Just like anywhere else, the Christian blogosphere is full of personalities with varying motives and goals. Some are authentic and personable, and some are surly and defensive (I probably fall into the latter category). Some are driven by a desire to communicate their understanding of God, while others are motivated by internet fame and notoriety.
But I can tell you this with complete certainty: Morgan Guyton is the real deal. I’ve been following him for some time and I’ve always admired his sincerity, transparency, and his vulnerability. He’s a gentle prophet who calls it like he sees it, but strives to do it in a way that doesn’t alienate and marginalize—and in the factious, volatile online world, that’s rare. I genuinely look up to him.
So obviously I jumped at the chance to read his new book How Jesus Saves the World from Us.
When I received my copy, I was taken by the subtitle: 12 antidotes to toxic Christianity. That pulled me in immediately. There are definitely elements of Christianity that are exploitable and dangerous. Our call to create disciples easily morphs into a numbers game that’s about building the largest edifice. The fact that we’re called to be a people set free by the truth can create a culture where it’s better to be right than kind. I was excited to see how Morgan suggested we detoxify the church.
I wasn’t disappointed. In keeping with my impression of him, Morgan’s book continually points us to focus more on following Christ than promoting christianity. Throughout How Jesus Saves, he weaves a picture of justification and sanctification that resonated with me deeply. I wasn’t too far into the book that I decided that I wanted to ask him some questions about it.
The following is the exchange we had about his new book:
Initially you were going to title the book Mercy, Not Sacrifice. How did the current title come to fruition and what does the new title tease out about the book’s content?
I wrote a hip-hop song a couple of years ago called “Jesus, save the world from me.” It was part of a journey of coming to understand that Christian salvation has been grossly misrepresented by pop Christianity. Jesus saves us from sin. What that means is Jesus saves me from being a toxic person. It is my toxicity that is my personal hell, my self-alienation from God. When we have a warped view of salvation, we aren’t going to receive the spiritual transformation we actually do need to escape our personal hell. So the church as a whole needs to be saved from our bad conception of salvation. That means that we need some major paradigm shifts in our values. I’ve identified 12 of them in my book chapters.
There’s a large number of Christians, many of them evangelical, that will respond to your title like, “Wait a minute . . . Jesus is saving the world through us—NOT FROM US!” What would you say to them that might lead them to pick your book up?
If you believe in the gravity of your own sin, then Jesus needs to save the world from you. If you’re offended by that claim, then you might want to reflect on whether “sin” is more than a theological concept for you that you apply to other people. When I started writing this book, I thought it was going to be about how Jesus needed to save the world from THEM, i.e. those crazy evangelicals who are ruining Jesus’ reputation. But God dealt with me as I was writing it and showed me how I was part of the “us” that needs saving. My hope is that each chapter will provide a source of personal spiritual transformation. This is a book about how we can change our priorities and habits both so that we can represent Jesus better and also so that we can better taste his glory.
Works of Christian theology or spiritual formation don’t always reveal a lot about the author. Writers can communicate Christian ideals in way that is quite removed from who they are as a person. I think readers of How Jesus Saves the World from Us will really feel like they get to know you. Was there a point in writing it where you felt that you were revealing a little too much Morgan or any parts you second guessed including because they felt a little close to home?
In real life conversation, I’m a very shy person. But when you put me behind a pulpit or in front of a laptop screen, I’m quite an exhibitionist. So I’m constantly worried that what I’m doing is narcissistic. I feel like God has used my juvenile need to be a rock star as a catalyst for my writing. But I hope that need hasn’t created a distraction in any of my chapters. My hope is that the life examples I gave are actually helpful to my readers.
Out of the 12 antidotes to toxic Christianity you discuss, which has been the hardest for you to internalize?
Worship not performance, which is the root of everything else. As long as I’m trying to justify myself before God and other people, I have not yet been saved. I’ve had tastes of authentic worship where God made his presence wonderfully known. But too much of my life I spend putting on a show for myself and other people. I long desperately for those moments in which the ruthless self-analysis goes away and I’m simply enjoying God’s glory without watching myself or congratulating myself for enjoying it. There are generally two places where I’m able to do this: walking on the beach and during a Roman Catholic mass.
You dedicate the book to your father, John Guyton. You say he taught you to be a Christian thinker. What did you learn from him about how to think? And how are you passing that on to your sons?
My dad has treated me like a worthy dialogue partner in his quest to understand the world since I was about three years old. He has written about three book-length manuscripts on philosophy that have never been published. When I watched him pour himself out into his writing, I felt like it was my duty to take up his cause. We’ve had some truly epic conversations over the course of our lives. I’m hoping to do a better job of learning in community with my sons as well. For a season, my writing took me too much away from my fatherhood, but currently I’m trying to correct that.
I can honestly say that How Jesus Saves the World from Us is worth a read and that you should pick up a copy of it immediately. But I want you to understand, I’m not just suggesting that because I enjoyed it, but because it’s a thoughtful and convicting book written by a guy who truly inspires me.