Tag Archives: Featured
Posted on June 2, 2014 by Family Christian
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Shane Harper established himself as an artist with a quadruple threat—singer, actor, dancer, and songwriter. He began working as a professional dancer in the entertainment industry when he was just 13, appearing as a principal dancer in High School Musical 2, and in Nickelodeon's show, "Dance on Sunset".
Shane transitioned easily into acting, and is recurring on the hit Disney Channel show, "Good Luck Charlie", for all 4 seasons. He guest starred on "Wizards of Waverly Place", and "So Random". He also guest starred in a 4 episode arc for the scripted MTV series, "Awkward."
As an actor in film, Shane worked with Rob Reiner, in a supporting role for the movie, FLIPPED. He also had a small featured role in the Bollywood film, MY NAME IS KHAN.
Shane has a principal role in the feature film, GOD'S NOT DEAD and recently, I sat down with him to talk about faith, Hollywood, books music and coffee.
Read the full interview here.
“Sometimes you’ve just got to shake things up,” Michael W. Smith says with a smile. After selling more than 15 million albums, scoring 28 No. 1 hits, earning three GRAMMYs and more than 40 Dove Awards, no one would blame the Christian music icon if he decided to coast just a little bit, but that’s just not in his nature.
On Sovereign, Michael’s first worship album since 2008 and his first project since signing with Capitol Christian Music Group in 2013, he deliberately steps into a new creative chapter to craft a vibrant collection of vertically focused songs with a fresh sense of musical innovation.
Read the full interview here.
Being unstoppable is about believing and achieving. It’s about having faith in yourself, your talents and your purpose and, most of all, in God’s great love and His divine plan for your life.
Millions around the world recognize the smiling face and inspirational message of Nick Vujicic. Despite being born without arms or legs, Nick’s challenges have not kept him from enjoying great adventures, a fulfilling and meaningful career, and loving relationships. Nick has overcome trials and hardships by focusing on the promises that he was created for a unique and specific purpose, that his life has value and is a gift to others, and that no matter the despair and hard times in life, God is always present. Nick credits his success in life to the power that is unleashed when faith takes action.
Nick took some time out of his busy schedule to do a little Q&A with us. Read them here.
From “latch-key kid” to key player in the Man Up movement, Lecrae’s life is an example of God’s transformative power – and he’s not quiet about it. In his signature straight-shoot approach, new album Gravity calls Christians to open their eyes to the weight of need in their world and share the love of Jesus as never before.
Read the full interview here.
There’s no denying much of today’s music has the power to move the masses physically. Inventive beats and hooky choruses are the currency of the day. Now enter Capital Kings, a talented duo that blends pop, electronic dance music, and rap into an intoxicating musical mix that makes audiences want to move, and yet there’s a thought-provoking, life-affirming undercurrent. Capital Kings combine style with substance and introduce flash with a foundation.
Jon White and Cole Walowac have parlayed a long-term friendship and shared passion for music into one of the hottest careers in the industry. Despite their young age, the duo’s
history is a lengthy one. “We were in the nursery in the same church,” Jon says. “We moved away to Massachusetts for a few years, Cole and I met back up in the same middle school and we started playing in the youth group band. Cole would play drums and I would sing and that’s how we started making music.”
Read the full q&a here.
The band may have been formed in a dorm room with a group of college friends, but it has since become a music ministry that has touched peoples hearts and minds all over the globe.
Read the full interview here.
Matt Maher's newest album, All The People Said Amen," fuses the popularity of his vibrant live show with several new studio cuts, offering fans an assortment of writing and performance styles.
“This project,” offers Maher, “is a real collage of who I am musically. You’ll hear intimate worship songs, anthemic praise tunes often sung and shouted aloud together in unison, and celebratory songs that inspire the whole church.”
I chatted with Matt on cold winter day. What follows is a conversation on who Matt is, what he hopes to accomplish and how he just wants to sing about Jesus.
Read the full interview here.
"The more you walk in relationship with the Lord, the more you learn to trust him. I'm learning not to focus so much on the issues I think are so big right now—our bus has broken down, or someone said something that frustrated me. I'm learning to slowly let things roll off my back, to say, 'Hey, God knew about this before it happened and He's got a way out or a plan better than mine.' I've learned to stop freaking out and just trust that God knows what he's doing. He's not going to leave me in a bad place because He never has before."
