Tony Kriz: Christian Iconoclast

By Christian Piatt 3-04-2014
Courtesy of Tony Kriz
Tony Kriz and his new book, 'Neighbors and Wise Men.' Courtesy of Tony Kriz

Tony Kriz is, in many ways, the definitive postmodern Christian. He’s a Christian writer, teacher, and he even lives in intentional community with fellow Christ-seekers. He comes from an evangelical background, and, though he claims portions of the theology of his youth, he also continues to reinvent himself as he forges the path of Christ in his cultural context.

Known first in the public eye as “Tony the Beat Poet” from Donald Miller’s bestselling book, Blue Like Jazz, he is a voice and a presence unto himself. He’s more inclined to meet friends over a beer than he is to join a particular congregation in worship every Sunday. He is both deeply embedded in the Christian conversation and cultural identity and, at the same time, a stark contrast to what tradition dictates a “good Christian” should look and act like.

I shot a handful of questions his way after a recent book discussion we conducted at First Christian Church in Portland. Here’s what he had to say:

How did you get started writing?

I grew up with some real learning challenges. I am pretty sure that I couldn't read at grade level until I was in college. Books were always a major obstacle for me. All that to say, no one is more surprised than I am that I now make my living as a writer.

Writing academically was where I got my traction. Particularly when my doctoral dissertation flowed out of me in just a few months (and was received with distinction.)  Many of those who read it said, "You need to publish this. ... This is publishable writing."  And that was how it started.

When the idea for Neighbors and Wise Men surfaced during an autumn conversation at Monty's cafe on Portland's east side, I knew it was time for me to start writing for a more "popular" audience.

What's it like to be known as a character in a bestselling book (he was Tony the Beat Poet in Donald Millers' book, Blue Like Jazz)?

Probably the best way to answer that question is to share this short video:

What is the idea behind your first book, Neighbors and Wise Men?

I wanted to write a book about how I have learned the gospel of Jesus from people who exist, live, and move outside of Christendom. It is about how Muslims, Atheists, and non-church-going neighbors are constantly teaching me about how to better follow the Jesus-Way and how they have been the vehicles of God's healing in my life. My original title of the book, which I loved, was Disciple of the Damned, an ironic and playful title that I feel got more at the heart of the book's intent.

You live in a sort of intentional communal environment. What does that look like?

We live in a 2000-square-foot home. It is my family of five and a small handful of other folks. Really, it is not all that "intentional.”  It is more a group of people who share space with one another, share resources with one another, and encourage one another. It is a multi-generational, multi-cultural, multi-class home. One of our big elements right now is caring for a housemate who is extremely ill.

You just finished up a new book for Thomas Nelson called Aloof. What's that about?

It is an attempt to honestly explore the sensation that God is hiding from us. To put it another way, religious voices often present God as ever-present, ever-tangible, ever-exchanging ... and yet, in my life, it seems that God has not delivered on these religious promises. How do I then live and honestly maintain an authentic and integrative faith? The subtitle is "Figuring Out Life with a God Who Hides."

Christian Piatt is a Sojourners Featured Writer and an author, editor, speaker, musician, and spoken word artist. He is director of church growth and development at First Christian Church in Portland, Ore. Christian is the creator and editor of Banned Questions About The Bibleand Banned Questions About Jesus. His new memoir on faith, family and parenting is calledPREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date.

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