Life-Altering Belief

Years ago I wrote:

Christianity has largely failed to answer the existential questions of life…

Little has changed in this regard during the 10 or more years since I first typed those words to a struggling believer.  I do, however, see a lot of hope on the horizon.  The success of books by folks like Dallas Willard, Richard Foster, and Larry Crabb, of “new” roles like “Spiritual Director,” and of journals like Conversations all bode well for the Christian desperately seeking practical help in the transformation process.

I read a comment today that really stuck with me.  It went like this:

I believe Jesus is the Savior, not Christianity.[i]

So I hope the reader will understand that if I critique the current state of Christianity this does not reflect in the slightest on the power of the Gospel, nor on the Sovereignty of God. Rather it is a commentary on our failure to correctly apprehend the essential power of the Gospel.

Dallas Willard made an incredibly insightful observation back in 1988:

[Christianity] …must take the need for human transformation as seriously as do modern revolutionary movements. The modern negative critique of Christianity arose in the first place because the church was not faithful to its own messageβ€”it failed to take human transformation seriously as a real, practical issue to be dealt with in realistic terms….

Second, it needs to clarify and exemplify realistic methods of human transformation. It must show how the ordinary individuals who make up the human race today can become, through the grace of Christ, a love-filled, effective, and powerful community.[ii]

Last night I had the pleasure of chatting with a young couple who have been married just over a year. These are incredibly sincere and remarkably fervent young folks; their earnestness to serve God is rare and refreshing. With tears brimming her eyes the wife spoke of the fiery passion within that is calling for the abandonment of sin, while at the same time she is experiencing regular defeat in heeding that call to greater holiness.

Oh, how I can relate!  How is it that passionate God-lovers and earnest seekers are arriving at adulthood, indeed often at mid-life, without a clue regarding how to actually live a life of holiness?

There are several things missing.  One is related to community.  Not only are humans designed to operate in community, but few even of those who recognize this need really understand what community truly is. 

My wife, myself and a dear friend stayed up till 3:00 in the morning yesterday discussing the concept of community and how far we really are from realizing it.  The ironic thing about that is that it was a “community” thing to do! We asked questions, posed answers, disagreed, agreed, moved on, prayed and plotted about how we can learn and practice community ourselves and how we can spread it.

The reality is that even in supposed communities, as long as we maintain individual calendars, individual priorities, and individual plans, we won’t really be living in biblical community.  But that is another post…

A second issue is our basic failure to recognize that in many ways salvation is a yet to be realized reality.  Of course, we have been buried and raised with Messiah. Of course, we have been declared righteous in God’s sight and our spirits have become a new creation. However, as Paul so aptly points out in Romans 7, the spiritual reality of our true person must be worked out in our fleshly bodies.  Our fleshly selves may have been redeemed, but they have not been transformed and we await the return of Messiah for their salvation.

This focus on the has-been-accomplished nature of Christ’s work has resulted in a tolerance for sin and a reluctance to be transformed through the renewing of our minds, through the working out of our salvation and through the disciplining of our bodies (1 Cor 9:27).

I remember listening to Charles Ryrie describe an exercise that he practiced as a young man.  At the time (I was 20), I wondered if he must have some masochistic tendencies, but as I have matured his insight has proven incredibly sensible to me.  Ryrie related that he had a passion for mysteries and had become particularly enamored of the 30-minute old-time radio mysteries.  So to practice discipline he would listen to 20 minutes of the show then turn it off and not find out the resolution of the mystery!  I forget if he did this once a week or what, but I will never forget the gist of the story.  As a fellow lover of stories, that strikes me as torture!

I’m sort of focused on this topic of transformation right now, so I expect there will be further posts as I continue to seek more wisdom in guiding the practice of transformation both in myself and in others.


Now Reading:

The Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart by Dallas Willard, A New Kind of Christian by Brian McClaren, The Spirit Within & The Spirit Upon by Kenneth E. Hagin

Now Listening:

Michael Card – The Hidden Face of God – Come Lift Up Your Sorrows

[i] McClaren, Brian. A New Kind of Christian: A Tale of Two Friends on a Spiritual Journey. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2001. pg. 66

[ii] Willard, Dallas. The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives. San Francisco, HarperCollins, 1988. pg ix.

4 thoughts on “Life-Altering Belief

  1. Hello Nate,

    I am more than a little surprised to see that you are reading a book by Hagin. What do you make of him and the promises that his theology pack?


  2. Hello Peter,

    Well, I’ve had some experiences in the last several months that are forcing me to seek more specific answers to theological questions I’ve had for some time.

    For example, for a long time I’ve had a problem with the idea that the Holy Spirit first indwelt us at Pentecost, but it had been an armchair concern rather than a practically motivated one. That has changed.

    As for Hagin, I know nothing about him other than what I’m reading in this book. Generally, however, I find in the world of Pentecostalism the same thing I’ve found in other sects of Christianity: some truth and some error. So I’m trying to filter out the chaff and hang on to the wheat. It’s a daunting task, particularly since it is so human to think that the nuggets one has discovered are the whole lode (as I think I referenced in another recent post). But, the truth I’m finding in Pentecostalism is theologically new (to me), and I’m finding it quite stimulating to put these “new” puzzle pieces into the picture.

  3. Hello Nate,

    Hagin is known as an extremist among second and first-wave Pentecostals. He places heavy emphasis on the prosperity gospel message of health and wealth to those who “have faith.” I am sure that you may have already noticed some of the abuses in his study.

    Some suggestions for a books offering a more balanced approach:

    Surprised by the Power of the Spirit by Jack Deere (Dallas Seminary Professor)

    Charasmatic Chaos (McArthur-good expose of charismatic psychology)

    What the Bible Says about the Holy Spirit by Horton (written by a classic Pentecostal theologian)

  4. Somehow, your reply didn’t pop up on my notifier…so anyway, I just noticed it today.

    A book that I would consider the magisterial study of the Holy Spirit is Gordon Fee’s God’s Empowering Presence.

    I’m not a fan of MacArthur at all, so no thanks to that recommendation, but I’m not familiar with Horton so I’ll check into that.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s