Tag Archives: american christianity

Q&A with Pastor Greg Boyd, Part I

Greg Boyd received his Ph. D. from Princeton Theological Seminary (1988), his M.Div. from Yale Divinity School (1982) and his B.A. from the University of Minnesota (1979). He was a professor of theology for 16 years at Bethel University (St. Paul, MN).

In 1992, Greg co-founded Woodland Hills Church, an evangelical fellowship in St. Paul. He is also president of ReKnew.org. Greg is a pastor, theologian, and author of more than a dozen academic and popular books.

Some of his books include, Letters From a Skeptic: A Son Wrestles with His Father’s Questions about ChristianityThe Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus TraditionIs God to Blame?: Moving Beyond Pat Answers to the Problem of Evil, and the best-selling book The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power Is Destroying the Church, which led to a New York Times front-page article and several television interviews.

In 2010, Greg was listed as one of the twenty most influential Christian scholars alive today. He continues to challenge evangelicals with his theological ideas and Kingdom vision. His work is an inspiration to those evangelicals that believe a revolution is needed in the church.

Greg is a pioneering Christian intellectual and church practitioner. He is helping to bridge the gaps between the church & academy, faith & reason, theology & science, as well as confession & mission.

I asked Greg if he would be willing to share his Kingdom vision with my readers. He was gracious enough to answer some of my questions about his ministry at Woodland Hills and talk about his upcoming books.

The Q&A will come in three parts. Enjoy!
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Hey Greg, thank you for taking time out to talk about your ministry at Woodland Hills, and to give us a sneak peak of your two upcoming books.

I must say that I’ve been personally impacted by the work you’re doing in the church today, and I think many evangelicals need to hear and understand your vision for the Kingdom of God.

I recently featured your book The Myth of a Christian Nation in a blog series of five books offering a new Vision for 21st Century Evangelicalism. Your 2004 sermon series The Cross & the Sword was the foundation for this book.

What is the core message you set forth in your sermons and in your book? 

Greg Boyd: Thanks for the invitation to dialogue, David. I appreciate your passion for the Kingdom and your desire to see Evangelicalism freed from its cultural imprisonment.

Well, the core message of my sermon series and book is simply that the Kingdom of God is not merely the best version of the kingdoms of this world. It’s a Kingdom that is “not of this world,” as Jesus said (Jn 18:36).

As the incarnation of God, Jesus perfectly modeled what it looks like for God to reign over a person’s life. So you can always tell where the Kingdom is present, because it always looks like Jesus.

Individuals and groups under the reign of God manifest the kind of humble, self-sacrificial love that Jesus demonstrated in his life, and especially in his death, when he freely offered himself up on behalf of the very people who crucified him, praying for their forgiveness with his last breath.

To the extent that individuals and groups lovingly sacrifice for others the way Jesus did, the Kingdom is present. To the extent that they don’t, it’s not. It’s really that simple.

Obviously, no nation, government and political party has ever looked anything like this. Indeed, given the power-dynamics of our fallen world, I don’t believe any nation, government or political party ever COULD look like this. And this is why we should never identify any nation, government or political party as being the kingdom of God, or even as a means of bringing about the Kingdom of God.

It’s also why we should never think any nation, government or political party is more “Christian” than another.

The Kingdom that Jesus inaugurated is altogether unique, and I believe that everything hangs upon God’s people keeping it unique, set apart, or “holy.”  The minute we start associating the Kingdom with nations, governments or politics, we water it down and compromise its distinctive beauty.

It’s my conviction that the job of Kingdom people is to live a Jesus-looking life that CONTRASTS with the world and thereby offers people who have open hearts an ALTERNATIVE to all the kingdoms of this world.

How has Woodland Hills Church changed as a result of this message? 

Greg Boyd: It seems to me that Woodland Hills turned a corner when I first preached the “Cross and the Sword” series.

While we lost around a thousand people as a result of this series, it helped us acquire a sharper vision of the Jesus-looking Kingdom we are called to be citizens and ambassadors of.

We’ve thus grown increasingly aware of how thoroughly American Christianity has been co-opted by American culture and how radically different the Kingdom is from what most Americans identify as the “Church.” Along the same lines…

we’ve come to a greater realization of how challenging it is to make authentic disciples out of American church attenders. 

This has in turn motivated us to explore strategies to help people wake up to the way they’ve been conditioned by things such as the individualism, consumerism, materialism, hedonism and triumphalism of American culture.

And its motivated us to put in place courses to walk people through this process and eventually get them plugged into missional Kingdom communities in which they worship, minister and share life with others in meaningful ways.

I’d also add that over the last five years Woodland Hills has increasingly come to see itself as a resource center for individuals and groups around the world who are waking up to this distinctive vision of the Kingdom.

