January 26, 2021

Fantasy Friday Night Dinner Party

It is an old way to talk about the people and topics we find most interesting…

You are having a dinner party for four, including yourself. If you could invite anyone else in the world, living today, who would you ask to join you at the table? Why would you ask those particular people? What interests you about them? What would you like to ask them?

Today, this is my answer. If I were to have a dinner party and invite three others to join me at the table, I would ask a historian, a leader in religion, and someone who has given me great enjoyment over the years, probably a musician.

For my historian, I would invite David McCullough.

For my religious leader, I would ask Tom Wright.

For my musician, I would call James Taylor.

I will be glad to discuss why in more detail in the comments, but suffice it to say at this point that David McCullough may be the most respected popular historian in the world. I recently heard him say, “If I were an expert at something, I would never write about it. For me the joy of choosing a subject is anticipating how much I will learn.” Few characteristics are more attractive to me than that kind of hunger. Tom Wright is a predictable choice, though Eugene Peterson would certainly do if Wright had to cancel. There is no theologian in the world, particularly among evangelicals, who is as interesting and well-spoken as the former Bishop of Durham. And why James Taylor? Well, first of all he represents one of a handful of musicians I appreciate whose career basically spans my lifetime of being a music lover. Secondly, he has provided my family and me a popular soundtrack for our life. No one has brought us more hours of listening pleasure than JT.

I’m sorry to say that this is a males-only table tonight. Next time, I will have a party for the three women I find most interesting.

Now, tell me who you will be having at your dinner party.


  1. My wife… and two others.

  2. I’d invite Billy Graham, Leonard Cohen, and my wife. Billy Graham is my favorite living Christian minister and Leonard Cohen is my favorite living songwriter. They have different worldviews, but they seem like courtly gentlemen and I think they’d have a great conversation.

    An alternate scenario would be to substitute Jimmy Page for Leonard Cohen. In this scenario, as my wife is engrossed in conversation with Billy Graham, I’d whisk away Jimmy Page for a guitar lesson.

  3. David Cornwell says

    When I first saw your subject, and before I read the remainder, I thought about Eugene Peterson. I’d ask him about his experiences of being pastor, staying with one church, getting to know the people, and not concentrating on the numbers game. He’s my kind of pastor, and one I would pick out in a minute.

    The other choice would be Robert Farrar Capon. With him I’m sure we could enjoy beer, but from reading him he may like something a little stronger! His up-side-down view of the Gospel intrigues me, and I’d want to hear more about his view of Resurrection and final (eternal) things. And maybe a little about the older son in the parable. What becomes of him?

    Some others also, but I have my own dinner waiting on me!

    • I believe that although Mr. Capon enjoys beer, he generally prefers wine. He recommends planning for at least 1-1.5 bottles per person per evening so do not stint. If you are determined to serve beer, he has expressed an appreciation for a light lunch of cheese and beer, presumably with a good crusty loaf to fill out the corners.

      As for “something a little stronger” he does not seem to care much for hard liquor, although I get the impression that he would not turn down a finger of brandy or good whiskey on a cold winter night with a good friend, a warm fire and some fine sausage at hand.

      I’m not making this up. He goes into some detail regarding his thoughts on such matters in “Supper of the Lamb” and “The Party Spirit.”

      BTW – as you might glean, Capon was tops on my list as well.

  4. I would love to have John Piper, Tom Wright, and Peter Kreeft for a rather spirited discussion on justification, worship and and authority.

    We would wind down the evening by listening to Bach and discussing beauty.

    (of course, I would only be listening)

  5. conanthepunctual says

    Bono, Tom Wright, and my wife because she might hurt me if she missed out on meeting those two.

  6. Historian, Morna Hooker: She was Lady Margaret’s Professor of Divinity within the University of Cambridge (among lots of other things…). And she’s probably one of the foremost authorities on the Apostle Paul. I’ve read several of her books and the depth of her scholarship and understanding of Paul is delightful!

    Religious Leader, the Dalai Lama: My Son-in-Law is Tibetan. I want to understand his life-and-worldview. Who better to ask??? ;D

    Musician, Christopher Parkening: His music is transcendent, his life-story terribly interesting. I have all his albums (yes, albums…I first listened to his music back in 1971 when my friends where listening to Pink Floyd). I met him, once, several years ago after his awakening to Christ. He introduced me to a non-stodgy Bach and a lifetime of listening and study of the “Fifth Gospel Writer”.

    I figure, since the covenant of marriage makes my Husband and I ‘OneFlesh’, he’ll be there anyway…

  7. I’ll go with David and have Robert Capon at my table. As a matter of fact, I would let him do the cooking as well.

    Instead of a historian, I would select Baseball Hall of Fame writer Hal McCoy for some great sports stories.

    And it would be a toss-up between Leonard Cohen and Brian Wilson, the two greatest songwriters of our time not named Bob Dylan. Since Cohen will be busy having dinner with Art (see above), I’ll go with Brian Wilson.

  8. Garrison Keillor, Peter Rollins, and Willie Nelson

  9. Hmmm–off the top of my head, Jimmy Carter, Nora Volkow, and Eric Clapton. Why? Because Jimmy Carter has great ideas and experience in how to make the world a better place; Nora Volkow runs the National Institute on Drug Abuse at NIH and has great ideas on how to make the world a better place; and Eric Clapton can speak to the personal experience of drug abuse, and maybe how to use celebrity advantages and resources to make the world a better place. 🙂 Why not pool our resources??

  10. I’m ashamed to say I’ve been staring at the screen for some time trying to think of any living people! But although I’m so cruelly restricted, I’ll see what I can come up with.

    Historian — Sarah Vowell is lots of fun to listen to and read. Maybe I’d have her.
    Religious leader — If Chaplain Mike isn’t free, I’ll take Pope Benedict XVI.
    Musician — Either Arvo Part or Taj Mahal. DO I REALLY have to choose?

    • We’ll do a variety of these, Damaris. You’ll get to invite friends from the past on other occasions. I like lots of dinner parties!

      • One of the things I always thought would fascianting if you could gathor a list of past great American statesmen. For example can you imagine a dinner with the followng individuals? :

        1. George Washington
        2. Thomas Jefferson
        3. Abraham Lincoln
        4. FDR
        5. Dwight Eisenhower
        6. Richard Nixon
        7. Ronald Reagan
        8. George HW Bush (the dad NOT the son…)
        9. JFK

        I would love to be a fly on the wall and hear them tackle everything…from the economy, to the credit crisis, Afghanistan, Iraq, rise of China, rise of a multi polar order in the world, domestic policy, etc.. I’m jumping the gun I know but that would be fascinating….

    • David Cornwell says

      Damaris, actually I’d love having you at my table anytime.

  11. That Other Jean says

    I agree with you on David McCollough for an historian. I’d also invite (retired) Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Willie Nelson. Should make for some interesting conversation.

  12. Historian: N.T. Wright (I actually think he would prefer that title over religious leader… plus I can’t think of any other historians who wouldn’t bore me. 🙂 )

    Religious leader: Greg Boyd

    Musician: Toss up between Bono and the Edge…

  13. I think I can manage three living people, but only if I discard the rest of the template. Stephen Colbert, Randy Newman, and Michael Moore are my picks. I’m sure we’d talk religion and history, among other things.

  14. Geddy Lee
    Alex Lifeson
    Neil Peart

  15. The late Dr. Bruce Morgan
    Warren Buffett
    Dalai Lama (spelling?)
    All good conversationalists.

  16. Historian: Diarmuid MacCulloch (or RJB Bosworth)
    Religious Leader: M. Craig Barnes (or Benedict Groeschel)
    Musician: Jerry Lee Lewis

  17. For me it would be the following:

    Historian: Bob Woodward
    Religious Leader: Greg Boyd
    Musician: Idfina Menzel (with Lea Salanga as back up… 🙂 )

  18. Richard McNeeley says

    I would have Tommy Lasorda (the last great Dodger manager), Steve Jobs, Carole King (since James Taylor is having dinner at Chaplain Mikes) and John Eldredge. I don’t think dinner would be enough, we might need a weekend retreat.

  19. I’m so happy I was able to come up with all three (but it took all day!)

    Historian: Thomas Cahill, author of ‘How the Irish Saved Civilization’ (among others)
    Religious Leader: Crystal Lutton, pastor and author of Biblcial Parenting and Grace Based Living
    Musician: Michael Card (though he might fit into the Religious leader category as well)

  20. Rich Mullins -his simplicity of life and humbleness staggers me
    CS Lewis -his work is fascinating and I’d just love to hear him talk
    Ben Carson -neuro surgeon and overall amazing person with a really cool story

    They don’t really go together so much but I had trouble deciding. 🙂

  21. Love the pic from My Dinner With Andre. That was quite a dinner.

  22. I think dinner with Einstein, Spinoza, and Buber would be fascinating. Unfortunately, they would have to be entertained by each other’s company, because they would find me awfully dull.

  23. I’ve tried thinking of a historian and a religious leader and a musician – and my mind it is a big blank. The dinner party that I know I would find absolutely fascinating would be:

    Terrence Malick
    Spike Jonze
    Roger Ebert

    What can I say, I’m a film nut. At least the two directors have been positively featured here on imonk recently.

  24. Josephus – sorry, couldn’t resist
    Tim Keller

  25. This was tougher for me, because I find I have trouble conversing with people I don’t know very well. I met one of my heroes once — Rich Mullins — and all I was able to do was blather for thirty seconds and then walk away feeling like an idiot. (Rich, of course, was cool about it — he probably had that happen to him all the time …)

    So I decided to pick three people (male, living) that I’d like to listen to a conversation between, while I sat back and avoided tripping over my own tonsils:

    Historian (sorta) – Bill James, the baseball (and true-crime) writer, coiner of the term “sabermetrics” and my all-time favorite writer.
    Theologian/Divine – Philip Yancey, and if you have to ask why, you haven’t read Philip Yancey.
    Musician – Dan Haseltine. Yes, I still listen to CCM. So snipe me.

