discipleship 101, the purpose driven lurch.

Discipleship has a new name: Christian formation! Well, ok, not really, but that's where the advertising is, so for a while we'll roll with it. It's probably a result of the books and discussions I've been reading, but Christian formation seems to be gaining a renewed foothold in the church. I'm very glad about this for a couple of reasons, not least of which is an expanded awareness that we are always being shaped by something, be it families, cultures, nations and ideologies. This is a profound improvement over the American Church's definition of discipleship as evangelism. And so, while everyone agrees that God calls us to become like Jesus, just how this happens is still up for grabs. Since we're trying to grapple with the issue as a church . Here's a brief overview of discipleship stuff:

Early Church Writings:
Didache: Written sometime around the turn of the 2nd century, roughly. Didache is a book of instructions (Didache="teaching"=Διδαχή) about various things. A section about the good and bad "ways" and then some on basic spiritual instruction and still more on ministry and church structure. Amazingly, you can read the English translation (it's short!) for free here, at the Early Christian Writings page.
The link takes you to the front page with a couple of translations.
Shepherd of Hermas: Written in a similar period, in the 1st half of the 2nd century (100-150 a.d.), the Shepherd of Hermas was originally thought to be canonical by some church fathers. It consists of visions, commandments, and parables. The back story is that the author presents himself as a slave who purchased freedom, rose to great wealth and prominence and then lost most of it. Lots of discussion about penance in spiritual discipline way. Also available here!
Imitation of Christ: Thomas à Kempis wrote this as a kind of instruction manual- a how to be holy- for convents around 1400. It is powerful, but pitched to the monastic life, it lacks a little in terms of engaging the world. It approaches not being shaped by the world by avoiding it. kind of. It is considered a Christian classic by basically everybody. And it is free, online, here!
Popular Evangelical Literature
Commission on Discipleship: I don't know who they are, but their little .pdf is a decent summary of where evangelical thought centers. It's ok, but there are some values that need discussion. I get a little nervous when Evangelical Christians start discussing multiplication and power.
Foster/Willard: Foster, in large part helped popularize "spiritual disciplines" in the last 20+ years. His book, Celebration of Discipline deals with fasting, some prayer, simplicity, and goes a long way towards a kind of training program, but I find people still feel like the "disciplines' are optional for growth, and pick and choose from amongst them. He seems more to the point for me though, in his next book on The Disciplined Life, which is about money, sex and power. This one feels like a more direct assault on worldly corruption. I should mention that his partner Willard, from the desolate place, wrote Divine Conspiracy which is fabulous.
Philosophy/Modern Theology
Postmodernism: break out your coffee and emo-worship! Christian philosophers and theologians have a lot to say on the subject, even if they don't seem to produce disciples, just writings about discipleship....:P . The postmodern contribution (via Foucault, Derrida, etc) has highlighted the formative effects of the world around us in increasingly foundational ways. It has helped to make discipleship a little less individualistic, discussing even globalization , and a little less oblivious to our own assumptions.
Who's Afraid of Postmodernism: I would recommend this book to you if you are unfamiliar with modern philosophy. I took a class from the author. Nice guy, kind of so cal, kind of liturgical.
Liturgy: As a traditional way to shape our lives, liturgy certainly has consistency on its side. It puts protestants in an awkward position, but hey, the emergents like it! Anyways, here is a post on Inhabitatio Dei about the Christian Calendar as formative. It, too, makes me uncomfortable as it seems to lay a lot of weight at the feet of church structure and power as well as non-relational influence. But it is penetrating.

And as always, read everything by Ray Anderson.
So Let me ask you: What things do you identify as formative for your discipleship?


  1. Bro: Not that I have thought as deeply and as fully as you or others on this subject, but thanks for writing about it. My initial two cents, without a filter of my useless brain right now, is that I don't know how I feel about labeling everything we do. Discipleship. Spiritual formation. Intercessory Advocation. And my all time favorite: Evangelism. I don't know if it's because we want to feel better about ourselves or if we just want to be self important.

    With that said, I do think there is huge value in discipleship - but instead of calling it discipleship, I would rather just call it relationship. Because that's what this is all about I think. Our relationship with God and each other. If we can't have relationships with each other as Jesus wanted [great commission], then we either have to get help to do so or we have to re-evaluate what we're focusing on. Having relationships is not a gifting, it's not a seasonal focus, it's a way to live.

    So I guess what I am saying is the formative part about relationships is to take interest in people, even if those interests are vastly different or even weirder than our own. And an expression of freedom in who they are. It doesn't make it all relative - i.e. that's your opinion and this is mine. But it does create some sort of trust, hopefully, that allow people to speak into each other's lives in a relational way.

    Anyway, good post man. I may change my mind in what I just wrote tomorrow, but thought I'd leave a comment just to spice things up.


  2. hi Del :) We need to get together! Thanks for stirring it up around here. I do think it's the relational nature of discipleship that gets lost on some theologians. I think though, that discipleship is a subset of relationship. It implies an intention for change by at least one of the parties involved.

    I use the word "parties(!)" because, of course, I'm thinking of you :)

    But yeah, the labeling becomes an entire industry of its own, instead of love.

  3. I'm with you brother. I do think discipleship is a subset of relationship. If we are talking about transformation in the Kingdom, I would hope that all of our relationships are transformational. I.e. the intention, even on a subconscious level, is that of change. I'm still struggling with the concept of people asking to be discipled. I understand WHY we ask that question and WHY it's good for us. But, does that say something about our concept of relationship? Do we categorize our relationships between shallow ones versus deep ones? The shallow ones are ones where we are only looking to have a good time that doesn't necessarily involve anything deeper than 2 guys getting together to say the alphabet with 1 fart. Deeper ones are ones where we talk about our lives.

    Anyway, I don't really think I have a strong feeling either way. I am not against discipleship or am a discipleship hater. I love it! I just wonder if we're trying to partition our spiritual lives too much where we need a category for that because we're not able to, or not wanting to, intellectually put 2 worlds together.

    But yea, we gotta get together bro. I miss you guys!


Post a Comment

I cherish your comments, but not vileness or wickedness. By vileness I mean Spam, and wickedness I mean hateful speech. Unless it's about spam.

Popular Posts