What led you both to write this story? Why did it capture your attention?
Matt: I have dreamed about writing this book for over a decade. The idea for writing it came after reading Killer Angels by Michael Shaara. He wrote about the Battle of Gettysburg, but wrote it as a novel, from the perspective of the main characters. After finishing the book, I felt like I knew the characters in a personal way that I hadn’t experienced before from reading normal history books that simply convey facts. I wondered if I could write in a similar way about some of the Christian men and women who had impacted my life and ministry. Charles Spurgeon, a hero of mine for years, seemed a great place to start.
This book is the story of two friends. How long have you two known each other? What has it been like to write a story about friendship with one of your best friends?
Matt: Aaron and I have a rare friendship in that I am a pastor and he is a worship leader at the same church. Deep friendships between those two positions shouldn’t be rare, but they are. We have served alongside each other for more than a decade and it has truly been one of the great joys of my life. I chose Aaron, primarily for his writing ability (which as you read the book, you will discover is exceptional), but second for our friendship that I felt was foundational to the writing of the book. When writing a novel, the author finds himself going to his own thoughts, emotions, and experiences and writing from those places. In a book where one of the primary themes was friendship, a co-author that I knew and loved seemed critical.
Susannah Spurgeon is a big part of this story—is this book for women too?
Aaron: There are three major storylines in Steal Away Home. One is the friendship between English Pastor Charles Spurgeon and Thomas Johnson, former American slave turned missionary to Africa,. But the other two storylines deal primarily with the courtship and marriage of Charles and Susannah Spurgeon, as well as Thomas and Henrietta Johnson. In many ways, Steal Away Home is a love story that addresses the joys and trials of marriage, raising children, and the eventual loss of your spouse to death. The positive feedback we have received from women has been overwhelming and I believe that this book is just as much for women as it is for men.
There are other characters beyond just Spurgeon and Johnson in the book, what can readers learn about the importance of Christian community from the lives of both Spurgeon and Johnson?
Aaron: We wanted to tell not only the story of Spurgeon and Johnson, but also the story of the men and women that knew them and walked with them in community. The overwhelming majority of characters in this book were real people that interacted with our characters at different times throughout their lives. Spurgeon, being a man of almost biblical fame, was in many ways a product of the biblical community to which he was surrounded. We tried to convey that throughout the story.
What was the most fascinating thing you discovered about Spurgeon that his fans might not know?
Matt: The most fascinating thing I learned through the writing of Steal Away Home was Spurgeon’s stance against slavery in the United States. He was truly a man ahead of his time in his thinking and teaching against the vile institution of human slavery. He even paid a dear price as he publicly made his stance known and preached on the evils of slavery. In the United States, he received death threats and many so-called Christians threw sermon/book burning parties in protest of his writings on the subject. Spurgeon’s willingness, not only to educate Thomas Johnson, but also to genuinely befriend him, demonstrates that he truly believed that all men are created equal, in the image of God.
When did you discover Thomas Johnson when you were researching for the book?
Matt: Aaron and I discovered Thomas Johnson during a time of research at Midwestern Seminary. We toured Spurgeon’s personal library and interviewed Dr. Christian George, one of the world’s premier Spurgeon Scholars. Dr. George mentioned in passing about a relationship between Spurgeon and a former American slave. Aaron and I were instantly intrigued. Precious little has been written on the subject of their friendship and even less has been written about Johnson, a brilliant man of God whose story is truly fascinating and cinematic in scope.
How do you hope readers grow as a result of reading this book?
Aaron: Our hope is less that readers will grow, but that they will deeply enjoy this unique, compelling, and fascinatingly true story. I do believe, however, that readers will walk away from Steal Away Home with a deeper appreciation for the plight of those who lived in slavery. I also believe that Spurgeon’s struggles with depression and his consequent dependence on the Lord will help many bound by those chains to find a newfound freedom in Christ. Finally, the two marriages represented in this book are truly inspirational. Charles and Susannah’s marriage is one of the greatest love stories I’ve ever heard. Our hope is that their love and devotion to one another will serve as a great example and inspiration to many readers.