By BRUCE DENNILL
Passion Movement founder and pastor of Passion City Church in Atlanta, Louie Giglio is also the author of a number of books. His latest offering for adults is Not Forsaken: Finding Freedom as Sons & Daughters of a Perfect Father, which considers the importance of readers’ view of God – is He a strict, tribute-demanding ruler or is he a father, wanting to lavish believers with love and mercy?
Criticism of Christianity is often focused around the judgmental attitude – real or perceived – of God and Christians. From the perspective of non-believers, that’s a valid reason for them to stay in that state. But God as an unconditionally loving father figure changes that picture…
How you see that scenario depends a lot on your definition of love. Inside and outside the faith, there are different definitions. Most of those are about approving of or accepting me as I am. But it is a bit more complicated. Most parents will place conditions on their love of their children – but it’ll be things like “Don’t ride your bike in the intersection”; sensible, caring stuff. God is the same. He loves us enough to see us become all we can be. And He loves us enough to save us from ourselves. We make bad decisions all the time, with a lot of collateral damage. We need God to show us where we’re wrong. How will we know what is right unless there’s something outside of us to refer to?
Many readers will have no frame of reference – either for a father at all, or for a good one; and certainly not a perfect one. Your knowledge and research will get people thinking, but the shifting of that frame of reference is more complex. You need to play a longer game for that to happen.
What I’m trying to do with the book is to get people onto the same page in terms of this whole idea. We all long for a father’s blessing. Innately, we want our daddy to say to us, “Good job!”, or “I see you.” There’s a study I included in the book, looking at a group of high-powered women, all of whom are crushing their careers. All of them looked at their success through the lens of what their fathers would have said and thought. People tell me all the time that they don’t care about what their dads say, but I sometimes think I need to say, gently, “If that’s the case, why do you keep talking about it?” The short work of the book is to help people get in touch with that space. Without that being the case, we can’t inject the gospel and allow God to span the gap.
This same frame of reference, of God as a father: as a pastor – rather than as a preacher or an author – where does that fit into your priorities list?
I try to continually preach Christ, as Paul said we must do. Picking a specific topic is much less important. If we are preaching Christ, we are presenting a picture of God that is accurate. And that is much better than giving people three ways to be a better husband or whatever it is – as important as those talks are. The church really has to define that – who God is.
There’s also an aspect to the narrative of believers being “Children of the King”. King versus father – there could be a slight difference in what is expected in those relationships?
Maybe, but not much. As a child of a king, you know that your father is worthy of honour. But there is also that part of it – when you run through a king’s banqueting hall and break a glass… An employee would get fired. A child gets loved and indulged. I think our understanding of the word “Abba” gives some insight into that – it’s not quite “daddy”, but it is less formal than “father”; it’s somewhere in between. That tension is the gospel. When I see Jesus, I won’t be giving him a high five; I’ll be face-down in reverence. And when I stand up, it’ll be a hug, not a handshake.
The Passion Movement is aimed specifically at 18-25-year-olds. In the context of needing a father’s love and guidance, what is significant about this age group?
They – in the US, but also in South Africa, in great numbers – are a fatherless generation. They don’t have the blessing: “I love you. I believe in you. You matter to me.” The person who needs to say that is not in the house. These kids get stuck in a cul-de-sac of other opinions – this is the fall-out of the millennial generation. A dad leaving home, trying to minimise the damage, might have said, “This is not about you,” but the kid will almost definitely circle around in their mind to feel that it is about them; all about them. From there, to trust in a God who says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” is quite a step. We’re seeing this generation delay marriage because they don’t feel as though they’re good enough from someone else, and still living with their parents later in life because they don’t think they can stand alone.
This is a movement that started in 1997. How have you had to adapt your perspectives and teachings as you’ve grown further away from the demographic you’re speaking to? It’s more than two decades since that first Passion event. Young people – and the world – have changed now.
Interestingly, I haven’t changed a lot. The messages I give are not time sensitive; they’re big life arc messages that are as true now as they were then. Live for God’s glory; it’s all about Jesus; God is a perfect father – the great college renewal movements of the 1700s and 1800s had the same messages. The students have changed. In the Nineties, they were more aggressive and ambitious. Now, they don’t seem to think they can achieve the things they want to.
You recently partnered with Prison Fellowship to get copies of Not Forsaken into the hands of prisoners. Do you have any feedback on the effects of that campaign? And what is your vision versus the reality in those scenarios; it being a seed-planting opportunity versus a groundswell?
We haven’t heard yet – we’ll probably look back in another six months or so. My personal feeling is that there is a possibility for transformation everywhere where Jesus is part of the equation. The inmate is a forsaken segment of our communities, but they’re people God loves and cares about. If God enters their lives, they are transformed – it’s not a gimmick or marketing. This book belongs there.You’ve also released a book for children – How Great Is Our God. It links God and science, which is a move that must throw your critics a bit?
It’s not an apologetic. It’s more of an introduction. Kids don’t understand great theological concepts, but they are interested in amazing things that happen in the world. This diminishes their fear of science. If God is God, we have nothing to fear. I think it helps kids get comfortable with facing big philosophical questions – they’re going to have to walk into those headwinds later. If they’re predisposed to science now, they might be able to work out the answers better. Looking at it this way, they can learn that origin and meaning is bigger than function and method.
The devotional aspect of the book: how do you pitch that at the appropriate level?
It’s designed for seven to 11-year-olds who can sit with a book themselves and process interesting ideas, like what makes substances glow or something. They’re at an age when they want to ask questions, before they get more advanced and getting help is not as cool.