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Transcending Mysteries: The Interview with Andrew Greer and Ginny Owens

Andrew Greer and Ginny Owens are long-time recording artists who tour the country using their gift of song to point people to the Transcendent. As songwriters, they are well versed in crafting melodies that help us connect to a powerful, loving, and all-too mysterious God. Their work with words has led them to write a book together: Transcending Mysteries: Who is God and What Does He Want From Us?   

The book, published by Thomas Nelson, is a deeply personal discovery of God through the pages of the Old Testament. Many of us – Greer and Owens included – struggle with the Old Testament text and the God we find (or think we find) in it. In the earliest pages they confess, “We fell in love with Jesus then had to figure out what to do with God.” And as you will see in the interview below, the authors discovered that when we embrace the struggle and venture into the unknown we will discover beautiful things about God and ourselves.  

 

From page one you both write with openness and vulnerability.  What led you to write your first book with such deeply personal and vulnerable stories? 

GINNY: I’m not entirely sure! (laughs) On some level, in order to engage our readers as we delved into the Old Testament, it was important to be honest about our own journey and struggles. Hopefully that honesty helps readers connect with the Bible’s 3000 year old stories. I’m not a biblical scholar, so like many others, the lens I have to view Old Testament through is the lens of my story. I realize that may seem very post-modern, but I don’t’ necessarily mean it to. But I had to start somewhere! So I began by sharing my own experience and perspective.  

 

ANDREW: My answer is going to sound very post-modern. But I do mean for it to! (laughs) The most authentic thing you can share is your own story. Knowledge about Scripture can become strictly intellectual if it’s not infused with the story of your heart. And Ginny and I, by our nature as song-writers, are story tellers. The songs we write and sing are all connected to our stories, but the number of words we can use is limited to a few verses and chorus. In this book we had much more room to talk about how the vulnerable details of our stories connect us to scripture.  Our stories are an authentic place to begin. People can argue about theology, views of Scripture, who God is and who God isn’t, but they can’t argue your story and how the One we believe in has connected through that story. And telling our stories helps break down barriers and connect others with God’s story in Scripture. All of us, including the biblical characters we wrote about, are human and we live real stories just like they lived real stories. 

Were you shocked by the similar experiences and emotions you shared with some Old Testament characters? What was it like to find yourself – in a sense – in the people of the Old Testament?

GINNY: It made the Old Testament a lot more relevant, God’s people more relatable and real, and Scripture came alive in a way it never has. Take Moses for example. His was a story of broken dreams, something I can totally relate to. He grew up in Egyptian royalty, with power, military might, education, and an understanding of the ways of the world. Then as an 80 year old, he’s tending sheep feeling utterly alone and we think there is just no hope for this guy! Yet God set him aside for something. And not to be too dramatic—as we song writers can be—but I knew this feeling right after college. Our circumstances were not the same, but I felt an utter hopelessness as I wondered if God could use me. Obviously, God did not speak to me in a burning bush, but I began to see similarities in the way God interacted with Moses then and with me now.

ANDREW: Yeah – he didn’t talk to me in a burning bush either, of course – but he did plant an old, in-tune piano in an uninsulated, rustic lodge in the middle of a Wyoming forest that I happened to run across during a time of my own wandering, loneliness, and searching. And at that piano, writing songs, I stepped into the presence of God. The burning bush story became instantly relatable. I think people are afraid of the OT because it seems that those scenes are un-relatable. But it’s not true. The miraculous, mysterious, and poignant scenes that deliver purpose and imbue us with hope still happen today. The question is, are we in tune with his voice when those moments come?

You two do a great job in the book of helping the reader make sense of some long, detailed, and confusing OT passages. Can you explain the benefit of looking at large swaths of scripture, rather than a devotional verse or two, particularly when trying to understand God’s character in the OT?

