This article is from Issue 61: Jan/Feb 2013

Is Jesus Bigger Than Religion?

A Conversation With Shane Hipps

The Christian faith is defined by a lot of beautiful and astonishing superlatives—the greatest God offering the fullest life to the most fallen of creatures. Yet is it possible that what Jesus offers is even bigger than Christians have imagined and indoctrinated it to be? After spending a decade as a pastor—most recently, at Mars Hill in Grand Rapids, Mich.—this question has haunted Shane Hipps more than any other. We asked this former-Porsche-advertising-executive-turned-pastor about the disconnect, as well as why he thinks Christians have sold themselves short on the incredible promises of Jesus.

In the past, you’ve written about the intersection of technology and faith. Your latest book, Selling Water by the River, is more theological. Where did the idea come from?

Are you familiar with zen koans? They’re sayings designed to set the mind off balance enough that something deeper can emerge from within you.

There was this really interesting koan I came across that said, “Zen is selling water by the river.” I thought it was a brilliantly humble statement, basically saying all of Zen’s philosophies and practices are not at all necessary for the thing they’re trying to introduce.

The more that I had been reading Jesus and His teachings, the more I had become convinced that He didn’t come to start another religion. And so at that moment, I thought, “I wonder if Christianity isn’t selling water by the river, too?”

I realized that’s what I had been driving at over the last seven or eight years. It really comes down to my conviction that Jesus came mostly to talk about two things: the Kingdom of heaven and eternal life. And I believe those two things have been fundamentally misunderstood by much of Christendom.

In what way?

For Christianity, eternal life has been relegated to a category after you die. But Jesus speaks about eternal life very often as a present, continuous reality.

So, for example, He stands before a festival crowd in the book of John and says, “Anyone who is thirsty, come to Me, and streams of living water will flow from within you.” It’s really fascinating because it’s not to you, it’s from you. The Greek verb tense is “continually flowing in this moment from within you.”