Monthly Archives: April 2016


Mark Tietjen serves as director of religious life and Grace Palmer Johnston Chair of Bible at Stony Brook School. His latest book, Kierkegaard: a Christian Missionary to Christians ( framed this interview.

Moore: Your title will pique the interest of those not familiar with Kierkegaard. How is he a “Christian missionary to Christians”?

Tietjen: Kierkegaard’s context is 19th century Europe, i.e. Christendom, and thus he’s addressing an audience that would regard itself as Christian, simply by virtue of their being European. He felt strongly, however, that there was little Christianity in Christendom, hence the description of his work as missionary work. I think what Kierkegaard offers is along the lines of what any number of Christian thinkers offer when they point us closer toward the Gospel of Jesus Christ and in doing so challenge those beliefs, prejudices, behaviors, attitudes, and feelings that we take to be ‘Christian,’ but which in fact are not. And the process of discovering that is painful, but good. Reading Kierkegaard can be painful, but good.

Moore: As a young Christian growing up the 1980s the writings of Francis Schaeffer were extremely influential. I vividly recall Schaeffer’s critique of Kierkegaard’s “leap of faith.” A college professor who described Kierkegaard as the father of existentialism added another inaccurate component to my understanding of Kierkegaard. How did both of them get Kierkegaard wrong?

Tietjen: “Leap of faith” is a phrase that never appears in Kierkegaard’s published work. What critics pick up on in his use of the term leap is the idea that the most important decisions humans make in their lives are passional decisions, decisions where reason can help but is not necessarily decisive, and instead, our deepest commitments—our cares and passions—direct us. If that’s true, then we need to cultivate virtuous cares and passions, and Kierkegaard is devoted to thinking deeply on that. These critics would suggest that when it comes to faith Kierkegaard promotes a kind of irrationalism which, at the end of the day, says that to believe in God is something one does blindly, without any evidence. Kierkegaard is hardly an irrationalist. However, he is a very strong critic of rationality because he recognizes that all conceptions of rationality have some angle, some set of assumptions, that often serve to justify oneself, one’s nation, one’s ethnic group, one’s prejudices, etc. Kierkegaard is also aware that while Christianity has its own logic (Jesus is the logos, after all), to those who do not share that faith, Christianity seems irrational. That does not scare Kierkegaard, precisely because he refuses to deify and human conception of rationality.

Concerning existentialism, classical existentialism claims that humans more or less determine who they are by their choices, but Kierkegaard thinks this sort of thinking is actually despair. Kierkegaard believes humans are image-bearers of God who will all experience despair until they ‘rest transparently’ in God. He is far more Augustinian than existentialist.

Moore: On the positive side of the ledger, I’ve noticed that many “conservative” Christians now refer to Kierkegaard with great enthusiasm. What has changed the minds of many in a more favorable direction?

Tietjen: This is a good question. Perhaps one explanation is the overall increase in Christian philosophy that has occurred since the 1970s. There are quite literally hundreds of more Christian philosophers working than there were 50 or more years ago, and thus more scholars who’ve studied Kierkegaard at a high level and recognize his contributions to Christian philosophy, psychology, and theology. I also think that when popular Christian writers like Philip Yancey and Timothy Keller speak approvingly of their debt to Kierkegaard, that moves the needle in the right direction.

Moore: Over the years, I’ve led several book clubs through various classics of the Christian faith. Kierkegaard’s Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing is one of the readings. There are a number of things which have stuck with me from reading that incisive work, but I want to ask you to unpack Kierkegaard’s suspicion over the crowd or what we today call “groupthink.”

Tietjen: Simone Weil, a kind of kindred spirit of Kierkegaard’s, once bravely admitted that she could imagine getting sucked into the group energy of Nazi rally songs—that there is a kind of seduction to following the mob that lullabies one to sleep. Kierkegaard felt that Christianity was primarily a category of individuality, meaning that God created each human uniquely and relates to each human individually, and thus oftentimes our involvement in the masses, including the public and even the church, can distract us from standing before God as individuals who have obligations to God and specific callings from God. To say I’m a Christian because I’m a European (or a Southerner) is precisely to make out of faith a group identification rather than a personal relation to God.

