paul Moldovan

Our scope here is to rattle evangelical norms that threaten Biblical norms (as well as pretend we are smarter and more "spiritual" than we actually are).

Guardrails, by Alan Briggs (book review)


Director of Frontline Church Planting (located in Colorado) as well as a pastor at Vanguard Church (Colorado Springs), Alan Briggs offers an interesting read on church planting and discipleship. Guardrails: Six Principles for a Multiplying Church (NavPress, 2016) proves to be highly readable as well as simple.

The author starts off with noting how churches look at (more) numbers “as solutions to our problems” when “most churches have no idea what they would or should do with the people God brings them” (p. 4). He hits the importance of contextualizing the gospel, not simply making a model of how to plant a church and sticking with it forever, making it Torah; the importance to evolve and not stagnate (p. 12). At the same time he hits on the need for balance, as while “overstructured organizations need to free up room for new ideas that will allow expansion and new movement, understructured leaders need to prepare themselves to keep their momentum from degenerating into chaos” (p. 13).

…understructured leaders need to prepare themselves to keep their momentum from degenerating into chaos.


Early on Briggs speaks of the importance of the kingdom of God and “kingdom theology,” drawing from the late Karl Barth. Brigg writes that “the family of God…must live a different narrative in this consumer-driven, me-first, get-ahead…world we live in” (p. 20) and that “Kingdom theology has often been overlooked. Perhaps it doesn’t offer accelerated solutions in a world of quick fixes. Perhaps acknowledging God’s centrality…renders us helpless in a self-help culture” (p. 21). The book shines with many such statements, staying true to simplicity as well as practicality.

Some critiques.

I didn’t feel that Briggs added anything fresh to this topic. At the same time, it’s hard to add anything to something so greatly exhumed and excavated. Though Guardrails is not bad per say, it tends to be a generic read on discipleship. (This is just my two cents.)

The second issue I have is that though Briggs holds interesting perspectives, at times I find myself wondering what he’s trying to say, many sentences seeming like words awkwardly jumbled together. Many parts in the book could probably use a tad more editing.


*I received a free copy of this book from Tyndale in exchange for an honest assessment.

The Issue of Nationalism (in “10 problems plaguing modern Christianity”)

apollo-148722_1280Much word count by the apostle Paul is dedicated to the reconciliation of different ethnic groups (mainly Jews and Gentiles). To Paul, his Messiah and Lord  wasn’t crucified simply to reconcile humans to God but rather God went a radical step further. Using the detested symbol of the cross, he did what no one else was trying to do (or wanted to be done!).

Michael J. Gorman in his Reading Revelation Responsibly quotes Gregory Boyd who writes, “In our minds-as so often in our sanctuaries-the cross and the American flag stand side by side” (p. 51).* From the inception of our country to be Christian and to be American were synonymous. We are suffering the effects of that today as many in the church are far more American than they are Christian. Many believe the 2nd amendment is a “God-given right.” Even a second-hand glance at the New Testament will leave you with a sense that we’re called to the giving up of rights, not the holding on to them  with both hands clasped tightly.


The reconciliation noted earlier is stifled when churches become breeding grounds of nationalism. No one nation is better than another nation; at least that’s what the whole of Scripture informs us. But our nation was founded on a general belief that we (Americans) are God’s chosen people-God’s new Israel; the city on a hill. (I.e., we’re superior.) The question is, has this notion ever even left?


*Gregory A. Boyd, The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest of Political Power is Destroying the church,  p. 12.

A Call to Mercy (book review)

a-callBased on M. (Mother) Teresa’s lifework and teachings, A Call to Mercy: Hearts to Love, Hands to Serve (Image, 2016) is beautifully and thoughtfully written. With different stories from different sources all smoothly compiled, the book promises to not be a bore (though it is a long read, 332 pages in total). Edited by one (Father) Brian Kolodiejckuk, it celebrates the incredible lifework and thought process of M. Teresa.

Provocative and simple, this will come handy to anyone looking for a primer on this historical figure. Stressed in the book was the fact that she took the words of Christ literally-that if you feed the poor you feed Christ; if you clothe the poor you are really clothing Christ. It’s simply Christ in his “distressing disguise,” (a term used throughout the book).

