Tuesday, January 15, 2008

What Does It Mean to "Know" God?

"'Let not a wise man boast in his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,' declares the LORD." (Jeremiah 9:23-24)
In the work of ministry, if we trust in our numbers, our strategies and our gifts rather than in our knowledge of/relationship with God, we are headed in the wrong direction. This was essentially the point (I think) of a message I recently heard during an all-day seminar on campus ministry. At this point in the day, I had both feet on board the train, ready to roll. But I soon began to wonder if we were on the right track.
What followed the inspired exposition of Jer. 9 was a lengthy discussion about strategy, numerical growth, and methodology. In fact, at one point, the speaker offered five key terms that should permeate any discussion of ministry:
WIN (evangelism)
But how can "knowing the LORD" be our highest value, when "BUILD" is only 1/5 of what defines us? (I take "build" to refer to the spiritual development of disciples.) Let me clarify the problem.
There are at least two senses of what it means to "know" God. The first sense is simply the idea of being in a saving relationship with God -- justification by faith. Those who "know" God in this sense are just those who are "saved." The second sense is a deeper, more relationally robust sense. Those who "know" God in this sense are a subset of the "saved" -- those who have entered deeply into their relationship with God and grown into spiritual adulthood. I'll call the first sense know1 and the second sense know2.
The problem is that the speaker seemed to understand Jeremiah 9 as referring to "know1," rather than "know2." But I don't think Jeremiah was encouraging us to boast in mere justification, or mere membership in the covenant community. He was talking about a deepening, maturing kind of knowledge -- know2.
The context of Jer. 9:23-24 gives some support to my view. In the following verse (25), the Lord says he will punish those who are "circumcised, and yet uncircumcised." Similarly, in v.26, he says that "all the house of Israel are uncircumcised of heart." Is this saying that certain individuals are not "saved?" Or is it saying that certain individuals (or perhaps the entire nation) may be "saved" (they "know1" the Lord) and yet do not "know2" the Lord? In my view, the New Testament analog would be immature Christians, such as those Paul refers to in 1Cor. 2-3.
So here's my point: if we really want to make knowing the Lord our highest value, then "building" people, or helping them to develop spiritual depth in their relationship with God, should be a HUGE part of what we do. But it isn't! This is a problem. Does this mean we stop doing evangelism or movement planting/building? No. But it does mean that the distinguishing mark of any minister of the gospel should be her intimacy with God, not the size of her ministry. Similarly, our goal with those we minister to should be first and foremost to lead them into deeper love with God, not to get them to grow our ministries.

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Anonymous Curtis said...

Chris...good post. I'm glad and encouraged to see intellectuals such as yourself and J.P. Moreland really stressing this.

12:29 PM  

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