Such it is with Francesca Battistelli. Honest. Simple. Beautiful. Intentional.
We have all been exposed to her music. Starting with "I'm Letting Go," or "Free to Be Me." "This is the Stuff" or "Strangely Dim." It doesn't matter. For every time that "Franny" opens her mouth to sing, she is opening her heart.
There is a vulnerable side to this young lady. And if you didn't know it already, you will be able to hear it by reading the interview below. Franny came to our corporate Christmas party to bring encouragement and holiday greetings. After I sat down with her, I was reminded again about her passion.
Read the full interview here.
Dictionary.com gives the definition of pioneer in the following ways
1. a person who is among those who first enter or settle a region, thus opening it for occupation and development by others.
2. one who is first or among the earliest in any field of inquiry, enterprise, or progress.
3. one of a group of foot soldiers detailed to make roads.
For more than 15 years, well-respected worship leader Kari Jobe has been using her gifts to lead people into the presence of God. When she began leading worship at age 13, she never imagined she would be nominated for a GRAMMY®, win a Dove Award or be praised by the New York Times. She only knew she had a heart for broken people and a deep desire to lead them to the cross.
Pioneer? This may be the word that describes who Kari is and what she hopes to do as an artist.
I sat down with Kari and asked about her background. Where she came from, how she found Jesus and where is she going. Read the full interview here.
The pages of history have been written by ordinary people who had something extraordinary to say with their lives. Bill Gaither is just such an individual… an Indiana-born kid with an insatiable love for music who grew to become an industry leader who would change the course of gospel music history through the songs he has written and through his influence as a mentor for other artists.An avid fan of gospel quartets throughout his childhood, Bill founded his first group, The Bill Gaither Trio, in 1956, while he was a college student. He began teaching English in 1959 because his musical aspirations couldn’t support him full-time… yet. In 1962, Bill did one of the best things he has ever done. He married Gloria Sickal, who became the best writing partner Bill could have found anywhere. The couple spent the first five years of their married life juggling full-time teaching jobs, writing, singing, recording and publishing until music became their full-time career in 1967.
Read the full interview here.
Posted on June 2, 2014 by John van der Veen
Reach Records artist Tedashii has been a busy man since we heard from him last. Following the 2011 release of Blacklight, which debuted at No. 2 on the iTunes hip-hop chart, he’s had a heavy touring schedule that included his own concert series, The Unashamed Tour and The Rock and Worship Roadshow with MercyMe and Jeremy Camp, where he had the distinction of being the only hip-hop act. Then there was that guest spot on Lecrae’s Grammy-winning album Gravity, and Tedashii’s own hit track “Dum Dum” was featured on the popular TV show So You Think You Can Dance. And did we mention he’s also the host of his own weekly radio show, Serium, heard on NGEN Radio?
Despite his demanding schedule, Tedashii planned to return to the studio shortly after he came off the road in March of 2013. But before he could lay down a single track, tragedy struck. Tedashii’s one-year-old son passed away suddenly, and the world stopped. There was no recording, no touring, just months of family time, counseling, and trying to find a new normal. While the healing continued, eventually, he knew he needed to get back to work. That interaction with people – both from the stage and before and after shows – is what Tedashii loves to do. So by June 2013 he began to ease back into performing, which he found to be therapeutic.
I sat down with Tedashii for a one on one chat. What follows is a that conversation. A conversation about loss. About life. About living Below Paradise.
John: I'm wondering Tedashii if you could just bring us a little bit back in time and maybe talk a little bit about how you came to know Jesus as your savior and how that relationship more or less started with you.
Tedashii: I would be glad to do that. I graduated high school and got to go to this really small school, somebody might have heard of it, it’s called Baylor University. I got to go to Baylor, and when I got there I had a plan. My plan was to be the most popular and the most well-known student that school had ever seen from a party scene and from an academic scene. I was ready to hit the world by storm. Man, I had a lot of dreams, ambition, and aspirations.
In the second month of my first semester this guy walked up to me on campus, never met him before, had seen him around but never met him, and it’s hot, and so on I'm ready to get into some AC, the wind isn't blowing it all, it’s really dry, it’s in Central Texas, so there's a lot of hills and I'm just tired. I just want to go in and not be bothered.
