When I was living and training at L’abri in Switzerland, i had a conviction that there were basically three areas which Christ wanted to further incarnate, in our time, through, in and with His People- the areas of soil, sight and skin. Since the re-formation, the Son has been increasing and quickening His incarnation in every area of Life. What are the three areas: soil, sight and skin? Soil, meaning the earth and ecology and stewardship cultivation; the sight, is perception and imagination; and skin is the area of care for the physical body. I believe in our time Christ would like to incarnate more of Himself into each of these areas. And this is one reason all three areas keep recurring in the global conversation. In short, these three areas are: care for the earth itself, and understanding of our stewardship/cultivation mandate; a deeper baptism of the imagination and perception (Jesus as Lord over arts and culture); and proper care for and enjoyment of the physical body, and physical pleasures (health, healing, holism).
I would suggest that all three of these areas are places where we can partner with Christ in allowing Him to inhabit more fully in our selves and into our spheres of influence outside ourselves. One of Francis Shaeffer’s seeds he planted in many people, through his books and ministry, was the Absolute Lordship of Christ over every area of Reality, and each sphere of our lives. This seed gives us permission to meet and know The Son in whatever our spheres of passion and domain are. We can be kingdom city planters, artist, or business people, and be collaborating with Christ in bringing His Kingdom into these areas. In this sense, everyone has become missional.
That Jesus wants to more fully baptize His People into His Whole life, or what others have called the Total Christ and the total person is a given. That in our time, He wants to more intensely baptize people into His Name or Identity and way, is necessary for the times we live in! How this works in the areas of culture and the arts, i have written much about in other essays. How it works in relation to the earth, is beginning to be written about from a matured understanding by some believers–John Sanford, John Paul Jackson, and others. In the area of body work and the physical body, few have downloaded a fuller revelation of how our physical lives should be integrated in our spirituality. The monastic tradition surely offers clues.
What I want to do for the next few weeks, is examine what “His Kingdom come” in each of these three areas would look like. And the contours and ways it is already entering each area, so we can partner with what He is already birthing of Himself into a broader domain. I also want to offer ways of helping us see which area He is calling us to partner with Him in. It tends to be the area we personally have the most passion for. As identity matches calling (I knew you in the womb, therefore I called you). Since, these are global conversations God is already having, we can easily move into collaboration with Christ in this dialogue, once we have allowed Him to form Himself in these three areas in own lives.
I also want to briefly look at how this looks in terms of our spiritual formation and development. What it means, in other words to move as John said to a later or adult spirituality of “knowing The Father”, or as Paul put it, becoming co-heirs with Christ. As we progress further into the Life of the Father through His Son, and progress spiritually, we will become concerned and collaborative with Christ in ushering in His Presence and Kingdom into these three neglected areas of His Lordship.
In terms of holistic spiritual formation, there are at least two clear models in the bible. One is the overall story of the Jews, starting in Egypt or slavery to the dominion and ways of darkness; then coming into the wilderness of knowing, or training-where they are given knowledge of how to live in a new way; then being equipped to go in a possess, occupy and, finally cultivate their inheritance. These can be seen as the spiritual stages of development. Another short passage which also implies a formation model is in I John. Here, he contrasts children as over comers and fathers as knowers. This transition from knowing Jesus as Savior in battle against his enemies, over our own life and then in others, into just being or resonating in the life of The Father is a shorthand version of spiritual development. Knowing Him as Deliverer or Savior is the first stage, then our spirituality progresses towards knowing, and resting in Him more and more as Loving Father God.
Knowing God as Saviour, then Trainer/Equipper, then Partner or Collaborator are the basic stages of spiritual development in this story. In some ways, you can look at church history itself through this lens: first century as Deliverance/Salvation, the medieval period as knowledge training; the reformation as a call to greater partnership, and the 20thC as Incarnational co-Cultivator or Partner. But this is only a rough sketch of church history in terms of spriritual stages of development. Still, it’s useful to know where you are developmentally. And which stages you may have missed and need to go back and let Him reform or form even for the first time!
Couple this with the Galatians 4 passage about moving from slaves to co-heir or partners with God and these are a few of the broadest stroked biblical models of spiritual development. When we are spiritually young, we have access to everything but cannot rule with Him; as we get older and “know” His ways, He allows us to co-reign or be co-heirs with Him. We become collaborators with Christ! It’s important to press on further into His Life at every stage, and I think working with Him in these three neglected areas of His Lordship is one way to go further into His Life and our true lives as well!
You see the struggles of the unformed aspects of His Life in His church most clearly. It’s easiest to read where God is at with humanity, by looking at the level of spiritual development of the church. The area of recent sexual sins by leaders illustrates that He is not yet fully Living Lord over the physical body, and its pastoral care. In our relationship with the earth, the church has not been leading the “green”or stewardship conversations, even though it has the true theological lens to do so. In the area of the imagination, the church has had great poverty, producing some of the poorest design, book covers, web sites, music and art wrappings on earth, while ironically having the most intense content in the universe. Fortunately, this is slowly changing, as people are beginning to allow Him to enter both the medium and the message of His Own gospel!
This misrepresentation of Him, could be healed as we allow Him to be fully present and One in our creativity as well as other areas of who we are. As a result of this poverty of imagination, His church, has not really been able to project or express the perceptions of God onto and into its surrounding culture, cities and nations in a way which participates in and represents how the Kingdom is meant to be expressed on earth. God is having an active, creative conversation with culture, and we are priveleged to join in these ongoing symbolic dialogues. We are partners in healing the imaginations of our neighborhoods, cities and nations–agents of cleansing the windows of collective cultural perception!
Often the church has actually imitated the general culture, rather than moving in His inventiveness. Our music for instance, often sounds like watered down versions of what is currently popular or echoes of art which is truly creative. With a few exceptions, the church has been imaginatively poor, and uninventive in the 20th C. But this is gradually being restored. Each of these areas has begun to transform, as He enters in, and enlivens. For instance, you see the church starting to address the physical needs of clergy more overtly-adding the pastoral to the priestly. In the area of imagination, you see the growth of the prophetic movement and many great christian artists moving freely and more authentically in cultural spheres. In the area of the earth, there are finally a few books and articles coming out which have true revelation of God’s Heart, knowledge and His ongoing conversation about His earth, and how to steward it towards restoration.
I look forward to exploring these three areas in which Christ wants to enter more fully. We are His partners in this birthing of His own life into these neglected zones of life around us, and in us! As we allow Him to form more fully in our own skin, our understanding of soil, and allow Him to impart His Perception into our sight, by baptizing our imaginations, we will become useful and contagious elements and poets of true Kingdom renovation on the earth.