“Gestalt” – a word some of us academic types use on occasion.  Gestalt has to do with perception, of seeing the whole, all at once, rather than parts.   Many more have surely seen the image of the woman/women that illustrates this concept.  What do you see?

From one perspective you see an older woman with a large nose and a protruding chin looking obliquely your direction.  From another, you see the profile of a young woman looking away from you.   The old woman’s chin becomes the young woman’s neck, which now has some kind of adornment around it.  The old woman’s big nose is the young woman’s chin and jaw.  The old woman’s left eye is the young woman’s left ear. And explaining it takes all the fun out it.

Once you’ve seen one image, it’s hard to see the other. But once it pops into view, once you experience the gestalt shift, you have that slightly exhilarating “I see it!” moment.

Honestly, I don’t know much about gestalt theory.  Some expert reading this  no doubt could modify my view and I would receive the correction gladly.  But I think the metaphor works for what the church needs.  So, let me press it a bit further.

Our perceptions and our perspectives must be trained.  In order for us to see certain things, someone who can see and who is good at explaining and teaching, helps us to see.  This is a major aspect of education.  Even sometimes with physical objects, we need training to see clearly.  And when what we’re supposed to see pops into view, is it not exciting?

After a while, after we have practiced seeing things a certain way, that way of seeing goes underground, so to speak.  It becomes tacit, so much a part of the way we see things that we no longer have to think about how we see things. It’s like second nature to see things as we do. We just see. And we see this way until something happens to unsettle us, to make us aware of something wrong with our seeing.

Well, we are certainly now living in an unsettling time. It’s a good time for a gestalt shift. Who/what will help us see clearly?

The American church needs a gestalt shift. We need to see the whole picture of our world and the church’s place in it. We’ve been trained to see the world’s through the world’s eyes, which clouds our vision and makes us blind to God’s work and God’s call. We’ve taken nominally Christian views and behaviors as Gospel and have traded the real thing for an idolatrous knock-off.

Try this very unscientific experiment.  Take a look at your Twitter feeds, at what Facebook thinks you’re interested in seeing, at Instagram stories.  How do Christians seem there? What is their main focus? What do they seem to care about? What has their attention? Maybe you and your friends and feeds are among the exceptions.  If so, God bless you. But don’t miss the big picture.

Why do most American teenagers (Christians included) place being rich and famous as a high priority? Our young people are a mirror of us. They learned from us. What have they learned? For a while many of us were throwing around the phrase “moralistic therapeutic deism,” which aptly describes this counterfeit faith. We used it without understanding it. Our gestalt remained fixed and the phrase vanished almost as fast as it came, as popular Christianity moved on to the next hot and trendy controversy.  But it still speaks (stay tuned for a guest post on this topic).

The church needs a gestalt shift. We need eyes to see and ears to hear. We need to recognize again that Jesus is not only our Savior, he is also our Pattern. We worship him. We also follow him, learn from him and, by his gracious Spirit’s power, emulate him. He is Lord of everything. We march under his banner. We see and engage all aspects of life from this comprehensive perspective.

What if we took some substantial time to focus on those parts of scripture that deal not with our comfort (which we rightly love) but with our calling? Our sharing in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of the Gospel, our denying ourselves and taking up our cross daily and following him? What if we zeroed in on what Romans teaches us about dying to sin and the obedience of faith?  What does it mean, after all, to be crucified with Christ?

In Revelation 19, in that great song of the wedding supper of the Lamb, we see that “his bride has made herself ready.” She is beautiful, “clothed with fine linen, bright and pure–for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints” (Rev. 19:8). There it is. There is the picture of the church. and here is the needed gestalt shift. Let this vision captivate us and chasten us and inspire us to sanctify ourselves, with yielded hearts and eyes wide open and ears attuned to the Master’s command.  We shift our focus. We stop worrying so much about our comfort and protection and we accept that serving God faithfully in all things is vastly more important than our comfort.

It’s time for a gestalt shift.





The Church Needs a Gestalt Shift

4 thoughts on “The Church Needs a Gestalt Shift

  • July 21, 2020 at 8:54 am

    Thanks, Steve. I still can’t see the young woman! I assume you have read Scott Kisker’s article in Firebrand. It comes at things from the historian’s perspective, but underlying his narrative is deep spiritual hunger for God to shake us into a new Gestalt. I think that the current events of 2020 are whacking us all up beside the head and shaking everything that can be shaken. I pray that the Spirit will open our eyes to what God is doing. God bless you! Bill

    • July 22, 2020 at 1:42 pm

      Hi Bill, For some reason my initial reply to you didn’t “take.” Trying again. Yes, I’ve read Scott’s piece in Firebrand. If I recall correctly, he referred to the genie getting out of the bottle on doctrine and discipline in 1972. The 1988 GC tried to put it back in the bottle, to no effect. Scott’s essay helps us see the importance of knowing our history, as well as our doctrines and discipline.

  • July 22, 2020 at 10:17 am

    I would dearly love to have a video call with you and Joni at some point. How can we do that? I’m in the US for the rest of the summer, so we’re in the same time zone–no mathematical problems to solve.

    • July 22, 2020 at 1:46 pm

      Let’s do it, Mary. I’ve sent you a FB friend request. You can PM me your email address and I’ll send you a Zoom invitation.


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