So what would you say to those who are worried about the outcome of the presidential election?

Greg Boyd: I’d simply encourage them to place their trust where their trust ought to be: in JESUS. He is the King of all kings and the Lord of all Lords, and his Kingdom will last forever and ever!

Presidents, political parties, governments and nations come and go, but Jesus “is the same, yesterday, today and forever.”

While we should expect pagans to think that the future of the world is in their hands — this is why they seize whatever power they can to try to control how things unfold — children of God are called to place their trust completely in him and to aspire to be faithful to his call.

We are called to crucify ourselves, which means we are to die to living out of our own self-interest, and instead seek only to love, serve, and bless all people, including our enemies.

So long as we think it is UP TO US to fix the world, we can never love and bless those who oppose us.

Only when we realize that we are called to be faithful in living a Jesus-looking life while leaving all outcomes to God can love our enemies and refrain from violence the way Jesus commanded us to (Lk 6:27-35).

Q&A with Pastor Greg Boyd, Part II

D.D. Flowers, 2012.


Q&A with Becky Garrison

Christian Satirist Tired of Fast Food Faith

Becky Garrison is fed up with pop-culture Christianity.  She contends that humor enables her to trek on through the circus of sycophantic religion that is so prevelant today.

Becky invites us all to laugh at some of the Christian lifestyles and traditions she observed on her travels from the US to the Holy Land in her most recent book, Jesus Died for This?: A Satirist’s Search for the Risen Christ (Zondervan, 2010).

I caught up with Becky and asked her to share a little bit about herself and her perspective on Christian faith and culture.

So what’s the life of a full-time satirist like anyway?

Since the demise of The Wittenburg Door at the end of 2006, I’ve been moving away from jokey type humor. Let’s face it, how many times can one pen goofy bits like “top signs you aren’t going to be ordained” or “The Bible According to [Insert name of the latest politician or pastor who got caught with his pants down]” before one goes on autopilot and starts to dial it in?

I still conduct interviews both for a podcast I did for Jesus Died For This? and interested media outlets, as well as writing non-satirical pieces as requested. Recently, I’ve been exploring the role of the writer as storyteller and different ways one can use technology (e.g., print, web, podcast, You Tube) to convey stories.

I talk about this transition in a bit more detail in an Iconocast podcast that I did with co-hosts Mark and Sarah.

Also, like every other creative, I’m still reeling post-financial crisis regarding how to proceed in the rapidly changing publishing world. I’ve been chatting with a range of creative types including Nicholas Fielder, Ed Cyzewski, Joan Ball, Caleb Seeling, and Spencer Burke, as well as exploring via workshops how we can all communicate theological change without becoming a crass marketing machine.

Currently, I’m embarking on a long-term listening tour where I’m trying to explore other ways of communicating about my work without falling into the Christian branding BS that I deconstruct in Jesus Died For This?. In 2008, Andrew Jones declared the Christian carnival over and it’s crystal clear that  author/speaker model is no longer sustainable especially given this current financial climate.

I reflect in a video I did with Travis Reed for Alter Video Magazine how it breaks my heart when Christian leaders won’t say what’s on their heart out of fear for losing street cred and book sales. Once the focus shifts to crafting a message that’s memorable and marketable, a writer may be rich (see Joel Osteen) but in the process, they lost whatever original voice they had that drew people to them in the first place.

In addition to talking up the themes I raise in Jesus Died for This?, I’m connecting with Episcopal folks about my book Starting from Zero with O$ (Seabury Books, 2010), researching another book for Church Publishing and some other projects. Also, I’m gleaning ideas regarding where the global spirit is heading moving forward so my work can accurately reflect what’s happening on the ground.

Why did you write this book? What is different about your critique of Christianity in today’s society?

I explore this over at Religion Dispatches for those looking for more detail on this topic. In a nutshell, over the past few years, I’ve had a rather unique window into what religion scholar Phyllis Tickle terms the Great Emergence, a period of massive societal upheaval impacting technology, science, politics, religion, and the global culture at large. So decided to chronicle my travels to help others navigate this sea change so that we all don’t become seasick, spiritually speaking.

The unique lens I take to all my work is that I have a satirical world view – humor became my saving grace that helped me to survive as my nuclear family slowly deteriorated and then detonated. I view life as a tragic comedy but in the end, I see the glass as half-filled with hope instead of half-empty dripped in despair.

What have you learned most from emerging church leaders like Brian McLaren, Shane Claiborne, Andrew Jones, etc.?

I chose Andrew Jones and Jonny Baker as the two expert guides during those times in the book when I’m exploring new forms of church. In reading their blogs and then traveling with them to places like Greenbelt and Slot, I’ve observed how they both have a global perspective that far transcends the commercialized US evangelical/emergent model that dominates the discussion here in the States.

