We all want something from Jesus, whether that’s help to get through life, a new job, a new direction, a new exercise plan. Learn why that approach doesn’t result in real faith or love in Matt Johnson’s new book, Getting Jesus Wrong. Whether we’ve followed a false Jesus or attempted to coopt the real Jesus, Getting Jesus Wrong ultimately offers us hope because it helps us see Jesus as he is. Getting Jesus right gives us more than spiritual vitamins or a blueprint for living; it gives us a full, rich life spent exploring the depths of gospel love together.
Keep reading to discover the story behind Getting Jesus Wrong with Matt Johnson!
Tells us a bit about your book—what inspired you to write it?
To put it in basic terms, the personal need to vent a mid-life crisis (I’m only half joking). But I needed to see hope in life my life amidst chaos, and I know I’m not alone in that. I talk about this in the opening chapter but I set out to write a sort of popular level cultural critique about how wrongheaded over-optimism can be. We American Christians often swim in these sort of irrationally cheery environments. What I’ve found though is that always looking on the bright side has its drawbacks because when you are really hurting, it doesn’t help to hear trite Christian answers to life problems. In fact it can make things worse for the suffering person. After I wrote my initial draft, I realized something important was missing. I realized that I had a collection of snarky observations but there wasn’t enough continuity to the direction of the writing. I was stuck in my head and pointing a finger at all the wrong headedness “out there”. What I realized is that I was detoxing from several decades of wrong headedness myself. My wife wisely pointed out that I needed to put my heart into the book, not just my head. My hope is that folks that find themselves in a place of spiritual burnout can get some help. And if not help at least not feel so alone.
What is the main message of your book?
That Jesus is a savior, not a means to an end. He IS the end. This may seem obvious enough, but our churches often tell a different story. One of the most sobering yet freeing themes I’ve discovered about my faith is that it’s about death and resurrection, not a fist-pumping climb to success and glory. That may sound kind of Debbie Downer, but I think when we get real about the challenges of life and can admit the defeats that comes our way, a counterintuitive thing often happens: we receive hope and comfort when we admit defeat. God is in the broken places of our lives, but we often get it backwards. We think God is most present in our victories and this goes hand in hand with what our culture tells us. When people (like me) go through hard times in life, we don’t need to hear about how we can make our lives awesome again in 3 easy steps. We need to be reminded again of a savior who suffers with and for us, and is making all things new one day.
What was the hardest part about writing nonfiction?
I’m not sure how much this relates to non-fiction writing specifically, but it is about writing in general: As an editor by trade, I thought I had this thing all figured out but boy was I wrong! Writing is hard work. I’ve done “ghost writing” projects in the past, but nothing prepared me for writing my very own book. Some of the most difficult moments along the way was realizing when I had to throw a draft, a chapter—even brilliant sentences into the trash because they didn’t help the momentum of the book overall. That’s really sobering. Whenever I hear people talk about writing a book according to how far along they are in their word count, I have a feeling they’re not writing as much as “creating content”. But writing can be a grueling process. Dorothy Parker said once, “I hate writing, I love having written.” I resonate with that sentiment very much.
Do you have any advice for those interested in writing nonfiction?
Here’s some advice that a pastor friend gave me the very first time I delivered a Bible teaching in front of a room of people. I think it applies to writing as well. Here they are:
- Study up
- Pray up and live the message of your content
- Aim low
The first two are simple enough. The last one is a surprise but what did he mean by “aim low?” Just this: you and I are not the next Billy Graham. A single message (or book) is not going to change the world. But do your best. This is really freeing to me because I have a tendency to have to get things “just right” in my head before I act. Sometimes you have to figure it out as you go and be vulnerable enough to put something out into the world.
Here’s something else to consider when you’re feeling unsure about your writing: if you could encourage one person with your message, would you still write about it? I think the hard work is worth it. You have something important to share with the world, so do it!
What are you working on next?
As for writing, that is something I’ve only just started to consider. I have some thoughts about creating an oral history of sorts, but it’s only in a beginning idea phase. I’ve also kicked around the idea of putting out a collection of essays from my music writing from years past. Other than that, the other projects I’ll be working on for the next couple of months are mostly contributing writer / ghost writer projects. I will continue to blog at Key Life Network, Christ Hold Fast and of course my own blog. So when my future project ideas are more mature, I’m sure I’ll writing more about them there.