Thursday, November 27, 2014

Flesh by Hugh Halter

My teenage son saw the title of this book and almost had a conniption because he thought I was reading something akin to Fifty Shades of Gray. When I explained that the subtitle was "Bringing the Incarnation Down to Earth," he breathed a sigh of relief and sauntered back into his room. I'm not sure he even knows what that means, but it sounded theological enough to convince him I hadn't gone off the deep end.

There is much to like about Flesh. Halter takes the pressure of Christians who have been taught that evangelism means counting off on your fingers how many people you have led to the Lord. He defines the concept much more broadly, inviting believers to be more actively engaged in the world by building friendships with non-believers rather than cocooning themselves in their comfy church pews.

He occasionally throws out disturbing (in a good way) ideas that cause you to rethink church norms. Take this example from page 32:[Jesus] didn´t come and take on flesh so that you would someday pray a salvation prayer, go to church, and settle for a semi-religious life. He has bigger hopes and dreams for you than that. He came so that His divine life could actually take root in you and so that you could relate to Him like humans used to before sin messed everything up.

And this from p. 58: The gospel is not news that we can accept Jesus into our lives. The gospel is news that Jesus has accepted us into His life and that we can live His life now. This echoes Galatians 2:20 -  "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me..."

Another thing I liked was his emphasis on the price of living incarnationally. To a culture that practically worships comfort, I loved it that Halter says, Living the gospel costs! If you follow Jesus, you will lose energy, time, money, friends, and quite possibly even more. (p. 69)

Although I was greatly encouraged and challenged by the book, I had two major quibbles with Halter's theology. Early in the book he writes, "Here´s the deal. People are not looking for doctrine. They´re looking for a God with skin on, a God they can know, speak with, learn from, struggle with, be honest with, get straight answers from, and connect their lives to." (p. 14) I agree heartily with this statement, but at the same time I worry about the fact that Christian dogma can so cavalierly be thrown out the window.  The gospel is both incarnational (relationships) and theological (truth).

My biggest problem with Halter's book was a strange affirmation he made regarding our humanity. He boldly asserts that Christ did not come to make us more godly, but to make us more human. But nowhere in the Bible does it say, Be human as I am human. Jesus was the perfect, sinless man who came to show us what a perfect, sinless life was like. I get the feeling from Halter that humanness means wearing our warts and weaknesses as badges of honor. This is plain silliness. Our weaknesses define us as fallen sinners, but they should not define us as Christ-followers.  As Oswald Chambers puts it, "The miracle of redemption is that God turns me, the unholy one, into the standard of Himself, the Holy One. He does this by putting into me a new nature, the nature of Jesus Christ." (My Utmost, Nov 19). Even Halter admits this when he talks about how all who follow Christ are under "spiritual renovation."

Redemption cannot be limited to salvation from hell. If it doesn't include the promise of transformation, we have only a forlorn hope.

In spite of my disagreements on these points, I really enjoyed Halter's book. His ideas are nothing new, however; they have been freshly worded for a new generation. Previous bestsellers on the subject have been Lifestyle Evangelism by Aldrich (1981) and Out of the Saltshaker by Pippert (1994).


A Joyful Cottage said...

I appreciate what you wrote: "The gospel is both incarnational (relationships) and theological (truth)." For years I have studied the relational aspect, and now God has laid it on my heart to dig deeply into His word and study doctrine. I'm currently in the first chapter of Ephesians, working through election and predestination. My study is challenging me, much to my delight, and making me more appreciative than ever of God's grace. I look forward to reading more of your posts. ~ Nancy

A Joyful Cottage said...

P.S. I have read both Lifestyle Evangelism and Out of the Saltshaker. Excellent relational material. Thanks.

Laure Covert said...

I like the challenge to get out of the cocoon - I need that prodding often because I like to be around "easy" people (although my church has plenty of tough cookies).... and then I am not salty - just pickled :) Thanks for this honest and inspiring review.

Carol in Oregon said...

You have me intrigued. I, too, have read Lifestyle Evangelism and Out of the Saltshaker. But I'm interested in reading this.

Your first paragraph, Hope? PURE GOLD. I laughed so hard I snorted!