A Conversation With Matthew Paul Turner

“Going against the flow is something that comes naturally to me. If there was a group of people going in one direction I was the one who would buck the system and go the opposite direction just because I could and wanted to be different. I think that was definitely true for a long time. It became a part of who I was. I didn’t like fitting in just because it was the right thing to do. I wanted someone to look at my culture and my world. I wanted there to be a reason behind why I said what I said and did what I did and the things that I stood for,” says Matthew Paul Turner. The former editor for CCM Magazine is now one of the most sought after authors concerning Christian themes and his books are always in demand.

Turner’s writing style can be described as quirky, in your face, controversial, humorous and intelligent. If you are saying to yourself, ‘boy that covers a lot of ground,’ you are right but there are many facets to the personality of Mr. Turner as our recent conversation revealed.

At times Turner’s discussions concerning certain topics may ruffle feathers or cause conservative Christians to gasp as no doubt has been the case with his book What You Didn’t Learn From Your Parents About Sex (A Guide To A Touchy Subject). At other times, however he can just be downright funny as is the case with Beatitude: Relearning Jesus Through Truth, Contradiction, And A Folded Dollar Bill.  He proved his mettle as a more serious writer with What You Didn’t Learn From Your Parents About Christianity (A Guide To A Spirited Subject). The intelligently written book provides new Christians and non-Christians with an easy to read look at why Christians believe what they do and how we got here in the first place. The author provides excellent questions at the end of each chapter that can easily be used to prompt discussion. I would highly recommend this book for youth and university age small groups.

Turner says, “I don’t go to an emergent church but the emergent movement is all about inviting people to be a part of the conversation.” He says the difficulty in much of the Christian community has become that we just simply avoid talking about deeper subjects such as politics or social justice. “It has been my experience that we (in the Christian community) are not willing to have these conversations. We lose out because there are things that I learn from another person’s journey. Some of my best conversations are with people who do not necessarily agree with me,” says Turner.

Turner believes that within the context of the Christian community too often we limit the scope of our discussions. He says it poses a significant problem for those outside the church who are peering through the window trying to find something attractive inside to inflame their curiosity. “It (appears) that we are constantly trying to limit the ability of people to think or the ability to process,” he says.

That apprehension that inhibits more open discussion concerning deeper issues arises in part says Turner from our ?well intentioned gone wrong’ fear of offending others within the community. “I think we are afraid to talk about certain topics. We are afraid we will offend somebody and we are all about ?my goodness’. When it comes to our own community, God forbid that we offend anyone.  We don’t mind offending anyone outside our community, it is only the people inside our community (that we are very sensitive towards).

Concerning people who may still not know Christ as their personal savior he says, “I don’t think we (the church) are all that sensitive to anyone unless they are actually willing to begin a journey with Jesus or adhere to some of the teachings of the church. If you were a gay person living in America, would you want to be a Christian in any way or form?  Would there be anything attractive about the evangelical church if you were a gay person?  There would be something very attractive about Jesus but concerning the church there is nothing that I see in the bigger culture that would make me (think) the church is where I am going to find healing, hope or peace.

Tuner observes the church is particularly inept at allowing open discussion in areas concerning, sexuality, depression, mood and mental disorders. We would rather pretend everything is okay for fear of not finding healing and instead winding up under a holy microscope.

“I think as Christians we try to pretend that we have everything all figured out and all worked out. We present this perfect way of life. We present the ideal yet none of us live up to the ideal. We can’t live up to the ideal, that is the whole point of Jesus,” says Turner.

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“In the dark corners of our world we are having fights with our spouse, struggling with feelings of sexuality and depression. Every human being can relate to these journeys but we keep putting up the front. (We keep saying) stay the course and God is going to (help us) work through this. Everything is going to be alright. Keep the faith. Life is about faith but faith comes with a journey,” he says.

In the truest Biblical sense, Turner is a prophet. In our time, many people have acquired the mistaken notion that a prophet is someone who foretells the future but for people like Jeremiah, Hosea, Isaiah and Jonah they were forth telling the word of God. They often were socially ostracized (not that we are wishing that on you Matthew) and rattled many cages of the established clergy of the day.

In reading of my encounter with Turner, you may have developed an opinion of him as being brash and irreverent. That perception could not be further from the truth. He is certainly controversial but it comes from a passion burning deep within him to ensure that the walls that Christians sometimes erect do not discourage others.

“It’s all about how the message is portrayed and what that message is. First, I think the message has to be centered on Jesus, Him being the figure of the world. Also (it needs to be) about teaching us how to live,” Turner says, before proclaiming, “I want to go into culture and present an accurate message. I do not want to present it only by word but by life in general. The simple things like being kind, merciful, taking care of the poor, looking for opportunities to be the hands and feet of Christ. (I am talking about) in every situation, in the here and now, not just situations that I can look forward to being in some day.”

Turner’s first book was the satirical Christian Culture Survival Guide. It was so well received that it soon prompted invitations from other publishers to tackle various themes. “When NavPress came to me and said we want you to write a series on sex, Christianity, politics and money I liked the concept, plus I liked the (topics) but I had no idea what I was getting myself into,” he says alluding to the heavy research the writing entailed. He also wanted to write lighter books tackling heavier subjects, which was not an easy task.

“So many people in their twenties and thirties know what they believe in terms of Jesus but they don’t know very much about the history of Jesus and the history of Christianity. They do not know the ongoing relationship between pop culture and Jesus. That is how I approached the book. I thought about what I didn’t learn from mom and dad and no offense to my mom and dad, it was just things that they would not have discussed. I tried to write a funny book. It is a fun read that introduces you to the basic ideas of Christianity,” says the bard.

Turner observes that while it is true some of the remarks in his books are pointed and sarcastic they do contain truth. “When you look at Christian culture, we are funny and hilarious. At times it is therapeutic for us to be able to laugh at ourselves,” he says.

As Turner talks the discussion always refocuses on the person of Jesus. Turner says, “I love thinking about Jesus. I think as a church it is easier for us to believe that Jesus is God than it is to believe that He is human. Believing He is God sets Him apart from us but believing He is human puts Him in our perspective. We don’t like thinking about Him that way and I don’t know why.” Perhaps this might be the topic of a book for another day.

Copyright © 2007 Joe Montague, exclusive rights reserved. This material may not be redistributed without prior written permission from Joe Montague. Joe Montague is an internationally published freelance journalist / photographer.

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About Jim Mueller

bio-jim-muellerJim is the founder, with wife, Sheri, of Growthtrac Ministries as well as Program Director of GrowthtracRadio and the architect behind growthtrac.com. Jim holds a B.S. in business management and is a facilitator for PREPARE/ENRICH, the most widely used customized couple assessment tool. He has authored numerous articles, interviewed leading relationship authors and Christian artists, and has contributed to Dr. Les Parrott’s book, The Complete Guide to Marriage Mentoring. Jim has worked for more than 15 years to help premarital couples and married couples build and maintain healthy relationships.

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