What does it really mean to be like Jesus? These are the first words on the back cover of pastor and church planter Hugh Halter’s new book, Sacrilege: Finding Life in the Unorthodox Ways of Jesus (now featured at the Patheos Book Club). Indeed, in Sacrilege Halter challenges many of our modern assumptions of what it means to be a follower of Jesus and invites us to look more closely at how Jesus lived and engaged with the world in his time. While Halter’s audience up until now has been primarily pastors and church leaders, his hope is that Sacrilege delivers a word for everyday Christians – and those who have left the church – with a provocative message of true discipleship that looks very different from what most encounter in the contemporary Church.
Last week, Hugh took some time out from his ministry and work in Denver, CO to answer a few questions about the new book and the conversations he hopes it inspires.
What inspired you to write this book, at this time?
In the past I’ve written primarily to church leaders to help them think outside of their religious boxes, but Sacrilege was really a letter to my two high school girls, or anyone who wanted to listen in. I’ve learned that changing things really begins with normal people, not the leaders who presently lead our churches. Sacrilege is my attempt to start a groundswell at the street level where the entire story of Christianity began and can be reborn.
Who is your ideal reader, and what conversations do you hope this book provokes?
I think there are two ideal readers for Sacrilege. The first are those who maintain some faith in God but who have lost interest in all the ‘add-ons’ of nebulous religiosity. Those who intuitively know that mainstream Christianity is a grand canyon-sized jump between the faith of Jesus and the life of those who claim to follow him.
The second group I’m finding have a very warm response to Sacrilege are those who have never really been in the church scene. I’ve given it to many friends of no particular faith persuasion and they say things like, “If this is really the way Jesus was, I’d love to know more about him.” “Or, this helps me see Jesus in a totally new light.”
You say in your book that Jesus was “without question, the most appropriately sacrilegious revolutionary of all time…” What do you mean by this?
Simply put, he challenged everything they held to be sacred. He called out the religious leaders for missing the boat, he told them that they didn’t need the temple or church-based religious systems or the paid professional priests, he went against their Sabbath laws, and spent his time being with those who were deemed to be beyond God’s grasp or love. I think if he jumped into the world today, it would be exactly the same and the first wave of people he would offend would be Evangelical, Mainline, and Catholic church leaders. That includes people like me.
You are undeniably critical of contemporary religious culture, especially the Church. What do you think is lacking in religious instituions today?
The most glaring “miss” is that we have forgotten that Jesus intended to be like him, not just pass on information about him. When he told his original disciples to go around the world making other disciples, he actually meant that we should help people live like he did. I’m convinced if we lived like he did, the world would not only have a high degree of respect for our movement, but would jump in to join us. A wave of sacrilegious disciples would be a huge breath of fresh air!
As a pastor, I have huge faith that many of our churches are making the shift back toward the way Jesus would want us to. I see fresh, vibrant disciples and churches popping up everywhere. Sometimes I want to scream, “don’t give up,” because I know good change is coming. But as a realist, I do believe that millions more will jump out of their churches in order to remain faithful to Jesus.
What might be some first steps in beginning to live out the “unorthodox way of Jesus”?
I’d just do the two main things Jesus suggested. First, love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and love your neighbors as much as you love your own life.” Imagine what would happen if every Christian actually did just this one main thing! Then, I’d move on to another biggie that is expressed in the book of James, where it reads, “Religion that God your father considers pure and blameless…is to look after orphans and widows.” Again, what would happen if every Christian took care of just one orphan? These two sacrilegious expressions would change the world without having to go to church or be religious.
Do you expect this book to change anyone’s mind? About what?
It already has. I gave it to several people in my yoga class and I see their genuine curiosity in Jesus for the first time. I have had many pastors express through tears how this book has helped them to reframe true Christianity, not just for their church members but for them as leaders.
What was the hardest thing about writing this book?
The hardest part was trying to reveal the genuine article without bashing or trashing our churches. I love the church, I love our Christian brothers and sisters, and I love those outside the church walls. I hope that people hear my heart even though I have to do some honest confession and revealing of our off-color misses.
What other books and authors are inspiring your work and life now?
I have been deeply formed by Dallas Willard and his classic book, The Divine Conspiracy. I am invigorated daily by the British theologian NT Wright, and I love books that show real Christianty in church form, like The Barefoot Church by Brandon Hatmaker.
Often, the best book ideas come while you’re writing a book. Have you started the next one?
Nope, I’m enjoying writing practical resources that help churches re-orient around the true mission of God. If anyone wants to find these, have them go to MissioPublishing.com. If they grab a few friends and try the TK Primer, they’ll experience everything I’m writing about.