Friday, March 25, 2016

Philosophy of Discipleship

How do God and man cooperate in sanctification? Do they? If they do, what habits would best facilitate this process of maturation? These are some of the main questions involved at the center of the question of discipleship.
            Discipleship is the primary force within spiritual formation that occurs in community. It is augmented through different practices and habits, which constitute the rest of spiritual formation, and ultimately involves the Divine nature molding the human nature. In my journey to understand discipleship, or even to attempt at developing a personal philosophy on the matter I have come through three various stages.
            The first stage of my understanding of discipleship was excitement. Directly after converting from atheism to Christianity I was enamored with the faith and sought out any who would be willing to discuss the topics I was encountering. In this time, however, I quickly understood that the other men my age were not interested in the things I was learning. So, as it were, I was forced into books. Charles Spurgeon became to me a dear friend, if it is possible to call a man who died over a hundred years before I came to be his brother in the faith such a title. Through his writings I was shaped and molded, many of the actions I had found to be normal were quickly pruned, my passion for the study of Scripture was fostered and a desire for prayer formed.
            The second stage was a much more arrogant stage. I had started moving, due to callousness, toward a sense of theological superiority. The view that others around me didn’t have the same doctrinal understandings as me separated me from other more starkly. What had begun as a genuine lack of comradery was becoming the bastion of my pride. It was in this stage that I began to take a determinists approach to discipleship. To be frank about it, I considered any discipleship that could take place to be enacted by the sovereign God and there was absolutely nothing I could do to stop him or, for that matter, start him. While in this realm of thinking I still daily studied Scripture and continued to keep my prayer journal, but the deep sense of growth began to wane.
            The third stage of my understanding of discipleship is still growing and still happening. The second stage was broken through the severe mercies of God. Now, though, it seems that I am finally coming to a true philosophy of what being a disciple is all about. Discipleship is the primary driving force within spiritual formation that occurs in community.
There are things, habits, within which we can work cooperatively with God to build our faith. I have never had the privilege of being in what I would consider a mentee type of role. But, discipleship does not require a person to be in a mentor/mentee relationship per se.  
Within the Christian community I have seen various forms of discipleship, because there are various forms of learners. Some demanded the mentor/mentee relationship, while others required a softer or more malleable approach to discipleship. This differentiated approach to the understanding of discipleship is an area that seems to be missing in many discipleship models.
            Form the books assigned it seemed to be a reoccurring theme that discipleship reached its height at the time of the Jesus Movement in the 1970’s (this does not consider the ideal approach of Jesus during the fist century). However, if all models of discipleship are static and not dynamic, do we, the Church, truly believe that we are approaching discipleship rightly? As each person is made in the image of God, we must, therefore, approach discipleship with the same type of creativity that we see God utilize in the created order.
Still more, the community aspect of the discipleship process requires the involvement of an individual within the body of Christ. What this means, is that each individual who comes to faith, should be able to find an approach to how they are best discipled. A beginning step to working out the best way to bring up a new believer in Christ and disciple them effectively would be to have the individual take a learning type quiz. These types of quizzes break down the learner into their strongest suite of learning, giving the teacher, the discipler, a base from which to move forward.
If this is true, that each disciple is discipled differently, then the main mark of right discipleship is that I am being taught all that Christ commanded and growing to be more like him. When I was in the first stage of my Christian faith, Charles Spurgeon was discipling me. Yes, he was not alive and so the actions of life-on-life discipleship were not there, but nonetheless, the person with the greatest voice in some of the my most formative Christian days was Charles Spurgeon.
            At this present stage of my life many of the members of my church small group and professors of Southeastern are discipling me. They are teaching me all that Christ commanded. Indeed, they are showing me that I am not strong, but that I am weak and that God is strong. So it remains that discipleship is not that I have sought out, or been sought out to be mentored, but that I have submitted myself to godly men teaching me how to be a godly man according to the commands of Christ.
            But to gain a fuller understanding of this creative discipleship we should look at Matthew 28:18-20, the Great Commission.
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
This last command of Christ builds an understanding of discipleship that should be descriptive in our differentiated model of discipleship.
First, we must recognize where the authority for our mission resides and is derived. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me,” it is not partial authority, but all authority. Therefore, it behooves us to begin discipleship on our knees asking the one with all the authority to provide the means to disciple any individual, or be discipled by any individual. The Church is the person of Christ on the earth, as such she is indwelt with divine power to accomplish this mission and should not fear the schemes of evil.
Second, “Go,” we cannot sit and stay or be impartial in the course of disciple making. It is demanded by the very nature of being a Christian to be a disciple maker. To say it another way, it is in our DNA. This means, that in conversation we go forward with the truth; in friendships we go forward with the gospel. We aim to build relationship that can bear the gospel’s weight.
Third, “Make disciples of all nations,” this is the verb of the subject.  The call is not simply to go, it is to make, and we do not make emotionalism or pithy statements, we make disciples. This is the call. This is the life. Additionally, this is not a nationality thing, this is an all nations thing. We go, not to just one ethnicity or socio-economical status, but to all, and of all is who me make disciples.
Forth, “Baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” this is the portion that I fear is far to often left out. The call to belief is not the end, it is the beginning. We are to baptize them; this symbol is a deeply meaningful statement. It is a statement to the watching world – both physical and spiritual – that the person in the baptismal waters is signing their death certificate, for they are dead to self and alive in Christ and that they are making a war declaration on their sin. What is more is it is a statement in the belief in the Triune God of creation within whom resides all power and authority.
Fifth, “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” This is where the journey begins, and where differentiation is key. We teach all that Christ has commanded. As Christ opened up the Old Testament to his disciples so we aim to do the same to those we are discipleing. Thus, the job of discipleship cannot be accomplished void of the Scriptures. Both the Old and the New Testaments are absolutely necessary in the discipleship process. It is not that we are teaching others to emulate our lives, but we are teaching others to be transformed by God for God’s glory.
Sixth, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” This job of discipleship cannot be void of God. He has sent us the Helper. He has sent the Holy Spirit to dwell within each Christian. It is by his power, which belongs to him that we proclaim the gospel to those whom he has purchased from death, to teach them what he has taught us, as he is with us through it all to the end of it all.

