The following interview is with Stan Guthrie, author of the recently published book, All that Jesus Asks (Baker). A writer, editor, speaker, and literary agent, Stan is a bright shining star in the constellation of journalists whose work revolves around the centrality of Christ. In this volume, Stan not only explores Jesus’ questions, he offers a living portrait of the Lord from whose heart such questions spring.
What prompted you to write this book?
In 2000 my first book, Missions in the Third Millennium, was published. It was the culmination of about a decade in missions journalism, and I poured everything I knew about the topic into that volume. It was a unique book in the way it came together, and in my heart of hearts I wasn’t sure I could write another one. I’ve often had doubts about my abilities, and even though I am by all accounts a good writer, I wondered whether I had anything else to say.
Several years later, while working for Christianity Today, I had the opportunity to interview many authors at the annual International Christian Retail Show, where an acquisitions editor scheduled an appointment with me to see if I had any other book ideas. I jotted some ideas down in a little notepad but wasn’t sure if they were any good. As I talked with various writers, I was impressed by their drive, their work ethic, and their vision for ministry. But it struck me—and this will sound conceited—that they were no smarter than I was. It was as if the Wizard of Oz had told me that they didn’t have any more brains than I did! So I felt encouraged to more actively pursue a book, knowing that God had given me certain gifts, and that I shouldn’t be afraid to develop and use them.
To entice publishers, writers have to come up with fresh, even unique, ideas. One of the ideas in my little notepad was about the questions of Jesus. While a few obscure books had been written about the questions, I hadn’t seen them, and I thought this would be an unusual, and easily graspable, approach to studying him. I figured this would be a fascinating way to see what was important to him. Instead of the usual book in which we ask God questions, this one would allow him to ask us questions. The publisher agreed this was a great approach and offered me a contract.
Of course, I’m not a New Testament scholar, though the well-known Donald Guthrie—no relation—is. This book therefore couldn’t be an academic tome or a reference work. It would have to come out of my experiences and abilities, as any good book does. I would write for the laity, sharing what I was learning along the way.
How were you personally impacted by thinking about the questions of Jesus afresh?
You can’t dig into the life and words of Jesus day after day without being affected. Sometimes it’s very hard for writers about Christian topics to avoid becoming jaded or bored; we’ve all heard about the relationship between familiarity and contempt. That never happened with me and the questions of Jesus. The New Testament presents almost 300 questions from the mouth of Jesus. While many no doubt are repeats, the cumulative effect was amazing.
The last couple of years have been difficult personally. My mother was very ill—and thank God pulled through; I was laid off at Christianity Today and my wife, Christine, had to return to the paid workforce; and I had to have fairly extensive shoulder surgery.
Yet through all this I felt a calmness of spirit and a close connection with Jesus that were better than I had ever experienced in my many years as a Christian. The question that grabbed me the most was, “Who do you say that I am?” If we get that one right, it seems to me the rest will follow.
As I, week after week and month after month, mulled his questions and the way he graciously dealt with people, my faith in and love for him was renewed, strengthened, and deepened. I don’t take any credit for this. Because I was on a disciplined writing schedule, I almost couldn’t help it! I was reading the Bible more consistently than ever before, wrestling with its implications, and being confronted with the untamed beauty of Jesus all the time. I hope my book has a similar effect on readers.
Were there any surprising themes that emerged as you looked at all the questions of Jesus together?
To get a handle on all the questions, I divided them into 26 chapters, under five broad themes. Here are the section headings: Who Is Jesus? How Do You Follow Him? Where Is Your Thinking? Why Is Character So Vital? and What Are Some Critical Doctrines? Others might have divided the questions differently, but to my mind these were how they naturally fell into place.
Looking at those themes, I’m surprised at how comprehensive Jesus’ questions are for our lives. They run the gamut from knowing and serving him to the intellectual and moral aspects of our lives until, finally, they force us to confront key truths of the Christian faith. We are unified wholes of mind, will, and body, and the questions recognize this. Remember, the questions are just one aspect of his life and teaching. There are so many more, such as parables, sermons, his example, and so on.
