Kyle Strobel (assistant professor at Talbot's Institute of Spirtual Formation) and Jamin Goggin ('03, M.A. '08) recently released Beloved Dust: Drawing Close to God by Discovering the Truth About Yourself. We wanted to learn more about this book, so we put together some questions that Kyle graciously answered:
Jamin and I have concerns about a lot of the books on the Christian life we see coming out these days. Many of these books give in to the temptation to focus simply on the “form” of life; so when people write books on prayer, for instance, it is very easy to say, “Pray like this,” as if our only problem is not praying the right way. So we begin to talk about standing up or sitting down when we pray, walking while we pray, etc., and it all becomes very superficial. Furthermore, these books often digress rather quickly into self-help. God is mentioned, but when push comes to shove, we are trying to achieve the Christian life in our own power. Rather, what we are doing in this book is providing a broad picture of what the Christian life is, and then entering into the everyday reality of this life. In a book on the Christian life, it is impossible to outline what this looks like in every situation, but we worked really hard to make this a very practical guide to the Christian life. Jamin’s pastoral background comes through a lot on these pages. If readers are really set on seeing the practical implications of the book, we do suggest that people read prayerfully and use the study guide in a group.
What’s the most counterintuitive part of your book?
The focus of Beloved Dust is to highlight what it means to live life with God who is always present to us. This means that much of what we may consider a “normal Christian existence”—things like Bible study, church, and serving others—can be things we do to hide from God rather than being present to Him. In other words, we are always tempted to turn God into a tool we use to get the life we want rather than the Father who has opened His life to us in the Son. This is counterintuitive, I think, because we often assume that our devotion is “safe”—it is perhaps the one aspect of our lives we feel faithful in. Rather, our devotion can be the place of our greatest rebellion. Praise be to God that he has accomplished all in Christ, offering us life in him by grace through faith!
Why choose “dustiness” as a metaphor for life apart from God? Couldn’t the metaphor also be read, at first glance, as a way of embracing our status as “beloved dust?” What’s the advantage of that metaphor as opposed to other ones, such as the ones found in Scripture?
This was a hard one, and something we went back and forth on quite a bit. In the book, we turn to the Genesis account of our creation from the dust as the main image to talk about our nature. We are dust, but we are more than that, we are God’s beloved dust. We wanted to find an image that was linked with this one to denote the reality of our sinfulness. It is not sinful or bad that we are dust, this is a part of the creation God proclaimed was good. We decided to use the notion of dustiness to describe our fallenness, even though it could potentially be confusing. Humans were made from dust – we are earthly – but God breathed his life into us. At that moment, we could set our mind on eternal things or earthly things, the way of God or the way of death (as God had outlined it to them). In Adam and Eve, we chose the way of death, the way from below, which we call the way of dustiness. To embrace dustiness is to live for what is below us, but to be beloved dust, is to set our mind on things above (Col. 3), we must live with the God who has taken on dust to dwell among us.
It may be best to put it this way: To live as a Christian is to live as God’s beloved dust, where we are defined, not by our substance (dust) but by our belovedness. We are defined by how the Father sees us. To live a worldly life is to live in our dustiness – to try and achieve life from within our own power, and not looking beyond ourselves to Christ.
If you had to pick one quote (or one takeaway) from your book that everyone would take to heart, what would it be?
For us, the key notion at the heart of the book is that the Christian life is learning to live all of your life with God. Being with God who is always with you is very different than just trying to be good, trying to be faithful, etc. Being good and faithful are important, but impossible outside of abiding in Christ (John 15:5). As evangelicals, we tend to be busy, devoted and Bible-focused. These can be virtues, but they can also subtly become vices. We can be filled with pride in these things, we can use them to create a faithful person in our own power, and we can reject Christ’s claim that without him we can do nothing. In fact, we can live the Christian life from the flesh rather than from the Spirit, and we would be naïve to assume that this isn’t an incredible temptation for us all. We hope this book will help people navigate these realities.
How would you like to see this book used? Is there anything you’d like to say about how you hope it isn’t used?
The goal of this book is to sit in Scripture and focus our attention on the foundation of the Christian life, which is, of course, Christ himself. This is a foundation we continually sell off for other places to build our lives. Sifting sand, for whatever reason, seems to captivate our attention. To understand what is means to set our life on Christ, we have to attend to the call to be with God who is always with us. Our hope is that people can use this book to continually recast their attention on the foundation of the Christian life, as well as the pitfalls we outline in the book (that too many Christians fall victim to thinking that they are living the way of Christ).
One of the ways we don’t want this book to be used is as an interesting way to think about the Christian life. We don’t want this to become something people simply tweet quotes about, but as something that truly reforms how they understand the Christian life. We’ve worked hard to help this be more than just an interesting book, but a guide to walking with God in Christ by His Spirit. We created a DVD curriculum and study guide for this very reason. We want people to wrestle through the content of this book in community so that they can ask real questions of one another about what this life might look like.
As Talbot grads, and for Kyle as a new Talbot faculty member, how do you see your Talbot experience shaping this writing project?
I think our experience at Biola/Talbot will shine through very clearly in this book. Both Jamin and I finished masters in New Testament, and that training will come through clearly on nearly every page. We also studied spiritual formation at Talbot together, and that is very much at the heart of this book. But similarly, since we left Talbot, I finished my PhD in systematic theology, studying Jonathan Edwards’s theology and spirituality, and Jamin is in the middle of his PhD in theology, and so that background will shine through a bit as well. For some, it may seem counterintuitive that systematic theology has so much to say about our day-to-day life with God. But it does. We hope that becomes clear, and we hope that it can encourage people in every part of their walk with Christ.
For more about the book Beloved Dust: Drawing Close to God by Discovering the Truth About Yourself (Thomas Nelson, 2014), go to www.BelovedDust.com
Kyle and Jamin co-lead a spiritual formation ministry which you can learn more about on their website: www.Metamorpha.com.