Moore: Kierkegaard had some very pointed things to say about the clergy of his day.  As you point out, even on his deathbed he refused communion because the clergy of the State church would have to administer it. He makes Eugene Peterson’s critiques of modern pastoral professionalism look mild! How did those ministers who ended up in Kierkegaard’s spiritual crosshairs respond to him?

Tietjen: Kierkegaard’s critique of the church and its clergy was at times challenged by the clergy, and at other times simply dismissed because he was not taken seriously after a while. To this day many in Denmark don’t know what to do with Kierkegaard. He was a public agitator, and that bad taste has never gone away. On the other hand, he’s arguably one of the three most famous Danes the world has ever known, and so there’s reason to take pride in him.

Moore: Kierkegaard liked to use irony, story-telling, and even sarcastic humor to get his points across. Was his intention similar to the famous lines of Emily Dickinson where she says, “Tell all the truth, but tell it slant”? In other words, conveying the truth via direct communication may not always be the most effective.

Tietjen: Telling someone who identifies as a Christian that his or her life does not reflect Christ or Christianity is a hard sell and likely to get you in trouble. So Kierkegaard tries to ‘deceive into the truth,’ to use his phrase (one he attributes to Socrates). Beyond that, however, he felt like Christianity is more than affirming true doctrine, but rather it contains truth (or the Truth) to which one must personally relate. For example, to be a Christian is not to believe in the doctrine of sin, but to recognize in one’s heart, mind, and actions—“I am a sinner.” But the best way to communicate this, Kierkegaard felt, was not simply through saying as much, but through irony, through humor, through characters, etc.

Moore: What kind of person would derive the most benefit from reading your book? What would you hope that type of person would learn from your book?

Tietjen: I can think of a number of different kinds of people who might benefit from the book, but I imagine the person in need of a spiritual jolt or in need of encouragement in faith might benefit from the book. The book covers a lot of ground—who Jesus is, what it means to be human, what a life of Christian love looks like, and how we’re to think about ourselves as witnesses of faith. Thus, it is geared toward those inclined toward self-examination, those interested in thinking about their faith, but also those wondering what Christian faith means for me beyond beliefs—in the realm of religious emotions, Christian action, and care for those around me.


Chris Castaldo was raised on Long Island, New York where he worked full-time in the Catholic Church. Chris previously served as a pastor at College Church of Wheaton and then as Director of the Ministry of Gospel Renewal at Wheaton College. He is now Lead Pastor at New Covenant Church in Naperville, Illinois.

The following interview revolves around Castaldo’s latest book, Talking with Catholics about the Gospel.

Moore: Your title uses “with” not “to” Catholics. Tell us a bit why you chose that way to describe the title.

Castaldo: It is common for books on Catholicism (written by evangelical Protestants) to convey an unkind attitude. The doctrinal emphasis of such works is commendable, but the irritable tone rings hollow and fails to exhibit the kindness of Jesus. It is the sort of tone that my seminary professor warned against when he said, “Don’t preach and write as though you have just swallowed embalming fluid. As Christ imparts redemptive love, so should his followers.” This love is communicated in the content of God’s message and also in its manner of presentation. Therefore, our engagements with Catholics must express genuine courtesy, even in disagreement.

Moore: You’ve written in the area of Roman Catholic theology before. What was the impetus for writing this book?

Castaldo: My previous book, Holy Ground: Walking with Jesus as a Former Catholic, was concerned with helping ex-Catholics to assess our experience of conversion from doctrinal and sociological points of view. Such reflection sought to illumine areas of difficulty (e.g., how are we dealing with patterns of injurious religious guilt?). It also attempted to shed light on challenges and opportunities connected with sharing the good news of Christ among our Catholic friends and loved ones. The new book—Talking with Catholics about the Gospel—however, was not written with reference to former Catholics. It makes no assumptions about an individual’s knowledge of Roman Catholicism (which is why, for example, it has a chapter on Roman Catholic history from the Reformation to the present in order to be a sort of primer), providing the basic information one needs to clearly communicate the gospel among Catholics.

