Author Spotlight: Dwight J. Olney
We are pleased to introduce author Dwight J. Olney. Dwight won the 2021 Non-Fiction Braun Book Award for Not Just a Really Good Human. That title is now available through the Word Alive Press Bookstore, and everywhere fine Christian books are sold. We asked Dwight to share a little bit about his writing and his new book. But first, a little bit about him.
Dwight J. Olney grew up in Kitchener, Ontario as the son of a piano tuner. At fifteen, he moved to Alberta when his father became the pastor of a church in the small northern community of Lac La Biche. After high school, Dwight trained to become a secondary school teacher, focusing on history and mathematics. After fifteen years in the classroom, he worked sixteen more as an in-school administrator for the Prairie South School Division in southern Saskatchewan.
The bulk of his formal education has focused on the study of theology (Briercrest College), history (University of Waterloo), education (Queen’s University), and administration (Jones International University).
Dwight finds great joy in teaching, preaching, carpentry, recreational hockey, and coaching basketball. He has three married children and has been blessed with three beautiful grandchildren. His theological skills have been honed through studying and teaching the Bible as an adult Sunday school teacher, preacher, author, and principal of a private Christian high school.
His fondest area of interest is practical theology, where he loves to challenge people to think in new ways by recognizing faulty human thought lines and replacing them with God-like thinking.
Dwight now lives with his patient and understanding wife, Jeanette, in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Q: Your most recent book has a very unusual title. Can you explain its meaning?
A: I believe humanity has a big problem that is largely unrecognized and very rarely discussed. Whether someone is a sincere believer in God or one of his most ardent critics, much of what is said about the Lord—especially during times of suffering and hardship—stems from the faulty notion of imagining him to be an extraordinarily good version of ourselves. A super-duper, top-of-the-line human being.
Not Just a Really Good Human is designed to expose this problem in our own lives while providing a better path forward to think and speak rightly about the Almighty so that he might be properly glorified. To flesh out this path of transformed thinking, I have used the Old Testament story of Job.
Q: How does the story of Job fix our faulty view of God, as you say in the book’s subtitle?
A: The Book of Job not only traces a great man’s struggle to overcome this tendency to fashion God in our image, but it also beckons us to join in the fray to defeat this faulty and extremely dangerous tendency in our own lives.
Like Job, and especially his friends, it is easy to envision God as a cosmic vending machine who is compelled to dispense the products we think we deserve in life. Instead of revering God as the sovereign Lord of the universe, we treat him more like our assistant, and then criticize him for not doing his job well. It is quite common to think, at times, that God has let us down.
Throughout his suffering, the intense debate with his friends, and finally his encounter with God in the whirlwind, Job comes to see, revere, and love God for who he truly is—as both the sovereign and benevolent maker and sustainer of everything. To understand how this happens, you’ll have to read the book.
Q: How does Not Just a Really Good Human fit in with your previous books?
A: Weak natural human thinking is the source of a lot of problems, individual and societal. It also sets us in opposition to our creator, which is a dangerous place to be. My previous books have been based on the premise that human nature needs to be transformed, and this begins with cultivating a proper understanding and love of God’s truth. As the Apostle Paul writes in Romans 12:2, “Let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think” (NLT). I am quite convinced that we cannot live right until we think right. And we cannot think right about anything until we think right about God.
In Master Mind, as well as its sequel, Mind Renovation, I present numerous topics to make clear the contrast between flawed human thinking and God-like thinking, supplemented by a discussion of the inherent dangers that accompany our natural thought patterns. Sacred Sedition follows the same paradigm but focuses on the singular topic of how people of all generations pursue a relationship with God on their own terms instead of his. Such endeavours are inevitably laden with sinfulness, because their pursuit of God is driven by selfish human motives.
Not Just a Really Good Human is also steeped in the paradigm of mind renovation, with a focus on drilling down into the true nature of God. Where humans typically minimize their view of God to make him more understandable and agreeable (in other words, more human), my latest book makes a case for enlarging our view of God by embracing the mysterious and paradoxical character of his nature.
Q: With so many books on the market, why should people take the time to read yours?
A: I believe all four of my books are important because they are foundational in nature—paradigm-shaping or worldview-adjusting. They each present a way of thinking that can impact our entire way of living. Transcending specific moralistic behavioural debates, each volume challenges people to gain a new perspective on absolutely everything.
Many religious thoughts are, truthfully, piously disguised human thoughts that have become institutionalized in a religious setting. Such notions endanger the faith and practice of sincere believers. So the purpose of the books is not just to inspire people to connect more meaningfully with God by learning to think like he thinks, but also to become more astute at recognizing the commonplace faulty notions of fallen humanity.