Some time ago one woman came with her child to me and said, “Mother, I went to two, three places to beg some food, for we have not eaten for three days but they told me that I am young and I must work and eat. No one gave me anything.” I went to get some food and by the time I returned the baby in her hand had died of hunger. I hope it was not our convents that refused her (p.4).

During especially the beginning sections I was left with the growing sense that American Christians need a reeducation regarding how we view the poor and homeless. An event is recorded in which she (M. Teresa) is criticized for feeding the poor instead of teaching them how to fish. Her response is that too many poor people don’t have the strength to even hold a fishing pole. They first must be fed and rehabilitated; then they can fish (or be left on their own).


She loved Jesus with all she had, and therefore would love the poor and mistreated with all she had. (As noted already, she took the notion that the poor and hungry really are Christ very seriously; her caring for the poor was (to her) a caring for her savior.) Emphasizing our call as Christians to sacrifice, she notes that if love doesn’t hurt then it’s not really love.

What I can admire most of this “saint” upon reading A Call to Mercy is not her seemingly-immeasurable compassion but rather the fact that she was prone to action. This book very well could be called A Call to Action! I was reminded immensely upon reading her life and words; for that reason alone I reccomend this book.

A Call to Mercy has stirred me to not neglect “the hungry Christ, the naked Christ, and the homeless Christ” (p. 37).  In its pages I was reminded of my privileged status (and therefore my responsibility to help Christ in his distressing disguise). That I don’t suffer like the least of these but (as M. Teresa said), my “sufferings are nothing compared to the suffering of the poor” (p. 45).

The ESV’s bizzare decision to never make (textual) decisions again

blogggIt’s been announced that no more changes will ever (need to be) made to the popular ESV translation of the Bible. This is all very odd since the very purpose of Bible translation is to put the words of God in the words of the common man. In twenty years we will say things very differently than we do now. And what of forty years? And sixty?

That the words of the Bible need to change with time is not some new liberal agenda but rather common sense, the very lifework of Luther, Tyndale, and Wycliffe! As to why the ESV committee seems to believe they’ve arrived at “perfection” I cannot say. But for a more thorough analysis by more qualified authors click here.


Go, by Preston Sprinkle (book review)

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With wit and clarity, in his new release Go: Returning Discipleship to the Front Lines of Faith (NavPress, 2016) Preston Sprinkle argues that we have lost touch with what Biblical discipleship is all about. Vice President at Eternity Bible College (Boise Campus) as well  as a bestselling author and speaker, Sprinkle’s  dedication to Scripture is evident on every page of this book, as well as his his passion for Christ and the Church. Drawing from various studies as well as the stories of many Christians, he labors to provide an overall portrait of the America church in regards to discipleship. And the picture he paints is not a pretty one.

“While many Christians say they want to become more like Jesus, the Jesus they’re imagining is largely a modern (and American) [Jesus]” (p. 4).

Though some churches may be convinced of the effectiveness of their discipleship programs based on the numbers, Sprinkle points out that the numerical growth of many churches happens only because Christians leave another church and join theirs, not because non-Christians are being converted. Opposing “one-size-fits-all discipleship programs” (p. 91), he posits that we need to return to Scripture with fresh eyes and re-learn what discipleship according to the New Testament (NT) entails.


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A Plea for Holistic Thinking

Discipleship (or becoming like Jesus, his definition) is actually really simple, Sprinkle argues; it’s we who have muddied the waters. We’ve made discipleship about church programs or Bible studies (which Sprinkle never downplays) but we’ve forgotten that discipleship is actually incorporated into all of life (it’s holistic) and not just in the “spiritual” things we do.

That the American church is plagued by a deep dualism is an underlying argument throughout the whole book, a dualism which separates ‘secular’ from ‘sacred.’ It’s when we look at discipleship through this lens that we make it about certain activities instead of all of life. Ultimately this dualism is man’s addition to the Bible and is not a help but a hindrance to true and organic discipleship, standing in the way of us participating in the true kind of discipleship that Jesus prescribed.

He pleads that we “move beyond thinking of discipleship in terms of how many hours we spend doing church activities and engaging in spiritual alone time;” that “When your entire vocation is viewed as mission, there are very few hours that aren’t discipleship” (p. 77). He believes that only a number of Christians think of discipleship holistically, “where we become like Christ in the way we think about art, beauty, economics, immigration, and science (among other things)” (p. 77).

