This interview features J.R. Briggs, author of our newest release Sacred Overlap: Learning to Live Faithfully in the Space Between.
What’s the big idea behind Sacred Overlap, and what does it mean that God is a God of both/and?
We are living in a time of increased division and polarization. We are more divisive than ever before. The cultural, religious, political, economic, relational, and racial divides are growing stronger; the arguments are becoming more explosive, and the defending of our opinions is growing more and more intense. In recent times, these widening differences has led to an ever-intensifying us versus them tribalism. As I’ve seen this unfolding in our nation, I’ve thought, there’s got to be better way. I began to ask, “What should the posture of a follower of Jesus be in such divisive and alienating times?” Instead of embracing a posture of an either/or entrenchment, which is often driven by a desire for power or has its foundation rooted in fear, is it possible to be a faithful follower of Jesus and live in a both/and reality?
As Christians, we’re called to live with our feet firmly planted in two different worlds – heaven and earth. Jesus invited his followers to recite the Lord’s prayer: “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Our call as followers of Jesus is to join him in the heaven-overlapping-earth reality right now. Jesus is the Great Either/Or. But the more I read my Bible, the more I saw that Jesus also lived in these overlapped spaces: he was fully God and fully man; the Lion and the Lamb, the Alpha and the Omega. He was about justice and mercy; he told people to give to Caesar what was Caesar’s and to God what belonged to God. He told people to worship in Spirit and truth. In Luke, he enters Jericho and heals the oppressed (Bartimaeus) and forgives the oppressor (Zacchaeus). And once we come to follow Christ, he invites us into all sorts of both/and realities. This is the sacred overlap.
On the surface, this both/and approach to the Christian faith sounds like a trendy anything goes kind of approach in popular culture – some sort of middle ground of compromise that panders to both sides in other to appease everyone. This is not the message of the book. Instead, following Jesus in the sacred overlap requires more courage, faith, and hope than before. It reminds me of something Dick Staub wrote: “When we are faithfully following Jesus, we will be too Christian for our pagan friends and too pagan for our Christian friends.”
What happens when the church gets this wrong, when we see only either/or thinking and living?
An entrenched either/or posture often leads to the defending of a position rather than a life-long commitment to follow Jesus. And when we defend a position, it can lead to deep levels of fear or a destructive spirit of condescension and legalism. Unfortunately, the world has seen this condescending either/or spirit among Christians, which at least confuses others, and, at worst, drives many people away from the Church – and from Christ. If we live into the ever-increasing reality of us versus them we fail to be faithful witnesses of the Good News of the radically compassion message of hope Jesus graciously extended to the world. When we fail to live winsomely with dignity and respect, even in the midst of differences, we can easily become modern-day Pharisees.
Describe the idea of orthodoxy and orthopraxy—how can a local church model embracing of both?
The word orthodoxy means “right thinking” or “right believing.” And the word orthopraxy (from the Latin, praxis, where we get our word practice) means “right living.” We need both orthopraxy and orthodoxy working together symbiotically. This is what James communicated when he wrote, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” It reminds me of what C. S. Lewis wrote: “Asking is right belief or right action more important is like asking which blade in a pair of scissors is most necessary.” Too much orthodoxy and not enough orthopraxy leads to hypocrisy and a lack of credibility. And too much orthopraxy and not enough orthodoxy is dangerous. In order to cut, we need both blades of the scissors.
Churches can often over-emphasize Bible studies and thus under-emphasize Bible doings. If churches truly want to take orthodoxy and orthopraxy seriously, we must commit to teaching, embracing, and living into practices and rhythms we can cultivate in our everyday, ordinary lives. Until we see Monday through Saturday as equally important opportunities for worship as on Sunday, churches will struggle to grasp this reality.
How have discipleship and evangelism typically been done by the church, and what might be a more fruitful way moving forward?
One of the great bifurcations of the Christian faith has been the creation of a clear separation between evangelism and discipleship. We’ve made the faulty assumption that evangelism only happens before conversion and discipleship only after conversion. In the seminary courses I teach I like to ask my students, “When did Peter become a Christian?” There’s always sharp debate over the answer. It seems that Jesus was doing evangelism and discipleship simultaneously with Peter.
Unfortunately, our understanding of evangelism is quite anemic. We need a more holistic understanding of evangelism that supports and complements how we make disciples. If we get our evangelism wrong, we will most certainly get our discipleship wrong, too. If evangelism is just a check-the-box insurance policy paid for with the simple verbalization of a brief prayer, then calling those same people to costly, lifelong obedience in Christ in the days ahead will be a nearly impossible task. Evangelism and discipleship can – and should – happen at the same time. The truth is we need to be born again. And we also need to be born again and again and again.
How do we live in the sacred overlap as kingdom people in the midst of a polarized political culture? Is this even possible today or is it just a pipe dream?
It’s a great question. And that’s the whole purpose of why I wrote the book. I am convinced it’s not a pipe dream. It’s at the very heart of the Christian faith.
Division, polarization and politicking seems to be an Olympic sport in America these days. Our country’s motto is E pluribus unum – “Out of many, one.” The famous documentarian Ken Burns said it seems we are quickly becoming a country with too much pluribus and very little unum.
When it comes to politics, I tell people: yes, go to the polls. Vote with all the wisdom, humility, and conviction you can possibly can. But as Christians don’t look to the candidates to be saviors or models of morality. We cannot accept a politician or particular party into our heart as Lord and Savior. Politicians are vehicles of potential change, but they are not rescuers. Sure, they can help, but they cannot ultimately fix the sin-marred world we live in. As Christians, we pledge allegiance first not to a political party or a politician, but to a kingdom led by a king, and because of this, we don’t need to be afraid. It’s not about red or blue, but about purple – the color of royalty.
Yes, there are important issues at hand—war, poverty, immigration, human trafficking, taxes, drugs, racism, abortion, sexism, and other complex social, economic, and political issues that require attention, concern, and care.
As Rick Warren said, our culture has accepted two huge lies: the first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. We don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate. And as Christians, especially in this emotionally charged political season, we can’t succumb to these two lies. I keep a quote from pastor Tony Evans in the front of my mind as often as I can, “Jesus did not come to take sides. He came to take over.”
What kind of person is this book written for, and how can they use it to expand its reach?
Throughout the writing process, I had in mind the person who wants to take following Jesus seriously, but who is growing increasingly confused and frustrated by the polarized nature of the Christian faith and how it’s currently being lived out today in the public square.
I invest the majority of my time, and write the majority of my books, specifically for kingdom leaders. But not this book. I wanted to write this book for the everyday people of God in order to help them understand the creative tension we can live in as followers of Jesus. And while I wanted the book to be well-researched, I desired for the tone of my writing to have a warm, down-to-earth, conversational tone to it. I want readers to feel like I am going on a walk with them or talking with them over a cup of coffee, rather than have the feeling that I was standing behind a lectern in a classroom.
If you’re asking questions about how to faithfully live in and reach a culture with the gospel, J.R. Briggs offers a helpful new resource. The widening of political, racial, generational, and religious differences often leads to an “us vs. them” mentality all too common today. In The Sacred Overlap: Learning to Live Faithfully, author J.R. Briggs communicates a refreshing vision that embraces tension and calls us to live in radical love and faithfulness between the extremes that isolate and divide people. Get it from our store here.
This resource may be helpful for:
- Anyone struggling with the tension of faith and culture
- Church leaders and leadership teams
- Laypeople looking to faithfully engage their neighbors