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Christopher Parkening with Kathy Tyers

Author of  Grace Like a River

Review  |   Author Bio  |  Read an Excerpt  |  Interview

Pam Glass, editor at Christian Book Previews, interviewed Christopher about his book, Grace Like a River.

CBP: Why did you decide to write this book?

CHRISTOPHER: Well, it had been suggested to me, Pam, that I write a book, maybe, ten years ago.  And I have a three-fold purpose in writing this: one, I wanted to inspire and encourage young musicians, and tell of God’s grace in my life through many trials and struggles, and also share the precious gospel of Jesus Christ.  And it was just a great privilege to be able to write this book, Grace Like A River for Tyndale Press; and in some ways difficult because you open up your heart to everyone.  And as we were talking earlier about a mutual friend, Jubilant Sykes, Jubilant had told me, “Chris, when you write this book you’ve got to share the trials, the struggles, the difficulties.  Otherwise, the grace of God is not truly manifest.”  So, it was painful in some ways to go back into the heartbreaks of life, but I believe necessary in order to show fully God’s goodness and God’s grace and mercy.

CBP:  That came through.  My favorite part of the whole book was the “Reflections” section.

CHRISTOPHER:  Oh, thank you!

CBP:  How do you see this book influencing others?

CHRISTOPHER:  Well, I hope that this book will encourage people who have faced similar trials in their life.  I pray that they will be, in some way, inspired by it.  I pray that, perhaps, if they were raised like I was raised in a “Christian” home, and went to church, read the Bible occasionally, and my parents had me baptized when I was quite young, and they told me that I was a Christian, so I always believed that I was.  And yet, my lifestyle did not characterize anything that I now know to be a Christian. I believed some facts about Jesus, that was all.  

And, as you know, I retired at an early age.  I guess I should skip back a bit and say that I started the guitar at the age of eleven.  By the time I was nineteen I was fortunate to sign a contract with Capitol Records, and the following year with Columbia Artist’s Management, and they put me on a tour of over ninety concerts a year in my twenties.  And I reached a kind of a burned out stage where the monotony of one concert after the next, the loneliness of the hotel rooms, the airplane flights, the pressures of the concerts kind of got to me.  

And even before I began the guitar, as you know, I had a great love of the outdoors, sports, but especially fly-fishing for trout.  That was when I was the happiest.  In fact, my dad taught me how to fly-cast even before I began the guitar, at the age of six.  And I had a dream: my goal in life was to own my own ranch and trout stream and retire at an early age.  Since my dad had retired at the age of 47, I thought thirty would be a very good age to retire!  

So, I finally found a beautiful ranch and trout stream in the southwest part of the state of Montana, and moved there from the Los Angeles area where I’m from, and I made a call to my management, to Capitol Records, to U.S.C., where I was teaching at the time, and said, “I’ve found my ideal life.  I don’t care to play the guitar anymore professionally.”  Although it’s in my bio as a four-year sabbatical, it was really intended to be a permanent retirement.  

Interestingly, Pam, about a year after I got everything that I thought would make me happy there was an emptiness inside and I didn’t know why.  I thought that if you had everything you ever wanted in life, and still there’s this emptiness, what else is there?  I went down to Los Angeles to visit some friends and family, and a former neighbor happened to lean over a backyard fence and invite me to –

CBP:  “Happened”?

CHRISTOPHER: (laughs) Yes, “happened”, in the sovereignty of God, to invite me to a Bible-teaching church where I heard John MacArthur preach a sermon entitled, “Examine Yourselves, Whether You Be in the Faith.”  He preached from Matthew 7 where Jesus said, “Many will say to Me on the day they die, ‘Lord, Lord’, and I will say unto them ‘Depart from Me, I never knew you.’” And when he spoke those words from the Bible, my whole life flashed in front of me and I thought, “I’m not a Christian after all.”  

I believed some facts about Christ.  And I suppose, Pam, that I even wanted a Savior to save me from hell.  But what I did not want was a Lord of my life that I should follow and trust and be obedient to.  Frankly, you can’t separate the Saviorhood from the Lordship of Christ.  Jesus is both Savior and Lord, and I asked Him to come into my life that night, and I asked Him to forgive me of my sins and to be my Lord and Savior.  I believe that night I became a true Christian.  By His grace alone He saved me.  

Tyndale House Publishers has given me this great privilege of writing Grace Like a River.  And I hope that maybe there are some people out there like I was, raised in a Christian home, and maybe believe some facts about Jesus, but never have made Him Lord of their life.  And I wanted to share that part of my testimony, plus, of course, the grace of God like a river through my life, even before I became a true Christian, and certainly afterward.

John MacArthur was the first one who really encouraged me to start playing the guitar again after a four-year absence.  I was living in Montana, and had brought some pastors from Montana to the annual Shepherd’s Conference.  And somebody had told John that I played the guitar, and he asked if I might play at the Shepherd’s Conference.  But I didn’t have a guitar with me, and my first thought was, “I haven’t played the guitar in four years.  I don’t want to play, I’m not practiced!”  

I was teaching at that time at Montana State University, and apart from a small amount of what I term “token teaching,” I didn’t play the guitar for four years.  So, when John asked me to play my first reaction was, “I can’t play! I haven’t sufficiently practiced.”  My next thought was, “I’ve listened to all these sermon messages by John MacArthur, and he’s asked me to do one thing.  How can I say no?”  So I called a friend of mine in Los Angeles and borrowed a guitar.  

I was quite nervous, actually, when he asked me to come up and play, and then in kind of a question and answer, he had me share my testimony.  So I did that. Then all the pastors were dismissed for lunch, and I was packing up my things, ready to go.  I put the guitar over my shoulder, and I was walking down the center aisle of the chapel, and this arm came around my shoulder.  It was John MacArthur, and he said, “Chris, did you ever realize that you would have a wonderful ministry with the guitar?”  And I said, “Really?”  I probably said that reluctantly.  And it was that encouragement from him that made me call my manager after a four-year absence and say, “I’d like to start performing and recording again, this time for a different purpose, and that purpose would be to honor and glorify my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”  

And of course, as you know, Pam, after every chapter there’s a little fishing story, kind of a “palate cleanser.”  We decided to include that, little vignettes between chapters.  I’ve had so many wonderful fishing stories in my life that Tyndale was pleased to include those.  And then at the very end of the book you mentioned the chapter on “Reflections” which were basically things that I have learned over the years and had written in the margins of my Bible, things that as a young Christian I wanted to pass along to other young Christians that perhaps might be an encouragement to them.