A plea for Creativity

Though, as already noted, Western Christians seem to have made discipleship solely about church programs, throughout the book many stories are shared of Christians who do discipleship in unorthodox ways (not the “normal” or “expected” ways). Some Christians may not be able to fathom that these unorthodox ways are discipleship because they think of only Bible studies (and/or “spiritual” things) as discipleship. This is because of the secular/sacred divide noted already, but also because we don’t seem to allow for creativity in how we disciple.

Based on a recent in-depth study, Sprinkle believes that “many people would not leave the church if the church was doing a better, more holistic, and more creative job at discipling its people” (p. 13). (This is not coming from some hippie liberal Christian-no offense if that’s you-but from the guy who runs one of Francis Chan’s colleges.) Of course I can already hear the objections to this statement; “If they were Christian they wouldn’t have left the church in the first place.” But this is a great generalization and oversimplification which tends to excuse inexcusable behavior from fellow Christians. I’m grateful Sprinkle seems to realize this.

A Plea for True Community

In ch. 3 he emphasizes the essential aspect of community if we’re going to become like Christ. Noted is the fact that many who have left the church express that ‘community’ is the very thing they yearned for and the very thing that was lacking from churches in their experience. Sprinkle stresses that we cannot become like Christ in isolation, that to become like Jesus we need “Authentic relationships. Relationships where people can share their intimate struggles, confess their socially unacceptable sins, and rely on others for spiritual strength. But these types of relationships are fairly rare among Christians” (p. 42).

“Relationships where people can share their intimate struggles, confess their socially unacceptable sins, and rely on others for  spiritual strength…are fairly rare among Christians.”


A Plea for Christians to think (for themselves)

Emphasizing the need for the church to create a safe atmosphere for discussion, Sprinkle writes “We can’t be scared of hard questions, and we need to stop giving prepackaged, canned responses to complex issues” especially since “one of the biggest complaints about Christians, especially from younger people, is that we are too scared or ill-equipped to think through the tough questions of the day. …we keep regurgitating dogmatic answers to complex questions… And many people are fleeing our churches because of it” (p. 105).

Devoting a large word count to the Christian and his/her vocation, he informs us of a study which reveals that 51% of youth teens hope to work in science-related fields and yet (in this study) in the course of a year only 1% of youth pastors discussed science in relation to faith. Sprinkle attributes this silence to fear, as “many churches tend to demonize the sciences for fear that Christians will lose their faith and become evolutionists.” But he insists that “the church should not be fearful of science; rather, it should learn how to thoughtfully engage the scientific world around it—a world that many of its members will be living in” (all on p. 79).

He stresses the need for churches to create space for healthy discussion and yes, even disagreement, insisting that “One’s interpretation of Genesis 1-2 does not have to be a gospel issue” and that “churches need to resist being controlled by fear-driven rhetoric and…explore ways in which they can nurture and train people to think critically about matters of faith and science. If the church doesn’t do it, the university will” (all on p. 80).

A Plea for a “Multicolored gospel” (his term)

Sprinkle notes the obvious-that most churches in America are homogeneous. Though America has people who are poor, middle class, and rich, usually individual churches will consist of mainly poor, middle class, or rich members. Though America has white, black, Latino, etc., usually our churches are filled with the same race of people. Sprinkle reminds us of how just much the NT deals with race and reconciliation. He notes that according to studies most churches have no problem with homogeneity. But Sprinkle argues that we should see this as a problem since

“…we understand God better–and can therefore live more like God–when we learn from and listen to a diverse group of people” (p. 138).

He also notes the importance of “gender reconciliation” in discipleship, stressing the importance of “making sure women don’t feel undervalued, underappreciated, or nonessential for the mission of the church” (p. 134).

A Plea for Simplicity

Sprinkle questions why so much of our money (as well as so much time for those on staff) is going to a weekly service. He takes us back to the NT where money was given by early Christians for things like helping those in poverty and supporting missionaries. A study indicates that around 60% of not only money from the church but time from the pastor and staff go into the “production” of the weekly gathering. I find this statistic troubling and true (having worked in churches and serving in one). Sprinkle makes clear he is not for doing away with gathering together, but he is questioning why our gathering together needs to cost so much.