Jonny and Andrew like most of the practitioners I meet don’t pimp themselves on the unbiblically branded author/speaker circuit claiming to be experts. Instead, they look for more horizontal approaches that enable all to have a voice in this ongoing global conversation. Take for example, Proost UK, an artists collective co-founded by Jonny Baker, Jon Birch and Aad Vermeyden that highlights the works of a range of artistic communities instead of elevating a few misisonal males as religious rock stars.

In your book, you say N.T. Wright should be “savored and sipped.” Can you explain? Why should the church listen to this preeminent New Testament scholar?

When I was at Soularize 2007 listening to N.T. Wright deliver some lectures, I found it amusing how this bevy of bloggers had their eyes glued to their laptop screens and their fingers going so fast that  they seemed to be on autopilot. They were so busy trying to blog about what NT Wright was saying that they didn’t seem to have any time to contemplate his message and how they could apply his teachings to their ministries. I’m a writer, so I get the need to record what’s happening. But when I get too narrowly focused on note taking, I tend miss the larger story that’s happening around me.

In NT. Wright, the church has an international treasure. Like C.S.. Lewis, he’s one of those rare academics who can write both for the academy and the person in the pew. Unlike most Christian author/speakers, he doesn’t dial it in by continuing to repackage the same idea ad infinitum (or until people catch wind of this ungodly game and quit buying their product).  While one will find the threads of Anglican theology woven through his work, each book either presents new ideas or revised spins on his earlier works.

Check out Wright’s ongoing debates with fellow theologian Marcus Borg for an excellent example of how two scholars with an Anglican backgrounds can engage in rigorous scholarly debates without resorting to the mean spiritedness that all too often dominates today’s blog battles. Even when Wright takes on taking on the far more crankier John Piper in his book Justification, he rises above this Reformed rancor and presents the most compelling refutation of Piper that I’ve seen to date.

You shared a few personal things about your dad in this book. What would you say to others who have been let down by spiritual leaders?

I tell bits of my story and will continue to share as appropriate so that others can realize they are not alone when they find themselves emerging from faith fights feeling more bloodied than biblical. I had done a lot of recovery work relating to growing up as an adult child of an alcoholic but Jesus Died for This? marked the first time I really explored the dark side of my father’s ministry as an Episcopal priest and sociology professor.

In the beginning, his charismatic personality drew others to him as he championed for civil rights in the Deep South circa 1950s. His ministry with young adults dovetailed with his sociological research exploring why students were drawn to fringe groups like the Jesus People or Students for a Democratic Society (SDS).

Unfortunately, his narcissism natures coupled with his alcoholism created a cult of personality that ran roughshod over the Gospel. Armed with this self-awareness, I can see a pattern in my life where I’ve been drawn to helping narcissistic geniuses who are filled with potential and promise.

I share in my book how I need to learn to walk away when their talk of “community” sounds more self-centered than Christlike. My hope is that others will learn to do likewise and like me discover find healthier spiritual places to play.

What signs of the “Risen Christ” do you believe are most evident today? What encourages you to press on in Christ through the church?

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always felt connected to the divine whenever I’m exploring nature albeit hiking, fly-fishing, sailing, or kayaking. However, it wasn’t until I actually set foot on Irish soil I found my spiritual home in Celtic Christianity. Towards the end of the book, I describe how I went out west and finally connected with Kurt Neilson, my pilgrim guide for my ongoing pilgrimage and his partner in Celtic crime Karen Ward. In the Pacific Northwest, I discovered the same thin line imagery that connects this world to the next that I encountered in Ireland.

As I continue my travels, I keep meeting other souls from around the world, many of whom might not call themselves Christian for a host of very legitimate reasons. But we can still meet in this thin space as we all seek to make some kind of a spiritual connection outside of ourselves.

As I document throughout the book, once one steps away from Americana Branded™ Christianity, one can find ample signs that the spirit is alive and kicking.

“So I’d encourage folks to stop consuming fast food faith and embark on their own pilgrimage to see where the spirit might be speaking to them.”

What’s next for Becky Garrison? Any upcoming projects? What’s on your mind?

I share some of my reflections regarding possible future projects on Religion Dispatches. Jesus Died for This? marks the end of my critique of the US evangelicalism/emergent scene. I’ve said all I care to say about a form of a historical Christianity that keeps chasing after the next new shiny theological toy. All signs indicate that publishers latest quests to rebrand emergent as organic, missional, outlaw preacher, holy hipster and the like are repelling far more folks than they’re attracting.

