond an “American Idol” model of creativity, which is just about well-intentioned self-expression, to the cultivation of skill and wisdom that would allow us not just to turn in one spectacular performance, but a lifetime’s worth of deep contribution to some arena of culture, whether that’s music, law, business, medicine, or creating healthy homes and neighborhoods.
CPYU: One of the chapters in your book is titled “Why We Can’t Change the World.” Why do you think it is important for Christians to be careful in describing their mission as “changing the world”?
Andy: Changing the world, at least at the level of grandeur that is usually implied by that phrase, is not an achievable mission. Human societies are so complex that no one can securely expect to change them. And most often people who set out to change the world end up changed by the world—implicated in the world’s broken systems of power and pride.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t be bold in our culture making. But we are best served by a humility about our own role that “changing the world” doesn’t really imply. I deeply, completely believe in changing the world if the subject of that phrase is God, the one true world-changer. But if I am the subject, the agent of world-changing, I am putting myself in the place of God. I’d much rather we simply seek to cultivate and create great culture, and leave the world-changing up to Another.
Feb 25, 2013
It is probably not surprising to learn that a hookup culture of casual sex exists on college campuses. What might be shocking are three discoveries made by sociologist Donna Freitas in her groundbreaking research and book Sex & the Soul: Juggling Sexuality, Spirituality, Romance, and Religion on America’s College Campuses (Oxford University Press). After many years of surveying and interviewing college students, here’s what she learned: First, most students don’t want to participate in the hookup culture, but feel pressured to for lack of an alternative. Second, while many students identify themselves as “spiritual,” their spirituality has very little influence on their sexuality. Third, even though most students are frustrated and have been hurt by the hookup culture, they have very few places to openly discuss their concerns.
Freitas also interviewed students at evangelical colleges. While the hookup culture was not as prevalent, students still felt like they had limited ways to discuss sexuality on campus. There was intense pressure to be engaged before graduation (“ring by spring”) and students who were in sexual relationships didn’t have many people with whom they could confide. Freitas concludes, “The prevailing religious message about sex among students is either to guard purity with one’s life or to see sex as irrelevant to one’s spiritual practices and religious commitments.”
Because we must address this sobering sexual reality, I spoke with college ministry veteran Mindy Meier, author of Sex and Dating: Questions You Wish You Had Answers To (Intervarsity Press), about Freitas and her research…
Download the full interview (.pdf) here.
Dec 7, 2012
Timothy Clydesdale published his groundbreaking book The First Year Out: Understanding American Teens After High School in 2007. After reading it, I immediately knew that the findings from his research would significantly shape the work of CPYU’s College Transition Initiative. I also knew that I needed to interview Dr. Clydesdale to ask him to help us connect the dots from his research to youth ministry. He agreed and our short interview not only led to a friendship but it also was widely circulated in many online and print media outlets.
Most recently and notably, the interview was cited in two important books, Consuming Youth: Leading Teens Through Consumer Culture and Sticky Faith: Everyday Ideas to Build Lasting Faith in Your Kids. Because of its popularity and powerful message, the interview has been reformatted for easier reading and distribution.
Click here to download (.pdf) my interview with Dr. Clydesdale, first published in 2007. Feel free to pass it along, especially to parents and youth workers who are thinking strategically about how to help young people develop a faith that lasts.
Nov 1, 2012
C.S. Lewis has been one of the most influential Christian writers in the last century. I was significantly influenced by him as a college student while coming to terms with one of the most important questions students need to ask when transitioning from high school to college: What do I believe? I discovered the writings of the late Oxford professor and Christian apologist (Lewis died in 1963) at an important time in my college career.
My dilemma? I wasn’t sure the Christian faith could survive the scrutiny of the “new knowledge” and ideas that bombard students on college campuses. In fact, I had a philosophy professor who asked to see the hands of all the professing Christians in the class. All semester he tried to make us look like fools. I needed some encouragement (and fire power!) and someone suggested that I read C.S. Lewis. The first Lewis book I read was his autobiography Surprised by Joy. I was hooked. Here was a man who went through the academic “fire” of the “secular” university and came out the other side not only with his faith intact, but with a much stronger faith for going through it.
About two miles from my office sits a small, liberal arts college. A few years ago I was pleasantly surprised to discover that a renowned C.S. Lewis scholar was a professor in the English department. David C. Downing has written many notable books on the life of Lewis including, Into the Region of Awe: Mysticism in C.S. Lewis, and Into the Wardrobe: C.S. Lewis and the Narnia Chronicles. I was most interested in Dr. Downing’s book that deals with Lewis’ conversion, The Most Reluctant Convert: C.S. Lewis’ Journey to Faith. This book reveals how Lewis navigated and eventually answered many of the same questions I was being forced to ask in my philosophy course.
