by Andy Draycott
In this issue
- Companions on the Journey
- Mentoring Leaders Through Seminary
- Talbot Authors
- Dean's Column
- Alumni Focus
- Campus Focus
Klauss Issler, Living into the Life of Jesus: The Formation of Christian Character, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity 2011.
S: Klauss, could you give us a key quote from your writing that communicates the heart of the book?
KI: “Christianity cannot be reduced merely to a set of rules to obey. While objectively true, moral rules are not our ultimate reference point. Jesus himself is the ultimate reference point for us. We look to Jesus’ own authoritative example and illustrations that present a range of ways for how to love God. We believe correctly that Jesus is central to salvation, as Scripture teaches. Likewise, Jesus is central to sanctification, to discipleship, to Christian ethics, as Jesus himself teaches.” (21).
S: One reviewer, Christy Hill from Grace College and Seminary, said this of your book: “In this journey of living into the life of Jesus, Issler becomes a trail guide who has done the hard work of looking into these areas in his own life and shares the lessons he has learned along the way. The book engages the reader with a hospitality of the soul that cuts through one’s natural defenses and allows God in to do major deconstruction and rebuilding of one’s worldview.” (Christian Education Journal, Fall 2012) What in your life of ministry and teaching made you think this book needed to be written?
KI: Dallas Willard continually challenged those interested in sanctification to remember that Jesus is our main teacher. In response, I saw the need
to prepare a book on applied sanctification that grounded the main claims primarily on Jesus’ teachings and life example from the Gospels. I was pleasantly surprised when the book’s Scripture index revealed that a verse from every chapter of each of the four Gospels had been cited, except for two. This book on Christian character formation engages various key concepts from Willard’s formation writings and grounds them primarily on the Gospels.
S: How did writing help you grow in discipleship?
KI: I consciously made it a spiritual discipline to remain primarily in the Gospels, fixing my eyes on Jesus, rather than follow my natural default by supporting claims from other parts of the New Testament. I was pleasantly surprised how Jesus’ teaching and/or example offered deep insights for Christian living. For example, I discerned a four-part formation model based on Jesus’ own challenging experience in Gethsemane that is guiding my own formation practice today: Awake, Admit, Ask, and Act.
S: How might Talbot alumni benefit and help others to benefit from this book?
KI: This book addresses some deep barriers to spiritual growth among believers in order to facilitate, with God’s grace, further formation of the heart. It recognizes that many in our churches, including church leaders, are at the point where spiritual growth is no longer motivated by intellectual beliefs. As Willow Creek’s study of 1,000 churches (Move, 2011) indicated, ‘Like seeds planted deep in the heart, beliefs are now bearing fruit in attitudes and emotions that reflect the character of Jesus Christ” (p. 156). This beginning with the heart in relation to Jesus is a movement I want to encourage and see fostered.
Erik Thoennes, Life’s Biggest Questions, Crossway 2011.
S: What motivated you to write Life’s Biggest Questions?
ET: The great need today for biblically grounded, clear, concise, practically applied doctrine in the church, and also the need for a good introduction to basic Christian beliefs for those outside the church.
I teach systematic theology to undergraduate students at Biola University, and when they learn the foundational truths of their faith, they are often astonished that after growing up in the church they never REALLY learned doctrine. They will often exclaim “why have I never learned these things before?” I’m also pastor
of a congregation of wonderfully faithful and thoughtful people. Yet they often feel as well, that their training and doctrine has been lacking throughout their lives. I believe that all of the world’s problems can be traced back to faulty understanding of God, and his truth, and his ways. Divorce, pornography, war, racism, eating disorders and everything that makes creation groan, starts with getting God wrong. I pray that this book will make a contribution to getting God right and enabling people to think his thoughts after him.
S: Who do you think this book will help the most?
ET: Those wanting to strengthen their understanding of what the Bible teaches about the major issues it presents. I’m hoping it’s helpful to mature Christians as a refresher and reminder of the great truths of their faith, to believers new to the faith, to curious skeptics, who want to know what Christianity is all about.
S: What 15 questions do you answer in your book? And why are these questions so central?
- Does God exist?
- What does it mean to know and love God?
- How does God reveal himself?
- How well can you know God?
- What is God like?
- How do you explain the Trinity?
- Who is Jesus Christ?
- Who is the Holy Spirit?
- What did Jesus Christ accomplish?
- What is a human being?
- How does God relate to his creation?
- What is sin?
- How does God save sinners?
- What is the church?
- How will it all end?
These are the classic categories of systematic theology because they are major issues the Bible addresses. There many other important things the Bible talks about, but these are foundational.
S. Out of all of these questions, which one do you think new Christians struggle with the most?
ET: I’m not sure about that. I think that every other question is ultimately answered by thinking rightly about God himself. So I suppose, answering the question “what is God like?” needs to be our greatest concern. Only then can we understand who we are, what sin is, who Christ is, and what God is doing in human history. I will say, that of all the things Christians believe, the easiest one to prove is that we have a major sin problem in the world. But in spite of the evidence everywhere we look, human depravity is probably the hardest thing for us to believe.
S. What was the most difficult question you had to answer?
ET: I think answering the question “how does it all end” was the hardest to boil down to just a few pages. There are so many different issues in eschatology, and there has been such a broad range of positions held on those issues in the history of the church, that it was a challenge to present them all well in a concise way.
S. Is “doctrine” dry, boring, and detached from the affections?
ET: Oh my, no! A summary understanding of God’s revelation in an effort to answer the big questions of life should be the basis of life- transforming truth. It’s true that gaining this understanding takes hard work, discipline, humility and the commitment to work it out in everyday life. But doctrine is the stuff of faith, hope and love - knowing God and how he thinks.
Please allow me to quote from the book here:
Doctrine equips people to fulfill their primary purpose, which is to glorify and delight in God through a deep personal knowledge of him. Meaningful relationship with God is dependent on correct knowledge of him. Any theological system that distinguishes between “rational propositions about God” and “a personal relationship with God” fails to see the necessary connection between love and knowledge. The capacity to love, enjoy, and tell others about a person is increased by greater knowledge of that person. Love and knowledge go hand in hand. Good lovers are students of the beloved. Knowledge of God is the goal of theology. Knowledge without devotion is cold, dead orthodoxy. Devotion without knowledge is irrational instability. But true knowledge of God includes understanding everything from his perspective. Theology is learning to think God’s thoughts after him. It is to learn what God loves and hates, and to see, hear, think, and act the way he does. Knowing how God thinks is the first step in becoming godly.
S. In your own church and university ministries, how have these questions made a difference?
ET: Over the last 16 years of teaching college students and the last 10 as a pastor, when they are faithfully preached, taught, lived, understood, and applied, these answers have consistently provided the basis for God’s transforming work in our lives. Christlike character, courage, love, faith, perseverance, and the fruit of the Spirit have always grown as God works through thinking transformed according to his word.
S. In your own life, is there a doctrine of the Christian faith that you continually return to? Why is it so important?
ET: The character of God, seem primarily in the person and work of Christ is the heart of it all. Our lives are to be lived to the glory of God which we behold definitively the face of Christ. This central truth is life, and needs to be our great game and vision in this life ending eternity.