Review: Into His Presence
Growing intimacy with God is something all followers of Jesus Christ desire. Yet, it’s a difficult subject to objectify, quantify, and thus, rightly understand. Tim Anderson, professor of theology at Corban University, identifies this need and sets out to bring some much-needed clarity to the subject.
In chapter 1, Anderson wisely sets out to define terms and offers the following for intimacy: “The movement of God and Christians toward a good place of true knowledge and close contact” (25). After a brief discussion on the human longing for intimacy—with one another and with God—the author then suggests four elements of intimacy with God that function as a distillation and summary of the biblical data on the subject. The first is the movement toward intimacy of both the location of God and/or the consciousness or attitude of the believer. The second element is intimate knowledge—both understanding that God has that type of understanding of us already, and pursuing it of Him ourselves. Element number three is that of an intimate place/location where God meets with his people. The fourth element of intimacy with God is that of contact/touch between the Creator and the created. For a topic that too often drifts into vague, subjective language, Anderson does his readers a great service by beginning his study with clear handles onto which they can hold throughout the rest of the work.
Chapter 2 attempts to establish the philosophical and theological anchors of an exploration of intimacy with God. While a necessary chapter without which the book would be incomplete, I did find it a more tedious read than the rest of the work. Perhaps this is because while, as a Christian excited to explore intimacy with God, wading through technical issues of secularism and existentialism seemed unsatisfying.
Anyone who reads the Bible, even in a cursory manner, can identify Genesis 3 as an obstacle to relationship with God. In chapter 3, Anderson discusses why this is so, what was supposed to be, what is available to us in spite of the fall, and what we have to look forward to when sin is removed.
I did find myself wondering at times, however, if the author was forcing the meaning of the Fall of humanity into his intimacy-with-God-thesis. No doubt Adam’s sin had a profound effect on our relationship with the Creator, but to understand it primarily through this lens I found unconvincing.
Irregardless, Anderson is right in highlighting Genesis 3 as ground zero for our intimacy problems. I appreciated also his articulation of the ripple effects of that fateful day: “It appears, then, that the ban from the Garden (Gen. 3:22–24), God’s rejection of Cain’s offering (4:5–7), and the wandering of Cain (4:9–16) are some of the examples of this universal estrangement playing itself out. The Tower of Babel (Gen. 11:2–4), Jacob’s wrestling with God (Gen. 32:24–32), Nadab and Abihu’s ‘strange fire’ (Lev. 10:1–3), and Saul’s use of a medium (1 Sam. 28:6–7, 16) are just some of the examples strewn along the path of man’s vain attempts to restore intimacy with God on their own terms (cf. Rom. 1:21–23)” (70–71).
Barriers to our relationship with God obviously continue today. Anderson notes wickedness, worldliness, satanic opposition, self-sufficiency, distraction, and fear and hiding as relatable examples. “We are broken, and things are not as they should be. And yet we are fully culpable for cultivating our estrangement from God. It is as if the magnetic pull of our hearts and minds is reversed to God’s polarity too often” (85).
Chapter 4 sets out to explore symbols of intimacy found in Scripture and, more specifically, how God has revealed himself to humanity through anthropomorphic language. While Anderson outlines a number of approaches to handling these descriptions, he eventually suggests his own, one that “emphasizes the linguistic and existential elements of anthropomorphisms. … [which] refines our approach and helps us to avoid viewing them with a naive literalism or as disposable metaphors which we can simply substitute with other words or phrases to arrive at the same meaning” (93–94).
One may wonder, why is this an important discussion? Anderson answers: “… these images make God more tangible and relatable. They don't contradict the rest of what Scripture reveals to us about our relationship with God, but enhance and fill it out” (95).
The author then takes time to unpack specific “body parts” utilized in Scripture (e.g., God’s face, eyes, hands and arms, and ears), giving readers real-time examples of implying the strategy he described int he opening part of the chapter. This was an interesting and well-structured presentation, one that added to the overall purpose of the book.
In chapter 5 the author shifts to explore God’s Fatherhood as a “script of intimacy” to remedy those who feel shame. Shame is a big deal, as Anderson notes. “… past sins and current attractions (e.g. adultery, homosexuality, alcoholism) cause many to struggle to approach intimacy with God and Christianity out of the shame they continually suffer. However, the church, and especially pastors and ministry leaders, can help those under the weight of unnecessary shame to give themselves over to a new and much healthier ways of understanding God and the church” (112). More to the point: “people need to know God as a good Father, which—as a script—undercuts simplistic notions of God only as an angry or disappointed judge” (112).
