EDITOR’S NOTE: In what follows, Juan Sanchez, SBTS assistant professor of Christian theology and senior pastor of High Pointe Baptist Church in Austin, Texas, talks with Towers writer Andrew J.W. Smith about his book 1 Peter For You.
AJWS: What does the church today need to hear from the book of 1 Peter?
JS: Well, particularly in the West, we see all the images of Christians being martyred on video in the Middle East and other places throughout the world and we’re seeing a kind of persecution like we’ve not seen before. Not that it hasn’t occurred before, but it has not been that readily available to our eyes. In the West, we don’t understand that because that’s not our experience. First Peter is written to a people who are not experiencing that kind of persecution. The Christians in Asia Minor were being persecuted socially, so 1 Peter is so important for us today is because it is written to a people just like us, who are facing societal pressures simply because we identify with Christ.
How do you face persecution when your rights are being taken away from you, when society mocks you? First Peter is addressing the kind of persecution we’re facing. If we are being discriminated against by employers because of our faith, Peter’s instruction for slaves to be subject to their masters would be a direct application. People who are discriminated against by their government, Peter says in that situation, should be subject to the governing authorities. For Christian women who are being persecuted by unbelieving husbands because of their faith, Peter tells them in 1 Peter 3 how to address that and he tells husbands in 1 Peter 3:7 how to honor their wives.
How do you live the Christian life faithfully in a context where your rights are being taken away from you, where society’s against you, but you don’t have the persecution that we hear about, the beheadings and the Christians being burned, and those kind of things? But the reality is, just because we identify with Christ, we are facing all these pressures and the culture is against us. The government, the employers, even husbands — that’s the context — and in that context, the method that Peter gives is to follow in the steps of Jesus, literally trace his steps. Trace the steps of Jesus into suffering and death, but know as you follow him into suffering and death, you’ll also be following him into resurrection and glory. So Peter is grounding our hope in the salvation that we have from the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit and pointing us to the eternal inheritance that we have that is incorruptible, that cannot be taken away — even if in this world everything is taken away from us, our rights are taken away from us, our privileges are taken away from us. When we are tempted to think, “I wish I lived in better times,” then Peter comes and tells us we are living in the times that the prophets looked forward to. We are living in privileged times, we are living in a time that the angels can’t even understand. So even though we’re facing all the suffering, we’re a privileged people because we’re the point of salvation that the Old Testament was looking forward to.
AJWS: One of the things that you talk about in your book is this promise of heavenly hope, the incorruptible inheritance that’s coming. How would you apply that to our circumstances today, as you encourage believers in the midst of suffering and persecution?
JS: First of all, there’s the dilemma of the fact that a lot of American Christians have been duped by the “Your Best Life Now” message. Those Christians who are expecting their best life now face suffering, and are really disappointed and disillusioned and they end up rejecting the true God of the Bible, even though they had believed in the god of their own making. So part of what we need to do is develop a theology of suffering, which is what Peter helps us to understand by bringing in Jesus and saying, “Look, don’t be surprised, this is not strange what is happening to you, this is normal stuff and it’s happened to Jesus and we’re merely following in the steps of Jesus not just in suffering and death but in resurrection and glory. Our best life is yet to come.” One of the underlying themes is that even in the midst of suffering, we’re to show the world around us what it means to be God’s people, so Peter is also concerned about Christian conduct. He emphasizes how we’re to live our life before a pagan world. Part of the message of suffering is that we’re showing the world the glories of our King and his Kingdom.
AJWS: What is the value of the God’s Word for You series?
JS: I think it has personal and devotional value. For those who want to dig into the Word for themselves, it gives them an understanding of the text without getting really technical on some issues. There are some commentaries of great value, which I used in my preparation, that are very technical. So my book is not meant to be technical, it is not necessarily making arguments for a particular position, it’s making enough of an argument to clarify why I’ve landed where I’ve landed. It’s something a Sunday School teacher could take and it could help them understand the text better. I think it’s helpful for pastors devotionally. It’s not meant to help you write a seminary paper. One of the things I do in my sermon preparation is do all the exegetical work myself before I even go to commentaries, and throughout the week I’m reading devotional literature related to the text that I’m preaching. I could see this book being a help, so you’re not just studying for the sake of understanding, but also feeding your soul.
AJWS: Did you write the book in English or Spanish initially? What was that process like?
JS: Because of time constraints, I wrote the book in English first, then went through it with the editor in London, then I had my assistant Giancarlo Montemayor translate it, then I worked through it after that in Spanish. Last year at this time, the deadline was looming and I was writing, writing, writing up to the wee hours of the night and getting those chapters to my editor. I had a very good editor, Carl Laferton, he’s very theologically astute. We had very good interaction and conversation — he would ask some questions about my theological positions and he would sharpen them. I grew to trust and confide in him and he helped make the book a lot better.
AJWS: What were your writing habits like in preparation for this book? Have you done a lot of writing before?
JS: I’ve written at the academic level, which was really interesting. I had done academic writing and had written some articles here and there for different publications but this is the first popular book, my first non-academic work. Carl Laferton was really helpful in getting me from the academy to the coffee shop, so to speak. One of the things I learned is that good writers have a routine and writing is a job just like everything else. I think sometimes people glamorize writing as if we go out into the woods and all of a sudden we’re inspired and we come out five hours later with a novel. One of the things I learned is that writing is really hard work and you have to be dedicated to it and you have to approach it just like a job. You have to write whether you feel like it or not, and the best writers that I know have word goals. You have a job, sit down at the same time in the same place, write your 1,000 or 2,000 words a day, and then you’re done. Everyone has a unique approach but almost every writer I’ve talked to helps me understand writing is a job and you have to approach it with discipline. Don’t just write when you feel like it; write because that’s what you have to do.