This guy walks up and he says, “Hey, I heard the way that you interacted with your buddies, and I heard some of the jokes you guys told, and just how you carried yourself, I think that the Bible would call this sin.” He then proceeded to share the gospel with me. Told me I needed the Savior, the only savior was Jesus and I needed to be saved. I didn't know him from at all. I got super offended, pushed him, literally put my hands on him and showed him away from me and walked off upset, because here was this guy judging me.
But for most of my life everybody told me I was a good guy, I was a good kid. Here was this one guy saying the opposite of everybody else, so of course I easily dismissed him. But in the days to follow I got injured, I lost my scholarship, and I was on my way home. My world was crumbling, it was crashing down.
Literally as I'm hanging up the phone with my high school girlfriend, because she was breaking up with me, this guy walks by and sees me and he says, “Man, you look like you need to talk to somebody.” I was so frustrated that it was him, but I did, I needed to talk to somebody. He just started sharing the gospel with me again. This time I heard him, I understood it, and on that campus, in the middle of all that heat I just got on my knees and cried out for Jesus man.
John: So it was the same guy?
Tedashii: Same guy, same exact guy. We are friends to this day. He was the best man at my wedding and, man, he’s just a dear, dear brother in the Lord man.
John: That's pretty incredible man. Just that whole idea of confronting someone in their sin and presenting them with the gospel, I think the world might be a better place if we all ended up doing a little more of that.
Tedashii: Yes, very much so.
John: At what point, I mean, obviously you have a talent, obviously you are the artist, I am not. Your talent is that you do hip hop and you do it incredibly well.
Tedashii: Thank you man.
John: Absolutely. My question is was hip hop part of who you were before you were a Christian? Did it come later in life? I mean how did you end up moving into that realm?
Tedashii: Hip hop was definitely later in life. I grew up in a home. My mom was … I don’t think my mom was a believer at the time, but she was really religious. We grew up in the Bible Belt and so church is what you did. We were not allowed to do certain things because the preacher called it sin, so one of those things was hip hop. Hip hop wasn’t in my home. I couldn't watch videos. When everybody else saw videos, I didn’t know what they were talking about. I couldn’t listen to the radio station. Well, hip hop stations. We could listen to her music all day long, but couldn’t listen to my music.
But my mom was a very musical person. She sang in the choir. She would sing around the city at different events. Then she also played a lot of soul and blues music, every now and again some jazz, but the weird one is country. She’d always play country too. I just got influenced by music and a lot of it at an early age. When I got to an age that I could … Well, I was about to say when I got to an age I could listen to hip hop, really when I got to an age that I could sneak hip hop in and not get caught, I listened to it all the time.
But really the guy that led me to Christ and Baylor was the same guy who first encouraged me to write a rap song. He said, “Man, you're always listening to hip hop. You like to seat and freestyle and make up rhymes. Why don’t you write a song down?” I tried it. He talked me into doing it at a talent show and it was horrible. I got fourth-place on five people and it was really embarrassing then so I vowed never to do that again.
But years later, really, really later I met Lecrae and I met Trip Lee and some other guys and these guys encouraged me to try it again. They thought I was good at it, they thought there was a gift there, some talent, and lo and behold they were right. The Lord was opening that door and he's continued to open it.
John: That is for sure, and the world has certainly been a better place ever since.
Tedashii: Praise the Lord.
John: Your new record, Below Paradise, is now available. Why don’t you talk a little bit about it. What’s the catalyst behind it?
Tedashii: Below Paradise is a very personal album, very, very near and dear to my heart. I've had three previous albums and I tell people I put my heart on my albums. But this one in particular I put my soul on it. I gave literally everything I had. The catalyst behind it was me trying to communicate what my life was like in 2013 leading up to 2014, just everything that I went through from the loss of my son, to my journey as a guy trying to reconcile what it feels like to live in a harsh world with a loving God, and wanting to be able to communicate that to people who have also maybe gone through something similar, but also to people who may not.
There are a lot of people when I talk to them, they say, “Man, I can’t imagine.” Then their very next statement is, “I don't know what I would do.” My encouragement to them is I know what you would do. If you love God like you say you love God, you would wrestle to continue to love Him and by His grace He would keep you. I feel like that's my story. The Lord has allowed me room to wrestle within His grace up but He's kept me.
