Category Archives: Discipleship

Are you transformed?

From Darryl Dash‘s new article for Christian Week:

It was a proud moment. The church had just welcomed eighty-three new members. The pastor began his sermon. “This is great, isn’t it?” he began. “But before we get too giddy about new members, let me ask you a question: Why should we bring eighty-three new people into something that isn’t working?”

The pastor, Bill Hull, describes this as the first time he had unmasked himself in thirty years of ministry. “Something his wrong,” he said. “All the formulas, strategic planning, mission statements, and visionary sermons are not making disciples.” In his book, Choose the Life, Hull comments, “We were stuck in the same rut in which so many churches find themselves – religious activity without transformation.”

…Dallas Willard, author of numerous books on discipleship, argues that there is only one solution to the crisis facing the church. It is to make “spiritual formation in Christlikeness the exclusive primary goal of the local congregation.”

It is to move beyond all the discussions on architecture, styles of music, and structures, and focus all of our energy on bringing “all those in attendance to understand clearly what it means to be a disciple of Jesus and to be solidly committed to discipleship in their whole life.”

This goal, he writes, would have to be approached gently and patiently with existing groups where “people have not understood this to be part of their membership commitment.”

Willard is right. As Ray Stedman wrote years ago, “God’s first concern is not what the church does, it is what the church is.” A post-Christian world, skeptical young adults, and God himself will not settle for anything less. (Link)

I was going to comment on this, but Randall has already weighed in and Leighton talks about it all the time on his blog. This troubles me—that Christians generally aren’t any different—but I don’t have the answers. I can’t even seem to figure out how we could be different, given that love and good works exist outside of the faith. Food for thought.

“‘Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.’”? (John 13:35, NLT)

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2, ESV)

The Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi

Lord, make me and instrument of Thy peace;
Where there is hatred let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that
I may not so much seek
To be consoled, as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved, as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
And it is in dying that we are born into eternal life.

(Quoted in The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime, by Phyllis Tickle, p. 7)

Undiscipled disciples.

The disciple is one who, intent upon becomeing Christlike and so dwelling in his “faith and practice,” systematically and progressively rearranges his affairs to that end.»? (Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines, p. 261)

…For at least several decades the churches of the Western world have not made discipleship a condition of being a Christian.»? One is not required to be, or to intend to be, a disciple in order to become a Christian, and one may remain a Christian without any signs of progress toward or in discipleship.»? Contemporary American churches in particular do not require following Christ in his example, spirit, and teachings as a condition of membership…

…Little good results from insisting that Christ is also supposed to be Lord: to present his lordship as an option leaves it squarely in the category of white-wall tires and stereo equipment for the new car.»? You can do without it.»? And it is—alas!—for from clear what you would do with it.»? Obedience and training in obedience form not intelligible doctrinal or practical unity with the salvation presented in recent versions of the gospel.

…Not having made our converts disciples, it is impossible for us to teach them how to live as Christ lived and taught.»? That was not part of the package, not what they converted to.

…Thus the very type of life that could change the course of human society—and upon occasion has done so—is excluded from the essential message of the church.

Concerned to enter that life we ask: “Am I a disciple, or only a Christian by current standards?”»? Examination of our ultimate desires and intentions, reflected in the specific responses and choices that make up our lives, can show whether there are things we hold more important than being like him.»? If there are, then we are not yet his disciples.»? Being unwilling to follow him, our claim of trusting him must ring hollow.»? We could never claim to trust a doctor, teacher or auto mechanic whose direction we do not follow.»? (pp. 258-60, 265)

Changing society without changing character

We must at some point stop looking for new information or social arrangements or religious experiences that will draw off the evils in the world at large, abolish war, hunger, oppression and so forth, while letting us continue to be and to live as we have since Adam.»? This is the illusion of our age, the Holy Grail of modernity, a pleasant dream in secularism.»? The monstrous evils we deplore are in fact the strict causal consequences of the spirit and behavior of "normal" human beings following generally acceptable patterns of life.»? They are not the result of strange flukes, accidental circumstances, or certain especially mad or bad individuals.»? The tyrants, satanic forces, and oppressive practices of this world play upon our "merely decent" lives as a master organist dominates his or her instrument but is wholly powerless without it.