Over the past few years I’ve been writing for more secular markets such as Killing the Buddha, The Revealer, Religion Dispatches and On Faith. These ventures broaden my perspective considerably as I continue to explore ways to critique Christian Reconstructionism and other bastardizations of the faith without resorting to the Nazi-name calling between religious progressives and conservatives that has come to define faith-based politics.

And speaking from my own faith tradition, how can the teachings of Christ offer hope in a world dominated by religious leaders spouting forth a fear based rhetoric? Along those lines, I’m interested in connecting with this growing number of people who call themselves “spiritual but not religious” as we seek out ways to create spaces where religious progressives and humanists can come together to explore what we have in common with our shared humanity.

Becky Garrison is a Contributing Editor for Sojourners. Her books include The New Atheist Crusaders and Their Unholy Grail, Rising from the Ashes: Rethinking Church, and Red and Blue God, Black and Blue Church. Her additional writing credits include work for The Wittenburg Door, Geez, Killing the Buddha, and Religion Dispatches, as well as various other odd and sundry publications.

Learn more about Becky @ www.beckygarrison.com


Heaven to Earth: The Christian Hope in the Resurrection, Part II of III

“For if the dead are not raised then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.” Paul, 1 Cor. 15:16-18

It is quite clear that the resurrection of Christ is the one event upon which our entire faith rises or falls. Paul, quoting from an early creedal statement, says, “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3). “According to the Scriptures,” would of course be referring to the Old Testament Prophets.

The Pharisees often debated with the Sadducees whether or not resurrection could be a reality. Many Jews confidently believed that God would renew his creation and restore what was lost. But not even the Pharisees expected the resurrection to happen until the final Day of the Lord.

The resurrection of Christ even took his closest disciples by surprise. Jesus goes before us all by being the “firstborn among the dead” (Col. 1:18). The apostle Paul believed in this resurrection, not only in the possibility of it, but in the reality that he had indeed seen the crucified and resurrected Messiah Jesus (Acts. 9).

“It’s one thing to believe it. It’s another thing to see it.”  ~Benjamin Linus, LOST, “Dead is Dead” season 5, episode 12 (Ben’s response to seeing John Locke alive again.)

For a person to believe in the resurrection of Christ is to accept that they too will pass from death to a new bodily existence at the second parousia (i.e. “coming”) of Christ. Jesus himself passes from an earthly body to a real “spiritual body” and promises that those who follow him shall do the same (Jn. 11:25).

Jesus not only spoke of this new existence, but he allowed his closest followers to witness the glorious transfiguration, and later his visible presence in his resurrected body (Matt. 17; Lk. 24:36-49).

According to Paul, Jesus appeared to “more than five hundred” people in this new body. And at the time of Paul’s writing, these folks were “still living” and you could go talk to them yourself (1 Cor. 15:6).

Life After Death

Contemporary visions of the “afterlife” stand in stark contrast to the uniquely Christian hope in the resurrection of the dead. Let’s take a moment to briefly examine what others believe about the divine destiny of man.

We have already seen the Platonic or Gnostic vision of the immortality of the soul. This view seeks to emphasize the individual. In this vision, our lives culminate at death when the soul is released from the body and we are freed from the imperfections of the material world.

According to this view, discarding the body is necessary to reach the world of eternal ideas and touch the divine.

Another prominent view teaches that we all are destined for a blended union with the divine. Proponents of this idea, often known as monism, believe that God is impersonal and lacks personal distinctions. To become “one” with the divine is actually to lose all of your own personality and be absorbed in with the “great spirit” in the sky.

This view undermines the personhood and character of God as well as the personal nature of human beings.

Reincarnation goes a step further in this idea of union with the divine. According to this view, we do not blend with the divine immediately, but after a series of “rebirths” that continue until the soul has reached perfection. Since this cycle of rebirths is actually never-ending, life is ultimately meaningless. It believes the real person to be only the soul that moves from body to body.

Reincarnation denies the perfect God-created union of spirit, soul, and body.

Finally, we can’t leave out those who believe that a person simply ceases to exist upon death. This belief may just be the saddest of all things a person chooses to embrace. Believing that everything ceases at death rejects the created order left by God to lead us to knowledge of himself (Rom. 1:20). And it denies that internal longing for life beyond the grave.

This person should stop to observe the seasons. Winter can be dreadful, but Spring is forthcoming.

Pop-Culture Christianity

“Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.” Paul, 1 Cor. 15:51-52

Somehow believers have failed to recognize that Scripture teaches that the culmination of our earthly life is found in the future resurrection of the dead when the Lord will break through from heaven and establish his Kingdom upon the earth. They have missed John’s revelation of the Holy City “coming down out of heaven from God” (Rev. 21:2).

