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Are you tired of a religious life that only begins and ends on that one day in the week? Do you yearn to live out a Christian life Monday to Sunday as God had originally intended? Do you want to experience All Things New? Keep listening!
Hi, my name is Terence and I’m your host for Reading and Readers, a podcast where I review Christian books for you. Every month I review a book from Faithlife’s Free Book of the Month. And for the month of June that free book is All Things New: Joining God’s Story of Re-Creation by Pete Hughes.
All Things New Can Mean Many Things
If you search for the title “All Things New” in Amazon you may be surprised to see many other books titled All Things New. All Things New: Rethinking Sin, Salvation, and Everything in Between by Fiona and Terryl Givens. All Things New: Bible Study Book: A Study on 2 Corinthians by Kelly Minter. All Things New: Heaven, Earth, and the Restoration of Everything You Love by John Eldredge. All Things New: Revelation as Canonical Capstone by Brian J. Tabb. Making All Things New: Restoring Joy to the Sexually Broken by David Powlison. Making All Things New: An Invitation to the Spiritual Life by Henri Nouwen. And there are more! One reason for mentioning all those titles is to make sure you get the right book. Another reason is to show that the phrase All Things New can mean many things to many people.
And for Pete Hughes All Things New is about Re-Creation. In the beginning, there was Creation. Because of Adam we have de-creation, which is also known as the Fall. Because of Jesus, we have re-creation, as in we re-create, re-store, re-new what was originally intended. So Creation, De-Creation and Re-Creation are the three points that make a V-shape.
As Christians we are agents of Re-Creation. When we know who God is and what God is doing, we know who we are and what we are to do.
Re-Creation By Your New Best Friend
He could say we are agents of Re-Creation and write a book based on, “Be the light of the world, salt of the earth” or other similar passages. Instead what Hughes does is he argues from the Grand Narrative, the Big Story of the Bible. To Re-Create, we must look to what was in the beginning. And that begins the first of six parts in the book, where each part is 3-4 chapters. He has fancier titles but I summarise it like so:
The first part is Creation. Second, Israel. Third, Jesus: His incarnation and ministry. Fourth, Jesus: His Death and Resurrection. Fifth the Church. Sixth Heaven and Hell. The six parts roll out a vision of what Re-Creation is.
But this book is not a sermon series or a classroom lesson on the grand narrative of Scripture. We are getting a kitchen table with your new best friend. He tells you how he and his wife, Bee, met, it’s a really funny story. He shares the traumatic events when his first child was born, the excitement of starting King’s Cross Church and more. A entertaining story teller, you will enjoy reading of his fears, doubts, hopes and joys of his church, family and life and like any good teacher, he lands the stories to a point he wants to make. For example, in telling how he and his wife met, he shows how their children are curious on the origin of their family. In the same way, we too want to know the origin of our family of faith. And thus to know Israel. And that’s how the chapter on Israel begins.
He doesn’t have a preach-y tone. He has a young, I don’t know all the answers, I’m trying to figure things out just like you are but let’s walk through life together tone. This probably appeals to young millennials and the unchurched who are suspicious of authority figures. Many churches struggle to attract this group but King’s Cross Church does it well. And maybe it’s the tone and also Hughes’ understanding of this difficult to reach group.
According to Hughes, “Millennials are increasingly dissatisfied, though, with a spirituality that doesn’t really work from Monday to Friday. But if the end goal is the renewal of all things, then our careers are incredibly important. As followers of Jesus we are tasked to be agents of renewal to every sector of society. We partner with Christ in the renewal of politics, education, business, entertainment and the arts. The full glory of that renewal awaits Jesus’ return, but every endeavour in line with this vision now will last for eternity.”
Hughes says the problem is we offer a truncated, shortened, reduced, story.
He writes: “The danger of a truncated story is that it leads to a truncated understanding of mission. A more holistic understanding of mission still emphasises the need to proclaim the message of the cross and call people to repentance, whilst equally emphasising the church’s role to alleviate the poverty and suffering that rob people of life, to steward the creation we have been entrusted to look after and to work towards the renewal of the culture we are embedded within.”
