“When we all get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be!” True words. Praise God for all the promises regarding everlasting life, heaven, being with Christ, being glorified, and so. But John Ortberg’s book Eternity is Now in Session seeks to correct an error or oversight or, maybe, wrongful emphasis. Christians can be saved, in Christ, and believing right things, but still get the priorities and details confused.
Eternity is Now in Session by John Ortberg is published by Tyndale Press and came out this year.
“What if salvation is not about getting us into heaven, but about getting heaven into us?” Pastor Ortberg asks. The title itself was inspired, as is much of Ortberg’s work, by Dallas Willard. The gist of the book is about discipleship. As indicated already, “getting saved” or getting eternal fire insurance is not what Christianity is all about. Thank God for those cases of contrary folks who linger on their death beds and find the grace of God as life lingers away. But that is not the ideal. For years, many have been trying to awaken the Church from resting content with professions of faith. Life and obedience, transformation, Christian living, growing in grace–these are the needed elements.
From beginning to end, this book is a strong exhortation to not be fooled by mere profession, but to actually follow Christ. I will share a few key portions of the book that I made note of.
“Jesus didn’t tell his friends, ‘Go into all the world and make Christians.’ But he did tell them to go into the world and make disciples. In fact, the Bible uses the word disciple 269 times. As Dallas Willard writes, ‘The New Testament is a book about disciples, by disciples, and for disciples.'” page 50 (Note this: Ortberg quotes Dallas Willard many, many times in this book.)
“Jesus never said, ‘Believe the right things about me, and I’ll let you into heaven after you die.’ His news was something far grander, more cosmic, more life-changing, more compelling, and more humbling than that.” page 51
On page 61, another Willard quote: “There is no problem in human life that apprenticeship to Jesus cannot solve.” Then Ortberg shows how wide-ranging his view of the Gospel is as he lists problems: “You name the problem–greed, fear, racism, injustice, divorce, sexual assault, neglect, pollution, suffering, addiction, rejection, bitterness, violence, apathy, grief, war, death.”
Concerning religious experiences and awakening, he writes, “…awakening is not just something that happens to us at the beginning of our spiritual lives. We need awakening each day.” page 96
One of the most brilliant quotes that Ortberg uses comes from Dr. Vincent Felitti who wrote about addiction saying, “It is hard to get enough of something that almost works.” Not that this book is about addiction (of any and all sorts) per se, this is a remarkable insight into all manner of sinful draws, which Ortberg, echoing the Bible, calls idols. Pages 100-101
“To have saving faith is not to believe the minimum amount so God has to let you in. To have saving faith is to believe what Jesus himself believed, to see what Jesus himself saw, so that you naturally do what Jesus himself would do.” page 137
Something I am going to try to remember next time I am involved in a wedding (or even a discussion about marriage) is this point: “A couple gets married and the minister says, ‘The two shall become one’–but which one? I want it to be me.” Page 157. His point is that the same thing tends to happen in regard to God. We want union, but we want it to mean that God is doing what I want.
This book is a step by step progression through the Gospel and what should and must be its impact on our lives. Starting with what the Good News actually means, it takes us to the topic of awakening to God being everywhere. A chapter called Purgation deals with the painful, but necessary work of sanctification and the abandoning of sins and idols. Illumination reminds us that need to have our minds enlightened at every step. The final chapter on union reminds us that we are never alone, that union with God is the goal both here and in the future heavenly eternity.
Going back through this book, which I read twice, reminds me that almost every page includes a great quote, an exhortation, an application of a Bible truth. This book is great for morning devotions. It would also work well for a study group, a class, or one-on-one discipleship. This is the second book I have read by Ortberg, and he has quickly risen in the ranks to be a much favored writer for me.