Instead, many have embraced an eschatological view that propagates some of the tenants of the pagan ideas already discussed. We see this most clearly in Christian funerals and popular teachings on the eschaton (i.e. “last things”) from the pulpit and the pen of preachers everywhere.

Pop-culture Christianity teaches a distorted view of death and the last days. And I believe it is partially born from a resistance to suffering in the New Testament fashion. We say we have the Kingdom in mind through “winning the culture” by legislating sin, when in reality we don’t wish to rely on the foolishness of the cross and suffer as Christ in patient love. We, like the world, are fighting against death instead of embracing it with hope in the resurrection.

American Christianity has made it possible for us to look past Paul’s words, “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12) and “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him” (Phil. 1:29). We have built for us a faith that wants nothing but comfort in this world, only to turn and grieve in sorrow as the world grieves.

We have failed to know the true hope that comes by first confronting the ugliness and reality of death. To cope with the “sting” of death we resort to absurd beliefs that are more reflective of pagan teachings than they are of our distinctly Christian hope in the resurrection.

How can we know the victory until we have felt the defeat? Death has “lost its sting” because of the finished work of Christ (Rom. 6:5; 1 Cor. 15:55). Why would we ever use language that takes away from that work?

Evangelical Christianity has largely adopted pagan ideas of the “afterlife” that allows us to continue propagating the “no suffering for me” theology.

The Left Behind Series has done much to further the idea that what we all need is to escape or be “raptured” from this evil world and our lowly, decrepit bodies for a future “spiritual” existence on the other side of the cosmos.

Meanwhile, we are learning to care less and less about the soul of a terrorist, genocide, and the many ways we are destroying the planet.

What does it matter when the Christian life can be summed up in “going to heaven when you die”… which translates: this world isn’t so important after all. We can hardly see the urgency and the importance of it because the Gospel has been mixed with worldly political agendas.

You have heard it many times at funerals before and probably have said it yourself at some point: “they are in a better place… they have gone home.” Our hymns even reflect this Platonic idea of the soul’s escape from the body. “I’ll fly away O glory… when I die hallelujah by and by… I’ll fly way!”

Really? Are we flying away or are we awaiting the resurrection of the dead for a new existence when heaven comes to earth? If we are flying away, where are we going? Cause I’m not too sure I want to go there anymore.

Does this sound like a teaching that reflects our hope in the resurrection of the dead? Is it a development or a deviation from the Gospel that testifies that someday soon heaven will break through to this groaning earth and God’s reign will be known among the nations? According to the New Testament, it’s a clear deviation from the Gospel of “peace on earth.”

Why do we insist on furthering a dim view of the Christian hope?

We should stop and reconsider our anticipation in the resurrection of the dead when a believer is struck by the awfulness of death. In a better place, I’m sure, but “home,” I should think not. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord, sure.  (Lk. 23:42-43; Rom. 8:38-39; Phil. 1:23). But who can be home when they are separated from their body?

It is in the climatic event of resurrection that we shall enter our rest.

“The doctrine of the resurrection affirms that we do not enter into the fullness of eternity apart from the body, but only in the body.”  Stanley Grenz, Theology for the Community of God, pg. 588

When we reduce the Gospel to a few clichés and water it down with pagan ideas of life after death, all that is left is to convince our neighbors that hell is hot and that they better hop aboard the J-train before it shoves off headed past a few stars to the right and on till morning. Are we followers of Christ or members of the Heaven’s Gate cult?

If we believe there is life after death without the body, then we have greatly misunderstood our hope in the resurrection of the dead. All the saints past and present await the coming judgment and resurrection of the dead. It is as if all of creation is on the edge of its seat crying out for that passing from death to life (Rom. 8:22; Rev. 6:9-11).

Heaven and earth cry out, “Come, Lord Jesus! Come!”

“Now, at the climax of God’s salvation in the bodily resurrection of believers, the final enemy is defeated, the final victory won.” Michael S. Gorman, Apostle of the Crucified Lord, pg. 281

Until heaven comes to earth and God remakes the world for our new resurrected existence, we live in that hope. We live to testify of the coming Kingdom of God that is already, but not yet. Winter is here and the times are dreadful, but Spring is coming!

Heaven to Earth: The Christian Hope in the Resurrection, Part III


Christ the Center

Christ the Center– The Journey from Religion to Relationship

“This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught us by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.” Paul, First Letter to the Corinthians

It was a few years ago that I first began realizing that American Christianity does a fine job of polishing its rhetoric to reflect a Christ-centered creed, but its practices are far from resembling Jesus of Nazareth in the Gospels. It speaks of spiritual things and words that have not been taught by the Spirit.

Human wisdom has produced a religion founded on doctrines and teachings about Christ, and we are continually being diverted from knowing Christ by way of relationship.

