When the limits of his own faith experience left him feeling spiritually empty, Niequist determined God must have a wider vision for worship and community.
In his search, Aaron discovered that there was historical Christian precedent for enacting faith in a different way, an ancient and now future way of believing. He calls this third way "practice-based faith."
This book is about loving one's faith tradition and, at the same time, following the call to something deeper and richer. By adopting some new spiritual practices, it is possible to learn to swim again with a renewed sense of vigor and divine purpose.
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|Publisher:||The Crown Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.30(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.90(d)|
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Chapter 1: Losing My Religion and Finding the Kingdom
Maybe you have asked this question. Maybe you’re asking it right now. Your pond may feel very different from mine, but the ache for more is universal. No matter how good and whole your experience has been, the River is deeper. The Current is stronger. And you were made to get swept up into the fullness of its flowing goodness. Could this be your moment?
Increasingly in the polarized time we find ourselves, it can feel as if we have only two choices: give in or give up. We can turn off our hearts to stay where we are, or we can break our hearts by walking away from faith entirely. Friends, these are terrible choices. And thankfully, they are not the only options. But I know firsthand the claustrophobic pain of not being able to identify a third way.
So there I was in my midtwenties on a Sunday morning. I was standing backstage at my church, filled with dread as I prepared to put on a fake Christian smile and rock the house once again. Let me state the obvious: it’s pretty awkward to urge people to join you in singing songs you no longer believe.
This season of losing faith was dark. I didn’t feel angry as much as sad—and profoundly lost. Very quickly I slipped into a numb sort of despair.
Most often, the despair came out sideways. My disillusionment with faith spread to a disillusionment with just about everything and everyone else. Rather than grappling with the terror of feeling the ground disintegrating beneath my feet, I mostly just poked holes in everything else. Everyone was stupid. Everyone was fake. Everything was a lie. This was essentially a matter of self-protection. If I could remain focused on how everyone was wrong, I wouldn’t have to wrestle with the terrifying reality of my own wrongness. But in quiet moments, the unwelcome whispers of the faith I had lost sneaked through my cynic’s armor, and in those undefended moments, I felt truly defenseless.
The Christian story was the wallpaper on nearly every room of my memory—framing every day of my life. I didn’t know how to move forward constructively without it.
I’m not the only person who has felt that giving in or giving up were his or her only options. I needed to find a third way, and I have a hunch that if you’re with me this far, you’re looking for a third way as well. Jesus called it the narrow road that leads to life (see Matthew 7:14).
You will never settle for a small version of the story, but you’re not willing to give up altogether. Thank God. Or maybe you have found a third way and are looking to move more deeply into these streams. In either case, it’s possible to take a new path. But it’s very difficult to take the path alone.
A New Way Forward
Thankfully, my parents and a few close friends weren’t afraid of the doubts and questions of my midtwenties. In fact, a few of them moved closer to me in my dark season. (This is not normal. Many people express their doubts, only to get kicked out of the community. I am profoundly grateful for such a loving family and for safe, patient, and wise friends.)
A friend named Chris—a musician in my band who would go on to become a brilliant theologian—gave me a life-altering book. Possibly without realizing it, he was saying, You’ve been trapped in one small pond for a long time, and you’re drowning. But there’s a bigger and better River out there! Here’s an invitation into an entirely new way of being. Chris handed me a copy of The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard.
I remember the morning I read chapter 2, “Gospels of Sin Management.” I was sitting on a fake-wood floor, leaning against a fake-leather couch, when God used Willard’s writing to open my eyes to a reality that I had never before heard: the kingdom of God. I learned that Jesus was inviting us not primarily into correct beliefs, eternal destinations, or behavior modification but rather to participate in a living, eternally present reality. Through Christ, we get to join the redemption and restoration of all things. God has not given up on the world. Instead, God invites every one of us—in the way of Jesus and through the power of the Spirit—into the divine conspiracy of overcoming evil with good.
Although I had been a Christian most of my life, this was the first time I had heard teaching on the subject that Jesus devoted most of his teaching to. Jesus’s primary message in the Gospels is the kingdom of God, but for some reason my tradition had avoided the topic entirely. How could we have missed Jesus’s core message?
At first I felt regret and frustration, but these quickly melted into gratitude for the possibility of a new way forward. This is such good news!
As my heart pounded and my vision blurred with tears, I sat on the floor where I had been reading and prayed over and over, “God, if this is what you are up to in the world, I’m in. If this is who you are and what you care about, I’m in. God, if you can use someone like me, in all my doubt and brokenness, I’m in.”
