Starting today I will be posting a regular feature called “Furious Five” where I interview different people each week, asking the same five questions of each of my guests. Today’s interview is with author, blogger, and provocateur, Matthew Distefano.
1. If you had the power to do one thing to change the world, what would it be?
If I had the power to do one thing to change the world, I would convert Christians to Jesus. And what I mean is that I would help guide Christians away from the mindset that God is violent, retributive, vengeful, sacrificial, etc.
Too often, at least here in the United States, Christianity looks like just another religion. We’ve got our sacred book that we dare not question, our God that behaves just like all the other gods, our set-in-stone doctrines and statements of faith, our sacrificial mechanisms—the whole nine yards really. But I don’t think Jesus came to start a religion; I think he came to help reorient his people toward the correct understanding of theirs. Incidentally, that meant that it was not only the Jews who were included in the Day of Jubilee, but that through them even their enemies were. If Christians could understand this, then we would start looking more and more like Jesus and less and less like the antichrist we end up being.
2. What is your favourite film?
This may sound kind of silly, but my favorite film is “Knocked Up.” I think it’s absolutely hilarious. I know I’m supposed to be this super deep dude, but comedy is my happy place. It helps take my mind away from the constant theological chatter that goes on in my head. And more than that, it even has a way of healing wounds that I’ve received over the years. Anyone who appreciates comedy probably knows what I’m talking about.
3. What do you perceive to be Christianity’s greatest challenge in the 21st Century?
It seems to me that Christianity’s greatest challenge is renouncing the voice of Abel. We so often walk around with this victim complex and feel it is within our rights as Christians to cry out for vengeance every time we feel wronged. But that is not what Jesus did. He didn’t have a victim complex. In fact, as the writer of Hebrews tells us, when Jesus returned from the dead, he spoke a better word then that of Abel. That word was shalom, peace. It’s right there in John 20. When the Holy Spirit is breathed onto the disciples, it is in the context of mercy, grace, and forgiveness. To be living in the Spirit, then, is to forgive others (including enemies) in the same way Jesus forgives. There is no more striking instance of what that looks like then when he is hanging on the cross, crying out to his heavenly Father to forgive his persecutors, for they know not what they are doing (Luke 23:34).
4. What book/s are you reading at the moment?
Currently, I’m reading a few books. This is something I tend to do. First, I just began David Bentley Hart’s The Experience of God. It’s amazing. It’s taken me some time to get through chapter 1 and anyone who has read Hart probably knows why. He can be quite dense. I’m also working back through Galatians by J. Louis Martyn. If you haven’t read that, it’s a doozy. It will completely change how you read the book of Galatians. On top of that, I’m reading The Fellowship of the Ring to my daughter. She’s only 7 years old, but is loving it so far. The gang just got to Bucklebury, and Elyse is happy because she dreads those black riders. But don’t we all?
5. Who is your hero?
I think it would be cliché to say Jesus, so I’ll refrain from doing that. So, I’m going to have to go with René Girard. If you aren’t familiar with Girard, he was a French anthropologist who not only came up with a way of explaining human behavior, but a way of explaining why there is so much violence in the world and why our religions tend toward such violence. The reason I would call him a hero though is that after I walked away from Christianity for its seemingly inherent violence, his work gave me a space to come back into the fold so to speak. It helped me understand why the Bible was so laden with violence, but also why it is a collection of books that really does a beautiful job of taking us away from such violence. In fact, he impacted me so much that I wrote a book on mimetic violence and the Gospel’s solution to it. For those interested, it’s called From the Blood of Abel and is available through Quoir Publishing.
Matthew J. Distefano is a regular contributor for the Unfundamentalist Christians blog on Patheos, and is the author of three books, including From the Blood of Abel and All Set Free. You can connect with Matt on Facebook or at his website, allsetfree.com.