John: Tedashii, I mean, just hearing obviously the trials that God put you through and how that has shaped your life, not just this record, but obviously your life, if God puts me through something, that's stored here, in my heart. But you have chosen to go one step further. You’ve chosen to literally open your heart and to allow people to see it.
As you've already referenced, you said your previous records have always been a personal statement about who Tedashii is, what you stand for, and everything like that. But this one, I mean you are being very vulnerable in this fact that you are literally showing the world your heart. There's a sense of brokenness and also a sense of restoration. How do you …? What is it like to be that personal with such a wide audience? What's the goal there and what's that like?
Tedashii: Good question. The goal for me was to be able to trust God enough that my open honesty and vulnerability would in some way encourage people who may have gone through this or are feeling pain and suffering in some way, my goal is to bring awareness. I think a lot of people fight to live in this bubble where everything seems to be good and works out good and there's always a happy ending. In reality there's just a harsh world all around us.
I don't necessarily want awareness for their lives personally. That's good. That's one thing. But be aware of the world around you so much so that you start to ask the question, how I need to engage it. After this moment, that's what I asked myself. I went on this journey to write this album as a part of my responsibility on how I am going to engage a harsh world.
Now there's good in this world. I mean I'm not at all blind to that. God is a good God himself. There are good things. He gives good gifts to His children. But within this world there's a harshness and some of it is unanswered. I don't think I’m trying to provide an answer as much as I am begging people to walk with me in awareness so that we can push back the darkness.
John: That is the goal, right? That's what we're all called to do.
John: I think that's more or less Kingdom living.
Tedashii: Yeah, amen.
John: Going back to the record Tedashii you have guest artists that show up on the record with you. You want to name some of those?
Tedashii: I do man, I'm excited. I've been a fan of this young lady by the name of Britt Nicole.
Tedashii: She has a phenomenal voice. I wanted to do something, when I first spoke with her and asked her if she’d be willing to be on the album she said, “Of course.” I was super excited. My plan was to do a song similar to the songs she normally does. But I had this random idea to put her on a song opposite of everything anyone would expect from her, and let her shine in that way. I put her on this song called Dark Days, Darker Nights which chronicles my pain, initially after feeling this loss and this weight of it. She did an amazing job. I'm so appreciative of her.
Another guy, another person in the album is this guy named David Crowder. I know some people know who he is. David Crowder, he’s just a cool dude who every time I saw him he was down to earth and willing to engage and interact. To me, I describe him as a worship leader with stadium, with a stadium sound.
There are some guys, they lead worship. It's better for that sitting to be a smaller close-knit sitting, but he has the ability to engage this stadium size crowd and still draw them in to want to call out to Christ. I wanted him on a track.
John: I have a question regarding Crowder. When you guys were basically, I'm not sure if you actually recorded the vocals on the same day or not, but did he require you to wear a trucker hat when you were working on the song that he was involved in?
Tedashii: No, I wanted that brother to wear a flat bill. I was like, “You need to switch it up bro, switch it up. Let's change it. Let’s some do something totally different.” Of course he didn’t. He was like, “I’m good man. I’m good.”
John: It is what it is.
Tedashii: But he did, he had a trucker hat on, his glasses, and I want to say he had on a flannel shirt and it was hot. But I don’t get it, I don't know why he had that on. It’s kind of hot outside. But he came in there and he did his job. It was amazing. He killed it. I'm appreciative of that. He’s on a song called … Wow, I just forgot the song talking about it. That's hilarious. Angels and Demons, he's on a song called Angels and Demons. Then of course the label mates on the album, I got a single out now with Lecrae and Trip Lee called Nothing I Can’t Do. So yeah, I'm excited about it man.
John: That's great. Obviously I read up a little bit about you Tedashii in preparing for this conversation. Don't be alarmed by what I'm going to ask you. But I know that you are not as a fan of hip hop, but there so there's a few other forms of music that you truly enjoy doing. In fact maybe sometimes on a Sunday morning someone may find you … where?
Tedashii: At church.
John: I thought I was reading somewhere that may be on occasion you've helped in a worship setting where you’re a vocalist, but maybe I'm wrong.
Tedashii: You had me nervous because I was like, “What secret info has he found out. What he knows? What’s happening?” No, that’s good. I have on occasion joined in with the worship team and sang the back background vocals. I'm not necessarily just background, I tend to be further, further back because I carry a tune very lowly, and so not all the time does a baritone get the solo, so I'm okay with that.
