By Brock Bondurant
Psalm 34:8 – Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!
I learned a lot about following Jesus from an unlikely source recently. I watched a documentary called Jiro Dreams of Sushi about a laser-focused sushi chef who said something that stuck with me: “taste is a hard thing to explain.”
Why did that resonate so deeply?
For the centuries following the foundation of Christ’s body, the Church, we’ve been trying to replicate the taste experienced by our forefathers, those 12 apostles who dined, studied, and practiced in the presence of Jesus. In the film, sushi master, Jiro said, “to make good food you must taste good food. You must be able to discern good from bad.” To create the intended product, the vision of perfection, you must taste your own food. And then you must have the means to get there. “There is so much you can’t learn from words; you have got to practice,” says Jiro.
While some movements within the Church have gotten us closer than others to that original product – the apostles living in fellowship alongside Jesus – the experience of being with, becoming like, and doing what Jesus of Nazareth did has yet to be known in all its fullness. This fullness is precisely what Paul was expressing in Ephesians 4:13, that we’d attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. This “knowledge” Paul speaks of is what philosopher Dallas Willard would call “interactive relationship” – experience.
Many movements in the Church have sought to produce this experience. Upon further study, it became clear to me that every movement since and including the Reformation has been so busy counteracting and overreacting to each movement prior that we’ve thrown out the good with the bad. In the terms of the sushi documentary, the Church has been trying to create great sushi by upheaving the recipe repeatedly – ditching the good ingredients just because there were hints of poor ones. While I agree the recipe can be renewed and revived in different seasons, we can’t forget the original ingredients from Christ himself: teaching, community, and practice, fashioned together in the transformational hand of the Holy Spirit as we’re cooked over time through “the hard knocks of life” (See John Mark Comer’s Spiritual Formation Paradigms).
The finished product of this process – sanctification – is the conforming to the image of Christ himself (2 Corinthians 3:18, Romans 8:29). Willard would say our ultimate goal is that we rule with Christ in his Kingdom. In order to rule with him, we must become like him. Which is why Willard has said that “Nothing is more important than the kind of persons we are becoming.” To be like Christ is to bear the fruit of the Spirit – the essence of Jesus himself. Good fruit, like good sushi, tastes good. The process of formation in which we become the type of people who are becoming increasingly more of these attributes cannot be informational alone. In his book Desiring the Kingdom, philosopher James. K.A. Smith reminds us that education is more formative than it is strictly informative. The teaching we put ourselves under forms us. But it’s not through information alone that we come to the knowing that Dallas Willard and the Bible invite us to understand. This is why the core tenants of a movement like evangelicalism (though good) cannot get us there alone. We need experience. We need the devotion to prayer and the expectation of the Spirit’s moving in, around, and through us that the charismatic movement has reintroduced to the mix. We must not be “satisfied with just believing the essentials,” says Willard. With the Holy Spirit empowering us, we can go straight to God himself. We can experience; we can taste.
As we learn to become more acquainted with the Spirit through experience (which comes through engaging in practices like prayer, Scripture meditation, and solitude & silence), we can’t forget that growing in the fruit of the Spirit is foundational to our becoming like Jesus. As my seminary instructor once said, “Never let your growth in your gifts of the Spirit exceed your growth in the fruit of the Spirit.” Spiritual formation is, after all, for the “sake of others,” according to author Robert Mulholland.
As we fix our vision on Jesus, with the intention of bearing fruit for the sake of others, by means of partnering with the Spirit in Kingdom-centric communities of practice, we will cultivate the long-awaited experience, or taste – though hard to explain – of the fullness of the Kingdom here and now.
Taste and see…