'Genuine soul food' for the Christian journey

‘This book deserves to be read, re-read and kept handy for reference’

I came to Canberra Baptist Church with my late husband one Sunday morning in 2001, initially to hear Thorwald Lorenzen preach, having read something about his life and work in Tim Costello’s book Streets of Hope. That visit was enough to convince us that we had found a new church home. I heard most of Thorwald’s sermons during his ten-year period of service at Canberra Baptist Church and grew accustomed to the style and cadences of his prose. Now, on reading Yes! A Christian Vision of Life, I hear the Lorenzen voice again.

Early in the book, the author describes a life-changing event that occurred in his early twenties:

“Late at night, I was walking from Wollongong to Figtree on Australia’s East Coast. Time thickened for me that night. My soul was flooded by an experience of grace. Things fell into place. I felt acceptance where it counts. A song had been placed in my heart. It called to be sung.”

Thorwald Lorenzen has been singing that song in different tones and with diverse accompaniments over many years – as scholar, pastor, teacher, author and friend – to thousands of people across the world. His book is a great gift for anyone who wants to understand more about the faith. It progresses logically, beginning with the story of Jesus and concluding with a discussion on the journey’s end and thereafter. It includes chapters on discipleship, suffering and a Christian appreciation of human rights. The reader senses from the beginning that the text reflects the author’s personal experience of the Christian journey. It is written clearly in everyday language and is highly accessible to lay people, as well as theologians. The overarching theme is the dynamic love of God for all creation, and the bold title of the book will remind many people of Lorenzen’s frequent references to “God’s yes” to humanity in his sermons.

Lorenzen’s book reminds us that “life is relationship”.

The author states firmly that “a genuine conversion is a process that includes spiritual, moral, ecological and intellectual dimensions.” Some readers may be surprised at his allusion to ecology and the intellect, particularly those whose past spiritual leaders were intent on stirring hearts rather than minds and who showed little interest in the health of the planet. Lorenzen’s book reminds us that “life is relationship” and that Christians are called to live with their fellow creatures and the environment in a way that honours the will of the Creator.

Some friends of mine worship God, but do not believe there is enough evidence to show that Jesus was any more than a wise teacher and fine exemplar. Hence they regard the resurrection story as pure legend. The author concedes that the primary sources are challenging, but he endorses wholeheartedly the disciples’ claim that Jesus rose from the dead. Towards the end of the book, he states:

“The question of identity and integrity of the Christian religion stands and falls with the issue whether in Jesus Christ God did something new, something unique, something that needed to be done but that humanity could not do by itself. The Christian vision of life affirms that question and confesses that in and with Jesus of Nazareth, God has done something special, indeed something unique …”

The arguments offered in support of the disciples’ reports of Jesus’ resurrection are well-presented. Of these, I think that the one citing the abrupt change in the demeanour and behaviour of male disciples after they reported seeing Jesus alive is the most convincing. These men were transformed from despairing cowards to bold witnesses, hurrying back to Jerusalem, heedless of the danger awaiting them – a change which persuades me that they saw what they claimed to have seen.

Yes! A Christian Vision of Life comes from the heart of a celebrated scholar, whose faith has withstood more gruelling tests than most of us have endured.

I have always found it difficult to understand the resurrection, but this book sheds new light on the subject for me. Lorenzen argues that by revealing his nature in the life and death of Jesus, God made himself vulnerable, indeed, a victim. Channelling the Apostle Paul’s metaphor of the “sting of death”, appearing in 1 Corinthians 15:55-7, he remarks:

“… a working bee, when it stings a warm-blooded animal or a person … can’t retrieve its sting and therefore dies. By analogy, we could say that God ‘absorbed’ the sting of separation, estrangement, and death, but in contrast to the bee, God does not die, but integrates the sting of death into God’s own being, thereby allowing for love to triumph and for life to flourish.”

This is a helpful analogy. As a young Christian, I was taught that sin alienates us from God. That seemed reasonable; but when my teachers went on to say that reconciliation with God was available because God had sacrificed Jesus to pay the penalty for the sins of the world, I was confused. I argued that if God was triune, then Jesus was equal in status, which surely meant that in this ‘transaction’, God was effectively paying God, which frankly didn’t add up. But the concept of God as a willing victim in suffering through Jesus offers a clearer perspective, particularly when I am reminded that Jesus, whose mission was to reveal God’s nature, was tortured and murdered for loving deeds of mercy, which involved breaking unjust rules.

He writes movingly about the many challenges for the Christian, but overwhelmingly, his message is positive and inspirational.

Yes! A Christian Vision of Life comes from the heart of a celebrated scholar, whose faith has withstood more gruelling tests than most of us have endured. He writes movingly about the many challenges for the Christian, but overwhelmingly, his message is positive and inspirational. The text is clear and cogently argued; however, I think that style suffers unduly where there is a deliberate avoidance of any pronoun for God (in kindly deference to those readers who cannot endure thinking of the creator as ‘he’). Perhaps it would have been better to use the customary pronouns and state the reasons/defence for doing so in a preface?

The chapter entitled “Death – and Thereafter” is Lorenzen at his best. Here he discusses the doctrine of hell, which many churches (including Lorenzen’s own denomination) still fundamentally believe to be a “place of everlasting punishment”. However, the author adopts a more controversial approach by denouncing the doctrine as a “theological aberration”. At the same time, he ventures the opinion that there will be a kind of judgment or purification process after death as the individual is prepared for the new life that awaits. That makes sense to me. The final sentence of the chapter rings out like a benediction: “Life after death will be good, just and beautiful.” This book deserves to be read, re-read and kept handy for frequent reference. It’s genuine soul food.

Thorwald Lorenzen, Yes! A Christian Vision of Life (Adelaide: ATF 2021) is available from Koorong. 

Dr Valerie Spear is a historian based in Canberra.

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Yes! a Christian Vision of Life

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Available from Koorong

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