HunChri 09-03-046

Christianity Beyond Belief

Following Jesus for the Sake of Others


Todd D. Hunter

InterVarsity Press, 2009, 199 pp., ISBN 978-0-8308-3315-3



Todd Hunter is an adjunct professor, a church planter, and the former national director at Vineyard Churches USA and then Alpha USA.  His website is  This book calls us to become the people God has called us to be and to reframe how we describe and explain salvation and discipleship.  "Becoming a Christian is much like adopting a new life story." (41)


The Christian life is described by four phrases:

        Cooperative friends of Jesus

        Living in creative goodness

        For the sake of others

        Through the power of the Holy Spirit


Part One.  A New Understanding of What It Means to Be a Christian

1.  What if you knew you were going to live tomorrow?

Christianity is a certain kind of life--eternal life.  It is living in alliance with the gospel Jesus announced.  It is a journey, shaped by God's life.  (23-4)  "God really wants us to become his cooperative friends and co-laborers--working with God in the routines of our new life."  Forgiveness is the starting line.  (27)  "The goal is spiritual transformation into Christlikeness." (31) 


2.  Jesus' Surprising Gospel

"The gospel is about God's unfailing plan for humanity."   Jesus gave us two directives, "repent" and "believe."  Repenting "includes a change of heart, a determination to act differently in the whole of our life."  It is an attitude and an ongoing lifestyle of humility and self-examination, a life-long journey of personal change.   Believe is a "whole life" term.  It means placing confidence in Jesus, acting and living as if we do actually trust him.  (36)  Belief is "obedient participation."  It produces a new way of living.  It is the underpinning for all living. (37)  It is becoming an apprentice of Jesus. 


"The gospel of the kingdom invites us into a large, all-encompassing story, the story that Adam and Eve, Israel, and the church were intended to dwell in.  It is a huge privilege." (40)  "Becoming a Christian is much like adopting a new life story." (41)  Living the new story is what biblical repentance means.  It is rethinking and realigning every part of our life, "pulling every area of our present and future life into the story of God." (41)  Jesus' whole life is our pattern.  We live the way he did: following the will of his Father.  We are like understudies, trying to act our part. (46)  "It is whole-life apprenticeship." (47)


3.  It's Our Life that Counts - Aligning with God's Story

It is impossible to follow Jesus while trying to have your own agenda.  Cooperating with God for the sake of others is our vocation, our call from God.  This is why we were created. (53) 


"The person who sees, trusts and aligns him- or herself with Jesus is given a new kind of life." "This life is initiated and sustained by God, and practiced by Jesus' followers, who practice disciplines, like submission." (60)  "The key is not the old that is left behind--though that is a necessary first step.  The real power is in the new story.  This is where God lives…." (61) 


4.  The Role of the Church - Jesus is Not Just Your Personal Savior

"We are saved into a people and into a story…living as the people of God for the sake of others." (64)  "…it takes a community of faith to shape and enable an individual on the journey of faith.  God is not saving individuals alone.  He is creating a people for himself as his cooperative friends." (65-6)   


"God's covenant purpose was to choose a people in and through whom the world would be healed.  That purpose, reaching its climax in the Messiah, is now to be worked out through his people." (66, quoting N. T. Wright)


Church meetings are not "the game."  They prepare us for the game.  Teams meet to prepare to play the game.  Meetings are not the game. (67)  "What they [churches] need is a clear vision to be the sent people of God."  "All we'll take with us into eternity is the kind of people we become on our journey." (68)  "Local churches--gatherings of Christ's followers--exist as outposts of God's kingdom agenda."  (69)


Part Two: A New Way to Live

5.  Cooperative Friends of Jesus

"We get to be connected with Jesus in a similar way to how Jesus is linked with his Father."  "The grand scheme is often called the Great Commission, which is a charge to make apprentices of Jesus who live immersed in the Trinitarian reality and who, as God's friends, do so for the sake of others." (78)  Jesus authorized and commanded us to go out and train everyone you meet, near and far, in his way of life. (Mt 28:18-20).  This means we are to cooperate with Jesus.  We are sent.  He was sent and he sends us. 


