Since our Q&A's are usually with older people of great distinction, last July I asked readers to nominate for interviews some articulate, conservative evangelicals under the age of 40 or so. One result: our cover story. Another result is this article. Timothy Dalrymple, a Patheos website editor, is a future leader who impressed us so much that he now does some writing for WORLD.
Below are parts of his fascinating biography: Dalrymple, now age 34, was the NCAA's top-ranked gymnast as a sophomore at Stanford until a broken neck ended his career. In God's providence, that disaster opened up opportunities for him to deepen his faith and also earn a Ph.D. at Harvard.
As a child you spent a lot of time looking up at the ceiling and wondering about life and death. It took me about an hour or two to fall asleep. I had a philosophical bent and spent a lot of time thinking about all sorts of ultimate questions, especially the question of whether there is some sort of existence beyond death. I don't know which one I found more terrifying, that there would be some existence or that there would not.
What helped you to grow your faith-and get to sleep? The example of my father, not only a pastor but a genuinely loving, faithful, righteous person, helped. I saw in his life something undeniably true that I couldn't explain away.
When you were 8 years old you started gymnastics. I was flipping around the house and my parents decided that I'd better learn how to do it right. At 15 I won National Championships for the first time. Then I went to Stanford and was training for the Olympics.
How did you break your neck? I was on the high bar and doing a triple back-flip dismount-I was supposed to be doing that. I didn't have enough rotation and landed partway on my back and partway on my head. It loaded up a lot of pressure on two vertebrae. It felt like a balloon of hot water had burst in my neck. Strangely, it didn't hurt too much at the beginning. I checked to make sure I could move all my extremities, and I could, so I jumped back up on the bar. I ended up going to the floor exercise and doing tumbling, which puts a lot of pressure on your spine.
You were competing with a broken neck. I competed on the first event. The pain was getting pretty bad at that point, so I decided to step out. Later I went to the hospital and asked for an X-ray. The doctors started looking at the X-ray, then ran in and yelled, "Sit up straight! Look straight ahead! Don't move!" They ran out and sent in the X-ray tech, who was cute. I kept trying to get her phone number. Little did I know that they'd actually sent her to keep an eye on me and make sure I didn't do anything.
Did you get her phone number? I did, and we ended up dating, but it never went anywhere. I always thought that would have been a nice meeting story.
Then the doctors came back . . . They said, "You have a serious injury. You need to be admitted to the hospital right away." I stood and went for my backpack. They said, "No no no." They put me in a wheelchair and put me in the hospital. Before I really knew what was happening, a whole surgery team was drilling a metal band into my skull. Then they told me that I'd broken my neck.
You suddenly had a lot of time freed up for theological studies. The doctors were astonished that I wasn't paralyzed. I felt that God was going to use this in a way to refine me. I'm now grateful for what happened to me-there's no doubt in my mind that He's used it to build my character. It also freed up time for me to get involved in the Christian fellowship at Stanford, to go on missions trips to East Asia, to pursue my passion for God in a way that I hadn't been able to.
Your ministry experiences included preaching in the state prison in Trenton, N.J. It was call-and-response, preaching to about 200 very large men in a maximum-security prison: Most of them were in for murder of some kind. Over three years I got to know some of them well and learned about the transformational power of the gospel. Here's a story: One prisoner, as a child, had taken care of his mother when she was dying of AIDS. Then he grew up and got married. They had a child, but all the while he was having an affair. At a time when AIDS was not well understood, he discovered that the woman he'd been having the affair with had acquired AIDS.
What happened? He completely lost his mind, because he thought it must have come from him. He took his wife's life and his daughter's life and tried to take his own life but failed. They resuscitated him. He was convicted of double murder. Along the way they did a lot of tests and found that he didn't have AIDS. He was absolutely broken. But by the time I got to know him, he was the choir leader. You could see him up leading worship every Sunday. He had an amazing testimony of how God had changed his life.
You do some political analysis now: What does it mean to start from a Christian rather than a Republican perspective? One thing: I watch how politicians speak about the opposition. I was attracted to one Christian who speaks of articulating a new and more fully evangelical way to engage in politics, and yet I found over and over again that this person caricatured conservative Christians. I grow weary of saying, well, that's just politics.
So if an opponent has a good point . . . We need to be willing to stop caricaturing and start taking each other seriously. As we reshape the way Christians listen to one another and engage in political culture, I hope we'll become known as people who are relentlessly honest even when it's not necessarily in our political interest.
Do liberals and conservatives both engage in caricature? Both sides. A "hermeneutic of suspicion" tends not to take seriously the reasons that people give for their beliefs. It says, "You're not a Christian because you've looked at these things and you've experienced the love of God. No, you're a Christian because you're terrified of something, you're looking for a father figure, etc." Or, "You're a liberal because you have no convictions."
Too much psychologizing? People start accusing others of having the wrong psychology rather than dealing with substance. My own political instincts are conservative, but it frustrates me when my fellow conservatives speak as though liberal evangelicals are really not evangelicals at all.
For more on Timothy Dalrymple, read his columns at Patheos, visit his Facebook page, or follow him on Twitter.
Listen to Marvin Olasky's complete interview with Timothy Dalrymple.