This chapter is recapped perfectly here in Preston Sprinkle’s short blog post titled Do We Really Need That Chandelier?

A plea for biblical literacy

This is an underlying theme throughout the whole book. Sprinkle, like many, is alarmed at the fact that though the Bible is more accessible than ever it remains highly neglected. He’s concerned that Christians arrive at conclusions based off of what other Christians have said rather than what God(‘s Word) says.


Concluding thoughts

There’s a lot more than I noted packed in these 181 pages that just cannot be squeezed into one book review. But I will say that Go proves to not be yet another generic book on discipleship. Though its author holds a PhD and is vice President of a college, you wouldn’t know it as Go is thankfully very readable (I finished it in two days!). It was a real page turner for me that I highly recommend.

I love the fact that you cannot categorize Sprinkle into a “liberal” or “conservative” based on this book since he doesn’t seem to fit either mold. Rather his passion for Scripture and what it really says (rather than how it may be commonly understood) supersedes any such categorization. He is very passionate about Scripture leading the way as he grapples with what it’s really saying. Because of this, conservatives will find portions of his book offensive while liberals will be angry that he won’t side with them on certain issues. Yet he relentlessly lets Scripture (not tradition or culture) dictate his theology and way of thinking.

I regard what this book has to offer as a much-needed prophetic message, a corrective to much of our bad (Gnostic and unbiblical) theology. I agree, unfortunately, with the author’s assessment that the American church doesn’t think about discipleship the way Jesus did and therefore doesn’t do discipleship the way he did. (I personally look at discipleship differently after reading this.) This book comes highly recommended by me! Anyone who wants to better understand (biblical) discipleship should buy this.


(*Preston Sprinkle heads a blog which deals with hard questions and divisive issues in Christianity, ranging from the 2nd amendment to homosexuality and much more; check it out here.)

Oh yeah! I obtained a complimentary copy of Go from Tyndale Publishing in exchange for an honest review.


A conversation with author Dave Hickman (Interview)


Below is an interview which I conducted with author and speaker Dave Hickman regarding his new release ‘Closer Than Close’ (a book which attempts to bring “union with Christ” back to the forefront and comes highly recommended by me).


Paul: You did something pretty rare in that you dealt with many abstract theological ideas in a way that a non-academic can easily understand. Was it a struggle to maintain such readability?

Dave: It was very, very difficult; I knew it would be. Almost every book on the topic of “union” with Christ is written for an academic audience. Even “contemporary” books that attempt to be more accessible are still either too long, too complex, or written with an overbearing seminary professor in the back of the authors mind. I took two years to research the doctrine of union with Christ, and in doing so, read dangerously close to every book I could find on the topic. I then took six months to process the information and filter it down into the most important “big idea” of the doctrine. I then took another six months to actually present that “big idea” in writing using personal stories, popular analogies, Scripture, and witty examples. In the end, the book is 168 pages that I (hope) average, ordinary Christians (like me) can understand and appreciate. Fredrick Buchner once said that writing is like, “opening a vein.” For me, writing Closer Than Close was more like trying to squeeze a pumpkin back into a seed. It was very hard—gut-wrenching to be honest.

Paul: I was struck by how Trinitarian your book was in that you zoned in on God as three persons with three individual roles. Can you shed some light on your own personal journey to better understanding the Trinity in this way?

Dave: Growing up in the evangelical church, I heard a LOT about Jesus. A LOT. I rarely, however, heard much about the role or persons of the Father and Holy Spirit. Because Jesus was the sole focus of the Christian faith, the Father and the Son drifted off into obscurity in my mind. This served to divorce Jesus (in my thinking and faith experience) from the life and love of the Father and Spirit, and ultimately from my own human experience. In short, the “union” of the Holy Three was not center stage, but secondary to my “personal relationship” with the second person of the Trinity (i.e. Jesus). When I discovered salvation as a “union” with Christ, it naturally led me to awaken the beauty and wonder of the union God has eternally shared with himself as Father, Son, and Spirit. This is the union of all unions. Rediscovering my personal and corporate union with Christ led me into a much more Trinitarian understanding of God in faith and practice.

Paul: Throughout the book an underlying theme is to rest in Christ, not self-effort. Why do you feel some Christian leaders are weary of emphasizing this?

