I got to know Conrad Gempf back when I worked for Zondervan, publishing fantastic UK authors. Although Conrad’s not a “UK author,” even though he got branded as such. He’s an American (from Jersey!) who has lived here a lot longer than I have. And I’m happy to report that he’s not lost his Yankee accent. He’s wry; he’s observant; he’s funny; he’s caring. All around a great guy. We’ve spent a couple of Thanksgivings together as families; his cranberry nut bread is to write home about.
Professionally I love working with him because he’s got the ability to communicate the deep truths of the gospel in a clear, succinct and witty way. He’s an academic but doesn’t live in any ivory tower. After a few years of not working together, last year we, through Authentic Media, got to produce his fabulous book on the Apostle Paul: How to Like Paul Again. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Here’s a short interview with him focused on his reading interests (he’s the one who, many years ago, put me on to Malcolm Gladwell):
Some Christians of my generation can’t believe anyone wouldn’t like Paul. But many, perhaps most, of my students have real trouble with him, particularly with his views – or what they think are his views – about gender issues and other “hot potato” topics. But it’s short-sighted to decide whether to like someone by whether they agree with you, or what they can do for you. Probably all of us have one or two people that we love to bits even though they hold some pretty dumb opinions. You really want to make such decisions on the basis of a person’s underlying integrity and values and motives.
I’ve written popular-level books about Jesus, and now on Paul. My next project will probably be a more academic piece. One of the areas I’m interested in is in Jesus’ predictions about the End Times, a hotly debated area in my field. If it goes well, perhaps there would be room for a popular-level book on the same subject. Because Paul often uses “armour of God” imagery when he’s talking about End Times, a title I’m considering is: The End of the Universe: What to Wear.
One of the characteristics I most want my writing to display is that I take Him seriously but don’t take myself seriously. I’ve actually learned a lot from comedy writers – how to emphasize the profound and cosmic by placing it with not just the ordinary but with the particular. Woody Allen once said he believed in a Deity who was in control of the universe except for certain parts of New Jersey. So my books about the New Testament bring in examples like John Deere tractors, Clark Kent, and a World War I aeroplane called a Nieuport 27. Even if you don’t know these names, the use of something so particular can be humorous. And if, by chance, you do know, well, author and reader share a warm private chuckle.
I count a variety of authors as influences and favorites. Some are obvious choices, like CS Lewis, who writes so simply but with boundless intelligence and imagination. How I long to be like that! But I’ve also been fascinated by the writing styles of Raymond Chandler, Woody Allen, Malcolm Gladwell, Aaron Sorkin, Robert Farrar Capon, and Abraham Joshua Heschel. What a lively conversation a room full of them would be!
I think I’ve used a different word processor for every major project I’ve written. The first chapters of my PhD thesis at Aberdeen were written on a word processor I programmed myself and the files were stored on cassette tapes! Lately, I enjoy writing on my iPhone with a small flat Apple keyboard on a simple word processor called WriteRoom. On the Mac itself, Scrivener is wonderful.
I’m often asked why an author who is as ‘into’ technology as I am doesn’t make use of tools like Facebook. My answer may sound familiar. I think it’s short-sighted to align yourself with companies and services based solely on what they can do for you. I really want to make such decisions on the basis of a company’s or service’s underlying integrity and values and motives.