Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Willard Quote

From a 2004 discussion of "discipleship" with Dallas Willard
The leading assumption in the American church is that you can be a Christian but not a disciple. That has placed a tremendous burden on a mass of Christians who are not disciples. We tell them to come to church, participate in our programs and give money. But we see a church that knows nothing of commitment. We have settled for the marginal, and so we carry this awful burden of trying to motivate people to do what they don't want to do. We can't think about church the way we have been.
We need to be clear in our heads about what discipleship is. My definition: A disciple is a person who has decided that the most important thing in their life is to learn how to do what Jesus said to do. A disciple is not a person who has things under control, or knows a lot of things. Disciples simply are people who are constantly revising their affairs to carry through on their decision to follow Jesus.
I think he frames the problem well in the first paragraph. How many people especially in the Midwest can tell you what church they "go to" with complete disregard for whether or not they actually attend?
However, his second paragraph has me raising a question. I do like his definition "the most important thing in their life is to learn how to do what Jesus said to do." Does this line up with Jesus discipleship denials in Luke 14? Let's see...

Luke 14:25-26 Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple..."
Jesus in this passage talks about discipleship in terms of priorities. These days we say "values." Those days Jesus would've said "treasures." Oh wait, he did Luke 12:33-34 Willard would be saying the same thing when he refers to "constantly revising [your] affairs" and it would seem he is right on track with what Jesus is trying to communicate as well. Look at the second discipleship denial Jesus lists.

Luke 14:27 "Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple."
This process of putting Jesus above family, is expanded upon in Jesus' encouragement to deny our self through cross-bearing. Which, is also what Willard explains as the purpose of revising and reprioritizing our affairs: so that we can carry through on our decision to come after Jesus. The first mention of a "cross" in Luke also comes in the context of discipleship. If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. Luke 9:23

Somehow we have got it into our heads that we can follow Christ with out moving our feet and Willard's definition of discipleship is challenging to our modern independent notion of a Christianity unlinked to practice. But I still have this nagging question. Is "discipleship" really all about us? Notice that if you change the word "Jesus" in Willard's definition to "Bill Gates" you still have discipleship, just not "Christian" discipleship. Duh... you think. "If you don't follow Jesus it's no longer "Christian" discipleship." But the issue is slightly deeper than just choosing who you follow. What Willard's definition, I think, lacks is a recognition that for discipleship to be Christian it must begin as a work that Christ does first of all in us before it becomes a work we do. It is all well and good to take Jesus' words seriously, as Willard always does, but he seems to gloss over Jesus' third discipleship denial:

Luke 14:33 "Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple."
Where Willard says a disciple is not one "under control" or one who "knows a lot of things" but one who "revises" their affairs, Jesus emphatically states that no one can be a disciple of Jesus Christ without the renunciation of all that they have. Jesus' disciples trust no one else, no other things, except Jesus and Jesus alone, not even themselves... Luke 9:23
In context this statement of Jesus follows his parables about being able to finish construction or making peace with the large army. In other words, it would be foolish to trust anyone else except Christ. But in a larger context Luke connects the idea of renunciation to the work of God in regeneration. (He may be doing that here as well by preceding and following the passage with parables about seeking out the lost.)

Remember Jesus' words to the rich young ruler? Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me. Luke 18:22 Can't you just hear the echoes of Luke 14 here? Discipleship being about denial, renunciation, revising. Obviously Jesus gave the ruler his instruction in a way that was meant to be heard by his disciples, just like he gave his instructions on discipleship to the "great crowds" that followed him in chapter 14. We know that his instructions were meant to be heard, because he comments on the instruction he gives. "How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God. For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God." Luke 18:24-25

The people who hear Jesus say this are shocked! "Who can be saved?" they ask, and Jesus answers them with a call. Not to repent and renounce but to be regenerated. He says, "What is impossible with men is possible with God." 18:27 and again in response to Peter's statement on renouncing ("We have left out homes and followed you." Jesus says this "Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, 30who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life." 18:29-30 Again, if you should be able to get past the idea of "receiving many times more in this time" as referring to material wealth in the present age (this was a response to a rich young ruler remember?!) it is plain to see that Jesus is referring to the regenerative nature of the Spirit. Receiving often refers to the spirit... Acts 1:8 We must be reborn, regenerated, renewed by the Spirit before we can renounce, reject, revise our life and all that traps us in it. Leaving everything to follow Jesus is good, but in itself it is not enough to bring about salvation. We as Christians strive for holiness as disciples. Discipleship is repentance and following and cross-bearing, but discipleship is not complete in these things. It must include a recognition of and reliance upon the renewing work of the Spirit of Christ. On the one hand, how can you walk on water if you don't get out of the boat? But on the other hand only Christ can walk on water, no amount of trusting will complete the task unless he works it in us.