Discipleship is the primary force within spiritual formation that occurs in community. It is important that discipleship happens within the community of the Church and not in a void. And it is necessary that discipleship take a differentiated approach to learning. Building on the creativity that God has designed within his creation, and recognizing that we are image bearers of God. In so doing we must stay saturated by Scripture for without this we are not making disciples of Christ, but disciples of self. And we stay constant in prayer as we need Jesus’ authority in order to see him transform lives, teach his commands and see God glorified.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

J.P. Moreland "Love Your God with all Your Mind" - Review

            J.P. Moreland offers a treatise on how to begin being a well-thought Christian. Throughout his work he sets out how to develop as a Christian thinker, in order to strengthen one’s faith and to prove useful for the proclamation of the gospel. Forwarded by Dallas Willard, Moreland’s offers an, ironically, complementary view of discipleship quite different from Willard’s own “The Spirit of the Disciplines.”

Content Summary
            Out of the gates in chapter one Moreland begins to summarize the problem with the Christian mind stating, “Judged by the Scriptures, church history, and common sense, it is clear that something has gone desperately wrong with out modern understanding of the value of reason and intellectual development for individuals and corporate church life” (21). He goes on to innumerate that point of the movement from a Judeo-Christian mindset to a post-Christian one.
            Chapter two and three are where Moreland begins to sketch the necessity of developing the mind for the sake of the Christian faith both corporately and individually. “According to the Bible developing a Christian mind is part of the very essence of discipleship unto the Lord Jesus” (43). Offering a biblical sketch of the value of reason and the minds role in spiritual transformation. Moreland states, “The mind is the soul’s primary vehicle for making contact with God…” (67) this is similar to Dallas Willard’s claim that the body is the main vehicle of the disciplines (The Spirit of the Disciplines) but in direct contrast to it.
            Chapter four is where Moreland begins to not simply diagnose the issues of Western Christendom’s failure to think reasonably, but begins to offer a remedy on how to think critically and think logically about faith. This initial chapter is dealing with the, “Hobgoblins of the Christian mind,” these are basic things like bad habits and the fear of loosing control. It is wise, Moreland says to let change these habits and lose control so as to be brought up wisely in Christianity.
            Chapter five is the beginning of routine changes necessary to form proper habits of the mind. This chapter is a good stand alone chapter which can be read in order to reconsider how one is currently approaching the task of thinking, and what, if anything, needs to change. In addition, it is where Moreland introduces the basics of logic and argumentative fallacies.
            Chapters six and seven deal with the outward focus of the reasoned Christian mind, that of evangelism and apologetics. Once the topics of logic and argumentative fallacies are covered Moreland correctly moves into the use of these disciplines in the real world. Both are required in the realm of evangelism and apologetics. In chapter seven he offers two molds of the types of individuals one might encounter when in an apologetic conversation, that of the skeptic or the scientist and offers a background to each and an approach to each.
            Chapters eight and nine are on the topics of the personal and communal life of the Christian. In the world of corporate worship, how does reason play into such a place? In the arena of work and vocation, how does logic play out? “Worship is a response to a God who initiates toward His people, gives them life, and shows Himself active on their behalf” (161). “If we are to be integrated holistic Christians who make an impact on the world, we need to learn how to be Christian doctors, schoolteachers, lawyers, businesspersons and so forth” (175). These areas are deeply important and demand the consideration given only by a reasoned mind.
            Chapter ten aims at the Christian’s recapturing of the intellectual life. What this means is not merely the Christian section of the bookstore, but each section of the bookstore. What is more is that the Church, not the school systems or universities are to be the pillars of truth. Thus, “The church must see herself as an education institution, and the development of the Christian mind will be at the forefront of the church’s ministry strategy for equipping the saints.

Critique and Evaluation
            Overall I thoroughly enjoyed Moreland’s book. This is an area that seems to be needing much attention, especially in a day where television helps to create passive people receiving passive messages. It is imperative that Christians be thinkers, as well as doers. If we are doers but not thinkers our system of belief lacks conviction, but if we are only thinkers and not doers there is no real passion for the thoughts. His use of evangelism and apologetics as examples of the logic and reason he was teaching was helpful in showing the reader applicable moments where logic and reason were utilized for the advance of the Kingdom.

