by Tracy Darlington
Matthew Paul Turner Interview
just blown away that God would use a kid who couldn't read or write
well to write a bunch of books that people actually read."
-- Justin Lookadoo
Matthew Paul Turner is a social and cultural commentator for today. The author of The Christian Culture Survival Guide, The Coffeehouse Gospel, and Provocative Faith, he has also served as editor-in-chief for CCM and music and entertainment editor for Crosswalk.com. Matthew is also a frequent contributor to Relevant magazine.
I caught up with Matthew and talked to him about one of his latest books, Beatitude, which helps us rediscover Jesus’ teachings of Matthew 5.
Tracy: What was your inspiration for Beatitude?
Matthew: Lots of things inspire me. I think the most inspiring moments in life are the simplest of ones, the ones where God nudges us and doesn’t push us. Beatitude is full of those simple kinds of moments.
Each chapter or lesson includes some personal anecdotes, even the horror of your 8th grade B.O. and the humilation of acne. When did you figure out the spiritual lessons that go with these examples?
I think I’m probably still learning the spiritual lesson in body odor. Honestly, most of these stories have been played and replayed over in my head since they happened … and I am constantly learning spiritual lessons from things that have happened in my life. That’s a part of the journey I believe. God gives us a chance to learn and relearn the gospel through seeing our need for His story in our own. But like I said, I’m still looking for the “lessons” in some of those stories.
Each chapter starts with a quote and/or Scripture. Is the quote the lesson for the chapter?
The quote helps set the “emotional and spiritual” stage in each chapter: I don’t think they “sum” up the chapter, but they give the reader a place or thought to begin with.
Who will get the most out of this book?
Anyone who likes stories, ones that ultimately teach us about Jesus.
What did you learn about yourself from writing this book?
The process of writing the stories about your own life can be grueling. You write down the story. Then you’re forced to reread it a thousand times, adding detail, changing description, rethinking how it should be stated. That process can lead one into depression if not careful. Because sometimes in writing down these stories, I felt like I was reliving them. And in a way, I wanted to experience that so I can convey my accurate emotion during that particular time. Anytime you look back on your personal story, you relearn that God is constantly weaving himself into your experiences. Some situations are more difficult to see that than others. What did I learn about myself? That I am still very much on a journey with Jesus, that I haven’t arrived at some ideal destination where everything just fits into place.
Tell me about your other books.
Two books that I just released are called What You Didn’t Learn From Your Parents About Sex and What You Didn’t Learn From Your Parents About Christianity. Both books are fun, informational reads about hard topics. I think these books are excellent for helping us talk about the big issues surrounding each of these topics. In Sex, I talk about everything from masturbation to what King Solomon believed about intimacy to what young adults need to know about sex before marriage. In Christianity, I talk about the history of Christianity, the questions people have about Jesus, and popular culture as it relates to God, Jesus, and the church. The research involved on these books was insane, but I sincerely LOVE these books. They’re perfect for anyone who wants a hilarious read that I think will help them on their spiritual journey.
You were the editor of CCM Magazine for a year or two. What do you think is the biggest challenge in the recent growth of Christian music?
Actually, Christian music’s biggest challenge is relevancy. Who listens to it and why? Unfortunately, sales are down, which could be from the “downloading” of music or it might be a saturation of bands and artists in the industry or I think for some people, they listen to the music that is coming out of the Christian music world and are like, “um, who cares?”
And that’s a problem. When I was a big fan of Christian music, artists were saying something, pushing me out of my comfort zone. But today, a lot of the music is either poorly made music or its lyrical content is quite cliché and irrelevant.
Some of my favorite Christian artists are Derek Webb, Bethany Dillon, Nichole Nordeman, Sanctus Real, David Crowder, Ashley Cleveland, Jars of Clay, Robbie Seay band. Those arists are passionately telling stories that people can relate to. But honestly, much of what I hear on Christian radio makes me wish I were listening to KT Tunstall, Snow Patrol, or the Dixie Chicks. Most of the music getting airplay on Christian radio is pretty shallow, saying very little about God’s depth and passions.
You write about the humbling experience of leaving CCM. Why did you leave?
I was let go, actually. The publisher desired that the magazine go in a new direction, and he didn’t believe I was the person to take it there. And truthfully, he was probably right.
In Beatitude you say, “If the mercy of Jesus shocks me, why shouldn’t the mercy I show to others be shocking too?” What should that look like in our daily life?
Our ability to live and show mercy toward people—all people—should be so outrageous that it makes little sense to those who experience it. I think most of us who are Christian are afraid to show the kind of mercy that Jesus asks us to show. And honestly, that’s because mercy hurts. And we don’t like being hurt, taken advantage of, or inconvenienced.
How does this book compare to you previous book Provocative Faith?
Provocative Faith was a book of statements… Beatitude is the stories, lessons, and people who helped me to get to a path where I could make those statements.
You talked a lot about reaching out to help troubled teens, AIDS victims, and the down and out. Have you always talked about these tough issues?
