Category Archives: Knowledge of God

This happy life is social

What is the greatest goal in life? Do we believe there is purpose in our existence and a reason we are here? Perhaps a more pressing question is…do we think it is ever possible to discover the answers to these questions with any sort of confidence?

I would suggest that for most people today the question of Purpose still echos through our silent musings, but we have long since given up the expectation of actually finding out some sort of objective answer. We are drifting along amidst a sea of uncertainty with no rudder or sail.

This is the value of going back so far into history – for Augustine these questions were the most pressing of his day and the Search for Truth was something every serious philosopher embarked on with all their might. In Book 19 Augustine articulates this task as:

These two ends, then, are the Supreme Good and the Supreme Evil. The search to discover these, and the quest for attainment of the Supreme Good in this life and the avoidance of the Supreme Evil has been the object of the labours of those who have made the pursuit of wisdom their profession.

XIX.1

Augustine then dives into what constitutes a blessed life and the attainment of happiness. He references Marcus Varro who sought to classify the possible gradation of lifestyle (eg the life of leisure, activity, or a combination of both; the pursuit of pleasure, repose, the combination of both etc) and comes up with 288 possibilities!! Spot the analyst!

Augustine then proceeds to explore the concepts of the purpose of virtue; the role of friendship and our striving for peace. One of the central themes of this section is the formation of a peaceful and healthy society.

The peace of the Heavenly City is a perfectly ordered and perfectly harmonious fellowship in the enjoyment of God, and a mutual fellowship in God; the peace of the whole universe is the tranquility of order – and order is the arrangement of things equal and unequal in a pattern which assigns to each its proper position.

XIX.13

If that is where the City of God is heading, what will become of the City of Men? Augustine undertakes a fascinating exploration of the various definitions of what it means to be a “people”. According to one definition “a people is the association of a multitude of rational beings united by a common agreement on the objects of their love”.

He goes on to say “the better the objects of this agreement, the better the people: the worse the objects of this love, the worse the people” (XIX.24). This is a profound point worth reflecting on – what is the object of the love of 21st century western society?

Undeniably it is self-love – our personal self-esteem, self-worth and self-expression. We are loving ourselves to death! We have created narcissistic navel gazing societies who are superficially united in the self-love. This is only a downward trajectory, the more we worship the created rather than the Creator the more the City of Earth will war against itself spiralling into endless splintered factions. Only by changing the focus of our gaze can we wake up from our personal delusion to find ourselves part of a people where:

God, the one supreme, rules an obedient City according to his grace, forbidding sacrifice to any being save himself alone; and where in consequence the soul rules the body in all men who belong to this City and obey God, and the reason faithfully rules the vices in a lawful system of subordination; so that just as the individual righteous man lives in the basis of faith which is active in love, so the association, or people, of righteous men lives on the same basis of faith, active in love, the love with which a man loves God as God ought to be loved, and loves his neighbour as himself.

XIX.23

A brief history of civilisation

As we near the end of the City of God something of its epic ambition is really starting to hit me. It is a phenomenal book, charting history, philosophy, Greek gods, the rise and fall of Rome, the repeated conquering of the known world.

As we near the end (Book 18 of 22), you expect the pace to slacken off, easing into the final straight. Instead the 80 pages of Book 18 are encyclopaedically expansive. We are treated to a view from Augustine, probably writing in 426AD, of the entire history of human society since the founding of cities to his present day. The reigns of rulers and kings are recorded from Augustine’s extensive records and compared with the equivalent sequence of events in the history of Israel.

Rather than recount all that here, I want to focus on two key themes that emerge and have striking relevance for today. Firstly, our intrinsic desire to deify ourselves, and secondly the purposeful intermingling of the heavenly and earthly cities. These two themes shed light on the difference between the two cities.

In charting the origins of many of the so called Greek Gods Augustine shows how people elevate others who achieve some spectacular feat, incredible military victory of undertake some form of quest. He notes that “ceremonies in honour of false gods were established by the king of Greece” during the time of Joshua.

