Rich Wilkerson, Jr. is known for a lot of things. He is a fourth generation Pentecostal pastor. He took a young adult Bible study into being nine weeks into a new church plant. He is the pastor who officiated the wedding of Kanye West and Kim Kardashian. He and his wife, DawnCheré, star in the a new reality show, Rich in Faith, on the Oxygen channel. And this week, he adds author to that list.
Wilkerson’s book, Sandcastle Kings, uses four powerful stories from Luke 7 to explain why spiritual fulfillment cannot be found in ourselves, in other people, in material things, or even in organized religion. By examining the stories of the centurion’s faith, the resurrection of the widow’s son, Jesus’ message about John the Baptist, and the anointing by the woman with the alabaster jar, Wilkerson helps the reader take a closer look at all the ways in which we build sand castles that will one day be wiped away by the storm.
The other day I had a chance to talk with Wilkerson via phone about his new book. It didn’t take long to see why so many are attracted to his ministry. He is welcoming and open. He loves Jesus and treats others in such a manner. With a relaxed nature about him, he willingly answered unscripted questions about his book that led to questions about faith and theology. And it was easy to see why people are willing to go deeper in their faith with him as their guide.
The idea of the book is based on the parable of the Wise and Foolish builders. Both builders build – one on sand and one on rock – and both have to face the storm. Wilkerson says:
What I found interesting about that story, is that both the wise man and the foolish man have to face the storm. Meaning, we can’t prevent storms, but we can prepare for storms. And the way you prepare for a storm is knowing what you actually built on. What is the foundation of your life.
When I was a kid, I loved making sand castles. We would take all day building these castles. No matter what, at some point either the rain was going to fall or the tide was going to rise. The point is, the next day it wouldn’t be there. It would collapse because it’s a sandcastle.
Wilkerson’s point is that too often, we build sand castles and call ourselves kings and queens. We have figured out the secret to the fulfillment of life, only to find in the morning, that the sandcastle has collapsed. The secret to true fulfillment of life is found in Jesus.
Wilkerson is clear that one of these sand castles we build is religion. He uses John the Baptist as an example. In Luke 7, John is in prison and finds himself doubting if Jesus is the Messiah. The message that Jesus sends to John is one of trust. Rich says that Jesus is saying, “I’m not going to save you the way you want to be saved, but still trust in me.”
Building our castles on religion, Wilkerson says, leads to thinking that if we do enough good things, God pays us back. But grace is an unmerited gift from God. We do nothing to deserve grace. “The idea,” he told me, “is that Jesus didn’t come to institute religion, but to establish a relationship with us.”
This sense of religion equals relationship is key to Wilkerson’s theology. Kanye West, who has “been a friend of mine for a little while,” designed the cover of the book. According to Wilkerson, West “loves Jesus. I think he is on the journey of faith for sure.” Since the book is about “Christ colliding with culture” and “Christ colliding with a spiritually bankrupt world,” Wilkerson thought it would be a “fun collaboration” to work with West.
No matter what you think of Kanye West, you have to acknowledge that he is one of the most successful artists of our time. Wilkerson told me, “This guy is going to go down as this generation’s greatest artist.” Wilkerson further explains the reason for the collaboration:
“We’ve always seen the church of the past call upon the nation’s artists to help tell the story of the Gospel. . . . . When I threw the idea to Kanye, he jumped at the idea.” Wilkerson adds, “The cover is cool, but the content of the book is life changing.”
In Sandcastle Kings, Wilkerson writes, “If your doctrine is based on Christian bumper stickers, you’re in trouble.” Acknowledging that we live in a culture where everything is reduced to a soundbite or a bumper sticker, Wilkerson urges young people (really everyone) to go deeper. “Faith is so much more than a headline,” he told me. It is even deeper than morality. We have been trained to be good little boys and girls in a moral sense, but “that’s not what Jesus came for. Jesus came to make dead people alive,” Wilkerson says.
Wilkerson adds later in the over thirty minute conversation we had, that we can never do enough to deserve the forgiveness that has been extended to us. And he reminds us, “God is not in heaven like Santa Claus with a checklist. The reality is that we will never be able to do enough to fulfill the checklist.”
That is the aim of his book. Wilkerson’s hope is that people will come alive with a new or renewed relationship with Jesus based on what he has gleaned from these four stories in the seventh chapter of Luke. His hope is that people will stop building sand castles and start building their lives with Jesus by going deeper in their faith. As he says, “You have to dig a little deeper with this whole thing with Jesus.”
“Let’s not be sandcastle kings, but let’s put our faith in Jesus and our trust in him,” he says, “And let’s find ourselves in the storms we might bend, but we won’t break.”