Interview With John Everts (Sep-Dec 2005)

By Matt Dabbs

Author of God In The Flesh:What Speechless Lawyers, Kneeling Soldiers And Shocked Crowds Teach Us About Jesus

by New Wineskins Staff
September – December 2005

New Wineskins: Why did you write this book?

Don Everts: I’ve had a pretty exhausting last few years. And it’s refreshing to stare at Jesus. So that’s really why I started to stare at Jesus in the pages of the gospels in this kind of way. I kept writing because it seems to me in my ministry, that it was not just me who struggles with having a blurry Jesus, having a vague concept of what his life was like and what he did. So, these black verses, these stage directions of the gospels are a natural access point and a window into what he was like and his manner and posture, and it led to further study in terms of what is revealed here, what helps me as a follower, to wipe away some of the grime from the New Testament portrait of him. So that’s where it started: I was really tired (laughs).

New Wineskins: So, tell us, if it’s not too personal, something about those three years that would lead you to this place.

Don Everts: I’ve been doing campus ministry for about ten years. And the last few years I switched jobs to being sort of a middle manager, director, raising up other staff, and things that come with that. So it was a lot more travel, it was new, it was stretching me. My schedule, frankly, just got way out of hand. And in the midst of that, I was desperate enough to become more Jesus-consumed and stare at him intently in the pages like that. So it was ministry-related.

New Wineskins: So you had to take a step back from the busy schedule …

Don Everts: Well, it was more in the midst of that busy schedule, that I was seeking for what this is about.

New Wineskins: So you didn’t go to a monastery to write the book …

Don Everts: No! (laughs) Right now I’m in a six month sabbatical, which is wonderful, but the book’s already done.

New Wineskins: (laughs) We’d like to think every author goes to the cabin in the woods and writes … that really speaks to what the heart of the book seems to be about: God in the flesh. How did you come up with the structure of the book, the stage directions or black letters?

Don Everts: Well, the genesis of the book was an invitation to stare at Jesus and a celebration of what that kind of posture makes possible in our life. So looking at the backdrop of the interactions Jesus had and what are the responses people that people have to him. And in looking at that, I look at major themes that come out. What are the most common responses to Jesus and what meaning is there in that—what does it show me about Jesus himself. For example, when you look through those parts of the gospels and you comb through them for responses to Jesus, you don’t see a lot of bored people (laughs). You don’t see much disinterest. What you see is people who are shocked and amazed, perplexed and thrilled with who he was.

New Wineskins: So you don’t see indifferent. You see them either amazed or offended …

Don Everts: Exactly. You have people who spat at him, who were totally angry at him, yet others worshiped him. A lot of people—a string of people—just fell down at his feet. You have gaping jaws. I started looking at these responses that were normative for his life. Everywhere he went, people just ran after him for a touch. And there this relentless pursuit of just being able to touch him. I began to steep in those responses that occurred more often and to ask why people responded to Jesus in this way, why did so many people from different walks of life approach him in this way, then I pulled back from that, looking at the rest of the New Testament and the apostolic proclamation of Jesus and what do we see more clearly about him.

New Wineskins: Is there a specific gospel you focused on more than another?

Don Everts: No, Mark is the gospel I personally have spent the most time in. So that was a starting point. I don’t want to make up anything clever—I want to know what is part of the drumbeat of the teaching of the early church that is contained in the gospels and the rest of the New Testament.

New Wineskins: What do you think about, you list in chapter 3, where the crowds were amazed, but what do you make Jesus being amazed at the people?

Don Everts: (laughs) He was amazed at their unbelief, right? (laughs) It’s sort of an exchange of amazement. People were really struck by the holiness of Jesus. He wasn’t like them. He wasn’t … and that’s the beauty of the gospel—it’s revelation, right? If we could just make due with common sense and with what we can come up with as humans, we have no need for revelation, and yet God invaded with revelation and I think everyone … this was a different flavor, taste than they were used to. I think for Jesus—in that one particular instance, who am I to stand in his shoes—but he came from the glory of God. He had the ultimate perspective, clarity of what it’s all about. To see the disbelief and cynicism just shocked him. Today, I’m shocked if I don’t see disbelief and cynicism.

New Wineskins: Would you expound on the fact that Jesus being amazed is outside the box for some of us—the stoic Jesus who doesn’t have emotion …

Don Everts: We’re so Greek in our theology. We’re into disembodied thoughts and ideas. So that a lot of the time, when we mean to talk about God, we’re talking about ideas of God. In a Hebrew sense of things, he is jealous, he is autonomous, he reacts, there’s no changing in him, but part of what doesn’t change is that he is who he is, right? I think religion and ideas and philosophy are much easier to deal with as humans than relating to a living God.

New Wineskins: Keeps God at arm’s distance … why is the world around us so captivated by Christ’s teaching yet stops there … not being amazed at the rest of what he did.

Don Everts: Well I think people are amazed at Jesus because deep within they long for him. He taught, I am the bread you hungered for. I think that’s still utterly true, that people hunger for him, we all hunger for God … and Jesus is this very flesh of God—the Apostle Paul put it—the image of the invisible God, and all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell in him. So, when people actually interact with the apostolic proclamation of Jesus—not vague generalities of Jesus or Hollywood rendition of Jesus—when they actually brush up against him there’s this sort of gut recognition that there’s something here that I haven’t seen before, haven’t been around before. It probably differs from person to person as to why we don’t all pursue it further than that. There’s this fear of the divine and some people mask that fear, and for some people it’s a recoiling because of our own sin.