The recurring theme is that people want to be more than human. Whether it is an origin story like Romulus & Remus being raised by a she-wolf, or a mythical tale of “Gorgon with serpent locks and turned to stone those who looked upon her” there is the repeated desire to ascend from this mortal body and live forever among the gods. Often on pain of death societies would reinforce the divine nature of these ascended super-humans as they wrote plays and invented ceremonies to celebrate and replay the legends to rapt audiences.

It got me thinking how we still have this desire to ascend. It is perhaps expressed differently today but the impulse is still strong. Just today there was a football match where a successful player was retiring and the eulogies had religious undertones – how this legend would never be forgotten by the fans, effectively living forever, immortal in their collective consciousness.

Similarly hosts of actors are effectively immortalised through the silver screen by their work to live on beyond their years as downloadable content for fans not yet born. We cannot escape the human attraction of becoming like God, even after all these centuries since that false promise was made in the Garden of Eden. Then, as now, it is an empty aim, disappearing as quickly as grasping the morning mist. We just can’t lift ourselves up to become more like God.

By contrast the City of God is all about a people who are not being lifted up to possess unnatural abilities, but are being pressed down to experience pain and suffering as they go about their very human pilgrimage to heaven. This is our second theme. The intermingling of the two cities leads to the church suffering from outward attack:

In this wicked world, and in these evil times, the Church through her present humiliation is preparing for future exaltation. She is being trained by the stings of fear, the tortures of sorrow, the distress of hardship, and the dangers of temptation; and she rejoices only in expectation, when her joy is wholesome.

XIII.49

And inward division from false teachers:

There are those in the Church of Christ who have a taste for some unhealthy and perverse notion, and who if reproved – in the hope that they may acquire a taste for what is wholesome and right – obstinately resist and refuse…they become heretics and, when they part company with the Church, they are classed among the enemies who provide discipline for her.

XIII.51

This is profound teaching, and as someone who grieves for the state of the visible church in the west, I am greatly encouraged to read:

The dearer this name (Christian) is to those who want to live a devout life in Christ, the more they grieve that evildoers within the Church make that name less beloved than the hearts of the devout long for it to be.

XIII.51

It is ok to grieve for the state of the church – Augustine sees this as part of our persecution in this world – and have our hearts broken by the sinfulness within the church. Reading this book, I realise there would probably be something wrong with us if we didn’t care about the purity and health of the church. The key is to balance this with the the comfort of God and to draw deeply from the wells of salvation so that we can say with the psalmist “you’re consolations have gladdened my soul” Psalm 94.19. This will ensure our sufferings are redeemed for our good.

Seek the alchemist

Maybe it’s because I just finished reading The Diamond Age by Neal Stevenson, a 1995 sci-fi classic about nanotechnology, but the title for this post is taken from the quest one of the main characters embarks upon. Alchemist have the power to turn boring, abundant materials into ultra-precious items.

This seems to me the perfect analogy for Book 17 of the City of God where Augustine traces the unpredictable growth of the City of God. To the uninitiated it might appear obvious how this city will be built – those children in the line of the early fathers of faith would be the chosen people and increase in number until they become a nation. But this is far from how things turned out in practice.

Through two examples Augustine shows how the growth of the City of God is far from straightforward. He uses the examples of Eli the priest and King David as hinge points in the history of Israel where significant changes are unveiled in God’s plan. Like the master weaver clipping the spool of wool to attach new thread, God switches the fulfilment of his promises as he sees fit.

Eli was a priest during the period of the judges, before Israel had a king. When he is old an unnamed prophet says his family is effectively cursed due to their unfaithfulness and the priesthood is no longer going to be within his bloodline (1 Samuel 2.27-36). God would rise up those whose hearts, not purely heritage, were right. Much more was at stake here than familial employment. Augustine sees this as:

An event which pointed prophetically to the future…it betokened the change which was to come in the future in respect of the two covenants…and the transformation of the priesthood and monarchy by the new and eternal priest-king, who is Jesus Christ.

