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Five Questions For: Wesley Hill, On The Story-Shaped Life (Part 1)

This is the first of two parts of one of our five question interviews. (Wow, that’s a bunch of numbers.) This time we’ll hear from Wesley Hill, author of Washed and Waiting. I loved this book in so many ways and whole-heartedly recommend it to you. I was chuffed when Wesley agreed to do the interview and delighted at his deep, thoughtful answers. I think you will be too.
1. With your experience of living both in England and Illinois, who do you believe has more effective hooligans?

Well, considering my only first-hand experience is through watching “Green Street…” On a more serious note, it’s been a real pleasure to traverse the globe these past few years. After finishing college, I lived in Minnesota, then West Africa (Cameroon), and now England. Between all these places, I’ve made friends who are now scattered everywhere. There’s probably no place I could travel where there’s not someone I’d love to catch up with.

2. Why do you believe the Christian Story is compelling?

I remember the theologian and blogger Ben Myers remarking once about Marilynne Robinson’s book Absence of Mind, which is a very learned, technical response to aspects of the “New Atheists'” materialistic reductionism. And Myers says, “I don’t know why she wrote this because she already proved the existence of God in her novel Gilead.” Now, Gilead is the fictional autobiography of a pastor in rural Iowa, and it gives us the story of a beautiful life of integrity, a life transparent to an eternal hope and peace. And I think Myers is basically saying, Robinson could have given us arguments about why the Christian story is compelling — she could have talked about the historical reliability of the four canonical gospels or the unlikelihood of a fabricated resurrection account, etc. — but instead she gave us a portrait of a Christian life well-lived in Gilead. And sometimes, when arguments have done all they can do, it takes the glory and loveliness of a Christian’s life to persuade us to embrace the faith for ourselves.

I know when I think about why I continue to believe, I realize my faith is inseparable from the hospitality and friendship of the Christians I know. Names come to mind — Tom, Julie, Dick, Mardi, Denis, Margie, Ross, Barbie, and many others — names of friends whose lives have answered my question, “If I were to go on embracing the Christian gospel, what kind of life would result? Would it be a beautiful life? Could it be a life that inspires and blesses and enriches the world?” I think that’s one of the main questions we should be asking when we talk about why we or someone else should or could believe the Christian story. It shouldn’t be a cold, clinical discussion of “evidence” — as important as those discussions may be in their own time and place. Rather, it should be a self-involving conversation about the shape of the lives we’re living and what those lives might look like if we believed a different story.

3. How has a high view of the authority of God in Scripture, combined with the idea of the story-shaped life, affected you personally?

I would say that it has ruined me forever on the thought that I can say, “Do this,” and have that be compelling and attractive on its own. Maybe there are a few ultra-legalists out there who would be happy with a bare, context-less command. But for me, thinking about the idea of a “story-shaped life,” I can’t be satisfied anymore unless I try to situate and contextualize what I believe God is asking of me within the big framework of God’s story of redemption in Jesus. So, to take a mundane example, if God says, “Don’t steal,” what’s the big picture — what’s the Story — that makes that command make sense? Well, God has come to us in his Son. He was born in a stable for us, he died on the cross to release us from the powers that enslave us, he was raised from the dead on the third day, and after he ascended into heaven, he poured his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit he gave to us. So, if he has done all that, he’ll withhold nothing else from us (Romans 8:32). He’s totally for us. We have everything we need. “And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you [God]. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:26). So, in the light of all that grace and provision, the command not to steal suddenly looks very different.

It’s not an arbitrary rule designed to ruin my life. It’s basically God saying, “You don’t need anything other than the great grace I’ve given you in the gospel. So don’t take anything that’s not yours. Don’t rob others. You don’t need to. I’m your supply. I’m your portion forever. Trust me.”

Thank you, Wesley. This is wonderful stuff. Part 2 coming on Thursday and includes zero dumb questions about hooligans. -Sam

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