Although Shane Hipps, a former teaching pastor at Mars Hill Church in Grand Rapids calls himself a Christian, he is not convinced that makes him “any closer to Jesus than a Muslim.” He explained this view to Relevant Magazine in January 2013 as he discussed his new book, Selling Water by the River a Book About the Life Jesus Promised and the Religion that Gets in the Way. Hipps is featured in the January/February 2013 issue of the popular magazine targeted at young Evangelicals.
In another recent interview with Homebrewed Christianity, Hipps claimed he is “refocusing part of the Christian narrative … what I’m talking about has very significant, significant implications for the way we might practice our religion if we understood these things.” And in a December 2012 article, he wrote: “Just because Christianity claims Jesus as its own does not mean that Christ automatically claims Christianity as his own.”
Hipps told Homebrewed Christianity that Jesus’ teaching on eternal life has “been misrepresented and misunderstood by nearly every tradition in Christianity,” as Jesus talks about the subject “in the present continuous subjunctive tense, not the future tense.”
He explaned: “Jesus comes in one sense as a mirror. He has lots of functions, but this is one of His most overlooked functions that He actually has the power to connect us to the thing within us, that’s already there but we are anxious about that we can’t seem to see, taste, touch, or feel, but that when we do make contact, everything makes sense. All the questions go away, all the worries go away … there’s a deep sense of connection, fulfillment, peace, joy, heaven, forgiveness, salvation, liberation, whatever that is.” Hipps emphasized that “[Jesus] did that while he was alive, He didn’t even have to die to help us with that.”
Hipps briefly acknowledged the commands to “proclaim the name of Jesus which [are] throughout the Bible,” but added:“Just because it’s the name given to you to proclaim … does not mean that He needs us to do His work in the world.” And it’s “that kind of humility … I’m most interested in,” the author said, claiming Christians ought to “hold that kind of humility and still remain devoted to [their] religion.” He rhetorically asked, “What on earth makes us think that just because we bear His name, that we somehow have a corner on the market of Jesus in the world?”
Although his theology is far from orthodox, Hipps said “there aren’t a lot of people debating my book because it doesn’t fit in categories people debate.” This is likely because he used “language patterns that are designed to allow people on the right to have access points, and I deliberately walked around the issues that would have disqualified me in their lives.” Referencing former Mars Hill pastor Rob Bell’s controversial book, Hipps explained: “It’s not like Love Wins where Rob just went out and like crammed something in their face, this was a different strategy.”
Hipps’s new book has been endorsed by key figures within Emergent Christianity such as Brian McLaren and Phyllis Tickle, but he is trying to make inroads with conservative Christians. Clearly though, his message more closely resembles mysticism, with Jesus as the connection point to a divine presence, and the Church as a convenient, but superfluous institution.