XVII.4

We see here God establishing one family, the leading family from the priesthood of Levities to be a perpetual devoted tribe, but subsequently being displaced due to unfaithfulness. Instead God raises up Samuel, an outsider, to be his chosen priest. Ultimately in Augustine’s day (400AD), that priesthood had been lost in the sands of time.

Similarly, with the promise of an eternal heir who will reign on David’s throne God is establishing a dynasty that was only partially fulfilled in history. In this case the unfaithfulness of the progeny did not invalidate the promise but served to illustrate how God would take the faithfulness and sins of his people, mixed with divine providence to produce spiritual gold.

It is the house of David because of its descent from him; but it is also the house of God because it is God’s temple, built not of stones, but of human beings, for the people to dwell there for ever with their God and in their God, and for God to dwell there with his people and in his people. Thus God will fill his people and the people will be full of their God.

XVII.12

As Augustine draws this section to a close he skips forward to the time of Jesus’ life and ministry, seeing him as the great king of the city. The great ingathering of citizens of the City of God again pivots as now “the people of the Gentiles, whom Christ did not know in his bodily presence…(are) added to those who are true Israelites both by descent and by faith, constitute the City of God”.

Incredibly in the hands of the master alchemist even murder can be redeemed – becoming only slumber for Jesus. “What is a crime in you will be sleep for me”.

Truly God’s ways are beyond ours, his masterful purposes overcoming our weakness, sin and failure. Weaving success and failure into the broad tapestry of his salvation plan. The hands of Jesus taking the worst desires of his enemies and folding them into the curves and creases of the fabric to bring forth something pure and wholesome from something vile. This is the alchemist’s touch, remaking the brokenness into beauty through his own body. He waits for you to bring him your raw and rare material, why wait any longer?

A message from the Oracle

In a scene from one of my favourite films Neo is anxiously waiting for a message from the Oracle – an all wise guru who he believes will tell him his destiny. It is one of the key moments in The Matrix and drives to the core of our hero’s self discovery. Is he really “the one” or just another wannabe?

As he sits in the waiting room surrounded by kids bending spoons he suddenly appears uncertain, inexperienced and bemused. What the prophet says to him only adds to his confusion. It appears the path of his destiny is not as clear as he thought it would be after meeting the Oracle.

If the focus of The Matrix is the self-discovery of the chosen one through a vague Oracle, the focus of the Bible is rather a decisive Oracle declaring great promises to chosen people. In Book 16 of the City of God Augustine traces the separation of the people of God from the people of the earthly city – beginning in Adam, to Noah and then Abraham and his descendants.

Augustine compares this period to “the boyhood of this race of God’s people from Noah down to Abraham himself. As the people of God began to be identified from their kin:

When we are studying the people of Christ, in whom the City of God is on pilgrimage in this world, if we look for the physical ancestry of Christ in the descendants of Abraham, we discount the sons of his concubines, and Isaac presents himself. If we look in the descendants of Isaac, we set aside Esau, and Jacob presents himself, who is also Israel. If we examine the descendants of Israel himself, we set aside others, and Judah presents himself, because it was from the tribe of Judah that Christ was born.

XVI.41

So we see this sifting of a family from among a people, of a brother from his siblings, and the younger being favoured over the older. To each is given precious promises of land, a people and prosperity.

Only in King David did this come to fruition, for “David marks the beginning of an epoch and with him there is what maybe called the start of manhood of God’s people, since we may regard the period from Abraham to David as the adolescence of the race”.

What strikes me about looking at these passages through Augustine’s eyes is the deliberate detail that he picks up in the ancient record. At one point he points out that the line from Adam to Noah to Abraham “does not include anyone without a statement of the number of years he lived”. God took effort to ensure there is an accurate and detailed history of the early growth of the City of God – names, ages, locations, promises and answers are all given in detail.