The debate about whether "the answer" lies in social or in individual change goes on and on only because both sides are thinking at a very superficial level.»? Establishing the rights of labor and of the various ethnic groups, shifting ownership of the means of production from private to public hands, outlawing various types of discrimination, governmental outlays for welfare and education, and so on, will certainly make a difference—good or bad—but they will not eliminate greed, loneliness, resentment, sexual misery and harm, disappointment with one’s lot in life, hunger for meaning and recognition, fear of sickness, pain, old age and death, or hatred of those of other cultures.»? But then neither will the vapid, mass produced experiences of repentance and faith—if we may indeed call them that—that now commonly are announced as entrance into a new and supernatural life.

…learned people tell us that personal virtue is not an answer to social ills.»? The effect of this saying is to keep people working at changing society without attempting the radical transformation of character.»? It pleads for a continuation of "life as usual," which is precisely the source of the problem. (Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines, pp. 234-5, 238)

On poverty

…the delusions caused by possessions cannot be prevented by having none.»? We do not have to own things to love them, trust them, or even serve them.»? The percentage of those in bondage to wealth is no greater among the rich than the poor.»? It is not money or gain, but the love of it, that is said by Paul to be the root of all evil (1 Tim. 6:10), and none love it more desperately and unrealistically than those without it.»? (Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines, in the chapter entitled "Is Poverty Spiritual?", p. 199)

On sacrifice

The cautious faith that never saws off the limb on which it is sitting never learns that unattached limbs may find strange, unaccountable ways of not falling.

»?»?»?»?»?»?»?»?»?»?»?»?»?»?»?»?»?»?»?»? ~ Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines (p.175)

Is Jesus Predictable?

In other words, can we know What Jesus Would Do?

A couple of weeks ago I posted a quote from Dallas Willard’s The Spirit of the Disciplines in which he questions the What Would Jesus Do approach to discipleship. His main concern was that it overlooked the fact that Jesus’ choices in an given “on the spot” situation were “the natural outflow of the life he lived when not on the spot”.

A couple days ago Justin at Radical Congruency linked to a New York Times op-ed by Gary Willis (here are some “bug me nots” to sign in with if you need them, thanks to Justin. Try username: bugmenot213213 and password: 213213, which worked for me). In the article Willis discusses the co-opting of Jesus for political purposes by the American right and left. It’s an interesting op-ed that attempts to (for once) remove Jesus from political partisanship of any kind. But that’s not what this post is about (I may quote the op-ed more later).
Within the op-ed, however, Willis has this to say about What Would Jesus Do?:

Some may think that removing Jesus from politics would mean removing morality from politics. They think we would all be better off if we took up the slogan “What would Jesus do?”

That is not a question his disciples ask in the Gospels. They never knew what Jesus was going to do next. He could round on Peter and call him “Satan.” He could refuse to receive his mother when she asked to see him. He might tell his followers that they are unworthy of him if they do not hate their mother and their father. He might kill pigs by the hundreds. He might whip people out of church precincts.

The Jesus of the Gospels is not a great ethical teacher like Socrates, our leading humanitarian. He is an apocalyptic figure who steps outside the boundaries of normal morality to signal that the Father’s judgment is breaking into history. His miracles were not acts of charity but eschatological signs ”? accepting the unclean, promising heavenly rewards, making last things first.

If Willis is right—and he’s certainly on to something here, I think—the only thing we can be certain that Jesus would do is love. But even ‘love’ as a motivator in any action is often vague, because what does “love” really mean these days? For the most part it’s either sex or “being nice”, both of which are far off the mark. Jesus wasn’t always nice, was he, even though he always loved? And what does “love” mean in the context of correction and discipline, for instance? By some definitions, “love” wouldn’t correct or discipline. If I were to turn the tables on the bingo parlour in a church’s basement or accused someone of being a (unwitting?) tool of Satan, that wouldn’t be considered “loving” by today’s standards, would it?