Dave: Because, as one pastor fearfully asked, “If Christians are already as “close” to Jesus as possible, what’s the motivation for ongoing discipleship?” **Facepalm** The wide-swath of evangelical soteriology presents discipleship as the ongoing and perpetual attempt to get “closer and closer” to Jesus over time. This can be achieved, per most evangelical expressions of sanctification, by doing things you “should” (i.e. reading the Bible, praying, and going to church) and NOT doing the things you shouldn’t (smoking, drinking, and hanging out with people who do). This has led many into the dark (and never-ending) abyss of performance-based acceptance, and a works based proximity to the person of Jesus. The “pastoral” concern is that if salvation is communicated as a perfect union between the believer and Jesus, then Christians may become apathetic in their spiritual “walk.” While certainly logical, this is simply not scriptural OR practical. This “proximity” based logic, as some theologians have argued, is rooted in fear and control. To show this logic wanting, I like to point to my union to my wife, Monica. When I asked Monica to marry me and become “one” with me 14 years ago, it was not so I might have the opportunity to become apathetic in loving her and serving her. No! In fact, the opposite is true. I asked Monica to become “one” with me so that I may understand her (and myself) MORE and come to a deeper understanding and appreciation of my “one flesh” union with her! Therefore, the “spiritual life” is like the “married life”: It’s the ongoing process of deepening my awareness and appreciation of the union I already share with God the Father, Son, and Spirit, NOT the process by which I strive to become more and more “one” with God over time. In the words of Richard Rohr, the Christian life is one of having “already arrived.” If this is true, then the pursuit of God is over; we have been “found IN him.” We have been made one with Christ, not 99.9% “one” with the hope of being faithful enough to one day become perfectly one with him. Awakening to the freedom of our ever-now union with Christ changes our motivation for prayer, scripture reading, and the like. How could it not? Instead of approaching these disciplines with a dreadful sense of “should,” we are free to approach those holy moments with a heart full of awe and wonder at the ineffable union we already share with the Father, Son, and Spirit. If that doesn’t fire us up as believers, and provide us with a renewed sense of joy and excitement in our communion (common-union) with God, we may want to check our spiritual pulse! 

Paul: Do you find any merit to their concerns?

Dave: Of course. But again, the concern is rooted in a fear of freedom not an appreciation and thankfulness for the freedom we have. The argument that, in union with Christ, Christians will want to sin MORE, is simply not true. Why? Because, if we have died with Christ, as Paul says, we have died to sin by virtue of our union with him! If we are fearful that being united to Christ will birth a desire to sin more, we do not understand the gospel! Fear is never a healthy (or lasting) motivator; love is. When we awaken to the freedom of our union with Christ, and understand who we are IN Christ, we discover a life free from striving and one that is defined by abiding; a life not based by “proximity” to Jesus through our effort, but one of gradual and grace-filled conformity to the one in whom we are united. With that said, the spiritual disciplines, in the words of Richard Foster, are one of a “disciplined grace.” There is a work for us to do, but that work has more to do with intentional positioning than constant pressing. The work is to position ourselves (like “working” on our tan) in order for the Son to do what the Son does naturally—conform us into the image of himself.

Paul: Do you have any pointers for those of us who struggle with the tension between legalism (or “doing” for God) and inactivity?

Dave: This presumes that “inactivity” is non-spiritual. This dualistic understanding divorces our everyday lives (i.e. boiling eggs, doing the dishes, showering) from our “spiritual” lives (i.e. praying, reading the bible, and going to church). Sometimes, the MOST spiritual thing we can do is to sit alone in silence and solitude (i.e. “do nothing”). Abbot John Eudes Bamberger in writing to Henri Nowen, said it best to his dear friend:

“When you are faithful in [silence] (i.e. inactivity) you will slowly experience for yourself in a deeper way. Because in this useless hour in which you do nothing “important” (i.e. “spiritual”) or urgent (i.e. “should”) you have to come to terms with your basic powerlessness, you have to feel your fundamental inability to solve your or other people’s problems or to change the world. When you do not avoid that experience but live through it, you will find out that your many projects, plans, and obligations become less urgent, crucial, and important and lose their power over you.”

