Mark Buchanan, pastor of New Life Community Baptist Church in Duncan, British Columbia, has written five books on Christian spirituality. Buchanan's latest is Hidden in Plain Sight (W Publishing Group, 2007). Stan Guthrie, CT's senior associate editor, interviewed him.
Why this new book?
Plain Sight is based on that passage in 2 Peter, chapter 1, where Peter says if you add to your faith goodness and knowledge and self-controlhe lists seven virtuesyou will have this amazing Christian life. If you possess the seven virtues in increasing measure, it "will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive." Being ineffective means you're making no difference, having no impact, leaving nothing behind. Being unproductive means you're bearing no fruit, producing no results. So the opposite is true: If I am growing in these seven virtues, I will also grow in the reach and depth of my impact, and the abundance of my fruit.
How does this affect your life?
Most books on spiritual disciplines are an amalgam of "best practices," garnered variously from ancient and modern monastic communities, the Amish, medieval Catholics, the pietistic movement, and the like. The disciplines I explore in Plain Sight are lifted straight from Scripture. I'm unaware of any biblical text quite like it: Add these seven things, Peter says, and you will live the life God intends for you. He names the qualities and gives the sequence. The simplicity of that is breathtaking. Most books on spiritual disciplines talk about the practicesprayer, fasting, Scripture readingthat cultivate our spiritual life. This book explores the virtues that are the fruit of that life. In other words, it identifies the goal of spiritual exercises.
Is this about following a series of steps to have a deeper Christian life?
No. One thing I have seriously tried to avoid in all my writings and my preaching is a sort of formulaic approach to spiritual formation, the paint by numbers way of doing life with God. But at the same time, the ancients have always understood that if you are not pursuing some things in terms of character formation, heart formation, that are rooted in some specific disciplines in terms of Scripture, prayer, and so on, you're not going to get very far.
So why are we Christians so weak?
All the books I have ever read on spiritual discipline assumed I wanted more of God. And I've had to realize I have a Jonah heart.
I want to run. I want less of God in many ways. I don't want God intruding and supervising and breathing down my neck.
What's next for you?
I've been working off and on for the last couple of years on a fairly ambitious novel that will probably be a weighty tome when I'm done. It takes place in the '60s in Vietnam.
Does your church make allowances for your writing?
Increasingly. It's been an adjustment. Being in a smaller community, they're not used to having a minor celebrity as a pastor. But increasingly there's been a real openness [to the idea] that I'm bivocational. I've always had the discipline for writing, so that hasn't intruded on my pastoral work.
But with the extra-curricular activities that come with writing, basically they tithe me, so I get five weeks a year to have a free hand just going places to speak or attend conferences.
Do you consider yourself more of an introvert or an extrovert?
I walk the line. I probably gravitate more toward introversion. So after a day of meeting people, I will want to climb into a little hole and hibernate.