Moore: You give three broad categories of Catholics: traditional, Evangelical, and cultural. Some Evangelicals will be surprised to see the moniker “Evangelical.” What are a few of the biggest misconceptions Evangelical Protestants have about Evangelical Catholics?

Castaldo: At the beginning of his award-winning book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, Mark Noll famously quipped, “The Scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.” In like manner, many evangelical Protestants in my pond would like to assert that there is little substance to the term “Evangelical Catholic.” According to this viewpoint, the essence of the “evangel” is the doctrine of justification by faith alone, which Catholics repudiate, thus putting them in a category other than “evangelical.”

Having conducted my doctoral research on the doctrine of justification, I appreciate the above perspective. It is true; the ultimate basis of our acceptance before God (i.e., justification) is different from what Catholics understand it to be. The Catholic view grounds divine righteousness in a person as opposed to locating it squarely in forensic righteousness for a person (as Protestants believe). However, in contemporary Catholicism—at least in the Midwest portion of the United States—I know several Catholics who possess convictions that are evangelical in nature. For example, they attribute salvation to grace alone. They read Scripture as the most authoritative norm for Christian faith. They will even use the language of “faith alone” (as did Pope Benedict) to highlight that forgiveness is a gift of God. Are such positions perfectly consistent with the Catechism of the Catholic Church? I’m not convinced they always are. Nevertheless, in view of the growing number of Catholics who hold these positions, I am comfortable recognizing their evangelical orientation.

In the book, I unpack the characteristics of men and women who identify as evangelical Catholics. I won’t reiterate them here beyond what I’ve already mentioned, but I will share a good example of what it looks like in action—a dialogue between my friend, Brett Salkeld, a very bright Catholic systematic theologian who identifies himself as an “evangelical Catholic,” and Jeff Greenman, another friend of mine who is the President of Regent College, Vancouver. They are helpful examples of the sort of warm-hearted and doctrinally rigorous exchange of which we need more.

Moore: When we seek to understand the official Catholic teaching on salvation it can be a bit frustrating and confusing. I know this firsthand! Would you recommend the statements in the Catholic Catechism as the most representative?

Castaldo: Absolutely. And there is an online version of the Catechism that allows you to perform word searches. There is no longer an excuse for confusion about what the Catholic Church teaches (although understanding what exactly they mean by what they teach and how it find application may sometimes involve a measure of ambiguity).

Moore: Related to the previous two questions is the portrayal of the Roman Catholic, especially as they position themselves against the Protestant tradition. Catholics tend to portray their church as monolithic, when the feet on the ground reality is a broad, rambling landscape.   Granted, we Protestants have our thousands of denominations, but Catholics have de facto denominations. Unpack some of this diversity within the church and why many Catholics are hesitant to concede it exists.

Castaldo: When I consider this question, I think of a statement from the book Holyland USA written by Catholic author Peter Feuerherd. Here is how he captures the varied and complex shape of Catholicism:

In reality, Catholicism includes those with disparate authority and opinions about almost everything under the sun. There are liberal bishops and conservative bishops. The pope sometimes differs with his own Curia. American Catholic voters are regularly viewed by experts as a crucial swing group in every national election, too diffuse to truly categorize. In fact, some scholars of religion refer to Catholicism as the Hinduism of Christianity, because it is infused with so many different schools of prayer, ritual and perspective, much like the native and diverse religions of India now referred to under the single rubric of Hinduism.[1]

Peter’s point is important to keep in mind when we discuss the diversity of Catholicism. It is easy to see the common clerical attire of priests, the standard liturgical order of the Mass, and hierarchical structure that unifies parishes and conclude that there is general unity in the Catholic Church. Not quite. Just like in Protestantism, there are progressives and conservatives, charismatics and stoics, feminists and male elitists, postmodern relativists, liberation theologians, traditionalists, mystics, and everything in between.

Moore: What are a few things you would like readers to gain from reading your book?

