Jesus and AvocadosBy Steven Lister on September 9, 2015
On October 7th, Grand Rapids Theological Seminary will host a Talking Points Conference entitled, "Thy Kingdom Come," where we hope to explore what that phrase means in the Lord's prayer. It'll be a conversation about New Creation Theology and why it matters for everyday discipleship and mission in the Church. Our very own professor Dr. Michael Wittmer has written extensively about this topic, most recently in his latest book "Becoming Worldly Saints: Can you Serve Jesus and Still Enjoy Your Life?" He will open the conference with a session entitled Why is "New Creation" important for the Church?
In anticipation of the conference, we asked one of our Master of Divinity students, Steven Lister, to reflect on Dr. Wittmer's teaching and how the book has helped him personally and in his ministry. Steve provides a great "sneak peek" of what's to come on October 7th.
Most of my adult life, I've struggled with a tension. See, I love reading God's Word. I love going to worship services. But I also love naps. And football. And avocados. Is that okay? Is it okay that out of 52 Sundays of the year I take one of them to go on vacation with my family?
There have been times when I felt it wasn't. Growing up, my church never taught much about creation other than "denying fleshly desires." By the time I became an adult, I was convinced Jesus didn't really want me to enjoy anything.
Put more seriously: Should I sell everything I own and be a missionary? Or is it okay that I believe I'm gifted to be an engineer? Can I really consider using a single second of this short life doing anything other than working for redemption (in terms of "saving souls")?
Do you feel the tension yet?
Thankfully, God has brought me some new perspective in the form of the latest work by GRTS professor Dr. Michael Wittmer. Dr. Wittmer presents a fascinating framework: Both the "spiritual" and the "physical" realms are parts of God's good creation, and as Jesus followers we should have a healthy view of both. The Apostle John radically declares that Jesus "became flesh" (John 1.14), and if we are to truly be like Jesus, the physical world must be as important to us as it is to Him. Dr. Wittmer lays out this perspective in his latest work "Becoming Worldly Saints: Can You Serve Jesus and Still Enjoy Your Life?"
For Dr. Wittmer, matter matters. Creation (the physical stuff we experience and enjoy as humans) matters as well as redemption (salvation, spiritual growth, worship, evangelism). While redemption matters more, redemption is not at the expense of creation.
Dr. Wittmer presents a refreshing theology of creation by calling out our tendency to compartmentalize our Christian lives. He writes,
"Don't divide your life into sacred and secular, heavenly and earthly, Christian and human realms. Devote them all to Christ, and you will flourish beneath his liberating lordship in every aspect of your Christian and human life" (p. 27).
The concept of human flourishing plays an important part in this book. Dr. Wittmer argues that a proper view of human flourishing is not only compatible with redemption, it is an essential component of redemption:
"If redemption restores creation [think: Revelation 21.5], then it's also true that it will not neglect our normal human life. Redemption may do more than restore the pleasures of creation, but it will not do less" (p. 23).
Dr. Wittmer also helps reframe our perspective when it comes to the concept of "home" and where we truly belong. Part of the problem in Christian circles is that we consistently teach people they are "not at home in this world." It may be true that this world in its current form is not our home, but that does not mean it won't someday be our home—freshly wiped clean of all sin and devastation. Again, Wittmer writes,
"The gospel of redemption may be more than creation, but it is not less. Get creation wrong—suggest that matter is the matter or that there is something wrong with this physical world—and you'll never get the gospel right. Creation is not only good, it's also precisely where you belong" (p. 45).
Perhaps one of the most liberating truths presented in "Becoming Worldly Saints" is the reality that no matter what we are called to do on this earth it can all be spiritual:
"God needs pastors, but he also needs florists, bus drivers, and middle managers. What is God calling you to do? It may be radical or it might be normal. But whatever it is, it's definitely spiritual" (p. 107).
If you have ever felt the tension I describe above, consider reading this book or recommending it to a friend. It has widened my view and my teaching on this subject. The gospel is good news for everyone and everything. Everything counts. We must make disciples, and we must make some time in our lives for enjoying God's good world. When we do this, we actually work for redemption as well—giving examples of what flourishing human life in God's presence looks like. Isn't this what we want? To make Jesus more compelling than ever? Dr. Wittmer says it this way:
"When people look at our lives, our families, and our churches, may they point their finger and say, 'Something like that. When Jesus returns, the entire world is going to look something like that.'" (p. 131).
While firmly recognizing the brokenness of this world, Dr. Wittmer challenges us to also firmly hold to the goodness of this world. We can't trade this away and still have the gospel. We must cling to both. If we lose sight of the brokenness of creation, we risk no longer thinking the world needs saving. If we lose sight of the goodness of creation, we risk forgetting what there is to save.
In other words, pray. Read the Scriptures. Be an engineer, if you're called to be one. Tell others about Jesus. Have great avocados. And give Jesus glory in every bit of it.
If this topic of New Creation interests you, please consider joining us at the Talking Points conference on October 7. Click here to register. Please also check out Dr. Wittmer's book here. Dr. Wittmer regularly blogs at mikewittmer.wordpress.com.