Then sometimes I’ll through in a verse. We go to the church called The Village Church were a guy named Matt Chandler is the pastor. Our campus is super diverse and has a lot of different cultures. We try to implement a lot of different styles of worship. Actually, I try to serve when I can man. But I'm a secret closet fan of a lot worship guys like, man, I don’t know if have heard of Shane and Shane before, but I am a super fan of Shane and Shane. I think those dudes are amazing. They say they don't, but I’m like, “Not only do you have perfect pitch. You have perfect harmony. It’s like every time, live or on the album.” Anyway, but I worship bro, I am a fan.
John: I totally agree. I think there are songs … Record is one of my favorites.
Tedashii: Yes, yes.
John: Let’s see. So besides music, I'm sorry if I was making you a little nervous there.
Tedashii: I was a little nervous. I was like, “What is he about to say,” because everybody teases because I'm a fan of country music. I like country music.
John: Well, I mean you are from Texas so it's not that big of a deal.
Tedashii: Here we go, good.
John: So anything beyond music? Is there any other passion that you really enjoy doing?
Tedashii: Well I do a weekly radio show called Serium. It’s a word I made up. It’s s-e-r-i-u-m, but Serium is a weekly hip hop show that airs every Saturday night at eight pm Central on NGEN radio, the letter N, the letter G, the letter E, the letter N, ngenradio.com. Anyone who lives in the Houston area can listen to it. There's call letters for you to find that you can get on FM station. Check it out. It's a sister company of KSBJ. Man, it's been amazing to do that. l love doing radio, I love playing around vocally with what I can do and then bring in people, all these different types of songs that are amazing within what we're doing right now as far as hip hop goes.
I love doing theater. I consider myself a thespian to a certain extent. I love doing that. At the end of the day I see myself as a communicator. So any way that I can, any medium, any art form that I can use to communicate the truths of the Lord and scripture and my passion, then I'm going to do it. I don’t know, I may do a spoken word piece one day, or I may turnaround and try to write a short story. I don't know, it just depends, but anything artistically that I can use I'll try to do it.
John: Tedashii thank you very much for taking the time to chat with me today. I really appreciate it.
Tedashii: Thank you man.
Heaven has become more real, and there’s a new urgency to get there. It’s an important message he feels compelled to share. This newfound purpose doesn't make the pain worth it or lessen the ache of loss, but it's a calling he’s embracing. As he moves forward in his life and with this new album, he’s more determined than ever to prove himself faithful while he’s still here, Below Paradise.
Posted on May 20, 2014 by Family Christian
Randy Singer is a critically acclaimed, award-winning author of more than 12 legal thrillers, and a veteran trial attorney. In addition to his writing and law practice, he serves as a teaching pastor for a church in Virginia.
In this interview, he talks about his latest book, The Advocate.
1. As a novelist, pastor, and trial attorney, you seem uniquely qualified to craft this story. Do you feel that you were meant to write this novel, The Advocate?
It does feel like I was born to write this book—that everything else has just been practice. I know that I’m more excited about this book than any other I’ve done. And it took longer—nearly five years from concept to completion.
Unlike my previous books, The Advocate is historical fiction. It’s focused on the two greatest trials in the history of the world: the trial of Jesus (which has been written about extensively) and the trial of Paul in front of Nero, which we know next to nothing about. Both changed the lives of all those associated with them as well as the trajectory of history.
So yes, it does feel like this story, more than any other, brought together my roles as storyteller, pastor, and trial attorney. It also tapped into my experience as a history teacher before I went to law school. Until I started writing The Advocate, I had forgotten how much I loved studying this period of history.
2. How does The Advocate relate to the gospel message?
In two ways. First, The Advocate is the story of a man who played a central role in both the trial of Jesus and the trial of Paul in front of Nero. As you read the story, you are literally face-to-face with the two greatest proponents of the Christian faith in the midst of their greatest trials. There is no middle ground. You are forced to choose.
Second, I believe the strongest evidence for the authenticity of the Christian faith is the faith and courage of the first-century Christians. They are the ones who literally bet their lives on the reality of the Resurrection. They had seen the risen Christ and had been totally transformed by the Spirit. Their courage, humility, strength, and resolve cannot be explained away apart from the supernatural.