Castaldo: I hope readers will understand at least three things. I want them to gain an understanding of what the Catholic Church teaches concerning religious authority and salvation, at least on a basic level. I’d also like them to understand the different types of Catholic people in America today: the traditional, the evangelical, and the cultural. Finally, I want them to embrace their calling to embody the grace and truth of Jesus (John 1:14) in reference to Roman Catholics.

In my role as a pastor, I often observe how personalities lean toward one or the other poles, grace or truth. Some of us naturally resemble lambs; others are more like pit bulls. That’s life in a world full of uniquely created people. Consequently, we shouldn’t be surprised when we disagree on how to handle specific issues; but such disagreement shouldn’t undermine the enterprise of trying to thoughtfully navigate through our differences. Although we must agree to disagree in some places, courteous dialogue is a much more Christian approach than throwing polemical hand grenades over the ecclesial fence. They will know we are Christians by our love.

[1] Feuerherd, Peter. Holyland USA: A Catholic Ride Through America’s Evangelical Landscape. (New York: The Crossroad Publishing, 2006), 72



John Wilsey is Assistant Professor of History and Christian Apologetics and Associate Director of the Land Center at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.  His first book, One Nation Under God: An Evangelical Critique of Christian America, argues that America was not founded as a Christian nation but as a nation with religious liberty.

Wilsey’s book, American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion: Reassessing the History of an Idea ( framed this interview.

Moore: To what degree, if any, was the previous work you did in One Nation Under God? a catalyst for writing this book?

Wilsey: Yes, this book is an outgrowth of my research from One Nation Under God. That work originated as my PhD dissertation. I noticed while surveying the Christian America literature from 1977 to 2007 that American exceptionalism was entailed in the Christian America thesis. I spent a few pages describing how this was so in One Nation, but I did not have the space to devote a fuller attention to it. So, I decided to pursue a book length study on exceptionalism after One Nation was published.

Moore: You describe two different types of American exceptionalism: open and closed.  Briefly sketch what they are and why it matters.

Wilsey: Exceptionalism is a loaded and ambiguous term, and the purpose of the book is to attempt to offer precision in how we understand what it means. To do that, I wanted to look at the history of exceptionalism as an idea going back to the Puritans of the 17th century and also to consider what theological commitments exceptionalism entails.

I argued in the book that exceptionalism has had strong theological commitments throughout American history. Still, exceptionalism has also been articulated in political/social forms, too. I call the theological forms of exceptionalism “closed exceptionalism” because these forms divide people into either the Chosen or the Other. Thus, theological, or closed, exceptionalism is exclusive. But “open exceptionalism” is based on the liberal founding ideals of the nation as expressed in documents such as the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the Emancipation Proclamation, and Lincoln’s Second Inaugural. Open exceptionalism, because it does not generally appear in imperialistic or theological ways, is inclusive.

Moore: There are plenty of politicians on the right who have a closed form of American exceptionalism.  Are there any politicians, either moderates or liberals, who articulate a closed form of American exceptionalism?

Wilsey: Interesting question. Because the Democratic Party has largely abandoned its interventionist policies that defined the Truman, Kennedy, and Johnson administrations, closed exceptionalism has not been as widely embraced by those on the left. Obama is likely the most strenuous advocate of American exceptionalism on the left today, but the brand he extols is definitely open exceptionalism.

The most recent figure on the left to argue for closed exceptionalism would probably be Lyndon Johnson. An example of how he articulated closed exceptionalism is in his 1966 speech, “The Obligation of Power.”

Moore: For those who hold to an open form of American exceptionalism, are there any grounds to apologize for past abuses to Native Americans and African-Americans?

Wilsey: Of course. One of the features of open exceptionalism is national self-examination and the acknowledgement that not everything we have done as Americans is just. This is a tradition that goes back to the Puritan jeremiad, a genre of literature that calls members of the community back from their sins and backslidings to return to faithfulness to their covenant with God.

When Ronald Reagan acknowledged past abuses to Japanese Americans during World War II by offering reparations, this is an example of how open exceptionalism can take a step toward correcting past wrongs.

