Why John G. Stackhouse Jr. Wants us to Think Differently

We’re interviewing Stackhouse! And we’re offering one of his most popular books as a subscription bonus during Sep/Oct. John G. Stackhouse Jr. is an author and professor, and a popular Faith Today columnist. Stackhouse recently moved from Regent College in Vancouver to Crandall University in Moncton to join the faculty as professor of religious studies and dean of faculty development. And, he writes the provocative cover story for the Sep/Oct Faith Today. It felt like a good time for a Q and A with this award-winning scholar and public communicator. 

"Let’s ask each other, 'What do you think about that?' and then, 'What do you think God wants us to think and do about that?' Conversations would change pretty quickly, wouldn’t they?" asks John G. Stackhouse Jr.
“Let’s ask each other, ‘What do you think about that?’ and then,
‘What do you think God wants us to think and do about that?’ Conversations would change pretty quickly, wouldn’t they?” asks John G. Stackhouse Jr.

FT: You’ve recently made a big move, from Vancouver and Regent to Crandall and Moncton. Can you tell us how you are settling in? And what you are most looking forward to in your new role there?

JS: By North American standards, at least, I’ve made a few “cross-cultural” moves before: from northern Ontario to West Texas as a teen; from Chicago to rural Iowa as a newly-minted PhD; from Winnipeg to Vancouver and from the University of Manitoba to Regent College in mid-career; and now to the Maritimes and Crandall University. I love teaching students at any level—from first-year beginners to doctoral students—and I am delighted to find a third job in a row that lets me range beyond the customary disciplinary limitations of the academy. (Normally, you must be a theologian OR a historian OR a philosopher OR an ethicist.)

What will be new for me at Crandall, however, is the role of Dean of Faculty Development, which I see in a “player-coach” model. I love helping new scholars get grounded and oriented and encouraging mid-career professors to focus on their strengths and thus increase both their enthusiasm and their effectiveness.

FT: Your passion for the “intellectual health” of the Canadian evangelical church comes out loud and clear in the Sep/Oct cover story. What are your top recommendations for individuals and churches stemming from that story?

JS: First, we have got to read more, and read better. We receive dozens of messages every day, some of them helpful while many are inimical to Christian commitment. Clever people are behind many of those messages, and we need to be informed and trained to filter them properly. Only a course of regular and rigorous reading—books,magazines, and websites—and, yes, podcasts and online courses of high quality—can help us keep our feet and maintain a path of faithfulness in such a media storm.

Second, we need to give up on “keeping up.” No one can keep track of all the new movies, all the developments in the performing arts, all the breakthroughs in science, all the latest economic trends, all the successes and failures in politics, all the latest stories of heroism and atrocity. The world has always been a very big place, but our dramatically increased access to information has led many of us to becoming mildly but truly addicted to the stimulation of news—what is merely “new.” And with a pathetic kind of high-school mentality, we feel obliged to know what is the new new thing…as if we’ll be scorned for not knowing about the latest smartphone app or cult TV hit.

Instead, we need to broaden our knowledge, and deepen our understanding, of those matters that matter to us and to those whom God calls us to serve. In short, we need to become really good at our callings, rather than trying to be cool.

Third, we need to converse better. As quickly as we can, get past the news to the issues. These might be political issues lying behind the latest news on TV, yes, but also the personal issues lying behind the latest news from work, or church, or family. What’s really going on, and why, and what does God think about that, and how ought we to respond? One simple suggestion, in two connected questions: Let’s ask each other, “What do you think about that?” and then, “What do you think God wants us to think and do about that?” Conversations would change pretty quickly, wouldn’t they? Some would stop altogether, of course, and all to the good. Again, if we don’t ask those questions, we are processing the world according to the agenda of those who generate the news stories, and those agenda only sometimes correspond with the gospel’s.

FT: What is the most important thing you’d like readers to take away from the Faith Today cover story?

JS: We live, every moment, according to what we think—what we think is real, and true, and good, and beautiful, and helpful, and worthwhile. So what is the quality of our thought? Godliness is not at all the same thing as intelligence, of course: lots of brilliant people are spiritually dark and morally obtuse. My concern is not that the church become a university—not at all. My concern is that each of us, according to our callings, think as accurately and wisely as we can, and should, so as to enjoy and serve God as faithfully as possible. God can use us with any and all of our limitations, but he does not smile on laziness, physical or intellectual, and it is irresponsibly infantile to expect God to do for us what he calls us as adults to do for ourselves…such as read, and converse, and think.

FT: What do you hope to focus on in your writing in the next couple of years?

JS: I’m praying about that and waiting on God to show me, since I’ve rather recently finished a couple of big projects of long gestation and need the Lord to show me what’s next on his agenda. An editor friend of mine has been patiently waiting for an apologetical book he and I both wish I would write: I’d like to write an “airport” book for people who read The New Yorker and the like, commending Christianity to them. I’ve got the book pretty thoroughly outlined: I just need the Holy Spirit to move it to the front of the writing line. I also think that my last two big books need to be re-presented in much more accessible form, and I’ve begun one of those projects on vocation (a digest of Making the Best of It), with the other one being a more easily understood version of epistemology—how to think as a Christian (based on Need to Know).

FT: We’re thinking that your high profile presence at Crandall is going to help bring some worthy attention to that school and that part of Canada’s Christian academic life. What do people need to know about Crandall?

JS: So far as I know, Crandall is the only evangelical university of any significant size north of Boston and east of Toronto. Crandall’s roots in Atlantic Baptist piety remain strong, while the aspirations of its new leaders, particularly President Bruce Fawcett and Academic Vice-President James Rusthoven coincide exactly with my own: to grow a school that is holistic in its approach to education, helping students become mature, well-rounded adults and thus avoiding the narrowness of mere spirituality or mere intellectualism.

I also share their unabashed commitment to excellence, a commitment that will demand much of its donors, students, faculty, staff, administrators, and alumni/ae. “Excellence” is an easy word for the marketing department to throw around, but it literally means something very hard: “doing much better, excelling”…and that simply cannot mean maintaining the status quo.

I myself define excellence more particularly this way: performing so as to bring surprised delight to some, be exceeded by no competitors or peers, and disappoint no reasonable expectations. Those are tough standards, but they’re worth striving toward.

Anyone who has worked with me or been taught by me knows that I cannot help being a change agent—for better and, alas, sometimes for worse!—but I am delighted that Bruce and Jim have called me to work with my new colleagues to keep changing Crandall for the better.

FT: Thanks John!

Read the Stackhouse cover story of the Sep/Oct Faith Today here. Subscribe to Faith Today before the end of October and receive a free printed copy of his book Can God be Trusted? Faith and the Challenge of Evil

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *