Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Following Jesus - Matt Bowen

This is part of a blog series on discipleship. I asked a number of youth ministry and church voices to share their answers to these two questions: 1) What is discipleship? and 2) What is the greatest barrier to discipleship we're facing in youth ministry?

From Matt Bowen:

What, on earth, is a disciple? 

Maybe this question, with its added clause, "on earth," is telling. Too often the Christian faith is reduced to a storyline that goes like this: You (as an individual) are separated from God and will spend eternity in hell, so if you believe that Jesus died for your sins you can be forgiven for your sin (which created the rift in the first place) and spend eternity with God in heaven.

While the storyline contains truth, it reduces the gospel of Jesus to an escape plan. In this framework what does discipleship end up meaning? On one hand it is a hedge against grace, as in, "I better get my act together just in case God might not end up wanting me in heaven." It becomes soterian. On the other hand it becomes a badge for the truly spiritual, wherein there are regular old Christians who believe good stuff and there are disciples, who do good stuff. It becomes sectarian.

However, when the gospel is seen in its robust fullness, in terms of the proclamation of a King and his kingdom's presence on earth, the nature of discipleship changes. It becomes a kind of training for the kingdom. But the door of the kingdom turns on the hinge of the Incarnation. As Ireaneus remarked, the unassumed remains the unhealed. God took on human flesh in order to remake humanity, to make all things new in his Son (see Colossians 1; 2 Corinthians 5; Ephesians 4). The intent of the kingdom is to reconcile all things to the Father through the Son in the Spirit. The Son is the perfect image of the Father. We are made in the image of the Triune God, yet sin has marred the image, making us in need of renewal and healing. Discipleship within the grand story of the Bible is about being renewed image bearers, conformed to the image of the Son, the perfect image of the Father. To receive God's grace means to inherit a new humanity that is exercised in the form of discipleship (i.e. "put on Christ" in Rom 13:14).

Dallas Willard suggests a helpful way of imagining discipleship: We ask what our life would look like if Jesus Christ were living it. Imagine his purposes, character and ethos played out within your own vocation, neighborhood, family, interactions, pressures, etc. The goal of discipleship is to grow up and be like Jesus. But this happens in the power of the Holy Spirit in all manner of expressions.
In our community discipleship mostly happens in the venue of community groups where life is shared. We trust that when you spend time with the person of Jesus, you end up different. In these communities we try to help people pay attention to the presence of Jesus by: spiritual practices (lectio, examen, study), communal practices (conversation, eating, relationships), and missional practices (serving, sharing, giving). Some of this happens in our gathered experience in worship, word and sacrament as well.

The barriers to discipleship occur through the soterian and sectarian theologies mentioned above. But the rampant individualism and consumerism of our culture have a powerful shaping force away from apprenticeship to Jesus, since they pull people away from the postures that most powerfully form us in the Jesus way.

Matt Bowen is a husband, father of two, and a pastor in Portland at Cedar Mill Bible Church. He writes weekly at his blog, theodrama.wordpress.com.

What do you think of Matt's ideas? Share in the comments!

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