Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Who Is A Disciple?

Anchor has been refocusing on the vision Jesus set out for his Eleven Apostles: "go into your world and make more disciples." - Matthew 28:19 Here's the thing though, the more I delve into the actual words and practice of Jesus, and the closer I examine the recorded praxis of the early church, the more I am uncertain of who is a disciple according to modern standards.

Dallas Willard has written hundreds and hundreds of pages on the idea of being a disciple according to the praxis (implementation of ideas into action) of Jesus. On one level, what he writes is inspiring:
"Jesus is actually looking for people he can trust with his power. He knows that otherwise we remain largely helpless in the face of the organized and disorganized evils around us, and that we are unable - given his chosen strategy - to promote his will for good in this world with adequate power." - pg 16, The Great Omission.

He ends the chapter with this fascinating insight:
"But someone will say, can I not be 'saved' - that is, get into heaven when I die-without any of this (being a constant student of Jesus)? Perhaps you can. God's goodness is so great, I am sure that He will let you in if He can find any basis at all to do so. But you might wish to think about what your life amounts to before you die, about what kind of person you are becoming, and about whether you really would be comfortable for eternity in the presence of One whose company you have not found especially desirable for the few hours and days of your earthly existence. And He is, afer all, One who says to you now, 'Follow me!'" - pg 17

I like what Willard writes, but it is difficult for me to see how it plays out in the normal life of the normal Christian that I know and see in the world around me. The kind of focus, intensity, and commitment that Willard implies is necessary for the disciple to put forth as a response to the invitation of Jesus to follow him, well it seems overwhelming and extremely scarce. Not only in my modern times, but also within the pages of the New Testament, and Hebrew Scriptures for that matter. Being faithful to God on the kind of level that Willard outlines seems to be the exception rather than the rule.

In the Hebrew Scriptures it was the rare man and woman who was Torah observant; Israel was decimated in 722BC and Judah was deported in 586BC for their lack of commitment and love - and these are the people whom God dwelt amongst in a might way. In the Gospels the disciples commonly misunderstand the teachings and actions of Jesus; many of them walk away from him in the hard times, and the Twelve abandon him at the End. In the Epistles it seems that a few men are greatly skilled in making disciples and living out the way of Jesus, but the disciples they make usually stray soon after the leader has left. So is what Jesus calls forth, is what Paul calls forth, is what Dallas Willard calls forth the ideal for which we strive, but reality reveals that all will fall short - so therefore...what?

The reality of discipleship for most people who actually publically affirm belief in him (which is a minority of the population anyway) is that they barely have time for "church-stuff" in the midst of their regular life. They barely have time for reading Scripture, praying, or confessing sins. They try to do what is good and right in their own eyes, they confess Jesus as Lord and Savior, and they participate in church at some level. And always there are people around (the famed "20%") who are more devoted, more comitted, more spiritual, more observant, more etc. Are they the ideal, or is everybody different, is it just personality?

Who is a disciple? Is it only the one who constantly integrates all the teachings of Jesus into every fabric of his life? Or can a disciple also be the one who confesses with their mouth that Jesus is LORD and believed that God raised him from the dead; and then requests forgiveness when they sin and try to live as good as life as they can. What is someone if they have not completely integrated all the teachings of Jesus into every fabric of their life? Willard, Paul, and Jesus make it sound like the cost is high, the commitment 100%; but what are you before you get to 100%? How long are you allowed to take? What if you are not 100% committed when you die?

Maybe these are arcane questions, but the closer I look at the details of discipleship in the Scriptures, the less clear I am on who is a disciple. Willard adds great insights, Paul has good stuff to say, and Jesus' teachings are essential, but an initial read doesn't clear things up. So Who is a Disciple?


Fresh Dirt said...

Tim! Justin Spurlock here. I came across a blog comment that you left on the Out of Ur blog regarding an interview with Phyllis Tickle. Good to see you on the web.

Well... since I'm here, I might as well comment on your blog post. I think it is really hard for us to understand the idea of discipleship because we do not realize the context of both the OT and NT message in reference to the empires they written in (Egyptian, Babylonian, Roman). As such, we don't realize how we serve Caesar rather than Jesus, America rather than the Kingdom of Heaven. Until we America's pastors begin helping their congregants understand this context for the gospel, I don't think it will be easy to create truly devoted disciples.

That's my two cents about the topic. I'm glad to have found you!

Tim Hallman said...

Justin Spurlock! What a delightful surprise to hear from you! How the heck are you?

I checked out your blog and your church website - good stuff. How is ministry in Fresno?

Thanks for the comment, I agree with you that helping the followers of Jesus at Anchor discern with greater clarity the context of Jesus' teachings in his culture and that of the OT will propel them forward in their faith adn life with God.

It's becoming more apparent to me, as you state, that American Christians need to do a better job of discerning that which belongs to Caesar and that which belongs to Christ; maybe that discernment is the stepping point into discipleship?

Fresh Dirt said...

I'm doing great. Sarah is finishing up a Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy and I completed my MA in Leadership last December. Next summer, we are planning on moving to Chicago so that I can work on my PhD. Ministry in Fresno has been spectacular. I work with the suburban jr. high and High school students in my congregation, as well as the urban/low sec neighborhood kids and teens in the surrounding area around our church building. In addition, I am the team leader for our stewardship campaigns, serving as an organizational consultant to the church, and am teaching a class at the local seminary this spring. Although Sarah and I are really, really busy, we are definitely enjoying life.