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Worldly Saints Separates Perverted Version of Pleasure from God’s Earthly Good Plan

Wittmer225Michael Wittmer is a theology professor at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary whose devotional style book is for ordinary readers.Mention the word “pleasure” and some Christians are apt to cast a wary look.

Their cautious gaze often is based on an assumption that a person could be giving into sordid, sinful temptations, otherwise known as pleasures of the flesh.

But, cast in a biblical light, pleasure takes on a fuller, richer meaning when it’s founded on what Jesus meant His people to experience, Michael Wittmer writes in his theologically rich, biblically accurate book, Overcoming Worldly Saints: Can You Serve Jesus and Still Enjoy Your Life? (Zondervan, 208 pages, $15.99).

Wittmer, a professor of systematic theologically at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, acknowledges the title of his book sounds contradictory at first glance, but he wants to challenge some long-held beliefs.

From the early days of Sunday school, Christians learn saints of God shouldn’t be worldly, because the term implies an overriding, aberrant interest in material values anchored in this earthly life that lead to eternal death. Wittmer gets that. His book, however, contends there’s a richer understanding of what God’s intends for His people that enables to serve Jesus and enjoy their lives in the here-and-now.

Biblical pleasure not a contradiction

“(The title of the book) sounds like an oxymoron because we bought into this pagan idea that somehow earth doesn’t matter, only heaven,” said Wittmer. “If someone thinks that way, it’s because they’re thinking like a pagan, we’re thinking like Plato and Plato was a pagan.

“Redemption is more than creation but it’s not less than that,” continued Wittmer. “Creation started in a physical garden of delight and (the Israelites’) exodus was a physical deliverance of bondage. Our whole story is Jesus dies for us, He physically rose for us and there’s the physical waters of baptism and the whole thing is physical and if you loose that, you loose the faith.”

Worldly Saints employs a healthy dose of humor to show how to integrate the natural with the supernatural, creation with redemption, the flesh and blood side of humanity with the Christian, or spiritual. More of this truth needs to soak into more Christians’ spirits.

God originally devised pleasure

We’re telling people they need to focus less on the pleasures of this world, that God is against pleasure, but that doesn’t make sense,” said Wittmer. “Every good pleasure is His idea. Every good pleasure comes from Him. He thought it up.”

Wittmer’s book is intended for lay people but pastors will equally be able to mine a repository of insight that will help them sift through the difference between the sinful, perverted, idolatrous version of pleasure and how to live with joy in a not-yet-redeemed world by living out their God-given purpose.

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“I grew up in conservative churches and I appreciate the sound teaching but I grew up being taught there was never earthy pleasures if you want to receive a heavenly purpose,” said Wittmer.

“In my studies, that’s a false choice. I think being a saint is more important than being worldly and you can’t be a saint unless you are worldly. Both are needed. You can’t have redemption without creation and you can’t be a good a Christian if you’re not a flourishing human. Jesus didn’t come into this world to turn us into extraterrestrials beings, He came to this world to cross out the sin and false guilt.”

This dichotomy between what’s worldly and spiritual isn’t limited to Christians living in North America, added Wittmer.

Christians I knew in China are asking the same questions,” he said. “There, if someone isn’t persecuted for your faith, you have it pretty nice.”

Ultimately, the Christian life and the human life can run on the same track, said Wittmer. What may seem commonplace may actually prove to be on-track with God’s will.

“I want them to understand the purpose of their lives, why they’re here and how to join the Christin life with the human life and realize it’s the same life,” said Wittmer. “What God called them to do, the mundane jobs, is a divine calling, a wholesome calling, that contributes to nature. God will reward them for that.

“Following Jesus liberates us to enjoy this life, to celebrate creation and to find meaning in their work and day-to-day decisions.”

Author Information
Paul R. Kopenkoskey
About:
Paul R. Kopenkoskey is a full-time freelance writer for an assortment of publications including Grand Rapids Magazine, Grand Rapids Business Journal, School News Network and Faith Grand Rapids magazine. He is in the throes of completing his first novel with the working title, Karl Beguiled. He and his wife, Barb, have three children ages 28 to 33, and four grandchildren, and live in Wyoming, Michigan.

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