Application for Ministry
            Moreland offers quite a few thoughts in chapter ten about how the church should be governed and even how sermons should be written and structured. These suggestions are good, and worth consideration, however it is also necessary to first consider the people one is ministering to. While I am an advocate for the thinking reasoning Christian, I am more of an advocate for making sure the gospel message is communicated clearly to the audience at hand. If the use of too much reason and logic leaves an overly unthinking population behind, we must rethink the communication of the message (not rethink the message, simply its communication). This does not mean we must rethink how we think, but merely the communication aspect so as to be more effective in clearly stating the gospel in a manner which can be easily understood by the given audience.

            In ministry usage I would recommend this book to be read by an intern who had little to no formal training in order to begin their thinking process. This could also be a good book to read at various stages in ones learning process so as to sharpen the mental tool we have been given.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Dallas Willard "The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives" - Review

Dallas Willard is heralded as one of the premiere minds on discipleship and his book “The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives” as a classic on spiritual disciplines. However, there is reason for concern over how he deals with the spiritual disciplines, and ultimately his overall claim within the text.

Summary of Book’s Content
            The book consists of a preface, eleven chapters and an epilogue. Within the preface Willard states, the central claim of his book is, “…We can become like Christ by doing one thing – following him in the overall style of life he chose for himself” (ix). In addition, he rightly asserts that, “No social or political revolution has changed the heart of darkness…” (x).
            Chapter one “The Secret of the Easy Yoke” sets out with the usage of a baseball analogy that carries through the rest of the chapter. Its main use is to show the time and effort the baseball player goes through to in order to become a professional at the game, and thus show that we too can become perfect. “The secret of the easy yoke, then, is to learn from Christ how to live our total lives, how to invest all our time and our energies of mind and body as he did” (9).
            In chapter two “Making Theology of the Disciplines Practical” Willard shows the difficult dichotomy between our perfection, that is, that we are seen as Christ is seen, and our continuing to sin. He continues on in a section titled “New Life Breathed into Old Disciplines” to say, “Failure to act in certain definite ways will guarantee that this transformation does not come to pass” (20). Therefore, “Full participation in the life of God’s Kingdom and in the vivid companionship of Christ comes to us only through appropriate exercise in the disciplines for life in the spirit” (26).
            Chapter three entitled, “Salvation is Life” tackles the perennial issue faced by the church today, that salvation is not merely a one-time event, but a lifetime. “Why is it that we look upon our salvation as a moment that began our religious life instead of the daily life we received from God” (28)? Within this chapter Willard points to the missing recognition of the body and its implications that foster this low view of salvation and therefore remove faith from the realm of real life. Thus, he discusses the the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus as being the reason why we must deal with and develop our understanding of the body because, “it is with our bodies we receive the new life that comes as we enter the Kingdom” (31).
            While up to this point Willard’s treating of this topic has not be terrible, it is in chapter four where he begins to move sideways. He makes the assumption that, “We were not designed just to live in mystic communion with our Maker, as so often suggested. Rather we were created to govern the earth with all its living things – and to that specific end we were made in the divine likeness” (48).
            Chapter five begins with a statement most would find in a Deepak Chopra book, “Life is always and everywhere an inner power to relate to other things in certain specific ways” (57) as he continues through this chapter and chapter six he attempts to divorce physical and spiritual life and therefore begins to sound more like a gnostic than a Christian. “… It is the spiritual life alone that makes possible fulfillment of bodily existence – and hence human existence” (73).
            Chapter ten and the epilogue deal with the problem of evil and Willard’s cry that something radical must be done to make disciples. “We have one realistic hope for dealing with the world’s problems. And that is the person and gospel of Jesus Christ…” (237). Thus, Willard ends in a healthy place, the understanding that the radical need for our culture and modern man is nothing short of the the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Critique and Evaluation
G.K. Chesterton sums up my thoughts on Dallas Willard’s “The Spirit of the Disciplines” well when he, in Orthodoxy, writes of an English yachtsman, “who slightly miscalculated his course and discovered England under the impression that it was a new island in the South Seas” (Chesterton). For Willard ends with proper recognition that the person and work of Jesus is the only thing radical enough to impact modern man but the course in which he gets there is terribly awkward.
Additionally, his book can be easily confused with a cult religion such as Mormonism, or send the reader into legalistic Christianity. While ‘doing’ is not bad and the Christian life is something we ‘do’ it is additionally important to note the Christian life’s absolute dependency on what Jesus as done, something Willard lacked in showing.

Application to Ministry

            While I would not encourage anyone with an unsure foundation in Christianity to read this work without close supervision there are a few points Willard discusses which are beneficial to ministry. His conclusion of the gospel being necessary for ministry is spot on, as is his critique of how salvation is viewed primarily as a one-time event rather than a daily belief. The analogy of a baseball player is, on it’s own ground, helpful to ministry for, as a baseball player’s life reflects his training so to the life of faith must reflect its belief (6-7).