Looking back from thousands of years later, during what we might call the “setting sun” stage of our growth, it’s comforting to rest on the certainty of fulfilled promises from the original Oracle, and observe the global inheritance of Abraham now being displayed for all to see. There is no counting of the number of believers alive today – millions around the world who shine like the stars in heaven.

“He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”” Genesis‬ ‭15:5‬. Abraham believed the clear message of the original Oracle – the true hallmark of all those citizens of the heavenly kingdom who would follow in his footsteps down through the ages.

The right and wrong cause of conflict

Looking back over the last few weeks we have touched on some big themes – some of which we like to talk about, others we try to avoid. I’ll let you decide which is which!

I was struck when reading Book 15 of the City of God this week that there are really insightful lessons for us on a key topic that perhaps we don’t like talking about but is an inevitable part of being human – conflict.

In this section Augustine traces the early days of the earthly and heavenly cities, right back to their founding fathers Cain and Seth. He sees the conflict between Cain and Abel as a picture or symbol of the conflict that will always exist between the two cities.

As we trace Cain’s descendants they are the first to establish a physical city on earth. He compares this to how Rome was founded by two brothers, one of whom killed the other. Augustine contrasts the evil jealousy of both sets of brothers with the goodness experienced in the heavenly city:

Cain was the diabolical envy that the wicked feel for the good simply because they are good, while they themselves are evil. A man’s possession of goodness is in no way diminished by the arrival, or the continuance, of a sharer in it; indeed, goodness is a possession enjoyed more widely by the united affection of partners in that possession in proportion to the harmony that exists among them.

XV.5

He goes on to explain that the members of the earthly city “fight among themselves; and likewise the wicked fight against the good and the good against the wicked. But the good, if they have reached perfect goodness, cannot fight against themselves”.

Thus we see that there will always be conflict between the citizens of the two cities as well as conflict within the earthly city as it fights itself. Moreover, we know that no citizen of the heavenly city has reached perfection so “there may be fighting among them inasmuch as any good man may fight against another as a result of that part of him which makes him also fight against himself”. He goes on to say

Spiritual desire can fight against the carnal desire of another person, or carnal desire against another’s spiritual desire, just as the good and wicked fight against one another. Or even the carnal desires of two good men may fight.

XV.5

There is much more in Book 15 worth exploring, including a fascinating explanation of the long length of life before the flood, incest and giants. But that is for another day! The jewel that I would hold up before us is this brief dive into the types of conflict, summarised as:

  • Earthly city infighting
  • Earthly and heavenly city fighting each other
  • Individuals within heavenly city fight with themselves against their own sinful nature
  • Spiritual desire of one person fights against carnal desire of another (within the heavenly city)
  • Carnal desires of two good men fight against each other

While the first and the last in the list are ultimately ungodly conflict, the other three causes could have a godly purpose and motivation. Indeed, there can be no progress towards perfection without conflict – either in the individual or the church. There are remnants of the sinful (carnal) nature in all of us, even the most godly.

What this tells me is that in vain do we seek a life free of conflict, whatever city we belong to and whatever our need for peace and calm. We should expect conflict, welcome it (to some extent), and learn from it in order to grow in godliness and spiritual maturity.

Choosing a life void of conflict, with comfort or any other object as our goal, is choosing a life of spiritual stagnation. The key question I leave this section of the book with is this…will I live determined to be driven and controlled only and ever by my spiritual desires throughout any and all conflict I experience? Whilst I naturally avoid conflict, if when it comes, I can keep this as my spiritual north, then the conflict will be redeeming and healing whenever it arrives and wherever it leads.

“Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.”
‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭4:5‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Death is the most certain possibility

If there is one topic that no one wants to talk about or think about it is death. Many people would rather think about anything else than their own mortality. We prefer escapism to realism, counting our “Likes” to numbering our days, numbing our pain to meditating on our end.

Into this world Augustine is a counter-cultural cold shower. Book 13 is seared through with the facts of death, encased in cold hard biblical logic. At the heart of his essay is the question of the nature of the fall of man and how this can be overcome by the granting of the life-giving Spirit.