No. When I was 23, I still thought AIDS was a punishment against homosexuality. Over time, I realized that my point of view of naïve, judgmental, and mean-spirited. Jesus loved people no matter where they came from or what was going on in their life. I want to pursue the same. And I’m not even close to being there. I still struggle loving the fundamentalist.
You also talk about a 4 month period where you questioned your faith and re-explored all your beliefs. How did that exploration change you?
That time away from the church was a reexamination of Jesus for me. Most of all, I learned that I don’t need my spiritual life to fit together like a puzzle piece in order to know that Jesus was/is hope, peace, and redemption.
How long did it take you to write Beatitude?
About six months from start to finish.
What do you most hope people will take away from Beatitude?
I hope they will begin to engage their faith as a journey. Too many of us make faith a place, a spot that we’re constantly going back to when we sin or when life gets difficult. God is in our stories no matter where we are asking us to come along with him, asking us to become a part of his story. That is the ultimate message of Beatitude. Walk with God. Stop trying to be perfect. Holiness isn’t something attained; it’s a gift. Receive it, and then do the things Jesus would want you to do: feed the poor, love the sinner, become the hands and feet of Jesus in this world.
You often push the envelope with your honesty about often unapproachable subjects for Christian readers. How do you find the fine line between honesty and inappropriate?
Honestly, I don’t walk that line. I simply tell my story. Now, my editors walk that line sometimes, but more and more publishers are letting writers open up and be real on paper. The deal is, the truth is sometimes inappropriate. But I figure that the Bible is full of people’s inappropriate stories—that’s why Jesus came, because truly, we’re all grossly in need of a good bath.
Can you explain the meaning behind your book illustration of a little doll with money in his pocket?
It alludes to the opening story where I meet a man who asks me for a one dollar bill—you’ll have to read the book to find out what he ends of doing with it, and what I learned from the experiences.
What would you most like to see change in today’s culture and why?
That all of us—me included—would become willing to sell all that we own, give the money to the poor, and follow Jesus.
If you could say one thing to Christians in America, what would you say?
Walk humbly with your God.
What are two things people might be surprised to know about you?
I never aspired to be a writer.
I’m a huge fan of the TV show I Love Lucy. When I was kid Lucy was all that we were allowed to watch.
Do you have any new book projects planned for down the road?
Yes. I am currently working on my first hardback, a book of story and satire that I am extremely excited about called Jesus Needs New PR. It’s perhaps the most controversial, hilarious, and potent title that I have ever written, and that’s probably why I am most excited about it. It releases August 2007 through Tyndale House publishers. Can’t wait for this book to release.
If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would you pick and why?
I’d love to ask Charles Darwin about his theory of evolution so I could hear from his mouth what he truly believed to be true about human development. He might be the most influential human in the last 1000 years, and I think it would be fascinating to hear his side of the story rather than hear a scientist or professor try to explain his side.
Also, I’ve always had a huge crush on Jaclyn Smith; I wouldn’t mind lunching with her if my wife would let me. I think she would; Jaclyn is like 55 now. But when I was ten, I thought she was the most beautiful woman in the world.
What are three items always found in your refrigerator?
Skim milk. Red Wine Vinegar. And leftovers, mostly because I hate eating leftovers.
Besides the Bible, what book are you reading now?
Lauren Sandler: It’s a journalist’s perspective
on Christian youth culture—fascinating and alarming read.
Eat This Book by Eugene Peterson: About spirituality, theology, and creativity
Naked by David Sedaris: A fascinating writer who exaggerates his personal stories with near perfection and hilarity.
What’s currently in your iPod?
I suppose you’re asking about music, right?:) The latest from…
Chris Tomlin, [Christian]
KT Tunstall, [mainstream]
Brandon Heath, [Christian]
David Gray, [mainstream]
Dixie Chicks, [mainstream]
Jason Morant, [Christian]
The Fray, [mainstream]
Nelly Furtado, [mainstream]
Robbie Williams, [mainstream]
Shawn Colvin, [mainstream]
Derek Webb, [Christian]
Is there anything you do to beat stress and keep yourself in shape?
-Go to the gym three or four times a week.
-Get quiet and still as often as I can.
-Quality time with my wife.
You’re in line at Starbucks. What are you ordering?
A mocha Frapp with an add shot of espresso, no whip.
Tracy Darlington is a freelance writer, and her work has appeared in Brio, Breakaway, YS, CCM Magazine, Insight, Susie Magazine, and other publications. She has interviewed countless Christian musicians including Rebecca St. James, Delirious, Newsboys, Leigh Nash, Barlowgirl, Krystal Meyers, Joy Williams, Pillar, Michelle Tumes, and many others. In her spare time she can be found riding horses or listening to music and sipping a Venti 3-shot sugar-free vanilla latte. Visit her online at her blog where she talks about Music, God, dogs and coffee. You can also look her up at Twitter and Facebook.