But the questions, in a way some of the other aspects don’t, invite our introspection and participation in the things of God. This to me is mind-blowing, that the Lord who knows everything asks for our input and respects us enough to wait for our answer. The questions assume that human beings have special dignity because we can relate with God on a very real level. Probably because we are made in his image, we can connect with him. That’s an amazing truth that the questions bring to the fore, and also an awesome responsibility.
How does thinking about the questions of Jesus help the average church member in America?
I’m not sure how to answer that. I can’t really say until I receive more feedback from readers. I can only tell you how they have helped me. Their effect has been cumulative for the most part, but some specific questions have brought home vividly certain things I have needed to hear, such as God’s desire that I be more compassionate, just when I needed to hear them. As often happens when I’m writing a book, I become very conscious of his sovereignty along the way. Illustrations and anecdotes drop into my lap just when I need them. Other times something I’m learning is immediately applicable to my life at that moment.
I expect that the responses of readers will be as varied as they are themselves. The questions, like the rest of God’s word, are living and active and have a way of penetrating our defenses. And because they are questions, they demand our response. The questions will touch each of us in different ways, at different points in our lives. I think readers will come away with something new each time they consider the questions. But clearly our listening to Jesus ask his questions—which, when all is said and done—puts him in the driver’s seat, where he belongs, and where we need him to be.
How can Pastors and Christian Leaders benefit from thinking about the questions Jesus asked? Are there one or two ways in particular that you hope Pastors will grow as communicators of truth as a result of this book?
One of the things I was worried about when writing All That Jesus Asks was making more of the questions than is warranted. When I went to grad school, the hermeneutical phrase “context is king” was indelibly pressed into my thick skull. That is, to interpret a biblical verse or passage, we need to know the context: the surrounding chapter, the book, the place of that book in the flow of salvation history, and so on. Further, we have to remember that God uses many literary genres in his word to teach us: poetry, historical survey, epistles. I didn’t want readers to rip the questions out of context and miss other treasures in Scripture. So I worked extra hard to provide the context to the questions while being as clear as I could be about contemporary applications.
All That Jesus Asks will be ideal for Sunday school classes and Bible study groups to dig into the life and teachings of Christ. I have included discussion questions and an index of the questions for every chapter. I think believers and those still on the way will benefit from it, because Jesus questions all of us.
I hope pastors and other Christian leaders will benefit from the questions but will continue to dig deeply into Scripture for themselves. My book is definitely not the last word in understanding Jesus and us in relation to him, but if it helps us to see him in new and fresh ways, then all to the good. And perhaps the book will inspire people to look for other creative approaches to understanding and communicating Jesus also.
Do you anticipate this book being used evangelistically? Are there any of the questions of Jesus that you have found especially helpful in speaking to non-Christians about the gospel?
While I have had the privilege of leading a couple of people to faith in Christ, I’m naturally timid when it comes to sharing the gospel. But even when I am tongue-tied attempting to talk with others about Jesus, I can usually muster enough courage to hand them a book to read—particularly if that book is just what they are looking for. Just recently I was privileged to give a copy of Dinesh D’Souza’s superb apologetics book, What’s So Great About Christianity, to some loved ones. I would be thrilled if people did the same with All That Jesus Asks.
And I think they just might. The first section is an exploration of the identity of this unrivaled Questioner. The chapters attempt to answer the theme question—Who Is Jesus?—by looking at his forerunner, his teaching, his authority, his humanity, his mission, and his identity. There is a logical progression to them, and at the end of the section, non-Christians who have been grappling honestly with the questions will come face to face with the truth that Jesus is God in the flesh. Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” He asks us the same question today. Though the evidence is undeniable, the answer, in his sovereignty, is up to us.