Culture Creators: An Interview with Jonathan K. Dodson

One of my favorite ongoing blog series is LifeHackers' How I Work. Simple questions about how people in a variety of workplaces get stuff done. As I read more and more of these, I kept thinking about wondering about creative people I know and what their answers might be. That got me thinking. Why not host an interview series at my own blog with Christians who are working with excellence, who I admire, and who do creative stuff? I was concerned about getting enough people to host a meaningful series, but the yeses kept rolling in. So here we are.

Who is Jonathan K. Dodson? Jonathan K. Dodson (MDiv; ThM) serves as a pastor of City Life Church in Austin, Texas. He is the author of Gospel-Centered Discipleship, The Unbelievable Gospel, and Raised? He has discipled men and women abroad and at home for almost two decades, taking great delight in communicating the gospel and seeing Christ formed in others. Twitter: @Jonathan_Dodson

Mathew B. Sims: What kind of computer do you write on?

Jonathan K. Dodson: MacBook Air. Love the sloped keyboard for writing.

MBS: What’s your writing application of choice?

JKD: Microsoft Word.

MBS: One word to describe your workspace?

JKD: Canvas. Nice and clean when I start, but a thorough mess when I’m done.

Jonathan’s Workspace

Jonathan’s Workspace

MBS: What music do you listen to while working?

JKD: This year I’ve cycled several albums: Trouble Will Find Me’s The National; The War on Drugs; Lord Huron; Bootstraps; Antiphon’s Midlake. I need more ambient or relaxed music for work. When I’m writing books, no music at all.

MBS: What’s your best creativity hack?

JKD: Going for a walk, sometimes with a pipe. I also find it very inspiring to take in great art—film, literature, music, architecture, creation, fine art. Great art inspires greater art.

MBS: What are you currently reading?

JKD: George MacDonald’s Lilith; Peter Berger’s A Rumor of Angels; Amy Sherman’s Kingdom Calling.

MBS: Would you consider yourself an introvert or extrovert?

JKD: Introvert who disciplines himself to have an others focus.

MBS: What tools are invaluable for you?

JKD: Some of my best creative brainstorming comes out on sheets of blank paper, 8 1/2 x11, where I diagram, draw, circle, and arrange things. Then, I move to a moleskine or knock-off journal before using a computer. I find the computer restrictive in the early stages of writing. Use Evernote for tasks and notes.

MBS: What’s the best cup of coffee you’ve ever had?

JKD: Medici’s cappuccino with Cuvee espresso is a go-to. Enjoy a good pour over of any medium roast that has chocolate/toffee/carmel notes.

MBS: What makes a good sermon in one sentence?

JKD: In a word, unction.

In a sentence, a good sermon comes through hard work, textual rigor, prayer before, during and after, communion with God, personal delight in the text, authentic creative engagement with culture, heartfelt application, conversations with my wife, the gospel on the heart, and utter dependence on the Holy Spirit.

MBS: What current projects are you working on?

JKD: Son of God? Discovering Jesus by Doubting the Incarnation & a creative book on the Holy Spirit.

MBS: Early bird or night owl?

JKD: Early bird. I love the silence and solitude.

MBS: How is creating culture connected to the mission of the church?

JKD: The church always creates culture. The question is, “What kind of culture?” Ken Meyers puts it nicely when he says, “Culture is what we make of the world.” By this he means culture is both ideology and artifact.

Today, the church is often more concerned with ideology than cultural artifact, but this has not always been the case. Early church apologetics, medieval liturgy, cathedral architecture, and reformation hymn writing are notable exceptions. The medium our theology conveys, not just contains, a message. That medium, whether music, fonts, books, orphanages, or start-ups, should reverberate with glory in its excellence and ethics. However, the Christian principle of sacrifice means excellence may have to be redefined or take second place.

MBS: What advice would you give to pastors who desire to write?

JKD: Don’t start with book ideas; instead, working out ideas in articles. Ask for honest feedback from those you respect. Most people can write clearly if they work at it, but you may not have the extra “it” to write books. If you’ve got the “it,” don’t give up. Write every week if not every day. Read regularly. Good writing is also caught.

If you don’t have the knack for it, don’t enthrone writing. Use the gifts God has given you and max them out for the kingdom of God. Always labor to communicate the gospel clearly.

MBS: What are the biggest mistakes young writers make?

JKD: Excessive description, flowery language, and bad grammar. Read some Hemingway or Laura Hildebrandt to learn how to say things powerfully without excessive description.