The Church of No Anticipation (Part 2)

MonkeyThe price for the exhilaration of anticipation is a high one. When we indulge our desires by creating a Jesus that promises to fulfill some or other expectation, we do so at the expense of our commitment to the real Jesus. We pay for banana fever with lettuce leaves.

The reason for the trade-off is simple: The rush that we experience has nothing to do with the divine nature of God, or the power of the Spirit, and everything with the strong emotions that accompany expectations. As such it is not a valid portrayal of the life-giving capacity of the object or ideal that we are focused on, but an entirely subjective emotion forged by our belief that it will impart life.

The Anatomy of False Faith

This explains why the enchantment of anticipation offers such a viable alternative to real faith. Anticipation is, in fact, a form of faith, and here lies the subtlety. It sounds like faith, it looks like faith and it feels like faith. To make matters worse, it is globally proclaimed as faith.

But of course it is not faith, at least not as the Bible defines it. This should be obvious from the very emotions that we are discussing. True faith does not produce sensual feelings, for its object cannot be detected by the senses. As such it is wholly indifferent to that which appeals to the senses. It is moved by reliance on God alone, regardless of any experience (or lack of it). In fact, the Greek word for faith, pistis, can be better translated as “trust,” i.e. a strong reliance on the person and character of God, rather than mere “belief” which carries the connotation of simply believing in the existence of God.

Faith means I believe without having to see, smell or taste. It means I trust before I partake. The character of God is primary, the experience secondary. It is only the believing who get to be nourished in the end. The rest are disqualified.

And so, for faith to remain faith, its experience must of necessity be wholly different to the experience afforded by images that stir up the sensuality of desire and anticipation. Faith is the only antidote for the human irresistibility to desire, for it is in fact unfallen desire – desire pure and uncontaminated. Faith is desire under the governance of trust. It endears the believer to the Giver, not to his gifts. Faith is desire as love, not as lust.

False faith is something entirely different. It tells us that the lettuce will turn into bananas if we believe hard enough. It is an extension of our own delusions, not the antidote. It feeds on and furthers the greed that got us into our predicament in the first place, rather than challenges it. It reduces God to the status of a cosmic genie whose powers can be harnessed if we follow the correct formula.

To use Bonhoeffer’s term, false faith is a “wish dream.”

With the above in mind, it becomes clear why the banana trick is counterproductive. When we use the charm of sensual excitement as a means to motivate people for God, we are in fact messing with their perceptions. Faith is then no longer seeing the unseen, in the sense of that which is invisible to the naked eye, but seeing the unobtained, namely that which is visible in other people’s lives but invisible in mine.

This explains the trade-off. When we sensitise people to that which is visible and tangible, we desensitise them to that which is spiritual. When we teach them to live by banana excitement, we rob them of their capacity to live by lettuce. Sensual desire and faith are like God and Mammon. You cannot have both. They are mutually exclusive.

Mediation, all over again…

When we try and engineer the excitement of religious commitment, we are in fact suggesting that there is some experience that eludes our hearers. The only way we can make people lust after life is to question the validity of the life presently available to them.

The irony is that once we stir up desire and anticipation, we effectively create a gap between life and its partakers, for how can we desire and anticipate something unless it is first established that we do not have it? By promising that God is going to show up, we suggest that he is not present at the moment, and so we undermine the very essence of what the New Covenant is all about.

Our obsession with experience is nothing but a new type of mediation, and we are every bit as enslaved to it as our forebears were with priests murmuring in Latin. The packaging has changed, but it is the same old content. It is still guruism, albeit in a postmodern form. And here lies the difference: The new gurus are the guys who can best stir up expectation.

A simple visit to the Bestsellers section of your local Christian bookstore should reveal this quite clearly. Note how many of those books follow the famous formula of the television commercial:

  1. This is where you are.
  2. This is where you want to be.
  3. This is how you can get there.

The relief and bliss that one experience when reading these types of books have little to do with God, his power or his peace, and much with the absence of unwanted emotions – emotions that are temporarily suppressed by the intrusion of expectation.

Like a big drug company, our business has become the tranquilisation of the masses. The problem is that we have created a generation of addicts – people who no longer know how to use their primary resources to cope with the disillusionments that are so much part of this world. Our faith is no longer resource based, it has become vision based. And here I am not talking about the resurrection and the new earth.

The way in which this has come about is all too clear. The quickest and most efficient way to deal with a grumpy monkey is to repeat the banana trick – to use a new round of anticipation as therapy for the disillusioned and disenchanted, or, if we are really clever, for the potentially disillusioned, that is, to repeat the trick before reality hits home. We tell them that 2018 is the year of breakthrough before they have had a chance to wonder why the breakthrough eluded them in 2017.

The point is that the wish dream has penetrated our churches at an alarming rate, and that the masses have become enslaved to a type of enchantment that is entirely reliant on expectation. This year is the year of breakthrough. The revival is around the corner. God is doing a new thing. We are about to enter the realm of the miraculous.

On and on it goes. Where it will stop, nobody knows…

The Cost of it All

Again, all of this comes with a price. As Proverbs grimly reminds us, hope deferred makes the heart grow sick. There are limits to our capacity for anticipatory excitement. Sooner or later we realize that we are on a fast train heading nowhere, and that swopping stations makes no difference. Inevitably, the day will arrive when we will have not only lost our taste for lettuce, but also our capacity to dream about bananas.

It has been my experience, both as a professional pastor for many years and in my present post-institutional Christian life, that hearts sickened by deferred hope is the new epidemic that is sweeping the ecclesiastical landscape like the Bubonic plague. Its victims are countless, and their final words before breathing their last always follow this line in some or other way: Why didn’t it work out like I was promised?