Moore: Other than Russell Moore, I haven’t seen many Southern Baptist leaders decry the immensely troubling endorsements of Trump by the likes of Jerry FalwelI Jr. or Robert Jeffress.  I pay pretty close attention to the news and have been dismayed (but sadly not surprised) by the lack of critical scrutiny.  I would like to buy each one of them a copy of your book, but I’m not convinced it would move the needle much.  If you had the chance to sit down with those men, what would you say to them?

Wilsey: Another great question! I might sit down with these brothers of mine in Christ and take them to 2 Chronicles 7:14. We’d look at the verse, as well as the context of that verse as it is situated in the larger passage of chapters 1-7. I would show them how to interpret the passage in its immediate historical context, but more importantly, how Christ fulfills the passage in his redemption of humankind through his death, burial, and resurrection. It is centrally because of Christ that we do not think about nations and lands being chosen by God. Christ is God, having come down to us as one of us and in bringing reconciliation through his atonement for sin. There is no longer any need for chosen nations and lands, because God now dwells with His people, the universal church.

Moore: You write some very helpful things about not confusing loyalty with conformity.  You are addressing what it means to be a good citizen, but your discussion is very applicable to what I’ve seen in many Christian organizations where those raising legitimate concerns can be marginalized for being “critical spirits.”  Would you unpack a bit more about the importance of not confusing loyalty with conformity?

Wilsey: Sure. True loyalty does not overlook faults. True loyalty brings faults into the light so that those faults might be corrected. Proverbs 27:6 tells us that “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” This is referring to personal relationships, but the same can be said about patriotism. The notion of “America, right or wrong” is thoroughly unhelpful, and has gotten the nation into trouble in the past. On the other hand, protest movements that have stood against injustice—particularly the civil rights movement and the pro-life movement—help the nation be confronted with its sins and figure out ways to correct evil trends.

Moore: What are a few things you hope your readers will take away from your fine work?

Wilsey: Thanks for the interview!

I hope readers will see that embracing closed exceptionalism is not an appropriate way to express patriotism. As I wrote in the book, true patriotism does not equal absolute agreement with everything the nation is doing. What happens when the nation begins trampling upon the rights of freedom of religion or freedom of speech? What happens when our own friends, neighbors, family members—even ourselves—are persecuted for what we say or what we believe? True patriotism entails standing up for the right, and opposing the wrong, as Lincoln famously said in many of his speeches and writings. America is historically an exceptional nation, and exceptionalism as a political/social construct built on the founding ideals puts us on a path to responsible civic engagement.

1+1+1=3 NOT 1!

It is common to see Christians use the 1+1+1=1 equation to describe the trinity.  Their intention is good, but I think utilizing this equation as an illustration of the trinity is misguided.

When we look at the equation we conclude that the trinity is irrational.  All our lives we have known 1+1+1=3 not 1.  But now we are instructed that there is a heavenly math of sorts where it equals 1.

I was sharing the gospel with a Muslim years ago at the University of Texas in Dallas. He said he could never become a Christian because the trinity was irrational.  I shared with him that irrational is not the right word.  Mysterious to be sure, but not irrational.

Irrational would mean we are saying God exists simultaneously as one Person and three Persons.  Another irrational option would be to say God exists simultaneously as one Being and three Beings.  But of course, Christians don’t believe either one of these things.

We do believe that God is one in His Being or Essence, yet three in Person.  Each Person is fully God not 33.333% God.  That is why you can’t conceptualize the trinity.  It is indeed beyond our understanding, but that does not make it irrational. 

I asked my Muslim friend if he could conceptualize everything about Allah.  He conceded that he could not.  He could not get his head wrapped around such things as God being uncaused or self-existent.  I asked if he thought uncaused or self-existent would be irrational.  “Not if He is God,” he replied.  Of course, it would be irrational to say God is both self-existent and dependent on someone/thing else for His existence.

So let’s drop the 1+1+1=1 for the trinity.  We don’t want to give the impression that belief in the Christian God is irrational.  Mysterious and beyond our comprehension to be sure, but not irrational.


Cal Newport is the best-selling author of such books as So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for the Work you Love and How to Become a Straight-A Student: the Unconventional Strategies Real College Students Use to Score High While Studying Less.