Having spent seven years in vocational ministry within the institutional church, I can personally attest to the constant struggles that come by attempting to implement a New Testament church life in the present model of institutional Christianity. I learned all the right words, memorized all of the correct doctrines, and made the Bible the passion of my life.

I (like so many others) believed that the more Bible I could master the sooner we would see “revival” and a restoration of the church. If this passion for the Bible became contagious throughout the entire church (I thought), then the church will be what she was created to be. Everything will come together, right? Quite the opposite for me.

This is when everything fell apart.

Leaving Religion

I left vocational ministry in September of 2006 to follow Jesus in search of a religionless Christianity. In a relentless pursuit of the Person of Jesus in the Gospels, I found that I could no longer be faithful to Christ within a system that makes a nice living off of talking a great deal about Jesus, but seemingly unwilling to follow him beyond the boundaries of tradition and empty clichés.

I had my fill of religion and felt like I was only spinning my wheels. I was exhausted in my efforts to see any kind of resemblance to the simple yet powerful church life described in the book of Acts. I was tired of feeling that all my efforts were self-defeating. I was burnout and more than willing to rethink everything I knew about Christ and his church.

I have only Jesus to thank when it comes to the strength it took to leave this burdensome life behind. It was a little scary, but my knowledge of the Scripture told me there must come an exodus and an exile before there can be a restoration.

As religion becomes smaller and smaller in the rearview mirror of this vehicle called “my faith.” I am finding the call of Jesus a satisfying cross to embrace.

I am finding that my past burdens were largely brought on by self. I had a work-centered faith that I passed off as “Christ-centered” while living amongst many folks that were largely self-centered and disinterested in knowing Jesus beyond the Sunday school quarterly.

All of this produced in me an experience of extreme highs and lows. Everything about the way we taught and practiced our faith kept God at a distance it seemed. This was my greatest frustration.

I am happy to say that the Prozac popping Santa Claus god is now dying a slow death. I am learning of a Lord that loves me beyond anything I have ever known. And this love attracts me to his Person. It calls to me and tells me there is more. It tells me that I will never be able to experience the full depths of his being, but that I should continue trying evermore.

The Word Became… Ink?

“Bible instruction can easily be diverted from its God-intended purpose: love of God and fellow human beings. In its place is a new, lesser purpose: the Bible as an object of curiosity and fruitless spiritual debate.”
Tom Hovestol, Extreme Righteousness: Seeing Ourselves in the Pharisees

As I look back on my journey with the Lord, I see his wonderful patience with me. My spiritual birth began with an intimate knowledge of him in my spirit. How else would any of us receive eternal life without this engagement with Christ? Yet, this relationship, this intimate knowledge of the Person of Christ, quickly became secondary to the things I could learn about him with my mind.

I didn’t understand Paul’s words, “just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him…” (Col. 2:6).

I do not mean to present some false dichotomy between me learning about Christ with my mind and knowing him in my spirit, but let’s be honest, you can easily do one without the other. And I would venture to say that most people confuse the first with the later.

The Pharisees did this and Jesus called them out for it. They studied the Scripture, but did not know the Lord. They did not recognize God in the flesh. They were zealous for the written word but rejected the Word made flesh.

Despite their expectations about Messiah, they were given ample opportunity to embrace the living Word, but instead chose a religion filled with human rules and regulations. What was intended for life only brought death. It enslaved the people and kept them from knowing the Lord (Matt. 23:13-39).

“You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” Jesus, The Gospel of John

I have found that we can still read the Scriptures like these infamous Pharisees. I obtained a degree and spent years studying the Bible. Like the Pharisees, I believed that a strict orthodoxy was the key to revolution.

Like so many popular reformed theologians today, it is believed that correct doctrine and defending the “truth” in the culture is the secret to God’s Kingdom coming to earth. These men boldly rebuke “heretics” and don’t mind offending you for the sake of their personality. And of course, all of this is done in the name of Christ. This is what so many believe to be “Christ-centered.”

When Sola Scriptura (i.e. Scripture alone) is your war cry, you have no choice to make for yourselves a Bible-centered life that is disconnected from Christ the living Word. A faith built on a passion for doctrine demands the same attitude that put Jesus on the cross.

In this kind of life, the Bible becomes an end unto itself. And whatever a person needs to do to further “correct” doctrine and defend the Bible is permissible in certain circles of evangelicals today. They are quick to denounce the sincere pursuit of others who seek a Christ that is more than a few theological bullet points and sin-centered sermons littered with meaningless clichés.

The least we can do is question the approach of these modern-day Pharisees who are Christ-centered in their language, but only promote teachings that disregard the way of Jesus. These men use the Scriptures to defend Christ, but do so in a manner that offends the heart of God.

