Tim Chester is a pastor at Grace Church, Boroughbridge in North Yorkshire. He is also a faculty member of Crosslands Training; and is the author of over 30 books, a number of which have been really significant in my own formation: Total Church, Everyday Church, You Can Change… When I heard about the vision behind Tim’s new book, Enjoying God, I was really keen to hear more…
– Tim, you’re probably one of the most prolific British Christian authors around. And yet I’ve heard you say this particular book might be your most important. Can you tell us a bit about Enjoying God – and why you feel that way about it?
Well, the word ‘might’ is significant because it’s not really for me to judge. But I hope the book says something fresh that can really make a different to our relationship with God. We talk a lot about enjoying God. If someone is struggling with temptation or bitterness or longing or emptiness then we call them to find joy in Christ. Rightly so. But what are we do to do with this exhortation? It makes a fine climax to a sermon, but what I am supposed to do next? Is joy an act of the will or even an act of make believe? What I’m trying do in the book is help Christians have a strong sense of living in relationship with God in the everyday stuff of life. The central ideas are not novel. To be honest, I’ve nicked them from the Puritan John Owen. But they’re not often talked about today and think they have the potential to make a powerful difference in people’s lives.
– Bible-believing Christians will often say that the gospel has brought us into a ‘right relationship with God’ – and yet you point out that we’re not very good at talking about what that relationship looks like in everyday life. Why do you think that is?
The central idea of the book is that a vital step in enjoying God is to think about how God the Father is relating to us and how we can respond, how the Son is relating to us and how we can respond, and how the Spirit is relating to us and how we can respond. This is what the book then tries to do. The reason this is important is because it’s hard to relate to God as a generic entity. Christian theology has always said we can’t know God’s essence. As it happens, I’m writing this in Hong Kong airport on my way home from a conference in Australia. On the plane I’ve been reading a book on the attributes of God in which lines up a series of theologians across the centuries who are all making precisely this point. We have nothing in our experience that enables us to have any sense of the ‘godness’ of God. But – here’s the good news – we can know the persons of God. The Father, Sons and Spirit exist in an personal relationship of joy and in Christ we are able to enjoy that relationship by relating to the persons of God. This is Owen’s big idea in his book Communion with God. It’s heavy duty theology, but it cashes out in a very simple principle: think about how the Father, Son and Spirit are each relating to you and how you can respond. That’s a long-winded way of answering your question. What it boils down to is people find it hard to relate to God when they’re relating to him as a generic entity – a being beyond comprehension.
– In Enjoying God, you underline the importance of relating to God as Father, Son, and Spirit – rather than just ‘God’. How do we know ‘who to relate to when’ – and what might you say to someone who is who feels this is ’splitting up’ the Triune God?
Good question. Having just stressed the three-ness of God, let me now stress the one-ness of God. The three persons are one being so to relate to one is to relate to them all. In other words, as soon as you think about relating to the Father you inevitably start thinking about how we relate to the Father because we are ‘in’ the Son. That means our experience of God is the experience of the Son – that is, the love of a Father. Moreover, God sent the Spirit to enable us to cry ‘Abba, Father’. As a result, the objective reality of being a child of God becomes a subjective experience in our lives. All this means that by thinking about their distinctive roles, you find yourself actually connecting with the one triune God.
– At the end of each chapter, you include an ‘action point’, as well as ‘discussion questions’. It struck me that Christian books will often have discussion questions – but what made you include an ‘action point’?
It’s something I did in my book You Can Change and many people have told me how helpful they found it. I really, really want Enjoying God to help people see how God is at work in their lives day by day in all the nitty gritty of life. When many people think about experiencing God they think of an emotional experience in corporate worship or perhaps hearing God speak in some way a voice. Often people don’t really experience either these very much and so God feels rather distant to them. What I want to show people is that the triune God is intimately at work in our lives in many different ways all the time. Our experience of God is much bigger and richer and fuller than those kind of moments. I want to use the Scriptures to open the eyes of our faith to see God’s involvement in our daily lives.
– You say that one of the principles underlying your book is understanding the difference between our union with God and our communion with God. Can you unpack this further and show us why we need to understand both?
Again, this is something John Owen says. I don’t want to get hung up on the terminology, but the distinction is really important. Union with God in Christ is all God’s work from start to finish. That means our relationship with God is something we not achieve, nor something we can ruin. It’s all of grace. This is the foundation of our relationship with God. Communion with God describes the two-way relationship into which we’ve been saved. What we do really does make a difference to our experience of God. This gives us a great incentive to see God at work, listen for his voice in his word and pursue him in prayer. But all the time we have the great assurance that our relationship rests secure on his grace.
– I’ve heard a few people say recently that in our post-Christian culture the church needs to have a ‘thick’ spirituality that embodies our faith. How important is it that Christians in a post-Christian society are actively ‘enjoying God’?
Well I’m not sure how to quantify the importance. What units of measurement did you have in mind? But I do think it’s important. It’s important for us if we’re to survive in the face of increasing hostility and scepticism. And it’s important of the watching world. People often don’t want to engage at the level of what is true. But they are looking for something. Our culture is, as the philosopher Charles Taylor says, still haunted by transcendence. A deep sense of the triune God’s involvement in our lives, together with the joy this brings, has the potential to be a powerful apologetic for the gospel.