“Christianity isn’t a religion. It’s a relationship.”
If you’ve spent any time at all in the evangelical world, you’ve probably heard some version of those words. In his book With: Reimagining the way you relate to God
(Nelson, 2011) Pastor and author Skye Jethani explains that most of us settle for an erzatz version of this relationship:
- Life FROM God: People in this category are focused on what God will do for them, rather than being interested in God himself. Word-of-faith believers and those who search for God’s blessing on their success both capture the essence of this posture.
- Life OVER God: “Proven formulas and controllable outcomes” define this category, best typlifed by people like the jaded agnostic and the pastor who relies on formulas and organizational principles to build a church.
- Life FOR God: Those in this camp are known for their drive to do great things in God’s service and being a world-changer. “Full time Christian service” is the penultimate expression of faith.
- Life UNDER God: Our role is to learn what God commands, and toil with great intensity to remain within those boundaries. Legalists personify this category.
Jethani noted that he has spent time living in each one of these categories. (Me too.) But he makes a compelling case for learning to live life WITH God – which, he says, is the only sort of relationship God has ever intended to have with us:
The Life With God posture is predicated on the view that relationship is at the core of the cosmos: God the Father with God the Son with God the Holy Spirit. And so we should not be surprised to discover that when God desired to restore his broken relationship with people, he sent his Son to dwell with us. His plan to restore his creation was not to send a list of rules and rituals to follow (Life Under God), nor was it the implementation of useful principles (Life Over God). He did not send a genie to grant us our desires (Life For God.), nor did he give us a task to accomplish (Life For God). Instead, God himself came to be with us – to walk with us once again as he had done in Eden in the beginning.
It is just that simple. Which is why, in our broken state, we tend to bollux it, distancing ourselves from Him as we settle for a life lived by the wrong preposition. Jethani’s writing is winsome and accessible, and his message is gospel – good news – in the truest sense of the word. The first half of the book explains how our errant categories impede and distort relationship with God. The second half offers a wonderful exploration of what it means live with God – to live into the faith, hope and love that is his character and our birthright as his beloved. A couple of appendices (a brief introduction to some ancient prayer practices in order to cultivate a “with-life” and a thoughtful set of discussion questions) round out the book’s 207 pages.
One of the best-loved passages in Eugene Peterson’s The Message paraphrase captures the essence of the message of With. Jesus is speaking to a crowd of people who’d lived under, for, from and over God when he offers this invitation: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28-30 MSG)
I am prone to slide to one of the unhealthy postures (from, over, for, under) in my relationship with God. It’s like a bad case of gravity, pulling me downward. With is a wise, wonderful reminder that only way to experience the gravity-defying unforced rhythms of grace is by living in the reality that God is with me, and I with him. Highly recommended.
I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.