Augustine investigates many important themes including the relationship between the soul and the body, the interplay between death and punishment. The quote of Book 13 for me was this:

There is no one who is not nearer to death this year than he was last year, nearer tomorrow than today, today than yesterday, who will not by and by be nearer than he is at the moment or is not nearer at the present time than he was a little while ago. Any space of time that we live through leaves us with so much less time to live, and the remainder decreases with every passing day; so that the whole of our lifetime is nothing but a race towards death.

XIII.10

Wow! Stop and re-read that several times. This knuckle-grating realism quickens our senses and alerts us to the coming last stop. Rather than breed fatalism there are two urgent applications that this truth sharpens in our focus and we would do well to heed.

Through a detailed analysis of what it means to pass from like to death Augustine proves there is only life or death, and speaking about someone dying is illogical. He looks at three situations: “before death”, “in death” and “after death” and concludes there is only life which immediately becomes death, with no in between phase. Yes, yes, I say to myself, this is clear, why are you stressing this so much? Then his reason slams home as he describes the second death (the abandoning of our soul by God).

For that death, which means not the separation of soul from body but the union of both for eternal punishment, is the more gracious death; it is the worst of all evils. There men will not be in the situations of “before death “ and “after death”, but always “in death”, and for this reason they will never be living, never dead, but dying for all eternity.

XIII.11

This is an horrendous sadness. There are no words to soften the blow of this reality. The only hope is to avoid this situation before it is too late, before the final sand grain falls

By contrast, the second major application is a ray of hope for all those awaiting a new body, without the failings and foibles of our current version. Augustine meditates on the difference between the body Adam had in Eden and the bodies we shall be given in the new Paradise:

For the body which will be incapable of death is that which will be spiritual and immortal in virtue of the presence of a life-giving spirit. In this it will be like the soul which was created immortal… The immortality with which they are clothed will be like that of the angels, an immortality which cannot be taken away by sin; and though the natural substance of flesh will continue, no slightest trace of carnal corruptibility or lethargy will remain.

XIII.24

Given the certainty of death and the exhortation of our Creator to consider these two destinies, who wouldn’t chose life? The psalmist said “teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (90.12). May we be wise to reflect on the brevity of life, choose wisdom, choose life and choose Jesus.

The God beyond time

As I went on my morning walk today I noticed the frost on the ground in the shape of a tree. It seemed to me the perfect illustration of the debate at the heart of Book 12 of the City of God – how does a changeless God relate to a changing world?

Augustine’s opponents were suggesting that God’s decision to create time & nature somehow reflects a change in his essential being. How can he go from being in perpetual eternity, outside of time, to then creating the world in a specific moment if God cannot change?

This is a lot more practical than it sounds. Essentially the arguments Augustine is dealing with here are very similar to the debate a few years ago on Open theism. This debate sought to highlight the bible verses that talk about God changing his mind, or changing a decision based on human activity.

Both the modern and ancient questions drive at the heart of God’s relation to his creation – either in its inception or its growth. Although I am finding I don’t agree with Augustine on everything in this book, his reasoning on the question of God’s unchangeable nature (his immutability) is outstanding.

His opponents were suggesting that perhaps God has always been sovereign over creation because there have been an endless cycle of birth, growth and death of planet earth and humankind. They argued that this cyclical theory avoids God transitioning from an eternity of nothingness into a time bound physical universe. Augustine argues that no matter how many cycles there have been there must have been a beginning to the process, and compared to this:

“any space of time which starts from a beginning and is brought to an end, however vast its extent, must be reckoned when compared with that which has no beginning, as minimal, or rather as nothing at all.”

XII.13

There was a moment when eternity observed the birth of time and the invisible beheld the arrival of the material world. Augustine recognises this is “certainly a profound mystery that God existed always and yet willed to create the first man, as a new act of creation, at some particular time, without any alternation in his purpose and design”.