I asked Dr. Downing if he would talk with me about the book and about issues facing college students, especially as they make the transition from high school to college. He agreed and what follows are some highlights from our conversation.
Click here to download the interview (PDF).
Oct 26, 2012
Why do you think people go to college? I ask this question during the introduction of the College Transition Seminar. It is always interesting to hear how students and parents respond. “To get a job” is probably the reason I hear the most. And, of course, there are the playful, more peripheral answers: to get married, to party, and to play sports. But then someone will sheepishly raise a hand and suggest: “to learn something.” A few weeks ago at a church in Florida, in fact, I counted eleven answers that were given before someone mentioned, “learning” or “education.”
College is certainly about more than learning. The time between adolescence and adulthood includes a variety of character-forming decisions and activities. But it does surprise me when a room full of college bound students don’t naturally list “learning” as a reason for going to college. In his informative book, College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be, Columbia University professor Andrew Delbanco challenges readers to think more deeply about the aims of a college education.
Dr. Delbanco explains that historically there have been basically three prevailing answers to the question, what is college for? The most common answer is an economic one. A college education makes an individual more competitive in the job market. The second answer is based on citizenship. An educated society is required for a democracy to flourish. The third answer is rarely considered, however Delbanco thinks it deserves more attention: an educated person enjoys a fulfilling life. “You want the inside of your head to be an interesting place to spend the rest of your life,” Delbanco quotes former college president, Judith Shapiro, to make his point. Delbanco laments:
“In Today’s America, at every kind of institution—from underfunded community colleges to the wealthiest Ivies—this kind of education is at risk. Students are pressured and programmed, trained to live from task to task, relentlessly rehearsed and tested until winners are culled from the rest. They scarcely have time for… contemplation.”
And contemplation about education, and life in general, is desperately needed! According to Delbanco “most students have no clear conception of why or to what end they are in college. Some students have always been aimless, bored, or confused; others self-possessed, with their eyes on the prize. Most are somewhere in between, looking for something to care about.”
Students are craving something to care about. The pressure to perform and achieve is intense and often leaves students feeling empty. I recently had a conversation with a youth pastor who was worried about his students. Many of them were stressed and overwhelmed about their Advanced Placement (AP) courses. What’s more, the students who were not taking AP classes were looked down upon and ridiculed. At one point in our conversation, the youth pastor passionately asked, “Where is Jesus in all of this?”
This summer marked the fifth anniversary of the publication of The Outrageous Idea of Academic Faithfulness. My good friend Don Opitz and I published this little book to try to answer the question this youth pastor appropriately asked: does Jesus care about our academic pursuits? Our hope is that our book serves as a guide for students who are perhaps “aimless, bored or confused.” It is also a challenge to students with their “eyes on the (worldly) prize.” We invite students to consider Kingdom-shaped answers to the questions, what is college for and why is learning important? Here are a few answers we suggest:
“We want you to find the deep satisfaction of pursuing your daily labors (for now, primarily attending class and studying) as service to God. We want you to experience the unending challenge of exalting Christ as Lord of your thinking… to imagine the application of your learning—your studies and plans and dreams—as an expression of love, or better yet, as a conduit for the love of God.”
“Christ is the very source of learning, and his disciples are the intended recipients of that wisdom and knowledge. As we learn in faith, not only will our own capacity for wonder and insight and love increase, but others will benefit as well.”
“Being concerned about grades is appropriate, but too often students become obsessive about grades and success and begin to lose the bigger picture. Learning needs to be pursued with the right motives and applied to worthwhile purposes.”
“Two things can happen to a college student, and both of these things are very bad. Unfortunately, both are also very common. You can lose the capacity to dream, and you can lose the gumption to act.”
“The Bible portrays a seamless continuity between our knowing and our doing… Learning isn’t merely for job readiness or self-advancement. Learning ought to be a way to love God and neighbor, a way to care for the creation and develop healthy communities.”
“If your capacity for delight and wonder and curiosity and compassion is being enlarged while you are in college, then that is a very good sign indeed… that is what most of us really want for ourselves. Academic faithfulness is the sure cure for collegiate boredom, apathy, and listlessness.”
When the topic of academic faithfulness or Christian scholarship has been raised, Christian students often see the challenge as beyond them, as a task for the stout and the wise, for the uniquely gifted. We think every Christian student has been called by God to think faithfully about learning. But students shouldn’t have to engage this conversation alone. A study guide has been created to be used in small groups as well. Our prayer is that The Outrageous Idea of Academic Faithfulness invites more and more students to ask better, bigger questions about faithfulness and learning.
Professor Delbanco’s new book, College, should help to keep this important conversation in front of many students and parents as they make important college decisions. I am grateful for Delbanco’s wisdom and hope his book is widely read.
(Read an interview from Inside Higher Ed with author Andrew Delbanco.)