Jeremy Writebol. everPresent: How the Gospel Relocates Us in the Present. GCD Books, 2014. 132 pp. $5.84.
There’s a new trend in the gospel-centered publishing world: recovering a sense of locality. The time and place in which we live and minister—the physical location God has placed us—matters significantly. Or at least it should. Sometimes we struggle to see why we live where we do, what God’s purposes might be when we’d much rather live in some far off “exotic” land. So pastors are increasingly rising to the challenge, showing how the gospel affects our sense of purpose in the place we are and how we might benefit the world around us through being present.
Jeremy Writebol is the latest voice in the choir with his new book everPresent: How the Gospel Relocates Us in the Present. Writebol, pastor of Journey the Way in Wichita, Kansas, invites us to reprioritize our sense of presence in light of God’s omnipresence. Because there is nowhere God is not, we should see everywhere as an opportunity for worship and missional living:
How would [this perspective] change the way we see our neighborhoods? How would we live differently in God’s place? How would we work? How would we play? How would we worship? What would we do with the broken places within God’s place? What would we say to the broken people in God’s place? (25)
Your Presence, God’s Omnipresence
The first half of everPresent contains its strongest material. Writebol does a terrific job connecting our disconnection with “place” to the gospel itself, pointing us all the way back to the fall. We feel dislocated because our souls have been dislocated from the place where they were intended to reside: in proximity to God. And our dislocation is only solved when God “relocates” us in Christ. As Writebol explains:
Every religion in the world is constructing systems and paradigms to get us home. The reality, however, is that none of them works. None of them can adequately do the job of restoring the dislocating reality of our sin. . . . How do we get home? We get home by way of Jesus. He has done everything to bring his dislocated brothers and sisters back to the Father. (48)
Our churches, moreover, ought to be environments in which no one feels anonymous. Intentionally modeling this fellowship in community groups is one way to help create this sort of culture. Additionally, we should seek to know the people God has placed in our immediate communities. Being a regular at our local coffee shops is a practical and easy (and delicious) way to do so. We must also view our jobs as opportunities for mission and worship, working as unto the Lord and influencing our colleagues through our conduct. Being committed to doing our best at work and celebrating the achievement of our coworkers goes a long way in this regard. Groundbreaking, revolutionary examples these are not. But they represent the common sense practices you see advocated by many (if not all) advocates of a “missional” lifestyle, including Writebol. And more importantly, they are what it means to be “present”—you know others, and you yourself are known.
More Balance Needed
One particular issue I think is important to bring up is marriage and singleness. Much of what Writebol shares in chapter five, which deals with the subject of cultivating households and families, is quite helpful. In fact, there’s little I’d disagree with. Here’s an example:
The goal of conceiving and cultivating children isn’t just to have well-adjusted adults who won’t make a larger mess when they enter the world. The goal of the gospel-shaped home is the sending of our children to live in their homes and bear witness to the relocating power of Jesus as King over all kings. This is often the reason the Scriptures describe the church as a household (Eph. 2:19). In the same way the church is called to make disciples, develop, and then deploy them, the home is a first place for the making of disciples, developing, and then deploying them. The missionary strategy of the church is first played out in the home itself. (79)
This is an example of a passage where I wouldn't disagree with much. As a parent I strongly resonate with what Writebol is advocating. I want my home to have this kind of culture in which our children are discipled and deployed to reach others. I cannot imagine a Christian parent who wouldn’t want the same.
My concern, then, arises not so much over the content as the apparent elevation of marriage as the ideal. For example, Writebol contends:
The home is the place where kingdom citizens fulfill the mandate to cultivate a new generation of loyal followers of the King. By implication this means that, as God allows, every Christian should endeavor to get married and have children. Making a home for the kingdom means, at the most basic level, fulfilling the mandate to make babies. This does not mean that every Christian will be married and have children, but again, as God allows, this should be the default intention of our home lives. (75)
While, again, I agree to a point—every married Christian should endeavor, as God allows, to have children—I’m not sure I agree with the assertion that every Christian should endeavor to get married (even with the necessary caveat of “as God allows” in place). The Bible presents what seems to be an exalted view of singleness for the purpose of ministry. Single believers possess unique flexibility and freedom for the pursuit of mission that those of us who are married and have children simply do not.
For example, as a parent and provider for four other people, I have to filter every opportunity I receive through their needs. Does this take away from my ability to emotionally and spiritually invest in my family? Does it allow me to provide for their physical needs? But a single believer, ultimately, only has one serious question to answer: is this the place where I’m best able to further the work of the gospel? There is significant freedom there, something we’d do well to remember in any discussion of locality and being present.
It’s clear Writebol isn’t intending to marginalize single Christians as second-class believers. It’s simply that he winds up showing only one side of the powerful witness from believers who are meaningfully invested in the places they live. I would’ve loved to have seen the other side given as much attention for a more balanced perspective.