“The holy writings are valuable for those who use them right,” testified one Anabaptist at the Regensburg trials in Bavaria. “But their misuse is the source of all heresy and unbelief. To the scribes and the Pharisees the holy writings were not a guide to Christ, but a hindrance and eventually a punishment.” Peter Hoover, The Secret of the Strength: What Would the Anabaptists Tell This Generation

Wait! Isn’t doctrine important? Yes, but right doctrine comes from a close examination of the Person and work of Christ in the Gospels. It comes from an intimate knowledge of the indwelling Christ. From my own personal experience, I believe it is because of our failure to give attention to Jesus in the Gospels that we have interpreted the letters of Paul as merely instructions on doctrine instead of an exposition of Jesus and his Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.

“My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Paul, Letter to the Colossians

I don’t know what I did with verses like the one above before the Lord gave me eyes to see and ears to hear. It wasn’t until I became intrigued with Christ as Person that I began to see a spiritual revolution in my own life. When I made Christ my only doctrine and concerned myself with the fact that his very Person lives within me, I was then able to begin a journey from religion to relationship; from rhetoric to revelation; from intellect to indwelling; from academia to apprehension.

I was trained in the historical-grammatical approach to studying the Scriptures. Mostly due to immaturity, I had not learned to bridge my intellect with my spirit. Bible study was simply an intellectual exercise.

Sure, there were many times I had some sort of spiritual encounter and sensed the Lord working in my life through it all, but I now see that the written word of God had become a substitute for actually knowing Jesus in spirit and in truth. The Scripture was not ushering me in to knowing Christ in personal experience. Therefore, my transformation was slow and my strength was limited to what I could do on my own. The Lord allowed this for a time.

This Bible-centered life was evident in my passion for doctrinal purity. I was not yet aware of the full measure of the indwelling Christ and how to study the Scripture out of that life. It was like living with someone in your house but rarely speaking to them.

I was learning a great deal “about” Jesus, but had a difficult time making it to the couch to sit and chat with the lover of my soul. I allowed my analytical mind to be entertained by theology, but my spirit was desperately longing to kiss the face of God.

“The word of God states that the truth shall make us free, but how many times truth is merely a doctrine to us. Our eyes have not been opened to see Christ.” Watchman Nee, Christ: The Sum of All Spiritual Things

I did not feel free in my spirit. My soul was restless. I believed that all I could aspire to was to be filled with more Bible and great theological ideas. I constantly struggled with a distorted view of God. I knew what the Scriptures said about the closeness of God in Christ, but I didn’t have the experience to go along with it.

I just kept yearning after the Lord and seeking to find him in one teaching after another. And when the Lord is a teaching instead of a Person, you die for teachings (believing them to be Christ) and you attempt to rid the church of all who disagree with you. I don’t believe I ever gave myself over to that completely, but I did see plenty of older folks that had.

When the Lord is found in a teaching and you have no working knowledge of Christ, you are not content to let the Person of Jesus deal with the shortcomings of others and the errors of the church. When your God is restrained to paper and ink, you can’t know him in the flesh. And you must know, the Word “became flesh” (Jn. 1:14).

The incarnation of God is mankind’s only hope. This is becoming less and less something to simply “Amen!” and move on about your business. It is for me, becoming everything.

Bible-Centered or Christ-Centered?

“The cumulative effect of all parts of the Word of God is to bring you to Christ.”
T. Austin-Sparks, The Centrality and Supremacy of the Lord Jesus Christ

Is there a need for proper interpretation of the Scriptures? Most definitely! However, we must understand that this interpretation does not end in a study of the context of Paul’s letters to the Corinthians. It ends in a dazzling display of Jesus! It culminates into a spiritual apprehension of Christ. And this is something only he can give you when the “Divine quest” for the Person of Jesus is at the center of your being.

Until Christ is all that you desire, you will continue to know frustration and heartache.

We can’t gain knowledge of Jesus and an inward apprehension of him and receive shady theology in return. It is in knowing Christ that we understand what birthed the writings of the apostles. It is only then that we may receive proper instruction on worship and how the believer is to relate to a world marked by estrangement.

Christ is not a teaching or a “Bible-study”, he is a person to be cultivated in human experience. This may begin out of a sincere longing to know Christ in our mind and much study of him with our intellects. But in the end it ought to lead us to a knowing him in the depths of our spirit. It is only then that we partake of the bread of life. It is only then that everything finds its proper place.

This is where evangelical Christianity has fallen to its greatest depths. Since the Protestant Reformation, it is the written word of God that has become the highest attainable goal. The Anabaptists believed this to be the mightiest error of Luther and company.

