Discipleship is a mode of being, a way of life—this is the conviction that forms the guiding center of Rowan Williams’ reflections on the nature of following Jesus in his newly published book, Being Disciples. “We are caught up in the task of showing that what we say is credible,” he notes in the introduction (p.vii). While this task is always a pressing demand for those who follow Christ, I dare say that there are aspects of life in today’s America that make it especially challenging (let the reader understand).
The main body of Being Disciples is composed of six chapters, which were originally delivered on separate occasions as lectures and talks. The book itself forms a companion to Williams’ earlier examination of the essentials of the Christian life, Being Christian. The topics he addresses range from holiness and forgiveness, to the role of the disciple in larger society and life in the Spirit. In this post, however, I wish to concentrate especially on his opening chapter, “Being Disciples,” which gives some important reflections on what it means to embrace the invitation and command of Jesus to “Follow me” (Matthew 4:19, NRSV). Continue reading →
Academic theology is dry, irrelevant to the rhythms of everyday life, and even potentially detrimental for those seeking to pursue a life of deep discipleship. These kinds of charges might strike some as strange, but in the first chapter of Theology as Discipleship, Keith L. Johnson notes that, unfortunately, they are surprisingly common in the contemporary Church. “In fact, many smart and faithful Christians cringe when they hear the word theology due to the negative connotations the discipline carries” (p.20).
For Johnson, the fact that these charges are plausible in the eyes of so many suggests that, sadly, a perceived divide has developed between the world of academic theology and the everyday practices of Christian life (p.11). He acknowledges that:
It is possible for a Christian to participate in the church for years and never engage in disciplined theological thinking about core Christian doctrines or the history of the church’s debates about them. It is also possible for academic theologians to devote their entire careers to the discipline and never be asked to translate or apply the content of their scholarship to the concrete realities that shape the daily life of the church. (p.12)
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*A version of this essay previously appeared at Theologues.com (RIP)
In much of Christian culture, a lot of attention gets paid to the need for people to reach a moment of decision and place their faith in Jesus, to be “born again.” This isn’t surprising. After all, beginnings matter, and birth is essential. Jesus Himself used birth as a metaphor during his conversation with Nicodemus early on in John’s Gospel. Jesus told him that in order to see the kingdom of God he needed to be “born from above” (NRSV) or “born again” (NIV). Later on in the same chapter, Jesus also (famously) told him that, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16 NRSV).
So yes, repentance and initial belief in Christ are important, and I don’t want to minimize that. However, I also don’t want to end with that part of the story. New birth in Christ is supposed to lead into the long, painful, and beautiful process of growing up. In his 2010 book, Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing up in Christ, Eugene Peterson notes that the twin metaphors of spiritual birth and growth aren’t meant to stand apart; one is supposed to flow into the other (p.3). However it seems that, in some quarters at least, so much emphasis gets put on making sure people get “saved” that the task of walking with them as they grow to maturity in Christ can be treated like something of an afterthought, and that isn’t healthy. Continue reading →
Among the four canonical Gospels, John’s account has long been seen as distinctive. His narrative is suffused with poetic symbols, dualistic language, and vivid imagery. The parables we find Jesus telling throughout the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) are for the most part nowhere to be found in John. Instead, we find extended discourses from Him exploring the various dimensions of His relationship with the Father and the rest of the world. John’s Gospel also has a number of unique stories about Jesus. These episodes include the “I am” statements of Jesus (ex. “I am the light of the world” or “I am the bread of life”), as well as Jesus’ nighttime conversation with Nicodemus and His wedding miracle at Cana. All of these things help make John’s written portrait of Jesus unique and valuable, but they can also make reading John a disorienting experience, especially for those used to the language and rhythms of the Synoptic Gospels. Craig Koester’s book, The Word of Life: A Theology of John’s Gospel, is a great introduction that helps perplexed readers familiarize themselves with the major themes and distinctive features of John.
In the preface, Koester explains that reading John theologically means having the courage to ask questions. Questions like, “Who is the God about whom Jesus speaks? Who does the Gospel say that Jesus is? And how does the Gospel understand life, death, sin, and faith?” (p.ix). Because these sorts of questions get raised repeatedly throughout the narrative, thinking through them necessitates reflecting on the Gospel as a whole, rather than just focusing on one or two single passages and extrapolating from there. This is what Koester attempts to do throughout the book, looking at the entire Gospel to investigate how John’s portrayal of Jesus forms answers to these questions. In this post, we’re going to spend our time exploring Koester’s perspective on the life of discipleship in John, looking especially at some of the lesser known stories and metaphors used by Jesus to help His disciples get a clearer picture of what following Him is supposed to look like. Continue reading →