Cal teaches computer science at Georgetown University in Washington DC. The following interview is over Newport’s latest book, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World (

Moore: Give our readers a feel for the impetus behind writing this book.

Newport: We spend so much time wringing our hands over distraction that we’ve forgotten what’s so valuable about its opposite. If you hone your ability to work deeply, and prioritize this activity, you’ll become much more successful, and your professional life will become more satisfying. This seemed like a message worth sharing.

Moore: You provide some wonderful examples (including your own) of those who have been able to accomplish considerable work-related goals without being stressed workaholics. Why do most of us equate productivity with long hours and significant stress?

Newport: Not all work is created equal. If you spend all day answering emails between jumping on calls and attending meetings, you might feel busy, but you should not feel proud. You did very little that created new value or made you better at your craft. Once you recognize the value that true deep work creates, it becomes easier to treat the shallow alternative with suspicion – a nuance at best, a serious obstacle at worst, in your quest to make an impact on the world.

Moore: A computer scientist can’t be a Luddite, but you find Facebook and Twitter a waste of time. However, you do regularly blog. Personally, I am in the same boat: regular blogging, but no Facebook and Twitter. Preach to the non-choir who think Facebook and Twitter are the best things since sliced bread.

Newport: There’s a difference between being a Luddite and being picky about which technologies you allow to lay claim to your time and attention. There are a lot of technologies I love. But there are also a lot that I think are nonsense. I include most social media in the latter category. These commercial services are cleverly designed to prey on your quest for social approval and craving for lightweight distraction so that your eyeballs and personal data can be harvested then sold to advertisers. I have a hard job and two young kids at home. I want to preserve the small amount of free time that remains in my life for more meaningful pursuits.

Moore: During my time in radio I had the opportunity to interview Neil Postman for the hour. He was insightful in writing about the tradeoffs which come with new technology. Unpack that a bit for us.

Newport: Neil was a gifted and influential media critic. Among the many things he wrote about, an idea of his that stuck with me is the danger of the “technopoly.” In short, he warned that we have a tendency to deify new technologies as being intrinsically good and a prophetic source of wisdom regarding how best to run our governments, companies, and personal lives. I think we’re definitely seeing this play out today. When I say, for example, that Facebook is stupid, even if not everyone agrees with this claim, this really shouldn’t be that controversial—but I find instead that it throws people into a tizzy. This is the mark of a technopoly: dissent is seen as desecration not debate.

Moore: You have to do a lot of “deep work” for your role as college professor and writer. Should the rest of us be concerned about setting up our schedules in such a way that we can also do deep work?

Newport: Yes. Deep work is like a super power for many, many different knowledge work professions. To quote The Economist: “Deep work is the killer app of the knowledge economy.” There are three reasons to embrace deep work. First, if hone your ability to concentrate, you can produce significantly better output in significantly shorter time. Second, deep work allows you to learn complicated things quickly. And third, it makes your life more meaningful and satisfying. We were created to create things of value—not send emails.

Moore: I found your book a great encouragement for what I am doing right and a further motivation to tweak my schedule so as to allow for increased deep work. Two book projects are propelling me forward! What would you say are a few reasons why people ought to consider buying your book?

Newport: The book has two parts. The first part makes the case for deep work. If you’re on the fence, or if you’re a believer but want more ammunition to convince others, you’ll find what you need in part one. The second part provides detailed practical instructions for how to better cultivate and apply deep work in your own life. So if you’re looking to improve your ability to work deeply, this part will provide exactly what you’re looking for.




A history teacher during my sophomore year of high school introduced me to tricks for how to memorize (commonly called mnemonic devices).  He gave us the example of the word HOMES for the five great lakes: Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior.  Though I learned that list over forty years ago, and though I don’t have to review it, I can call it up just as easily today.

More on memory can be found in this TED talk:


Soon I will be interviewing Cal Newport on his terrific book, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World

Cal teaches computer science at Georgetown and has written a book underscoring the type of work which is increasingly rare and thus valuable.  One example can be found in blacksmith, Ric Furrer.  The care and integrity of Ric’s work is amazing.  I wonder what it would look like if Christians read their Bibles and studied with such care.