Has the Christian faith has lost its way because it has cut itself loose from its Hebrew roots? In ‘Follow’ author and Pastor Joseph Gisbey argues that faith, love, witness and discipleship – the basic tenets of our faith – come from a world very foreign to the stoic philosophy developed through the early centuries of Christendom to the Church today.
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What led you to write Follow?
I have always loved communicating both speaking and writing and grew up really wanting to either be a writer or an actor! In the end I became a missionary, preacher and church leader and have actually found the things that I learnt studying theatre and literature of huge benefit.
Follow tells my journey from anorexia and depression, coming to a place when I jumped into a relationship with Jesus and my life became about a pursuit of more of him at any cost. That pursuit has allowed me the amazing privilege of being able to travel to many parts of the world and see many lives transformed. Central to the vision of writing this book was a desire to provoke people to a place of hunger to really know Jesus.
Secondly I grew up in a family that has always had a deep love for the Jewish people, my late Grandfather Albert Mosedale would lead teams out to Israel every year and even lived out there for a time working in the garden tomb complex. I have always been convinced that the church has lost much revelation and understanding of the scriptures because it has cut itself off from its Jewish roots. When we reconnect with those roots it is as if the Bible goes from black and white to HD Technicolour, in 3D!
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Is there a danger we spiritualize the teachings and life of Jesus, perhaps missing the ‘earthiness’ you describe in the opening chapters?
Absolutely, I often hear people in church say that they worry about the parts of the bible they don’t understand, to which I respond ‘I worry about the parts I do understand!’ The truth is Jesus’ teachings were not hard to understand but they are impossible to live out without the indwelling power of The Holy Spirit. Jesus’ mission was the Kingdom, heaven on earth, the restoration of Eden and we do the world a grave injustice if we put off the promises of God to an afterlife. The church owes the world an encounter with God and that will only happen when we walk so close to Jesus that we are covered in his dust.
Is there a danger, in understanding the 1st Century context of the ministry of Jesus, of falling into a new form of legalism, or perhaps into a romanticized Christo-Judaism?
I think perhaps this is the biggest danger and I see it all the time that people will begin to be inspired by the Jewish roots of Christianity and that will become their ‘thing’. All their focus will be on the Jewish elements of our faith and there will often be an unhealthy focus on a spiritualized political agenda too. However, this danger is just as true when other issues become the main focus, be that healing, spiritual warfare, or justice and social issues; all of which are hugely important – but Christianity is about Christ and He has to be our main focus. It is not simply a love for things Jewish that should drive us.
If Jesus had been born into an Amazon tribe I would want to know everything about the way that tribe viewed the world, but in God’s divine plan Jesus was born as a Jew and lived as a Jew. I understand and know Him better when I understand his world. However this has to be balanced with an understanding of scripture and much of the Apostle Paul and the early church’s writings are all about taking something that was essentially a tribal religion and showing the world what it could mean to them. It was not a call for the world to become Jewish. This does not mean however that there isn’t huge value in understanding our Jewish roots and celebrating them. An example would be the Jewish feasts and how each prophetically represent Christ.
What do you see as the practical implications of the critique of Hellenism (and Humanism) in Follow?
As I mention in the book the real danger of Humanism is that we see ourselves as the ultimate authority in the universe. Man has become his own god. Even within the church we try to fit God into a box and try to make him into our image. We presume he thinks just like us, acts just like us, likes the same music as us! However our God, though present, loving and relational is also Holy and totally above any of our preconceptions. Only God is worthy to be truly followed and obeyed. D L Moody once stated that God spoke to him saying the World had not yet seen what He could do with a man totally surrendered to him. What could happen if the church was really surrendered to The Holy Spirit? If we really believed the promises and obeyed with radical and reckless abandon? We could change the world.
You spend time bringing some helpful illumination to the various sects and schools of thought in 1st Century Judaism – what resonance does this have for the modern-day reader?
As I began to study the various power groups of Jesus’ day, first of all it made the scriptures come alive to me and really helped me to understand Jesus’ interactions, comments and criticisms regarding each group. I remember when it became clear for instance that the Sadducees were responsible for the trial of Jesus and their reasoning being far from theological, but rather political. Understanding the history of the Samaritans made Jesus’ interactions with them far more revolutionary and his parables even more powerful. However I also very quickly became aware of the fact that all these groups exist within the global church in many new and modern guises and we all too battle the Pharisee and Sadducee within each one of us.
Does seeing Jesus as ‘Rabbi’ change how we practice Christianity?
As I mention in the book, If Jesus did what he did as the son of God it would still be immensely impressive, however it would not challenge me to walk in his footsteps. When we understand that Jesus did what he did as a man, filled with the spirit of God, in relationship with his heavenly Father it releases a challenge to us. This is made even more intense when he calls us to ‘Follow’. A Rabbi believed that a disciple or ‘Talmid’ could be just like the Rabbi. Jesus believes we can be just like him. This changes everything. If there is any area in my life that does not match up with the teaching of Jesus and the actions of Jesus then there is much work to be done – and believe me, I definitely have much work to be done. We are called to re-present Jesus as his disciples, when people look at us they should be able to see him.
What do you hope people take away from Follow?
My deepest desire is that people who read this book will find that their hearts will be ignited with renewed passion to follow after God, to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, knowing that He believes that they can be like him, representing the heart of the Father to this orphaned planet and seeing God’s kingdom break out everywhere they go.
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