We are, it seems, picking up the tab for the hysteria that we have been inducing with our vain promises over the past few decades.

Some of us have been wondering about the new type of Christianity for a long time, and have finally reached a point where we make every effort to stay out of its way. It has, in fact, become entirely impossible for us to derive any comfort whatsoever from any form of Christian prediction, except that God knows what we need and that he will provide it as and when he wishes to (terms and conditions apply), that the believing dead will be raised incorruptibly and that this beautiful earth will be restored in all of its splendor.

So did Jesus ever say anything about all of this stuff? In Part 3 we will address this question.

(PS: For a number of reasons I have put that one on hold, but I’ll post when the time is right.)

4 thoughts on “The Church of No Anticipation (Part 2)

  1. errollmulder February 4, 2018 / 7:18 pm

    What an accurate exposure of a bankrupt church persisting in a false message. What on earth has happened to the gospel as outlined in 1 Cor. 15 and Col. 1?? Just this morning, in our local house church, brother Marthinus expounded true faith so beautifully from Rom. 10:1-4, Gal. 2:20-21, and a host of other passages. May the lettuce-loving tribe increase!

    Looking forward to Part 3 of this series. Thanks Tobie!

  2. naturalchurch February 4, 2018 / 8:31 pm

    Thanks Errol. We miss you guys. Blessings to Marthinus and all the lettuce lovers down in PE!

  3. Marinus February 7, 2018 / 6:53 pm

    Tobie I believe by now I have an idea what you would say but I am kind of hoping that you would either surprise me or set me straight. Both would be acceptable. And I had two days to think about this and I couldn’t come up with anything better 🙂

    I spoke to Carla before about this and we came to the conclusion that what caught us off guard is the fact that neither of us expected that our anticipation of ‘deliverance of sin’ was a problem.

    We knew that we were pretty messed up people and that we needed a savior. What we did not expect was that ten years later we are going to have the same struggles with the same issues and paying the same consequences.

    What I cannot tell you is to what degree I was able to keep my motives pure. From the beginning we were willing to give away all the glory of our sanctification. But I am pretty sure that I made a lot of selfish choices and I’m not looking to blame anybody for my sins but myself.

    What happened rather is that the truth was hammered over and over and over and over into us: “We cannot do this and if someone out there does not help us then we are literally and figuratively doomed (or perhaps the correct word is lost)”. Most of the time there was no help.

    And so here we are – in a time and place where it is sometimes less painful to say that ‘there is no God’ than to continue believing that God is indeed willing to seemingly break every single one of his promises considering our salvation. Willing to let us be exactly what we are. And what we are cannot possibly be a new creation.

    And yet we are not completely broken. And nowadays when Carla tells me that she loves me I actually believe her. And there is something profoundly beautiful to me about that. We are making the kind of progress that I absolutely did not anticipate. We are accepting ourselves and each other despite that fact that we have absolutely nothing to offer. We have accepted that we only love because we are first loved. There is a weird sort of peace in knowing it.

    And somehow my heart was kept from being swallowed up in bitterness and somehow, at least up to now, I was kept from completely destroying my life. But I wrestle with the fact that there are brothers and sister who were handed over for the destruction of the flesh. I wonder if and when it will be my turn?

    This is the point where I normally use a swear word.


    • Tobie February 9, 2018 / 10:38 am

      Hi Marinus. You say “ten years later…the same struggles with the same issues and paying the same consequences,” but you also say “We are making the kind of progress that I absolutely did not anticipate.” If I understand correctly, then there is a level at which your expectations of the victorious Christian life and all of its accompaniments did not come to fruition, but that there is another level at which something surprisingly beautiful began happening in your lives. I might be presumptuous here, but it seems to me that God is telling you something – perhaps the same thing that he showed Peter when he obliterated his (Peter’s) spiritual ambition and vision by allowing him to fall to an embarrassing level of public depravity (in the process messing up the greatest opportunity to be martyred with Christ for his profound Christian commitment and love, and becoming an eternal testimony of the character of a true disciple). Yet Christ surprised Peter a second time by appearing to him and confronting him with the fact that his (Peter’s) ambitious visions of Agapic love was no more than a mere affection (I assume you are familiar with Christ’s use of agapas, agapas and phileis in his three questions to Peter in John 21:15-17), and that this fact which had been known to Christ all along, and not to Peter, did not disqualify Peter from his great shepherding call that was linked to each of the questions. It’s like he was saying, “as long as you look at your progress, your commitment, your love, you are dead in the water. Do what I call you to do without making it dependent on you in any way.” But even this should not be seen as a new form of commitment or new deep super-discipleship paradigm (I am now focusing on Christ and no longer on myself!! Yippee!!), but rather as the logical consequence of one whose aspirations have been crushed to smithereens. So in fact Christ was not giving Peter a new imperative, but describing the life that Peter would live from that point onwards, aptly symbolized in the words “when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” Old people do not choose their dependency as the fruit of some or other super-mature insight that they have gained as a result of their age, but encounter it as the inevitable implication of their age. And so I interpret those words to mean that the type of dependency that is required by Christ is only encountered at the end of our own dismal failures to produce the beautiful fruit that we we were so eager to pop out for Jesus. It is true weakness, in other words, not faked weakness, and thus the only weakness that counts as true strength. I think the religious monster is worse than the monster of the flesh, for the former is not only horrid but also deluded and thus deceptive, and so God seems to have a special interest in bringing it down. Hope that helps, and I probably did not surprise you 🙂

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