Augustine is right to warn against digging to deeply into this mystery. I think the problem with trying to probe this mystery is that we are bound within time. It’s like the frost on the ground in the shape of a tree. A child might observe this and wonder how a tree’s shadow can make the ground so cold it creates frost within the shadow, while the ground all around is green. When time is taken into account we realise that it’s not that the tree’s shadow causes the frost, but that the sun is melting all the frost except for that protected by the shadow. The effect of time on the movement of the sun fools us.

So too we look at the “changes” that God instigates in time from our perspective and try to peer into eternity from within the tree’s shadow. It is impossible. Only the one who is outside of time can answer these mysteries.

“Every infinity is, in a way we cannot express, made finite to God, because it cannot be beyond the embrace of his knowledge”.

XII.19

All this is to do with origins, as Augustine is dealing with the origin of the Two Cities in this book. I suspect we will get to the even bigger brain-buster on this theme, which is the incarnation. Never mind God entering time from eternity, what about the omnipresent God entering a human body? Faith rests in the wisdom and revelation of God, unbelief asks why the tree’s shadow is producing frost.

The scattered traces of his being

Have you ever wondered why we are here? Many of us have asked this question at one point or another. As Augustine hits his stride in this first book (XI) of Part 2 of The City of God he asks a number of incisive questions: why do we exist at this moment in time? Why here in this part of space? What is the origin of the two cities? When did time start?

As this book pivots away from ancient discussions on the spiritual realm to the very real existence of planet earth, Augustine is diving head first into deep waters. He is unafraid to tackle the biggest issues head on – the origin of humans, angels, demons, goodness, evil, and philosophy. Through it all he keeps his Rule of Faith to guide him in what is truthful, helpful and appropriate.

Two discussions in particular are worthy of highlighting: his treatment of the origin of pure & fallen angels and his masterful handling of God’s creative purpose (ie the who, how & why of creation).

It fascinating to read how Augustine builds his case using the creation account in Genesis 1. He proposes that time began with creation and that “the world was not created in time, but with time” – hypothesising that there is no time without change and motion, which both started with the act of creation.

Augustine refers to Job 38.7 as evidence that angels existed before stars were made. As the sun wasn’t made until Day 4 he proposes that the “Let their be light” of Day 1 refers to the creation of angelic beings, with the separation to greater and lesser light being the division of the obedient and fallen angels.

“Thus the angels, illuminated by that light by which they were created, themselves became lights, and are called “day”, by participation in the changeless light and day, which is the Word of God, through whom they themselves and all other things were made.”

XI.9

Building on his consideration of creation, Augustine reflects on God’s verdict on his work – declaring it is good. Like an expert surgeon he unpacks this divine declaration, on multiple levels. He recognises that “it is not that God discovered that it was good, after he had made it. Far from it… he is not discovering that fact but communicating it”.

Augustine goes on to say how God experiences things is totally different to us. He is not time bound like us mortals, no rather “he sees in some other manner, utterly remote from anything we experience or could imagine”. He says

“God comprehends all these (ie past, present & future) in a stable and eternal present. And with him there is no difference between seeing with the eyes and “seeing” with the mind, for he does not consist of mind and body”.

XI.21

So, says Augustine “he saw that what he had made was good when he saw that it was good that he should make it”. And why was it good that God should make such things? We find the answer by asking: “who made it, how he made it, and why he made it”. So for the statement Let their be light, the answer to these questions are: God / He said “let it be” / it was good!

“There can be no better author than God, no more effective skill than his word, no better cause than that a good product should be created by God, who is good.”

XI.21

This has tremendous implications as we consider our own existence: “We resemble the divine Trinity in that we exist; we know we exist, and we are glad of this existence and this knowledge” XI.26.

In a world that has lost its grip on the divine intent and pleasure behind our existence it is no surprise that we are also losing our sense of purpose, inherent self-worth and the preciousness of existence.

If we take one thing away from Book XI it should be that each and every one of us is crafted by the heart of a God of love who is delighted at his good handiwork. We are his prized possession – one he was willing to rescue by sacrificing his only Son. May we discovery this afresh this Easter Sunday.