New Wineskins: Like Peter did.

Don Everts: Yes, exactly, “Get out of my boat! Why are you so close to me!” Some will mask that, putting it in different ways, that he’s so prude of old fashioned.

New Wineskins: In our post-passion understanding of Jesus, we start to view Jesus perhaps through Mel Gibson’s lens. In what way can reading the gospels again, what you do in this book, be a corrective to this and help us rediscover a more comprehensive way of seeing the Lord?

Don Everts: I think the passion of Jesus—both the movie, which I love, and the event itself that it’s a portrayal of—are an amazing onramp for jaded, cynical and entertainment-engorged age that we live in. Because the scenes of suffering, the guttural prayer of “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me”—the sense of pain and suffering, at least for me—you know, I’m thirty-three—I lived in Seattle during the grunge era, but I have to be open then to discover other things in life, like this thing called Easter. My postmodern soul resonates with the passion but not with Easter. Hope, life, redemption, resurrection. These are not themes that my jadedness easily adjusts to. They come in like cold water, really cold water.

New Wineskins: OK, but why is that? I don’t get that. I’m an age-mate to you—I’m thirty-eight, so I understand something of our generation but why are postmoderns so dark and cynical? And what about Jesus would change that or not change that?

Don Everts: Well I think some of it is my own story. I have a pretty dark history.

New Wineskins: What of your story can you tell me that helps us understand?

Don Everts: This is making a really long story really short: an alcoholic workaholic father, being moved around and displaced regularly, a brother from an early age was criminal and to this day being hunted by the FBI. Just early on, there’s no story book, right. For me, things that assumed hope and assumed love or peace—these are categories that don’t make sense to my soul, but the beautiful thing about Jesus though … I think wherever we come from, his face is there as an invitation to us. And for me, my first dancing with Jesus revolved around how compassionate he was to those who were down and out. He was a dirty, muddy man who was in the grime of people’s lives. The fact that he’s one acquainted with sorrow—that has traction with my soul. And so it’s from there that I meet him as Lord. I have to make that decision, because he also comes to me and says “I have life and abundance and hope and faith, I rose from the dead. When I called Lazarus from the tomb, he came out but he was still wrapped in grave clothes, and I think that describes a lot of postmodern converts … I was alive, I came out of the tomb, but I was still wrapped in grave clothes, and they were very comfortable to me, I was used to them, and that’s where his second call to Lazarus comes, where he says, “Take those off.” There’s two stages to Lazarus redemption. Jesus says, “Get out of those—you’re not dead!” So I think people are dark because this is a dark, evil age we live in. And our hope is that we grab hold of Jesus, and our hope is that in his passion we can grab hold of him, and the question is, As we begin to discover more of Jesus, will we stay on for the whole ride? Will we allow him to pluck us from our despair, whatever we cling to rather than him. The point of this whole book – I don’t think people need anything from me – it’s an invitation to stare at him.

New Wineskins: In terms of Spiritual Formation, what do you do to stare at Jesus on a daily basis?

Don Everts: Two correctives I suggest in the book … one has to do with focusing on the life of Jesus and not just his death and resurrection—which are amazing things to focus on, don’t get me wrong—but the corrective is, each gospel is about his life, God revealing himself … so in each Spiritual discipline we have, that we would be people who are focused on his life, that we would not relegate those stories to kindergarten Sunday school. Then the other correction is that we have Jesus as the center of everything we do, but not just that he is the center of our devotion and worship but that he’s also the center of our theology … the gospels are implicitly as theological books, though we tend to see them more as devotional books or more as, you know, cute (laughs)—I guess that would be our worst view of the gospel, that they would just be inspirational. Now Paul is theological …

New Wineskins: I don’t know, I don’t view it that way—in Paul’s writing he’s dealing with contextual matters, church problems, and by necessity, he gets theological in the process.

Don Everts: And the core of Paul’s theology was that he was Jesus-consumed. “I’ve purposed to know nothing but Jesus and him crucified.” That’s quite a posture for a brilliant dude like that, maybe not for someone like me (laughs), but he could have known more. The early church, all they talked about was Jesus. Day to day we should do the same … but not just leave it at allowing stories of Jesus to give us a vague warming up in the morning. The Good Samaritan is not supposed to make us feel nice and warm about helping people—it’s deeply theological and cutting, razor sharp. Grab a copy of the gospel and read it, read a parable, and reflect on it theologically … I encounter a lot of college students who assume that the Good Samaritan really happened, and so what it’s about is a hero—a Samaritan hero. But having to remind them, it’s a parable, it didn’t really happen. This is really the story of a lawyer who came to Jesus with a certain posture, and this story is a razor sharp response to that. I tell a story in the book about college students who whenever I ask them to study the gospels, they think they know it but they don’t know it. I found this in myself too—I was raised in the church but I wasn’t a believer, and so I had sort of rubbed up against these stories but it’s another thing to encounter Jesus in them.

New Wineskins: Well, when we assume the old preacher’s adage, “You know the story!” we doom ourselves to missing the point Scripture wants to drive home to us in this reading, a wealth of new understanding and life … New Wineskins

Don EvertsDon Everts is a popular conference speaker who has worked on college campuses for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA since 1995. Currently an area director with InterVarsity, he is based in Boulder, Colorado. His books include Jesus with Dirty Feet and The Smell of Sin. E-mail him at [don@ivcolorado.org].

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