Because of the universal nature of their themes, I hope all my books can remain timeless and applicable to people of all cultures and generations.
Q: Are there any people in particular you hope will read your latest book?
A: Not Just a Really Good Human is particularly applicable to people who have undergone great hardship or experienced deep and prolonged suffering and have consequently wrestled with the age-old question of how a good God can, at times, allow his righteous followers to hurt so intensely. How can a God who permits so much evil to flourish in his creation still be considered both good and all-powerful?
Certainly, these questions are more troubling when God is viewed, inadvertently of course, as merely a really good human. Like Job, we need to have our faulty view of the Almighty fixed. This book doesn’t set out to answer this age-old problem of the presence of suffering and evil in the world so much as it provides a proper understanding and love of God that renders the question irrelevant.
Q: What’s on the table for your next writing project?
A: As someone who is regularly involved in local church pulpit supply, my mind and keyboard are always on the go. I find myself getting excited about many topics these days, ranging from the incredible role metaphor plays in teaching truth in Scripture to the way pagans plagiarize God’s material only to deny his existence. I am also flirting with the idea of a study aimed at making sense of the violence in the Old Testament.
Q: Do you feel that you have a calling to write?
A: Maybe, but not in the usual way. First off, I would have to admit that I’m not an eager writer of books. In truth, I probably fight the urge more than pursue it. When I can no longer resist it, the book tends to pour out of me like milk chugging out of a toppled jug. I try to write as fast as I can to keep up with the flow. For example, the main ideas and entire organizational outline for Sacred Sedition were scribbled out in a single late-night session while lying in bed.
Q: What then drives you to write?
A: I am always inspired to write by other people. My first two books were prompted by the exhortation of a mother of one of the students in the Christian high school I managed. My third book was triggered by a simple question from a friend about the possibility of Christians unknowingly pursuing God in a sinful fashion. And my most recent work developed out of a sermon series graciously received by a small congregation in southern Saskatchewan.
Q: How would you describe your writing style?
A: Warm and sincere. I try to get readers to identify with what I’m saying by making myself vulnerable to the challenges of the topic. My style could be classified as conversational yet scholarly. Though always aiming for insights that are practical, interesting, and persuasive, I cannot resist flavouring it with bits of humour where appropriate.
Q: How would you characterize a typical writing session?
A: I tend to be most productive when I have the chance to work for long stretches of time, especially into the wee hours of the morning. I do best when I get lost in the words—writing, rewriting, continual revision, reading the lines out loud over and over until I get it just right. Not to promote such unhealthy activity, but I could literally work for twelve straight hours without eating or drinking. I need every possible manner of distraction removed for me to concentrate properly.
Q: Do you have any advice you would offer new writers?
A: The best piece of practical advice I would offer new writers is to think about how to write shorter, pithier. I tend to overwrite, and when my editor returns the manuscript in a form that is more to-the-point, it always sounds better. Learn how to do it yourself.
Also, be prepared to rework your material countless times. Don’t be afraid to entirely restart a segment that isn’t coming together as you hoped. The best writers work very, very hard at their craft. Whether or not you believe in Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000-hour practice rule for mastery, the ability to write well is a learned skill. There are no shortcuts.
In addition, I like to get proofreaders involved earlier than later to make sure it is working—it being defined by whatever it is you are trying to do through the writing.
As a non-fiction writer, incorporate story into your writing as much as possible. Whatever truth you want to portray, it will gain far more traction when it is integrated into a story.
Finally, as you write and revise, always read your text out loud so you can hear how it flows. Envision the words being delivered in a sermon. If it doesn’t come across as invigorating and challenging, it’s just information. The best writing moves the heart of the reader. And the best Christian writing moves the heart of the reader to feel more love and passion for Jesus.
Q: What was your experience like with the 2021 Braun Book Awards, and do you have any advice for writers thinking of entering this year’s awards?
A: I was totally thrilled to receive the news that Not Just a Really Good Human had been selected as the winner of the 2021 Braun Book Awards non-fiction category. My wife and I were shopping in a large department store in downtown Victoria at the time of the call, so it all seemed so surreal. Winning the award has been a dream of mine since 2008 when I first entered the Word Alive Press publishing contest.
Having competed in the contest on three previous occasions, I found great encouragement in the feedback and assistance of the Word Alive Press staff. Their professionalism and healthy missional paradigm kept me on the path of writing. There is a very good chance that I would not have now completed my fourth book without their support for my writing.
To anyone thinking about entering the Braun Book Awards, I would assure them that their time and effort will not be wasted. Any association with the fine people at Word Alive Press will be most agreeable. Every step of the way on my three previous journeys of self-publishing was characterized by practical and beneficial care.