The world in front of you is nothing like the world behind you

If there is one book that has incapsulated the journey I have been on in the last 15+ years it has been Canoeing The Mountains by Tod Bolsinger. I only read it three years ago, but little did I realise I had been experiencing the reality of its challenge long before Tod articulated it for me.

It was the summer of 2017 and I was sitting in Cafe Nero riveted to Tod’s description of explorers Lewis & Clark. They set out in 1803 to map the western part of America, an expanse previously unknown and assumed to hold a water course to the Pacific Ocean. Tod interlaces this analogy of exploration with the steady marginalisation of the church in western civilisation.

The beauty of what Tod does in this book is that he is able to draw insightful parallels from their unexpected adventures in the wilderness with the monumental shifts that have taken place in society’s relationship with the church.

The gems in this book are too rich to summarise in a soundbite, they reward the thoughtful. This book deals with how to lead transformational change within an organisation when all around us is shifting. In the military they call it VUCA – volition, uncertain, complex & ambiguous. How do we lead change in a VUCA world?

What kind of leader do we need to be in order to both care for people and lead them into uncharted territory?

I have found its wisdom has remained with me these last few years. It calls us to not remain in the shallows but cast out for deeper waters abandoning our preconceived assumptions of what life would hold. Complete surrender is the goal, letting go of the need to gain approval or acceptance.

Stepping in to the unknown will mean we let go of our human resource to find all sufficiency in God’s provision – often in the unlikeliest of places & the least listened to people.

Reflecting on this book helped me to see two things clearly that I will be forever thankful for:

I need to care less about what people think of me – I surrender my need for approval

I need to care less about the problems causing the decay – I surrender my need for control

This is the fifth book review ahead of Thrive Scotland 2020, a catalyst conference starting on 9th September for encouraging Christians in the workplace.

The father’s heart for authentic living

A review of Unravelled by Jon Peterson

Unravelled is the fourth book in my Recommended Reading ahead of Thrive Scotland conference in September 2020…and it is the most hard hitting so far. This book is part manifesto for a renewed vision for a 21st century way of being church, and part guidebook to experiencing unshakable spiritual security in the Father’s love.

This book came to mind as I was doing some amateur stone dyking in my garden. I wanted to jump straight to rebuilding the wall and filling in the gaps…but before I could do this I had to do the hard, boring, dirty work of removing soil, weeds and small stones from the collapsed section.

In exactly the same way Jon expertly deconstructs our false thinking about leadership, authority and spirituality in western church culture. As a master surgeon he splits our skin with his scalpel in order to extract the tumour. And some of it is close to the bone as a result – this is a deep examination of our motives and hidden drivers for how and why we do ministry.

If we would see churches and workplaces transformed by the power of the gospel some deep surgery may be required. We all know churches have individual characteristics that express the gifts and flaws of their family makeup…are we ready to put ourselves on the operating table in order to become more like Christ together?

One of the key questions I have found this book making me ask myself is how do shift from “attending” to “belonging”?

The first authentic step I found fairly painful was to examine my own heart and realise that I was putting the vision of what I thought God was calling me to do before the people I was doing it with. This vision-first dynamic creates dividing lines and weakens the family bonds.

The second step was realising I needed to deliberately put myself in a place of weakness and vulnerability to hear what God was saying to me through others. This Stumbling Edge, as Ken Janke (one of our Thrive speakers) calls it is the place of faith, failure and growth. Eventually, we can even come to enjoy our feet not being able to touch the bottom as we learn to live beyond the illusion of control.

There are many more lessons within these pages for those with the courage to walk this path with Jon. It was a blessing to meet him and Ken Janke in March 2019 – and then read some of Ken’s story in this book. My prayer is that God uses this book to help us become more humble, more real & more secure in the Father’s heart. Enjoy!

This book review series is in anticipation of the Thrive Scotland conference coming in September.