The day after I called my publisher with the idea for this book, I had dinner with a friend. Not knowing anything about this book, he was telling me how he had rejected the Christian faith his entire life until he started studying the earliest Christians and asked himself some simple questions. Why would they pledge their lives to a cause they knew to be a fraud? If they hadn’t actually seen Christ come back from the dead, why would claim they did? Where did they find the courage to confront the kingdoms of their day with the claims of the Kingdom of Christ? Those questions, and his search for answers, led him to put his faith in Christ. I knew after that dinner conversation that God had called me to write this book and bring this story to life.
3. This book is obviously a departure from your normal fare of writing contemporary legal thrillers. What elements of a typical Randy Singer novel are present in The Advocate? Do you plan on writing more historical novels like this or returning to legal thrillers?
The Advocate is a unique blend of legal thriller and historical fiction. The protagonist is one of Rome’s greatest lawyers and is involved in the first-century trials that determined the fate of the empire. The stakes are even higher and the intrigue greater than in modern courtrooms.
Whether I’m writing a legal thriller or a historical piece like this one, my goal is that each of my books will feature realistic and compelling characters, intricate plots with lots of surprises, and a story line that entertains the reader while causing him or her to think about the bigger issues in life. My hope is that this book will have the authentic “feel” of a Randy Singer novel, just in a different place and time. Only the readers can say whether I’ve accomplished that.
I do plan on writing legal thrillers again, but I’ve also got a sequel to The Advocate in mind. I’d like to see how this book is received before I make any decisions.
4. Who is the advocate, your titular character—the man who defended the world’s greatest missionary in front of the world’s cruelest tyrant?
The advocate is Theophilus, the man to whom Luke addressed the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. My premise is that he was Paul’s advocate, chosen to plead Paul’s case in front of Nero, the most despised ruler in the history of Rome (and that’s saying a lot). Theophilus accepted the assignment because he had previously served as Pilate’s assessore, or law clerk, and was there for the trial of Jesus. The crucifixion of an innocent Jewish Rabbi, and the events that followed, changed Theophilus in profound ways. Thirty years later, he sought redemption for his role in the trial of Christ by defending the Rabbi’s most strident disciple.
5. In your novel, you suggest that the books of Luke and Acts were written as evidentiary briefs for Theophilus in defense of Paul. Can you help us understand this?
As a novelist, I always wondered why the book of Acts ended with Paul imprisoned in Rome, waiting for his trial in front of the infamous Nero. Luke is a great storyteller, but it seemed like a strange way to end a great story—right at the climax. Combine this with the fact that Luke spends five chapters at the end of Acts telling about the minute details of Paul’s trials that preceded his appeal to Caesar. And finally there is that intriguing hint in the salutation of the two books, where Luke tells the “most excellent Theophilus” that he has written this account so that Theophilus will “know the certainty of the things you have been [told]” (Luke 1:4).
When you put all those things together, it seems to me that these two books were written to assist Theophilus, as Paul’s court-appointed advocate for his trial in front of Nero, to understand Paul’s story and better defend him. Perhaps Theophilus visited Paul when he was under house arrest and heard an earful from Paul and his companion Luke about this Nazarene named Jesus and the reasons for Paul’s arrest. Perhaps Theophilus, recognizing that Luke was a great historian and storyteller, urged the doctor to write the whole thing down in a form that could be submitted as evidence at the trial. In Roman courts, written submissions were just as valued as oral testimony. And when I read the books of Luke and Acts with this thesis in mind, I realize just how much they read like a legal brief—arguing the case that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah (because Judaism was still legal in the Empire) and that both he and Paul had been prosecuted based on trumped-up charges of sedition.
6. The trial of Jesus Christ has been studied and dissected for centuries. What made you want to examine the trial of the apostle Paul? What do you most want to share about this trial?
I would love to know what happened at the trial of Paul. He was the world’s greatest missionary, a brilliant advocate in his own defense who was not afraid to call even kings and rulers to repentance. And sitting on the throne judging him was Nero, the cruelest, most depraved and self-possessed tyrant the world had ever seen. Paul was accused of starting a new religion and of sedition against Rome. What did Paul say when he testified? What would I say as an advocate if I were the one defending him? How did the haughty Nero react? We know from Acts 26 that when Paul was brought to trial before Agrippa, he tried to convert the Roman king. Did he do the same with Nero? Is this trial part of the reason that Nero hated Christians so much?