6.  Consistent Lives of Creative Goodness

Many today consider apologetics as manipulative or bullying, inherently dishonest.  A better form of defense and explanation is a God-inspired, consistent life of creative goodness.  (94)  People aren't asking if something is true but if it is real, genuine, making a difference in your life.  (95) 


"I keep my eyes open for any creative way to notice and serve others.  Sometimes this leads to spiritual encounters, sometimes it doesn't." (97)


"It means not acting religious and harming others.  Most profoundly, it means feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the ill-clad, being available to our own families, stopping unfair practices, protecting victims, and refusing to gossip about others." (100)   "We love--that is, we seek the good of others…."  God desires for his people to serve his creation as his agents, as ambassadors of his kingdom. (101) 


"Sometimes we have theological hang-ups about 'what really counts.'  For many Christians of my generation, 'saving souls for eternity' is what really counts.  Everything else is optional, but mostly viewed as a distraction from the real thing.  Now, the pendulum seems to be swinging the other way.  To an increasing degree, we are losing the ability and confidence to share our faith, to help someone decide to be a follower of Jesus.  We are not sure why we should do it.  Both heaven and hell are like long-lasting fads that are going out of fashion.  Sin is increasingly minimized by all sorts of psychotherapeutic, cultural and pop alternatives." (103)


"…serving others as ambassadors of God's kingdom is the path to being our best selves,…to be humanity as God intended." (104) 


7.  For the Sake of Others

"When we do extend our beliefs into the public sphere, we are noted for nagging, for being judgmental, argumentative or holier than thou.  But we see neither of these in Jesus.  His relationship to the Father was a public matter and resulted in loving and serving others."  "We demonstrate the presence of God in our life the same way--by doing good for the sake of others." (113)


People today wonder whether the church is a force for good or evil on earth.  They think of the church as people who hate gays, oppress women, and force their opinions on others, who have double standards and have no grace toward others. (120) 


"Our culture doesn't have a basis for a moral life; there is no moral vision.  Our ethical imagination must be shaped by a story." (120)


8.  Through the Power of the Holy Spirit

You do not have what it takes to live on behalf of others.  He brings us to life and makes it possible.  "The Holy Spirit empowers us for a purpose.  While we personally experience empowerment, its effects are directed toward others." (130)  "The Spirit is the continuing presence of Jesus.  He gives the character (fruit), gifts, power and authority to be Jesus' cooperative friends." (131)


9.  Inviting Others to Live a New Way

"If you knew you were going to live tomorrow, the next day and for a long, long time, who would you follow?  Around what story would you organize the various parts of your life?  What kind of person would you be?  How would you determine the answer?"  (145)


Avoid the Christian sales pitch.  "Life in the kingdom is the best news anyone could receive.  In the New Testament those who 'got' the invitation of Jesus did everything necessary to rearrange their life to follow him.  Today's seekers will do the same when they hear the story about becoming followers of God in the way of Jesus."  "Love--being others-oriented, as I have been describing it--is the door opener.  It tells other Christians are safe, that we are not trying to win, that this is not about us."  (145)


"The story is about the kind of life God intends for humanity." (146)  People can "get excited by lives that transcend fame, power or wealth through serving others."  "Here is a wide open door.  Let's tell the story of the cooperative friends of God who creatively serve others." (148)  "People deeply respect and are moved by sacrifice for the sake of others.  "Sacrifice in the service of others is at the heart of what it means to [be] human, to bear the image of God." (149)


Jesus forgives us so we can experience 'total life change.'  "The realignment in view here must come from an inner motivation lit on fire by God himself." (153)


10.  Three is Enough Groups   

"People formerly listened their way into the faith; now they tend to talk and observe their way into the faith.  Thus Jesus' followers' two primary roles in evangelism are listening and embodying authentic Christianity." (161)



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