Saints Alive: An Interview with Maxie Dunnam

Saints Alive: An Interview with Maxie Dunnam

Join the Community!

The Wake-Up Call is a daily encouragement to shake off the slumber of our busy lives and turn our eyes toward Jesus.

Click here to get yours free in your inbox each morning!

Seedbed is pleased to release Saints Alive: A Forty-Day Pilgrimage with Heroes of Our Faith by the classic devotional writer Maxie Dunnam. Get it from our store here.

What is a saint, according to the Bible? Is this designation limited to a select few, super Christians?

In most cases, when Paul wrote Christians in a particular place, he wrote something like, “To all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi” (Phil. 1) or “To the church of God in Corinth, together with all the saints throughout Achaia” (2 Cor. 1:1).

It’s obvious that he was addressing not a select few but all those who had accepted Christ as Savior and were following him as their Lord. So the title saint, or holy one . . . sanctified one . . . was a normative identity with which early Christians were comfortable and considered to be essential to their standing with God. It is in fact accomplished by the definitive work of Jesus Christ and the imparted righteousness of the Holy Spirit.

Why do you believe there is a stigma or dismissal of our identity as saints in the church?

I don’t know how it happened but the term “saint” somehow became an identification given people who turn their faith merely into dogmatic belief and rigid right/wrong conduct. Sometimes sainthood is identified with perfectionism and a certain pride that comes with that. They become narrow in their understanding, select particular issues to emphasize, and criticize those who don’t agree. There is nothing attractive about this distortion, and most Christians don’t want to be identified with that joyless rigidity. This should not, however, diminish or distract us from what true sainthood is—sharing in the character of our holy God (1 Peter 1:15-16).

What is the origin of this project, Saints Alive, and what gets you excited about reading the work of saints from ages past?

Exclamation words are common in most languages. I was surprised when I read that “Saints alive!” along with “By jove!” and “Good grief!” are true cultural idioms. Writing Saints Alive! has been an essential growing experience for me. It was one of those times in my life when I felt the call of God to accept a responsibility in which I knew I would fail unless strengthened and guided by the Holy Spirit.

I was invited by the Upper Room to direct a ministry providing direction and resources for growth in the practice of prayer and giving structure to a united expression of prayer for people around the world. I had told the search team that interviewed me that the fact they were interviewing me for this responsibility showed what desperate straits the church was in; I was such a novice in my own prayer life.

I had accepted a job for which I knew I was inadequate. Because of my inadequacy, this responsibility forced me to be deliberate and disciplined in my personal prayer life and also introduced me to a wider dimension of spirituality than I had known. I immersed myself in books written specifically about prayer, and soon my discipline expanded to the broader area of spiritual formation.

I became intensely interested in the great devotional classics. The Upper Room had published a collection of little booklets—selections from some of the persons whose writings have endured through the centuries—expressing Christian faith and life and becoming classic resources for pilgrims on the Christian way. Those little booklets, providing selections from twenty-nine of these saints, were packaged in a box together under the label Great Devotional Classics. I call it my box of saints.

For more than fifty years that box has set in an obvious place among my books. The box is a bit fragile now because, ever and again through the years, I have taken one of the books out to reread it. Only a few other writers have shaped me more spiritually than those in my box of saints.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, I pulled the box down again. The stay-at-home orders had come; we were in lockdown and it soon became apparent I needed help. I decided that I would live, at least part-time, with some of the saints. Anticipating the lockdown would last at least thirty days, I selected ten of the little booklets thinking I would live three days with each, and that would get through the month. This devotional book is a result of that period of pandemic isolation, written primarily during the time I was living with these particular devotional classics.

How does sainthood, and the community to which all Christians belong, challenge the notion of the lone ranger Christian? How can we guard against spiritual pride and exercise humility in relation to God and others?

In its essence Christianity demands relationship. There can be no solitary Christian. Christian and Church both suggest community. We are saved from spiritual pride if we stay aware of who we are in relation to Christ. He calls us to abide in him. Being in Christ is what it means to be Christian. As a Christian I am in community with others who are in Christ. How can a person who is in Christ be better than another person who is in Christ?

What would you advise a younger Christian who is looking around for saints after which to model their imitation of Jesus Christ? How can elder saints come alongside younger saints?

I say to young Christians: Keep your eyes on Jesus and look around for those who look most like him. Spend as much time as you can with persons who look like Jesus (1 Cor. 11:1). We elder saints should never think we have arrived, but we should happily share ourselves with others who may not have been on the journey as long as we have. This will bring the church a long way forward into the future and re-establish healthy relationships between generations as we pursue the holiness upon which is grounded our sight or our Lord (Heb. 12:14).

This interview with Maxie Dunnam explores themes from his book, Saints Alive: A Forty-Day Pilgrimage with Heroes of Our Faith. Get your copy from our store here. Dunnam is minister-at-large of Christ Methodist Church in Memphis, Tennessee. During more than sixty years of ministry, he has served as pastor of rural, suburban, and urban congregations. Apart from pastoral assignments, he has served as world editor of the Upper Room and president of Asbury Theological Seminary. During his tenure on the staff of the Upper Room, the Walk to Emmaus and the Academy of Spiritual Formation were begun.

Readers will be drawn into the reflections of well-recognized voices such as Saint Francis of Assisi, John Wesley, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Thomas à Kempis, Martin Luther, John Knox, John Calvin, and Søren Kierkegaard.

A perfect companion to your morning spiritual discipline, this book will also serve as an introduction to a vast depository of writers and writings heretofore unknown to many.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *