A book that has rocked my world a few years back was “They Like Jesus But Not The Church” by Dan Kimball, pastor of Vintage Faith Church and currently on faculty at Western Seminary. As the opening of the video tries to portray, too many times Christians remain deaf to the world with all her pain and problems, rendering the church irrelevant to the world. Jesus was not irrelevant but addressed problems of his time head on. Jesus had no bubble. What’s our excuse?
Paul and Jesus on worship
While in many churches worship is thought to be solely about heaven and spiritual reality, Paul connects worship to the mundane of earthly existence:
“Whatever you eat or drink do it for the glory of God.”
Eating and drinking have everything to do with the earth, so maybe worship isn’t really about forgetting the earth(ly)?
Let’s look at another of Paul’s passages:
“Don’t you know your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit?” (1 Cor 6:19)
What were temples meant for? Worship. Our bodies are to be instruments which worship God, “therefore honor God with your bodies” (v. 20, emphasis mine). We are to worship God with our bodies? Our physical (earthly) bodies? Hmmm…maybe Paul got it wrong. Let’s move on to Jesus.
“…if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24)
This text teaches us that we worship by how we interact with people (earthly people). The problem is, too many Christians think “it’s just me and God” while Jesus said the two greatest commandments are (1) to love God with your all and (2) to love our neighbor with your all.
Worship is not just about giving to God but also has to do with how we operate in earthly relationships. Jesus said to stop giving to God (your worship, your service) and first go fix what’s been broken (mend your earthly relationships). This is holistic worship; and it’s a whole lot harder to do than lifting your hands in a worship service.
While gnostic Christianity tends to says “It’s just me and God,” Jesus is all about our worship being reflected in how we treat others; our worship is to be deeply connected to the earth and its inhabitants.
This is why Paul uses a temple analogy twice in 1 Corinthians, once to describe the Christian life as a personal walk with God (1 Cor 6:19) and once to describe it as a communal walk with God (1 Cor 3:16, where Paul notes that the Corinthian Christians together form God’s temple). A gnostic approach puts emphasis merely on an individual relationship with Christ while neglecting that we also share a communal relationship with God. What this means is that we ought to follow Christ together with those in our communities of faith. Just as the disciples themselves together followed Jesus.
Both Paul and Jesus are in full agreement that the church isn’t meant to be filled with people who are rogue, but rather with people who together in community follow God.
When Jesus’ disciples asked Him to teach them how to pray better, He responds with a sort of ‘guideline’ prayer. One of the lines reads “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). This means that Jesus wills His followers to both long and pray for the intersection of heaven and earth; we are to yearn for God’s kingdom (His rule and reign) to invade the earth. We’re to pray for heaven to fall on earth, not just for God’s people to be transported out of it. This intersection of heaven and earth is what made up Jesus’ ministry, as he went around proclaiming the kingdom of God (both a present and future reality) is at hand on the earth!
“All you need is God?” Learning from Eden
Genesis paints a picture of a God who does not view the ‘earthly’ as unimportant or insignificant. Rather it informs us of a God who declared all things “very good,” a God who beckons mankind to care for the earth and to oversee its wellbeing, its shalom. A God who cares that Adam is alone, not a God who tells Adam, “Be content: I’m all you need!” My point is not that we don’t need God but that God is in fact concerned with our mundane earthly existence beyond the spiritual. Jesus did in fact heal people’s physical bodies.
As noted already, Paul did not just give his recipients (those who received his letters) the gospel. No, he offered them helps and solutions, rebukes and encouragement. Bottom line, Paul was active in his world; a gnostic Christian is passive in his or hers.
Dave Hickman does a tremendous job at delving into deep theological waters without muddying them. Though it’s highly-theological it’s not another “barely-readable” book which doesn’t know which audience demographic to choose, academic or layman.
The subject matter usually cloudy and unclear (evidenced by the word “mysterious” often associated with it), I feel Hickman does wonders with shedding some light on this topic and making it a little less foggy.
In many Christian books the individual persons of the God-head aren’t usually equally showcased as at least one of the persons are usually marginalized (be it the Holy Spirit or God the Father). But Hickman goes to great lengths to explain specific roles of the individual persons of the Trinity instead of just using the term “God” (which can be a cop-out) or sticking to Jesus alone. Equal treatment is given to the full God-head it seems on every page. Thanks, Dave!
I’m very grateful to Hickman for his use of church history since it too often is neglected in modern evangelicalism (though church history is really our roots). Hickman notes that though union with Christ was not a dead concept throughout church history, it has been obscured in much of Christianity today. He explains that though he had been a believer for decades he still “had no idea there was anything more to the gospel than salvation by grace, forgiveness of sins, and the ability to have a personal relationship with Jesus” (Introduction, p. xxiv). “Although I had read large portions of the Bible, received two degrees in theology, and listened to countless sermons regarding the nature of salvation, I remained strangely unaware of what many colleagues (and people throughout the centuries) have celebrated as the central aspect of the entire Christian faith” (same page).
“I remained strangely unaware of what many…have celebrated as the central aspect of the entire Christian faith.”
Drawing much from church history (with references from the likes of Cyril, Luther, Calvin, and many more) as well as a wide array of more modern scholars and thinkers (*Lewis, Tozer, Manning, Packer, to name a few), he argues for the reinstatement of the lost concept of union with Christ. It’s evident that Hickman longs for this to not jut be in our theologies but in our everyday living as well, writing “I consider it to be not only the centerpiece of the gospel but also the “glue” that binds the entire story of God together in a unified way” (Introduction, p. xxiv). Though it delves into church history and scholarly opinions, this book still remains highly-readable (which is quite surprising).
Hickman writes to those who feel crushed under the weight of their relationship with God, to those who unknowingly (or knowingly) try to earn his approval. He writes of his own past, “Even though I was “saved” I felt lost. While I was a “son of God,” I felt like an orphan” (p. 9). Closer Than Close is full of raw honesty from his own deep struggles as well as natural humor.
It touches upon a wide array of topics, from the detrimental leanings of escapism and legalism,to the spiritual disciplines (praying, reading your Bible, etc.).
This book comes highly recommended by me as I do think it may change the way you view your relationship with God; it did mine!
Though much of the book’s content serves as a correction to bad theology, Hickman writes humbly and not full of cynicism; he really cares for the church rather than just caring to be correct. Do yourself a favor and get the book! If you cannot afford it, cut back on your Starbucks/fast food for a week as this book is a great investment! I will cherish it in my library for years to come.
(*C.S. Lewis, A.W. Tozer, Brennan Manning, J.I. Packer; their first names weren’t added for better readability)
I obtained my copy of Closer Than Close (NavPress) from Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for an honest assessment.
is a term referring to an ancient way of thought which deemphasizes the physical (the human body, the earthly) while placing high value on the non-physical (the “spiritual” dimension). It crept into some Christian circles in primitive church history in a variety of ways as some Christians gave way to the notion that Jesus wasn’t really a human, didn’t really suffer (just pretended to), that marriage was actually wrong (which Paul opposed in his letter to the Corinthians), and that sex was evil (which Paul also opposed in that same letter). What does this have to do with modern Christianity?
It’s the subtle lie which is the most dangerous and, as has been said before, the lie closest to the truth that is far more dangerous that the outright obvious lie. Gnosticism is so subtle in evangelicalism that many aren’t aware of its existence. Yet it’s evident that it is alive and well in Christianity by the way we view relationships, Christian responsibility, the earth, our bodies, and much more.
Subtle Gnosticism says that taking care of the earth is pointless; the earth after all will burn. It says that taking care of our bodies is unnecessary; we are after all on our way to heaven. It says “my relationship with God has to do solely with God above and not with people down below.” It’s so subtle that we miss it. It has been ingrained in our evangelical DNA for so long that no one notices it or the problems it poses for the body of Christ.
Gnosticism in how we view Christian responsibility?
Sometimes when Christians speak out against an issue, common pushback by fellow Christians can be summed up by phrases like “don’t get involved,” “you’re being controversial,” or “just focus on the gospel.” In other words, focus on the spiritual, not the physical (or earthly) since the gospel will zap all of earth’s problems like a magic wand. Perhaps this is due to our desire to have quick-fixes. But when Paul was confronted with issues in various churches his response was not just to write the gospel (though write the gospel he did!) but to speak into those issues.
In response to the church of Corinth’s many complicated problems he did not simply write that “Jesus Christ was born of a virgin, is God-incarnate, died a slave’s death and was buried, etc.” Rather he wrote a large letter, its pages breathing with realism, not pie in the sky theology. He wasn’t so heavenly-minded so as to fail to (seriously) regard the events on earth. His head wasn’t in the clouds; he could handle being a man after God’s own heart while still being a realist.
Lest I be misunderstood, I wholeheartedly recognize that Paul presented the gospel in all the letters we have by him. But the gospel that Paul knew and preached encompassed all of life, it didn’t simply focus on the heavenly and spiritual. The gospel of Paul (the gospel of the New Testament itself) interacted with everyday life, its tragedies, triumphs, and mundanities.
*In the making: Gnosticism Continued
What surprised me most about this book was how it strayed from a triumphalistic theology (for triumphalism clarification click here). On the contrary Banning Liebscher proved to be consistently realistic vs. a pie in the sky theology, or a success-driven one at that. The following is taken from ch. 1:
“One of my deepest concerns with the church is how hung up we have become with short-term successes… We measure our success…by numbers-numbers that measure popularity and material success.” (p. 11)
This statement is significant coming from the founder of Jesus Culture, since many look to such booming ministries and automatically assume and assert that numbers=fruit.
Marked by simplicity, Rooted breathes with an appeal to draw its readers into experiential closeness with God rather than a mere knowing about him. This is made evident by statements like “it’s possible to know the Bible and not know God” as well as “Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for searching the Scriptures yet refusing to recognize Him as the One the Scriptures were talking about” (p. 23).
Liebscher notes 3 “soils” for being rooted; the soil of intimacy, serving, and community. In soil 1 (intimacy) he emphasizes the importance of “the secret place,” referencing Matt. 6:6 in which Jesus tells us to pray in privacy and secrecy. Liebscher bids believers to make secret prayer central, writing, “The real question is not whether you can be passionate when you are at a great worship service with thousands of others… The question is whether your heart is alive with love for Him when you are all by yourself” (p. 105). Well said.
His describing community (the third soil) is probably my favorite part of the book. In it he mentions a few cultures which happen to be community-centered while noting that Western culture is very individualistic, thus making it hard for us (Christians) to grasp true community.
“…community-driven cultures carry a value for community that my culture lacks, and this lack makes it more difficult for us to understand and embrace God’s value for community. For us steeped in Western individualism, it [community] can be very countercultural…” (p. 176). Community, he notes, is a theme in all of the Bible, not just the New Testament. Yet “if we read Scripture through the lens of Western individualism, we can miss this biblical theme” (p. 178).
Borrowing from scholar Scot McKnight, he drives the point that the gospel is about the restoration of community, not the promotion of an individual (personal-?) salvation. He goes against the idea of a “just me and Jesus” relationship, noting that we follow Jesus in community, not isolation. In other words, Christians need each other-we’re not meant to be rogue.
This book, very simple and readable (and short!), is a great and refreshing read full of gems and “aha” moments. Liebscher’s passion for God and the church is evident as he calls us to experience God more. This is a book I recommend.
I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.
Old-Testament scholar Soong-Chan Rah addresses the American church and her inability to mourn. This is reflected in even our song selections in both traditional and contemporary worship services. He notes that “In an evangelical triumphalistic Christianity we have buried the practice of lament. We have buried an important biblical value-the value of suffering, the value of lament; and we need to recover that.”
Do you find Rah’s complaint legitimate? Could it be that our evangelical DNA is so so tainted with triumphalism that we remain unwilling and queasy at the idea of bringing lament into our corporate and public worship?
*References in this post will be taken from Gordon Fee’s God’s Empowering Presence (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, reprint edition, June 1, 2009)
Triumphalistic theology (or Triumphalism) is a theology prevalent in many denominations but generally found in Pentecostal/Charismatic circles. Such a theology focuses on the Christian life being one of glory while neglecting that it is also to be one of suffering. Now while it is true that we are promised glory in this life (though not the kind we may crave) we are most certainly promised suffering as well. This obviously is not appealing to most, how much more so to those living in a highly consumeristic land. Nevertheless the New Testament makes clear that it is fully natural for believers to suffer. Yet somehow this suffering aspect is either not talked about or referred to as merely a footnote in ‘prosperity gospel’ teaching. But one does not need to look far for Biblical support of the Christian call to suffer, one reason why rapid spread of triumphalism should come to us as a shock (unless it’s taken into account that a large number of Christians are in fact biblically illiterate).
New Testament scholar Gordon Fee holds ‘glory’ and ‘suffering’ to make up a tension in the Christian life, maintaining that we’re to hold both in equal balance (as Paul did; this is what he argues in segments of his book). A fellow Pentecostal himself, Fee uses the “already” and “not yet” tension throughout his enormous tome. This tension is captured perfectly by Jesus in the gospels who would speak about the kingdom of God as a present reality as well as a future time.
What triumphalism sets out to do is focus on the kingdom of God being here (present in the here and now) while neglecting that it is not yet fully rooted (it is in fact already and not yet). God’s kingdom (meaning his reign) is both present (there are healings) and future (there are disappointments as some aren’t healed, we fight sin, and we suffer the tyrannical effects of death). Though God reigns, this reign is not yet fully realized and won’t be until Jesus’ return.
Some in faith-healing circles go so far as to deem those who have not been healed as having an insignificant amount of faith. Such individuals would do well to read verses like 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (in which even the great apostle Paul’s prayers of faith do not supersede God’s sovereignty) as well as Mark 8:22-26 (in which a man’s healing is done in a process; it’s not automatic).
Fee suggests that when we find the middle ground in our theology “we neither expect too much or too little. . . . Here we will regularly expect, and see, both the working of miracles and the fellowship of his [Christ’s] sufferings, without sensing frustration in either direction” (p. 8, introduction). Though Fee is not for ‘triumphalism’ he is equally against the ‘defeatist’ (his word) Christian who does not know any glory/triumph. He argues that “we not settle for for a watered down understanding that gives more glory to Western rationalism than to the living God” (p. 9)
*Recommended reading: Surprised by the Power of the Holy Spirit (Jack Deere)
This book is not written from a traditional Pentecostal view. That is because Jack Deere was a professor for years at Dallas Theological Seminary, a school which is highly cessationist (i.e., they believe gifts like tongues, prophecy, and healing ended with the apostles). Deere’s journey from being a cessationist to continuationist is wonderfully captured in an exciting and highly-readable style, full of wit as well as theological depth. (I could not put the book down.)
Fee, like Deere, is not at all a traditional Pentecostal but has been known to say that he is a scholar first and Pentecostal second. I highly recommend Fee’s book with this disclaimer: THIS IS AN ACADEMIC BOOK! (It’s not a light read.) But, if you’re up for a challenge the book is a gem for any Christian library. It’s also is a very light read for an academic book.