And like a good evangelical, I was born again…again.
Learning to Swim
The first few months after being awakened to God’s kingdom were full of passion, gratitude, and almost-nuclear energy. Like discovering a treasure buried in my backyard, I had found what was missing, and I threw my whole self into trying to live it out. But while the conversion exuberance carried me for a while, I began to notice that my old tools were no longer fit for this new journey. The skills I relied on to swim in the still pond didn’t help me in the raging River. The old wineskins were never meant to hold new wine.
I had finally been drawn into the great Eternal Current that has been flowing throughout history, and I wholeheartedly said yes to Christ’s invitation to get into the water. But I didn’t know how to swim. I didn’t know what to do on Sundays or in my life. My mind had been converted, and my heart was burning with devotion, but I didn’t know how to live into it.
So I began exploring.
The years following my spiritual awakening were both glorious and tumultuous, exciting and disillusioning, heart expanding and heartbreaking. The search led me more deeply into myself, and it nudged me outward into corners of the Christian faith that previously would have felt dangerously off limits. My heart had been seized by the mighty River of grace that is good news to all people, and I was going to either learn how to swim with Christ or drown trying.
Worship Beyond Singing
This search led my wife, Shauna, and me to Michigan, where we joined with a young pastor named Rob Bell at his church, Mars Hill Bible Church. Our years at Mars Hill were some of the most exciting and stretching of my whole life. It was a greenhouse for artistic experimentation, theological exploration, and discovering what the kingdom of God could look like in an actual time and place. We read books that blew our minds, heard sermons that ignited our hearts, and walked closely with a small group of Jesus followers who will forever frame the way we think about community.
As a worship leader, I tried to align the Mars Hill community with the bigger story, but I quickly discovered that my normal approach was woefully inadequate. Four rock songs and a hymn fell far short of the depth and width of the kingdom vision that animated us. It was like trying to paint Van Gogh’s The Starry Night masterpiece using only two colors. And so we began to experiment with different forms, practices, and ways to worship. Fortunately, my ministry partner, Troy Hatfield, had been on this journey for many years. He had a huge influence on all that we learned and discovered.
In the same way that God expanded our corporate worship forms to embrace the bigger story, God did the same thing in my soul. Four rock songs and a hymn no longer cut it on Sundays, and my personal spiritual practice began to fall short as well. It was in this season that I heard about contemplative Christianity, and I practiced centering prayer for the first time. I learned about the Jewish roots of our faith and began to see the Scriptures in a new and more vibrant light. Rob Bell’s teaching also exposed me to the deep connection between spiritual health and emotional health, and we explored practices that helped us become not just better Christians but, I hoped, better humans.
As my internal world was being reshaped and reformed, I learned that God was inviting me outward into the bigger world that God was reshaping and reforming. I didn’t always live it out well, but this season was the first time I saw contemplation and activism come together in one community. The deeper we went inside ourselves, the more we felt propelled into the messiness of the world. We didn’t have to choose between being exhausted activists and being isolated contemplatives. Instead, we caught a vision for swimming with Christ in a life of contemplative activism. I will always be grateful for Rob and the Mars Hill family.
In these formative years, both as individuals and as part of a church community, Shauna and I discovered that God’s Eternal Current is deeper and grander and more beautifully powerful than we knew. This understanding brought us face to face with our inability to swim well in it. Four songs and a hymn in worship could get our feet wet, but we had to move beyond singing if we were to enter the flow and swim. My personal practice of reading the Bible and journaling was a helpful foundation, but it could take me only so far. Thankfully, God’s grace drenched us as we stumbled and splashed around with new (old) practices and worship forms. I couldn’t wait to see what was around the corner.
Excerpted from "The Eternal Current"
Copyright © 2018 Aaron Niequist.
Excerpted by permission of The Crown Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
The Eternal Current
1 Losing My Religion and Finding the Kingdom 7
2 The Birth of the Practice 21
3 Swimming with the River 37
The Kingdom of God
4 Church as a Gymnasium (Part 1) 57
A Practice-Based Faith
5 Church as a Gymnasium (Part 2) 77
A Practice-Based Gathering
6 Sunday Is Not the Main Event 93
A Practice-Based Life
7 We Need Everybody 109
8 We Can't Do It Alone 127
Practice-Based Community and Family
9 For the Sake of the World (Part 1) 147
10 For the Sake of the World (Part 2) 163
Communities of Practice-Based Mission
A Call to Reimagine and Reintegrate Everything Through Memory and Imagination
A Note from Aaron 185