The “Reformers” of the Catholic Church clung to Scripture, not to Christ. They rested in doctrines alone and thought it strange to speak of Christ as your closest friend. Folks that talk this way, these “mystics”, were burnt alive and met their end in martyrdom. And they are still to this day read with caution and some with disdain.

According to the testimony of those they persecuted, the Protestants rested in grace and did not live in the power of the resurrection. Their strict interpretations of the Scripture and their zeal for orthodoxy actually led them down a path of anti-Christ. Their failure to let go entirely of the church that Constantine built produced in them a deception that can only be matched by the men that cried out for the death of Jesus.

Knowledge that comes to us apart from the indwelling Christ will puff up the most sincere of men (1 Cor. 8:1). Knowledge obtained without first having passed through the cross of Jesus will always lead to sin. It is here where many believers find themselves. They have learned the appropriate rhetoric of Christ-centeredness, but their words are not born out of a revelation from the Lord himself. They easily find themselves continuing on with right speech, but their actions actually begin to prove that something else is at work.

It is not long and this person finds that their faith is filled with all kinds of contradictions and empty clichés that have no practical meaning for their lives. They sound holy, their words reflect a sort of biblical Christology, but their spirits are not governed by the life of Christ. They have not experienced the faith that is continually being born from above. What they have has not been given to them by Jesus in their spirit.

There is no inward reality of the indwelling Christ shaping them and molding them. The Person of Christ is not guiding their every step and speaking to their hearts. They have a few momentary spiritual glimpses into the Lord but the rest is just adrenaline and good intentions.

What is the Bible? Simply stated, it is the Spirit-inspired written testimony of men about the living God coming to earth and revealing himself in Jesus Christ of Nazareth. How has this collection of writings we call “The Bible” become the object of so much division among believers? “Is Christ divided?” What have we done with Paul’s warnings of division in the Body of Christ? We have celebrated them in what we call “denominations” and we treat this as a good thing.

Our passion for doctrine has blinded us to the many contradictions we have embraced. And we continue to find reasons not to abandon 1700 years of institutional Christianity founded on the ideas of men that can’t be justified by the Scriptures.

This is another piece of twisted evidence that the Bible is not being read as a testimony of the Christ presented in the Gospels. It is not being studied and read for the purpose of apprehending Christ in community, but for the mere propagating of a doctrine, a mission, a program, a ministry or a movement. We are guilty of worshipping the biblical text instead of the One it reveals.

We can know we have done this by the many ways we have violated the Person of Jesus and contradicted his example left in the Gospels. Having lived this way, we may only say that we are “Bible-centered” or “Paul-centered” or better yet, “Mission-centered.” But we dare not say we are Christ-centered when Jesus is not our only concern. If the Lord has not yet revealed to us that out of Christ comes the church, then we must wander a little while longer.

“I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him…” Paul, Letter to the Philippians

Conclusion—Christ the Center

We may say Christ is central and supreme in our lives, the church, the world, and the cosmos, only after we have put our hand to the plow of his Person and work; after we have forsaken all others for his namesake. Once we are willing to lay all else aside to experience the depths of who he is, we may call him “Lord” with complete assurance that he is indeed the Lord.

Brothers and sisters, it is in these things that the Lord says, “Yes!” The Son has been exalted that we might know him “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3). He has become flesh that we might know that “in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives” (2:9). It is not a method we seek, we seek Christ. Any “good” thing outside of Christ is dead! It is not a thing we desire, it is a Person. Will we continue running after dead things in Jesus’ name?

On this journey from dead religion to a living relationship, I have occasionally asked myself, “Am I making too much of Jesus? Is it all really this simple?” And I hear the Lord speak, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest… for my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28; 30).

Well, I must say I am finding that “yoke” much easier than before. But, could I be oversimplifying things and reducing the Gospel message? (I smile with a faint chuckle) What else is there but Jesus? Very confidently I reply, “Nothing of any worth.”

Let us press on in the journey of experiencing the depths and riches of Christ Jesus our Lord. No other purpose will satisfy the heart of God or our own groaning for a savior. May we give up our Christ-less “Bible studies” and our foolish church practices that not only hinder, but replace our Center.

Through the power of his resurrection we may break free from religion’s chains and discover a truly Christ-centered faith.

Suggested Reading:

“The Centrality and Supremacy of the Lord Jesus Christ” by T. Austin-Sparks
“Christ: The Sum of All Spiritual Things” by Watchman Nee
“The Secret of the Strength” by Peter Hoover
“The School of Christ” by T. Austin-Sparks
“Extreme Righteousness: Seeing Ourselves in the Pharisees” by Tom Hovestol
“Christ the Center” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
“The Normal Christian Life” by Watchman Nee
“Bethany: The Lord’s Heart for His Church” by Frank Viola


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