You would think that Paul would have no chance of winning. But you would be wrong. In 2 Timothy, Paul said that the message was fully proclaimed at his trial so that the Gentiles might hear it. And yet miraculously, he was “delivered from the lion’s mouth.” The phrase “the lion” was a common way of referring to Caesar. How could this be? How could Paul and his advocate possibly convince the notorious Nero that Paul was an innocent man? Those are the questions I wanted to explore in this book.
7. The concept of Christian martyrdom comes up in this novel. How did the deaths of these early Christians set the stage for the spread of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire?
Romans were fascinated with death. They watched brave gladiators die and honored them for their courage. They experimented with the mechanics of death, thinking up new and horrific ways to kill condemned prisoners or captives of war. They made a spectacle of death, perfecting things like crucifixion.
But they had never seen men and women die like the Christians. Yes, they had seen courage in the face of death—something the Christians exhibited along with the noblest gladiators. But they had never seen such commitment to a cause, such peace in the face of torture, such grace and forgiveness for those whom the Christians should have been cursing.
I discovered in writing this novel that most of us don’t believe we have the kind of faith and courage that would allow us to be a martyr. But I’ve also found that God gives boldness and grace for each step of the journey, equal to what the situation demands, even grace unto death. Jesus himself wrestled in the garden before submitting to the Father’s will and embracing the cross.
I’ve also discovered how powerful it is when others know that our faith doesn’t just help us to live well; it also helps us die well. In AD 197, in a letter to Roman authorities, Tertullian said it this way:
“Kill us, torture us, condemn us, grind us to dust; your injustice is proof that we are innocent. Therefore God allows that we thus suffer. . . . Nor does your cruelty, however exquisite, avail you. . . . The oftener we are mown down by you, the more in number we grow; the blood of Christians is seed.”
8. Reviewers suggest that this book weaves together secular history and biblical history in a unique way. How is this book different from other historical novels set in first-century Rome?
I’m not sure I can speak for all historical novels, but I do think that many books set in the first century tell the story from the point of view of a biblical character or a person on the bottom rung of Roman society. By contrast, The Advocate is told from the point of view of one of Rome’s leading advocates, a man who experienced Jesus firsthand but also interacted with Roman emperors and the Roman Senate. We sometimes lose sight of the fact that the Christian faith was incubated in a hostile world ruled by Rome. Christian leaders like Paul and Roman rulers like Nero crossed paths. We should not isolate church history from what was happening in the broader political context.
9. How accurate is the book historically? How can readers know what parts are fiction and what parts are historical reality?
As a history lover, I have worked hard on the historical details. That’s one reason it took me so long to write the book—I felt like I first needed to really understand the culture, politics, and people of the time. People who have read the book have many questions that start with “Did [fill in the blank] really happen?” For the most part, my answer is “yes.” I did not knowingly fudge the history just to make the story work. Plus, the reality of what happened in first-century Rome is quite often stranger than any fiction writer could imagine. That said, the book is fiction, so there are fictional characters and the main story line is fictional, though I’ve woven it into the actual history of the era (if that makes sense). At the beginning of the book is a list of characters that notes which ones are historical and which are fictional. I also intend to put up notes for each chapter on my website to detail which parts of the story are real and which parts I imagined.
10. It could be argued that our modern-day society is reminiscent of first-century Rome. What are some of the similarities? What lessons can we learn in this novel that still ring true today?
This was shocking to me—how much first-century Rome was like twenty-first–century America. Rome was the greatest power in the world, but it had abandoned the values that originally made it great. A Roman poet decried this state of affairs, calling the Caesars “emperors of bread and circus.” What he meant was that Rome’s rulers garnered public approval not through exemplary service but through creating a state of entitlement among the Romans (more than 400,000 Romans got free bread from the state) and by entertaining them with elaborate gladiator games and chariot races. Moreover, Rome’s rulers and intellectual elites led Rome down a path of sexual degradation, and the gap between the rich and poor became greater and greater. Treason trials were the order of the day and nobody dared say anything that was “politically incorrect.”
In terms of lessons, we should look at how Christianity grew and flourished in such a culture. The early Christians didn’t try to reform the government through laws but chose to live differently in a hostile culture, winning the hearts of individuals. The power of the Spirit and the message of the gospel would eventually sweep the Empire, resulting in reform and cultural change that never could have been ushered in politically.