How Do You Become Yourself by Mirroring the Greatest Person in History? Author Interview.
Thaddeus Williams was a dorm mate of mine as an undergrad at Biola, and now we are both on faculty for our alma mater. Dr. Williams is also an author and frequent speaker at churches and conferences.
He gave me the opportunity to endorse his most recent book Reflect: Becoming Yourself by Mirroring the Greatest Person in History, and I found it both insightful and enjoyable. He was kind enough to answer a few of my questions. Enjoy this interview and think about getting a copy of his excellent book.
SEAN MCDOWELL: What, in particular, inspired you to write REFLECT?
THADDEUS WILLIAMS: The more I study the Bible, along with different philosophies and worldviews, the more I am utterly inspired by the person of Jesus. Having taught theology, comparative religions, and the history of ideas for over a decade, it is clear that Jesus simply has no rival. REFLECT’s subtitle calls Him “the Greatest Person in History.” And I don’t mean that Jesus is just the nicest guy ever. He isn’t just a nice guy; He is an intellectual powerhouse, an artistic genius with a staggering E.Q. (emotional intelligence quotient), the most radical embodiment of true love, true power, and grace, and so much more.
Sure, there are many inspirational folks through history who were great at, say, thinking deep thoughts, OR feeling noble feelings, OR loving the oppressed, OR creating great art. But in the person of Jesus all of those ORs become ANDs. He has a kind of multifaceted greatness that is utterly without rival in all of history. As I put it in the opening chapter, “Jesus is more reasonable, more passionate, more virtuous, more loving, more gracious, more creative, and more powerful than anyone or anything else. When we enjoy any true reason, passion, goodness, love, grace, beauty, and power in anyone or anything else, he is the sun we finally discover if we trace any one of those beams back to its true Source” (15).
So that was my biggest inspiration to write REFLECT: I wanted to capture some of Jesus’ second-to-none greatness in print so readers could be captivated and enjoy “the Greatest Person in History” right along with me. And when I say “readers” I don’t mean Christians only. This book was written in the spirit of Lewis’ Mere Christianity and Keller’s The Reason for God to be accessible and compelling to both Christians and thinking non-Christians.
MCDOWELL: Is it accurate to say that REFLECT is an apologetics book?
WILLIAMS: Absolutely, but probably not in the way we typically think of apologetics books. Many apologetics books consider the question of theism versus atheism, for example. There’s value in that approach. But I take a different route. I build a case that everyone is both a theist and an atheist at the same time. I am a die-hard atheist about many gods. I don’t believe in Kali, the Hindu goddess of destruction. I don’t swear allegiance to Kim Jung Un, who many worship as their deity. I don’t stake my identity and meaning in a political ideology or leader. Others do. (In fact, the early Christians were executed for the crime of atheism, because they refused to worship Caesar as God.) So we are all, in a sense, both theists and atheists simultaneously.
I taught college classes on atheism where I made a ton of atheist friends. The more I got to know them personally, the clearer it became that while rejecting the God of the Bible, they were each on their knees to something. Maybe Science. Maybe Government. Maybe a boyfriend or girlfriend. They each had their functional deities. As I say in the book, “the sooner we acknowledge that we are all theists and atheists simultaneously, that we are all supremely devoted to some things and undevoted to others… then the more we can move forward, thinking together about which of these different ‘gods’ bring out the best and worst in people.”
The next step in my apologetic is to point out that we become like what we worship. Worship something dumb and it will make you dumb. Worship something soul-less it will make you more soul-less. This sets up the apologetic case of the seven chapters: Jesus, because of His multifaceted greatness, can make us most fully ourselves—our most intellectual, emotional, virtuous, loving, gracious, and creative selves—in a way that no other conceivable object of worship can.
MCDOWELL: You have a whole chapter on reflecting the intellectual virtues of Jesus. Could you give us a little appetizer of what we can learn about developing the mind of Christ from your book?
WILLIAMS: Jesus not only talked the Great Commandment; He also walked it better than anyone else ever. So, the best way to understand the meaning of loving God with our minds is to look to at Jesus Himself. I spend a chapter in Matthew 22 looking at 9 different ways Jesus loved the Father with his mind. These 9 dimensions of the mind of Christ serve as a kind of biblical blueprint for how we ought to love God intellectually. There’s a nice little appetizer from this chapter posted here.
MCDOWELL: What was the writing process like for you and what makes this book unique?
WILLIAMS: I set out to write this book so that the message would very directly shape the medium, that what is said is embodied in how it is said. This is vital to good apologetics. If we want to be winsome, then our message must infuse our medium. In other words, if I am saying that Jesus’ logic is powerful and worth imitating, then I try to say so logically. If I am arguing that Jesus is supremely loving, I will refute my own case if I’m arguing like an arrogant jerk. If I am building a case that Jesus is the ultimate source of all true creativity and beauty, then I want to say so in a creative and beautiful way, not with a bunch of unimaginative, sleep-inducing prose. (That’s one reason I opted to illustrate the book, which my publisher graciously allowed.)
So, who Jesus is served not only as the driving inspiration, but also as a kind of filter through the writing process. I would take every paragraph. If it didn’t reflect something of the reason, emotion, power, love, graciousness, and creativity of Jesus, I would scrap it and prayerfully start over. So my prayer is that as readers make it from the front cover to the back, they would see and experience something of Him (however small and imperfect) and find their own intellects, emotions, imaginations, etc. becoming more Christ-like in that process.
MCDOWELL: What is the main take away you hope people will gain from REFLECT?
WILLIAMS: REFLECT was written to help readers experience all truth as Christ’s truth. In the words of the first chapter, Jesus is “the Telos, the Goal, the Final Point where all lines converge…. Every “logy” in its truest form—cosmology, psychology, biology, anthropology, kinesiology, etc.—becomes a branch growing from the living trunk of Christology” (32, 36). So, the main take away would be that all truth is Christ’s truth, all beauty is Christ’s beauty, and all goodness is Christ’s goodness. And in that realization, my prayer is that readers would abandon any idols competing for their minds and affections, and come to enjoy the Lordship of Jesus—the Greatest Person in History—over all of life.
Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, best-selling author, popular speaker, part-time high school teacher, and the Resident Scholar for Summit Ministries, California. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.