Many see “inactivity” as “useless.” This is simply not true for anyone who has spent time in silence and solitude. Brennan Manning once argued that, “Failure to simply be with the Father, as the beloved, without doing anything, is to gouge the heart out of Christianity.” Christianity is not about “doing,” but about “abiding” (See John 15). Filled with the Spirit of Christ, believers are able to produce fruit (love, joy, peace, etc) naturally; not produce (or become) these in our own effort. The branch of an apple tree does not “have” to strive to produce fruit. It produces fruit naturally as a by-product of simply abiding in the vine. Sometimes (for work-a-holics like me) being intentionally inactive is an appropriate and practical form of repentance from our constant striving. After two degrees in Theology and a lifetime huffing and puffing to produce spiritual fruit, I took an entire year off where I, in the words of Brother Lawrence, ceased “all forms of devotion and set prayers except those to which my state required.” And on the backside of that year, I can tell you that I grew MORE in my understanding of who God is and in the practice of prayer, than all my previous years combined. In short, I was forced, in the words of Soren Kierkegaard, to “accept my own acceptance.” And sometimes, that is the hardest work we can “do.”

Paul: You talk about escapism in one chapter in particular. What do you feel has contributed to the strong leanings of escapism in churches? Do you detect a single root cause? Or perhaps different factors?

Dave: Escapism is rampant in evangelical expressions of corporate worship. Services are filled with constant stimulants (lights, videos, sounds, tweeting, etc) that keep believers from having to come face-to-face with themselves and their own depravity and their ineffable belovedness. Isn’t that what escapism is all about? Filling our lives with outside stimulation in order to mute what we know to be true of ourselves—broken but dearly loved? If I had to detect a single root cause of escapism in the church, I might point to the “attractional” approach of corporate worship. Because we know human beings (in their brokenness) are most comfortable in highly stimulating, self-evading, anonymous environments, our worship “productions” offers attendees with an atmosphere perfect for escape. In doing this, however, the church mirrors a culture in which many believers (and non-believers) long to escape. We long for silence. We long for stillness. We long to “be” and not be bombarded with messaging, marketing, and noise. The more I have come to awaken to the freedom of my union with Christ, I have found myself gravitating more to liturgical and sacramental expressions of corporate worship—communal times that are just “boring” enough for me to face myself and my brokenness and come face-to-face with a God who, despite my unworthiness, gives himself freely in the midst of my insatiable desire to hide myself from him.

Paul: You cite a wide array of scholars and authors. Which scholars have most impacted your life and theology?

Dave: Cyril of Alexandria, Athanasius of Alexandria, Jurgen Moltmann, Tom Torrance, John D. Zizioulas, Robert Letham, Miroslav Volf, Donald Fairbairn.

Paul: Which authors?

Dave: George Maloney, Dom Eugene Boylan, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, C.S. Lewis, Fil Anderson, Brennan Manning, Henri Nouwen.

Paul: You talk about God being a God of relation evidenced by the Old Testament.  Why do you think this gets lost in many circles which tend to view the “OT” and “NT” God as different gods, and only the “NT god” as relational?

Dave: Gosh, it’s hard to get any more relational than God as revealed in the Old Testament, in my opinion. Throughout the Old Testament narrative, God is described and experienced as a “father,” “bridegroom,” “lover,” and “husband” to his people. Even in the face their constant (and intentional) rebellion, God sends prophets, priests, and kings to comfort, care for, and call his beloved people back to himself. Certainly, there are parts in the Old Testament narrative that leaves readers scratching their heads. Yet, in light of God’s supremacy and justice (which are not subject to our approval), we discover a loving and relational God who longs to not just be “close” to his people, but “one” with them. In the Incarnation, God fulfills this eternal longing through the enfleshing of his own Son who fully assumed our nature into himself, thus healing our humanity. There, in the person of Jesus Christ, we are able to see clearly who God is and what God is like in our own nature! How’s that for “relational?” In the person of the God-Man, Jesus Christ, we see a God who hates injustice and abuse; and one who longs to stand in solidarity with humanity and heal our brokenness.


Thanks, Dave! Looking forward to your next book.

Dan Kimball, The Christian Bubble (Video)

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?

The Issue of Gnosticism (part 2) (in “10 problems plaguing modern Christianity”)

Paul and Jesus on worship

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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 (in Part 1), 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.

“The “glue” that binds the entire story of God”, Closer Than Close (book review)


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).pic_full_hickman_dave

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.

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