Daniel Hill on Finding Full Life in Christ

Daniel Hill is the Founding and Senior Pastor of River City Community Church, located in the Humboldt Park neighborhood of Chicago.  The vision of River City is centered around the core values of worship, reconciliation, and neighborhood development.  Formed in 2003, River City longs to see increased spiritual renewal as well as social and economic justice in the Humboldt Park neighborhood and entire city, demonstrating compassion and alleviating poverty as tangible expressions of the Kingdom of God. His first book, 10:10: Life to the Fullest, was recently released.

KW: What are some of your life experiences or ministry experiences that made you realize something is often missing in our Christian lives?

DH: I grew up being exposed to a wide variety of Christian traditions. Having the opportunity to visit so many different kinds of churches shaped in me a larger picture of God, which I’m grateful for. It also gave me the chance to see how common it is for Christians of all stripes to feel that something is still missing in their faith.  From the outside looking in, many of these traditions seemed quite different from each other. I saw it within conservative, fundamentalist churches, as well as in charismatic, Pentecostal churches. I saw it within seeker-oriented, mega churches (I was at Willow Creek for seven years), and I saw it in justice-oriented churches with a significant emphasis on liberation theology.

I met wonderfully devout people within each of these circles who loved Jesus with all their heart, yet still struggled with this persistent sense that there was more to life in Christ than what their current reality reflected.

KW: Why do you think we fail to confront our questions and longings in our faith?

DH: For most of us it comes down to one word: fear.

We fear admitting that something is missing will expose us as some type of spiritual fraud.

We fear that this admission will call into question whether we ever had faith in the first place.

We fear that God will choose not to forgive us for saying it out loud.

We fear that God will not even really be there.

We fear that God will be there, but will remain intentionally evasive because of something we did.

We fear that we will give our all to God, yet discover only disappointment on the other side.

The most repeated command in the entire Bible is “fear not” – 365 times as a matter of fact! And while that may be a helpful card to play next time you are in the middle of an intense Bible trivia game, its importance goes far beyond that.

We see throughout the Bible that whenever God is ready to take a person to a new level of faith, the initial response is fear. That’s understandable. To fear the new or the unknown is the natural instinct of fragile human beings. God understands that.

But God doesn’t want us to stay there. Fear sets limits and ultimately (and tragically) prevents us from stepping into the 10:10 vision of fullness of life. Faith in Christ is the only force strong enough to pull us through our fear and allow us to authentically confront our questions and longings.

KW: John 10:10 contains such an amazing promise— why do you think we struggle to find life to the full?

DH: Part of the struggle is once again located in fear.

I think your book Pursuing Justice is a great example of this. I love the subtitle — The call to live & die for bigger things. It gets to an important spiritual reality: in order to truly embrace new life, we are going to have to first die to something else. It’s part of the Resurrection cycle in Christ.

But if that’s true, then there is just no way to get around the command to “fear not.” When Jesus calls us to join him in the pursuit of justice, we will be required to face fear in the eye. It might be the fear that comes when a privileged person has to stare down their reality as they enter into solidarity with those on the other side of injustice. It might be the fear that an oppressed person feels when counting the cost of speaking out against the resident power structures for the sake of the Gospel. There is no way around the presence of fear.

The other part of the struggle comes from a limited theological vision.

Even the best of our traditions carry limitations. It’s inevitable that the tradition(s) that shaped each of us accurately emphasized certain Biblical truths while neglecting other crucial ones. The imbalance that this creates differs from one tradition to the next, but the challenge remains the same. A limited vision of Christ means that only part of us is able to grab onto part of Him. If the fullness of us is going to bear witness to the fullness of Christ, then we need to expand our theological vision.

KW: How is finding full life in Christ different than finding full life in a self-help book?

DH: In Matthew 20 Jesus tells his disciples “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.” He then establishes this as the baseline for them as they learned to evaluate true greatness: “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant” (v26).

Dr. Cornel West is a thinker whom I greatly admire, and one of my favorite quotes comes on the heels of a great riff he does on this verse: “Don’t confuse success with greatness.  Success is measured in terms of a Lexus and trophy wife. Greatness is measured in terms of service.”

This summarizes the distinction I see between the 10:10 vision of full life given by Jesus, and the vision of full life given by most self-help books. Personal fulfillment (or what he refers to as “success”) may come as a byproduct of following Jesus with full abandon, but it’s never the primary goal. Instead, the goal is to become a transformed, Spirit-filled person who graciously serves. That is the Jesus definition of true “greatness.”

KW: What is God’s picture of life to the full?

DH: Hebrews chapter 11 is the most eloquent and comprehensive description of faith in the whole Bible, and I believe it is the best source material for answering this. I use the phrase “Faith in 3D” to summarize the foundational elements of faith and fullness of life found here:

Dimension 1: Faith & Fear. As alluded to earlier, there is no such thing as experiencing great faith without first experiencing great fear.  They live right next to each other.  They are permanent neighbors in our heart.  Jesus will lead you out of your comfort zone and into the unknown, and you will have to rely on him at every step of the way to navigate these new realities.  With each new chapter of faith come new experiences of the abundant life in Christ.  But with each new chapter also come new fears.

Dimension 2: Faith & Intimacy. The heart of faith and fullness of life is intimacy with God. It is what everything in the Christian life both leads to and flows from. It began in the Garden, when God asks Adam and Eve, “Where are you?”  That pursuit continues through the prophets, the kings, and the priests, and culminates with the Good Shepherd, who says, “I’ve come to get you.  Follow me and you will experience the fullness of life.”

Dimension 3: Faith & Mission. We follow a risen Savior who is alive and active in the world. “Mission” is the language of being sent by faith to join in that redemption through both word and deed. Ephesians 2.8-10 represents one of Paul’s most famous treatments of faith. He finishes by saying: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” We will never fully know the life we’ve been created for without learning how to “walk in” the good works that we have been created in Christ Jesus to participate in.

KW: What would you say to someone currently sitting at the crossroads of a safe faith and a full, life-giving, holistic faith?

DH: I often repeat the wise words of Gary Haugen on this topic: “Here is one choice that our Father wants us to understand as Christians – and I believe this is the choice of our age: Do we want to be brave or safe?  Gently, lovingly, our heavenly Father wants us to know that we simply can’t be both.”

I think he is right on. There is a fundamental choice we each have to make when it comes to our faith in Jesus. Do I want a brave faith, or a safe faith? We just can’t have both.

And as my justice-oriented friends have been really pushing me on me lately (thanks #killjoyProphets!), even that quote is often a reflection of a great degree of privilege. If we actually have the luxury of choosing between safe and brave, then we are living in a far more comfortable existence than most of the world. People in vulnerable situations rarely feel safe, so brave is the only kind of faith that is even available to them. That is just one more reminder of what has always been true – safe is not the goal in the life of a believer!

At an intuitive level we already understand this. Fullness of life just doesn’t sync well with comfort, safety, and status quo. One of the bravest Christ followers I have ever met is Dr. John Perkins, the founder of CCDA. He says it more eloquently than I ever could in his book With Justice for All: A Strategy for Community Development:

“God never calls us to do something we can do in our own strength. He always calls us to get in over our heads-to move out to where we’ll have to either depend on His power or sink… Ever since God first called me, I have lived on the verge of panic. I’ve always been in over my head. I’ve always been doing things I knew I couldn’t do. I’ve been like Peter walking on the water-always on the verge of sinking because he was doing something that took more power than he had. If he took his eyes off of Jesus-off of God’s power-and looked at the storm, he would sink.”

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Categories: Church & Theology,Justice & Culture

Theology and Culture