ANDREW: The first priority for me was to eliminate fear. We shelve the things we are afraid of. And a lot of that fear comes from lack of knowledge with what is actually in there. So we had to confront our own fears and uncertainties about the Old Testament by opening it up and seeing what’s really in it. Only by looking at the whole picture do we have the opportunity to discover who God actually is, not just what we thought he was or was not. We had to surrender to God as revealed in the text, just as we do with God revealed in his Son, in creation, in our relationships with others. And part of surrender is being open to discovering something about God we just don’t like. But the goal isn’t to pick out a few random verses to form a god we like. The goal is to discover the God that is real. So we surrendered to the text and found that God is much more vast, different, and deep than our doubts, fears, and uncertainties would allow us to believe. At the end of the day, I don’t believe in myself. I believe in Him. I’m 100% for Him. It’s not about what I want or need him to be, it’s about who He truly is. Period. And I need that.

GINNY: Amen.

This idea of surrender is a theme throughout the book. What else did your exploration of God through the Old Testament teach you about surrender?

GINNY: It showed me that from the beginning of time, people have surrendered their will to God in all kinds of situations, and it’s beautiful! For example, I wrote about Hannah, who for years battled her hopelessness and helplessness in being unable to bear children. Finally, she surrenders to God in her prayer. And God is so gracious. God uses our surrender to change history and lives, and we saw that in story after story in the OT. Today, when I see someone fully surrendered to God, it is the best representation of his power. There is something about a person fully pursuing Got that tells me more about God than anything else sometimes.

ANDREW: And here’s what’s interesting about people who surrender fully: they are more confident, in all the right ways, than anyone else. They are confident in who they are and where they are in life because they are surrendered to God. That allows Him to fill them with His purpose and worth, and it breeds a kind of confidence in them that seems counter-intuitive.  Surrendered people understand their place in the whole cosmos, and their confidence gives confidence to others. Many Old Testament stories reminded us that there is great confidence and joy to be had in placing one’s worth, love, and confidence solely in God.  

You make a very important point in chapter six about the need for followers of Christ to have the freedom to ask questions, share doubts, and wrestle with their uncertainty about God. How do you recommend we do this in the church today?  

ANDREW: Ginny, do you want to handle that? (laughs)

GINNY: Sure! (laughs) It reminds me of songwriting in some ways. You have to show up and wrestle with it. You have to show up and do the work. A lot of what worries me today is that people don’t want to do the work. I don’t want to do the work! But we have to. We have to show up, read it, learn it, and find people—wise people—to help us unpack it. The thing we absolutely cannot do is to just leave it. I hope our book encourages people not to just leave it. We live such fast-paced lives that we go to church for an hour, get our Bible sound bite, and we don’t take the necessary time to wrestle with the hard stuff. We write about, and give people the opportunity to, wrestle with this stuff together. In community we have to chart a course, make a path, and do the work together to understand what has been written.

ANDREW: I agree. And I will add this, which will bring us full circle to your first question: the way we encourage others in their doubts and fears is to be vulnerable about our own. Everyone—all of us—have fears and doubts when it comes to God and knowing what he wants from us. When we are honest and vulnerable about our own stories, then the other person is less scared. The irony is when we talk about fear and doubt we all become less fearful and doubtful. We meet one another at the table and it strengthens all of us. And that is a picture of communion, right? Communion is administered to us by Jesus at the table – not from a distance. And his presence takes away our fear and doubt, even if it doesn’t remedy our circumstances. God knows there is a disconnect between the temporal and the eternal, and he, Jesus, came to us to walk us through it. And we don’t just see this in the New Testament. God’s presence with his people, in the middle of their doubt and fear, is powerfully depicted throughout the entire Old Testament. Every part of it.

Find Transcending Mysteries at Amazon.com and watch the book trailer here.

Get music from Andrew Greer at Andrew-Greer.com and Ginny Owens at GinnyOwens.com

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Living as a disciple, which Dallas Willard describes as "anyone whose ultimate goal is to live as Jesus would live if he were in their place."


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