    And I could easily have gone Chuck Klosterman/Donald Miller/Charlie Peacock. Or Malcolm Gladwell/Brother Andrew/Weird Al Yankovic. Or Bill Simmons/Frank Viola/Derek Webb. Or some combination of the same with maybe Robert Downey Jr. or Jay-Z thrown in for variety …

  26. Are we allowed to poison them over dinner? In that case Hu Jintao, Robert Mugabe, and the king of Bahrain.

    Otherwise, let’s see…wouldn’t it be great to watch Prof. Stephen Hawking debate with Dr. Gene Ray, Cubic? (Except somebody would have to feed Hawking with a spoon, and that would be awkward.)

    Okay, I’ve got it: Robert Tilton, Madonna, and the Dalai Lama. (I can see it now: “Ya know, I’m pretty interested in spirichuality myself…”)

    • I’ve been to a dinner party with Stephen Hawking (and about 60 others). As I recall, he never said a thing (or very little, at least) due to the difficulty of having to use his computer to talk. But, yes, he did have two nurses with him who would feed him and such.

  27. Billy Joel – I started playing piano at the age of 6 in 1970 something… My first Big Note piano book was a Billy Joel album. His lyrics are timeless (not unlike JTs) and with his transition of pop and rock to classical, his music is timeless as well.

    Wayne Jacobsen (thegodjorney.com), writer and podcaster. To discuss grace. And, yes, he often dines in homes with other friends in the faith.

    Thomas Jefferson – I know… to understand his vision (and the visions of the founders of this nation) for government and the actual intended execution for federal vs. states’ rights. How to incorporate / permit the practice of faith and where we, as a people, got off track.

    I agree with Laura on this. My wife would be present as well. (so, there!)

  28. Now, of course, you’d have to invite more than 3. Not everyone will accept. So, here’s my list of candidates…1st three to say “yes” are in.

    Wendell Berry
    Antonin Scalia
    Peggy Noonan
    Charles Portis
    Robert Farrar Capon
    Seth Godin
    Joseph Epstein
    Paul Johnson
    Will and Jada Pinkett Smith
    Garrison Keillor
    Denzel Washington
    Elie Wiesel
    Eugene Peterson
    Robert Duvall
    Natalie Cole
    Naomi Wolf
    N. T. Wright

  29. Wow, this is a toughie.

    My definite must is Brennan Manning. Even if no one could show up, the dinner would still be on.

    NT Wright and Eugene Peterson would be right in the mix. If not for his recent demise, John Stott, as well.

  30. This is tough, but for religious? I’d invite two: my minister, Don McLaughlin, and author Philip Yancey. (If we’re allowed to invite the dead, I’d include Corrie ten Boom.)
    Historian? Either McCulloch or Barbara Tuchmann.
    Musician? James Pankow and Robert Lamm from the rock group Chicago. They were my favorite band growing up and I want to know how they got started.

  31. Historian? I’m not really up on that these days, but David McCullough would be a good choice. Or Barbara Tuchman. Chaim Potok? Not exactly an historian, but he did write a competent History of the Jews, and he’s one of my favorite novelists. Dead, though, sad to say.

    Religious leader? Always my good friend Alden Hathaway, retired bishop in what used to be the Episcopal Church. I would also have liked to meet Lesslie Newbigin, theologian and missionary to India. Dead now.

    Musician? Dylan and I probably wouldn’t get along, so he’s out. I’ll pick Pete Seeger—age 92 and nowhere near dead yet.

  32. Madeleine L’Engle, of course. And Stevie Wonder. From there, it’s a toss-up between Philip Yancey, Susanna Clarke (wrote Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell) and, well, Tina Fey.

  33. Just thought of another trio, quite different from my first: Phil Vischer, Rachel Held Evans, and Rowan Williams.

  34. A foursome (me +3) is a fairly intimate number, and so would yield the closest conversation. More than 8 altogether and the group dynamics break down as the groups naturally subdivides into more than one conversation. Rather than select a larger number, I would rather hold more than one dinner. I can think of several guest lists.

    I do find that living guests are typically much better conversationalists than dead ones. This is not the case in every instance, but it works as a general rule.

  35. Alan Jamieson – Theology and sociology rolled into one. Done some work on the post-churched that I’d quite like to find out more about.

    Ukulele Mike (Mike Lynch) – Prolific you-tube poster who makes his musical and teaching talent available. I’ve known many a person who’ve learned to play an instrument for the first time just through those videos. Seems like a nice guy to hang out with.

    John Drane – a guy who spends most of his life looking for God in the everyday, and finds Him. A person who seems to relish thinking outside the box and skilled at discovering new liturgies without losing the beauty of the old.

  36. Chaplain Mike, I like your categories.

    Religious leader-Pope Benedict 16th.
    Musician: Arvo Part
    Historian: John Julius Norwich (His latest book is “Absolute Monarchs, a History of the Papacy” which is excellent) He even admits that Pope Joan is fiction, but still has a chapter about it. GRIN

Speak Your Mind