In this episode John and Gregg welcome Tommi Poelstra, John’s wife, to the show. Tommi joins John and Gregg to offer feedback on Episode #68.
In Tommi’s view episode #68 was more focused on God’s kingdom than on God “meeting our needs,” which is what John and Gregg set out to discuss at the beginning of that episode. Further, Tommi understood Gregg to be arguing that people should think more about God’s kingdom than about their needs, and that everyone should thus be “kingdom focused” rather than “need focused.”
Gregg responds that God’s kingdom has no real meaning to non-Christians, and that what stage a given Christian / person investigating Christianity may “be at” in terms of Christianity will determine to what extent God’s kingdom is a priority to that person at that moment.
Tommi continues by noting her sense that episode # 68 needed to address human needs directly. So even as she identifies Gregg as someone who values his family and is clearly concerned for their needs, she still perceived a hierarchy in Gregg’s perspective in that episode, where human needs were important but not “as important” as, say, God’s kingdom. Instead, for Tommi the topic of God’s kingdom should not come into—let alone become alone become the primary focus—in discussion on the topic of human needs. They should have been treated in separate podcasts.
Further, her view is that word searches in the Bible are of questionable value. So where Gregg brought out sections of the biblical text that address God meeting our needs, yet found that these sections where less frequent than he had thought and that a number of these in the New Testament were sandwiched between texts related to the importance of God’s kingdom, Tommi finds this uncompelling (and even, perhaps, irrelevant).
Gregg replies that discussing human needs in general could certainly be done without reference to God’s kingdom, but that any discussion of human needs in the context of relationship with the Christian God must, necessarily, include the fullest scope of who both parties are and the basis for relationship between them. Further, Gregg believes that “meeting human needs,” when taken to its extreme, means God rescuing or intervening those who are threatened by evil. In such a context God ‘responds’ to human need with God’s self, through relationship. And within the context of human relationship with the Christian God, the pursuit and furtherance of God’s kingdom is the space wherein God and humans meet.
Tommi wonders what Gregg means by “God’s kingdom?” Gregg responds that he sees God’s kingdom as the promotion and realization of the fact that God is king, the fact that God is truly sovereign (as lord over all things) and truly parent and creator (as the source of all things). So God has acted, most notably through the life and death of Jesus, to inaugurate God’s claim to ownership and governance of all that is. Further, through Jesus’ fulfilling the covenant and bearing the covenant curses, on Israel’s behalf, the way was opened for gentiles (such as Gregg) to have the possibility to enter into right relationship with this God in close, involved relationship (and thereby, with himself, his fellows, and the physical world).
Tommi appreciates Gregg’s careful word choice and the construction of his views, yet notes that that this appears overly intellectual: how does God’s kingdom and God meeting our needs apply to Tommi as she awaits her son returning from school (and spending the afternoon with him)?
John affirms Tommi’s desire for a more practical response to the idea of God “meeting our needs” and notes that this desire may begin to be met in several of our more recent podcasts concerning “the eagle.” In turn, Gregg likens the efforts that he and John have been making throughout the podcast as coming to a table that is filled with the ideas, theologies, and understandings of what Christianity is and trying to clear some space on that table in order to say something that is somewhat different. And this is primarily an intellectual (or at least, not a mainly practical) task.
Further, Gregg indicates that any discussion of the practicalities of God meeting human needs must be able effectively to address not simply the day-to-day but the extreme situations in our lives. In this regard, Gregg’s summarizes his own experience of Go as: there is a significance to his own needs while having the sense and understanding that there is something bigger going on. Tommi finds this clear and helpful.
Further, where Tommi wonders if Gregg’s skills are more focused on the theoretical than the practical Gregg demurs: in his view the theoretical work regarding what counts in terms of understanding God, understanding human being, and understanding the relationship between the two (including a robust understanding of the role of experience in Christian faith) has not been. As such, Gregg indicates that his motivation in these podcast discussion and indeed in his Christian faith is extremely practical, yet to Gregg’s mind it impossible to gain or maintain credibility with those at the margins / outside of Christianity by simply approaching these matters practically or offering practical responses. As such, Gregg has held back on investigating the practical topics (and divulging his own, practical experiences) in order to solidify the theoretical.
Yet Tommi resists the idea that theory needs to precede practice. Gregg responds that he sees a two-way interplay, from the practical to the theoretical and vice versa, but he also sees his own vocation as being oriented toward redressing this lack of theoretical work regarding what counts in terms of understanding God, understanding human being, and understanding the relationship between the two. Yet Gregg sees Tommi’s practical focus as a valid challenge, much like Henri Nouwen leaving Harvard to work with developmentally handicapped adults.
Gregg also notes his fear that by disconnecting Christian practice from the story upon which it is based (or truncating that story to one that is about personal salvation rather than the covenant and Israel), Christians risk orienting their practice in ways that do not make sense, which has resulted in churches becoming anaemic, losing credibility, etc.
Tommi summarizes her position as valuing definitions and theory (She wants to define needs or need) while having a need to respond in the best way to practical situations in her life. So instead of being so finely focused she would hope for a broader and more general focus, and Tommi also expresses that identifying one, single reason that the Christian church may be waning seems arrogant.
Gregg estimates that it will take some time before he and John can get to the “conversational space” that Tommi is most interested in, and that “jumping there” will do a disservice to the needs in the Christian community, that Gregg itemized above. This would limit their ability to assess books like Not a Fan in a critical way and, here again, some of the discussions cannot be taken to a practical level before the theoretical basis for Gregg’s position has been spelled out.