These are all good reminders and Christians can get behind the broad strokes of his argument. Perhaps the differences is in how we get there. How do we steward Creation? How do we do renewal in politics? Is he calling for environmental activism? Political activism?
He writes: “If there is a strategy for cultural renewal, community transformation and kingdom ministry present in the gospels and book of Acts, it would have two solid foundations: become more like Jesus and follow the leading of the Spirit. Everything else is built on this.”
Does anybody disagree with becoming more like Jesus? And following the leading of the Spirit? It all sounds good.
The Build Up Reaches A Creative Climax
Throughout the book he builds up this anticipation. In this Grand Narrative, he explains what it means to be human, how idolatry lead to De-Creation. Chapter by chapter we read of Israel and Jesus, his life, death and resurrection. In Jesus we have at long last Re-Creation. Because of him, we are agents of renewal. We want to know how does this look like. Then it comes. The chapter is titled: Disciples shaped by the Story of God. In this chapter, Hughes tells us how the churches got it wrong. It’s not knowing stuff about Jesus. It’s not Being Good. It’s not Doing Good. It’s so much more. Come on, tell me what it is.
And then he writes: If we are to follow the way of Jesus, who fulfils the whole narrative of Scripture through his life, death and resurrection, then the shape of his life must inevitably become the shape of our lives.
Did you get that? The Big Story of the Bible: Creation, De-Creation and Re-Creation corresponds to the Big Story of Jesus: Life, Death and Resurrection. If we are to follow Jesus, then the Big Story of Jesus must shape our lives.
The Big Story of Jesus is his life, death and resurrection. These three points are the V-shape of Creation, De-Creation and Re-Creation. Moving downward from Creation to De-Creation is incarnation. In the Incarnation, Jesus was compassionate. Exodus 34:6-7 “God is compassionate”, Matthew 9, Matthew 14 “Jesus had compassion”, Colossians 3:12 “we must clothe ourselves with compassion”. Therefore, we need to be compassionate disciples.
The second point is De-Creation. Here we have the cross. Jesus was courageous. Romans 1:16 “I am not ashamed of the Gospel”, 1 Corinthians 1:18, “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.’ Matthew 16:24, whoever follows me must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. Therefore, we are to be courageous disciples.
Moving from De-Creation to Re-Creation is the Resurrection. The creme de la crème of book, or at least it should be. After all, Hughes’ thesis has built up to this point. All Creation is moving towards Re-Creation and we must let the Resurrection of Jesus shape us.
He writes: “Filled with resurrection hope and the Spirit of God’s new creation, we begin to creatively engage with the surrounding culture and partner in God’s mission to make all things new.”
He quotes Picasso, ‘We are all born as artists. The challenge is to remain an artist.’ He quotes Ken Robinson, we are ‘educating people out of creativity.’ He quotes no Scripture in support.
The earlier sections was longer and can be traced to the Bible. We need to be compassionate like Christ. Courageous like Christ. But does the Bible really say be creative like Christ? Or that Christ calls us to be creative?
He writes: “As we freely receive his restoration, we might more freely give, and therefore journey towards the kind of creativity that renews culture. This calling is both our history and our destiny. It was the creation mandate given to Adam and Eve to establish culture and extend it throughout the earth. It is also our Re-creation mandate, to redeem culture and extend God’s redemption throughout the earth. Creativity is a non-negotiable for such a task.”
I get the Re-Creation mandate. I think that was done very well. I just don’t see Creativity is the non-negotiable part. Hughes asserts it. But we could just as easily assert Perseverance is non-negotiable or Obedience is non-negotiable or Faith is non-negotiable. And they are all true. But to say that the big lesson from the Resurrection is we are to be Creative based on scanty evidence is a big let down.
At The Brink of Apostasy, Without Much Assurance
And so we come to my criticism of All Things New. He asserts these new ideas or claims but doesn’t always support them. Sometimes he does, sometimes he doesn’t.
In the foreword to this book, Pete Grieg writes: “it brought me to the brink of apostasy several times before reassuring me that, in fact, its message is orthodox to the very core.”
Grieg mentions apostasy to show how edgy, how dangerous this book is. He is right. I was brought to the brink of apostasy several times. Unlike Grieg, I was not reassured.
I was not reassured. I give you three examples. According to Hughes:
- We are God’s living statues.
- Solomon was an oppressive slave master.
- Jesus was a revolutionary.
We are God’s Living Statues
According to Hughes, other religions have temples and in their temples they have statues or idols but Yahweh does not have statues in his temple because we are his living statues.
He writes: “God has made each of us to be his living statues in the world. The man-made replicas are an offence; they have no life in them. They can’t love their Maker and enter into relationship with him. But we can. As God’s living statues, we are created to be God’s real presence in the world, filling the earth with the glory and presence of God.”
So that sounds good because you have by God, for God, to God. So it looks good.
But when I read this I immediately thought of Romans 1 on idolatry. And to my delight and surprise, in the next chapter, he quotes Romans 1 and describes and condemns idolatry. At this point, I know I am supposed to be reassured that his Living Statues statement is orthodox because he condemns idolatry.
But call me old-fashion but I don’t see any benefit to speak of us as living statues. In the Bible, statues are always bad. Statue of Nebuchadnezzar. Statue of golden calf. Yes, sure the Hebrew word for statue is the same word used for image of God. It’s more straightforward to see that God does not have a statue in his temple because God directs us to worship the Creator and not Created Things. So the empty temple is not because we fill up that gap, but because we are not to worship something instead of God. Introducing the idea of living statues can distract us from that simple and straightforward teaching.
To use statues to describe image of God is like using prostitution to describe marriage. If people only understand prostitution, then we are forced to describe marriage in those terms. But I suggest we can understand the image of God without looking at ourselves as living statues because statues is too close to idolatry.
Solomon Was An Oppressive Slave Master
Next, did you know that Solomon was an oppressive slave master?
He writes: The same people rescued from forced labour in Egypt enslaved others to build a temple for their God. The irony is tragic. The people of God became so blind that they couldn’t spot the problem of using slaves to build a temple for the God who liberates slaves.
In Deuteronomy 17:16 states the king must not acquire great number of horses for himself, which Solomon violated. 1 Kings 11:4 states that Solomon’s wives turned his heart after other gods, thus Solomon violated the main commandment from God. Hughes quotes these passages as evidence of Solomon’s fall. And so I am suppose to be reassured of his orthodoxy. But I’m not. I think when he says that Solomon is an oppressive slave master he is using a modern day lens.
Today people can be drafted to fight national wars. Maybe a 100 years in the future, people will say this is barbaric. In ancient times, people were drafted to build national buildings. Was there another way? Perhaps a historian can tell us. But I don’t think the Bible condemns how Solomon built the Temple. I could be wrong but Hughes does need to give more evidence to prove his case.
Because, you see, God denied David’s request to build the Temple because David shed blood. So God can stop people from building the Temple. And before the horses and chariots, before the wives and concubines, Solomon built the Temple to God’s explicit approval. His Presence, the Shekinah glory manifested in that Temple. And in 1 Kings 9, after the dedication of the Temple, the Lord appeared to Solomon a second time, to affirm that God heard his prayers and God is faithful to his covenant to David.
And the Bible has many other passages in the Old Testament about slavery, which neither Hughes nor myself have time to write or to comment on. The point is the idea that Solomon was an oppressive slave master needs more evidence and he needs to deal with the counter arguments to better make the case because I think it’s not a simple one to make.
Jesus Was A Revolutionary
Next, did you know that Jesus was a Revolutionary?
He writes: “So why did Jesus die? There are two questions involved here: the historical question (why did the Romans kill him?) and the theological question (what did his death accomplish?).”
He later continues: “whatever theological answer we provide, it has to be consistent with the historical answer that Jesus died as a revolutionary inaugurating a new kingdom.”
Did the Romans crucify Jesus because he was, he really was, a revolutionary? Do we ignore the fact that Jesus rejected the crowd who wanted him to their revolutionary leader. Ignore the fact that the Jewish leaders wanted him dead for any reason they could find. Ignore the fact that the judge, Pilate, did not believe Jesus to be a revolutionary and literally washed his hands. Ignore the fact that Jesus himself said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” To me, it’s as clear as day that Jesus was not leading a revolt against Rome or the social order of the day. A revolt against Sin and Death and Satan, yes, but that would be the theological answer not the historical answer.
According to Hughes, our theological understanding of Jesus should be consistent with the historical answer. And I’m supposed to be reassured because he doesn’t dismiss the theological answer, he merely enriches our understanding. But that understanding is wrong. He says, the Romans killed Jesus on the charge that he was a revolutionary therefore he must be one. But if the Romans had killed Jesus because he was a pirate or a thief, should we consider the historical answer even if the charges was false? By calling Jesus a revolutionary, it just makes it easier to make Christians social revolutionaries but that’s not what Hughes is calling for, is he? But he brings us to that brink and doesn’t reassure us enough that he has not gone past that brink.
So, Hughes has brought me to the brink of apostasy without reassuring me:
- We are living statues. Am I committing idolatry when I think of myself that way?
- Solomon was a slave master. But God so clearly approved of Solomon’s Temple does that mean God approves of oppression?
- Jesus was a revolutionary. Paul says, “Follow me as I follow Christ”. Was Paul a revolutionary? Am I supposed to be one?
Making The Case for Annihilationism
I know he doesn’t have time to elaborate on these ideas because remember his big idea is the grand narrative that shows Creation, De-Creation and Re-Creation and how we are agents of renewal. But isn’t he aware that these things he mentions are explosive? At the very least, he should include some footnotes.
And you say, “Terence, Terence. Footnote? He is a foot soldier, not a scholar or theologian. He is in the frontline reaching out to the lost. He can’t give you footnotes.”
I beg to differ. Hughes has this chapter titled, “Rethinking Hell: Throwing the Serpent out of the Garden City”. He argues for annihilationism. He claims that according to the Bible, believers will enjoy eternal life in Heaven but Non-believers will not have eternal torment in Hell. Instead they will die and no longer exist.
He knows this is controversial. So he presents bible passage after bible passage, he cites books, he addresses the possible counter-argument. I am not convinced but I like the ground work. I appreciate the argument for annihilationism even when I disagree with the doctrine and his conclusions.
Who should read this book?
There is this genre called business biographies where the book tells the origin story of Subway, IBM, Google and so on. You could think of this book as a biography of Pete Hughes and King’s Cross Church, their journey set in the narrative of Scripture. If you attend or want to attend King’s Cross Church, this book will tell you much about the pastor’s personality, life and theology and how the church began and where it’s going.
But if you are looking for a big idea book, the book title says more than it intended to say. The title is All Things New. I thought it merely meant the restoration of God’s original purpose, the pristine original purpose of Eden towards the New Earth. I didn’t know I was getting in this book:
A new way of looking at ourselves. A new way of looking at Solomon. A new way of looking at Jesus, Sin, and Hell. A new word to describe the fall, De-Creation. A new word to describe renewal, Re-Creation. And new outline to the book of Matthew. A new this and new that. Not that Hughes originated or created these new ideas. It’s new in the sense the average Christian may not have heard of these ideas before. So he brings all these new things to you, the Bible seems fresh and exciting with new insights. You are sitting at the Hughes kitchen table and he is telling you all these things and you go wow. I never knew that. Wow. I never read it that way.
Now new or old doesn’t mean right or wrong. But because it’s new it does require more evidence to persuade us away from the old understanding. Evidence which I have explained he sometimes gives and sometimes doesn’t.
So how should we read it?
We read it the way he wants us to take it. The places he goes light, we go light. The places he goes heavy, we go heavy. It’s like a brainstorming session. Ideas get thrown out and not all ideas make sense or are valid. But the ones which stick get fleshed out more.
Take him as he wants us to take him. Don’t see him as an authority figure. I don’t mean any disrespect but I think that’s how he likes it. He doesn’t have all the answers. In his journey, these ideas resonated with him and he is sharing them. He may not have put them together properly but he is sharing what he has. I think if we take him and his book at that level, then this book will not sink from our expectations.
The irony is the big idea he has, the big idea that the Christian life does not start with Sin and end with the atonement, that there is the wider narrative of Creation, the Fall, Redemption and Renewal which is necessary for the full Christian life and that we must, must live out that life. That big idea? It’s not new.
Books on Image of God, Church and Culture
If you want to understand the image of God in the Big Story of Scripture, I recommend you read Created in God’s Image by Anthony A. Hoekema. His explains us as the Image of God in four parts the Original image, Perverted Image, Renewed Image, and Perfected Image. You will not look at yourself in the mirror the same way.
If you want to go beyond the Man and look at society and culture, I like Center Church by Tim Keller. I read the three volume version which is 886 pages long. All Things New is 336 pages. Let me quote from Keller:
“When the institutional church gives attention to cultural engagement — the fourth and final ministry front — it does so primarily by discipling a community of believers who work as the church organic. By teaching the Christian doctrine of vocation, the goodness of creation, the importance of culture, and the practice of Sabbath, it should be inspiring and encouraging its members to go into the various channels of culture. It equips its filmmaker members, for example, to be distinctively Christian in their art and work through solid Christian instruction.”
I appreciate survey he did on how the different schools of thought have grappled with how the church relates with or, sometimes, against culture. It was also Keller who introduced me to Abraham Kuyper.
Pro Rege by Abraham Kuyper is not for the faint of heart. There are three volumes, 500 pages each. Remember, in All Things New, Hughes wants to see agents of Re-Creation in every sector of society: politics, education, business, entertainment and the arts. Kuyper says: “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”
So read Keller and Kuyper if you want the big idea of cultural renewal set on very firm foundations. And yes, I know one is 900 pages and the other is 1500 pages which is why I was hoping All Things New would say the same things in a shorter book to reach a wider audience. He tries to but in my opinion the main message is lost in the newness of many other things.
Concluding All Things New
All Things New is against a truncated narrative of Scripture and a truncated mission of the Church. The Christian life does not start with sin and end with atonement. It is wider. It is more. His stories and new ideas which stretches from Creation to Heaven will excite readers. The set up is good but the pay off was flat. It’s not convincing that the Big Re-Creation message, the Big Jesus Story in the Resurrection is that disciples are to be Creative. He needs to write another book. Re-Creation: The Creative Spark of Life to make that argument in full.
In All Things New, he says so many new things that forced me to stop and think. Which is good. I suggest every reader to weigh what he says and not just blindly accept them. I’m sure he agrees. I appreciate his zeal for God and reaching out to the lost and sharing his ideas with a wider audience, although I hope he will re-think some of what he wrote. Not all that glitters is gold, not all that is new is true.
This is a Reading and Readers Review of All Things New: Joining God’s Story of Re-Creation by Pete Hughes.
Let me try saying something new. Instead of ending the podcast by asking you to review, or share, or visit the site. I want to say thank you. Thank you for listening to this tenth episode. And especially thank you to Esther from Boston. Esther was kind enough to buy me coffee! If you visit the website, there’s a button. You click on it, and you put in an amount. The idea is to buy me coffee as a show of appreciation. Esther wrote that the reviews helped her buy two books. If you want to know more visit: www.readingandreaders.com. That’s www.readingandreaders.com. Thanks Esther. And thanks everyone for listening. Have a blessed day!