How does the Bible combat this shame? Anderson suggests that, “while the Bible never excuses sin, it presents intimacy with God as our good Father, the one who intimately meets the needs of His children. He demonstrates this by adopting us and meeting our basic life needs, all the while revealing His motivations of love and compassion” (120). Anderson goes on to unpack the realities of adoption, family fellowship, and life needs (e.g. provisions, direction, comfort, discipline). He then describes the divine motivation driving the meeting of these needs, namely, God’s intimate love and compassion for his children.
Ultimately, we have a well-deserved shame. God, as described in the Bible, flips the script. Praise Jesus!
In Chapter 6 Anderson shifts his focus to marriage as he rightly observes there’s nothing in the Bible that better communicates the intimacy of Creator-creature than that of husband-wife and, more perfectly, Christ-church. After illustrating several misunderstandings of this theological reality, Anderson sets out to “dig deep into the presentations of these images in the Old and New Testaments to allow them to wonderfully enrich our conception of and quest for an intimate relationship with Christ Himself” (143–144). What follows is exactly as advertised as the author skillfully handles both the metanarrative of Scripture and individual passages therein to not only bring beautiful clarity to a beautiful God-given picture, but also thwart many common misconceptions that exist in the church today, blurring our view of this truth and, thus, robbing us of appropriate implications.
Anderson provides a lengthy and helpful discussion on sexual intimacy within marriage and what that means—and does not mean—for our relationship with God. He also quickly but effectively tackles the issue with an allegorical hermeneutic when approaching the Scriptures in general, but texts on intimacy in particular.
In chapter 7, the author turns his attention the admittedly difficult task of studying the Holy Spirit’s role in human intimacy with God. I appreciated the care with which Anderson went about this study. After acknowledging that “the Holy Spirit’s activity in the believer’s life has always been an intimate one regardless of the Testament” (181), the author then turns his attention to themes in the NT in particular. These themes include that of the Holy Spirit’s role as Paraclete (the means by which we have intimacy with God, the provider of intimate knowledge of God to us, and the creator and sustainer of intimate relationships between believers while Christ is in heaven), in building the church, and in the individual Christian.
Intimacy with God in the midst of suffering is the topic of chapter 8. By the authors’ own admission, this chapter “is perhaps the most relationally intense, as it attempts to grapple with the seemingly uncaring absence of God that appears to haunt many instances of suffering” (208). There are times God seems (and Scripture affirms with its language) distant, hidden, absent. But Scripture clearly affirms we are “not left in our suffering with an absent God” (216).
Chapter 9 addresses the church’s history of singing about intimacy with her God. To do this, Anderson sets out to model what assessing Christian songs for this type of content may look like. He begins by considering a couple of “inadequate” examples, examining the song’s assumptions, positive contributions, and concerns with its accuracy and adequacy, and follows that up with some positive examples based on the elements of intimacy with God—movement toward intimacy, intimate knowledge, intimate place/location, intimate contact/touch. Of course, any discussion around the artistic expression of biblical truths walks a fine line, one Anderson is aware of: “We must walk a tight balance between the intimate familiarity that He allows us as His redeemed children an the awesome holiness that separates Him from any being and consumes the slightest impurity” (251). By studying the lyrics of Christian songs and holding their words, claims, metaphors, etc. up to what Scripture posits about intimacty with the Almighty, Anderson has done the church a service. In fact, from a pastor’s point of view, I found this chapter worth the book as a whole (not that the rest was unhelpful!).
A small feature of the book I appreciated was the series of discussion-prompting questions that concluded each chapter. These could be used in an individual study of the material or in a group setting.
As the chief aim of the book was to “explain intimacy with God in a way that answers fundamental questions about who God is, and how we are to relate to Him” (259), Anderson succeeded. He is well-researched, well-thought, and well-articulated. In addition to those qualities, the book was generally quite accessible and readable, I would assume, for the popular Christian audience. Concluding with a list of practical suggestions of next steps for people who want to continue exploring intimacy with God was a welcomed touch. This work is recommended for anyone desiring to think more clearly about what it means to draw near to God on the terms he has laid out for us in his Word.
NOTE: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.
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