Friday, March 20, 2015

Christian Formation as Truly Human Discipleship

“The task is not to get God to do something I think needs to be done, but to become aware of what God is doing so that I can respond to it and participate and take delight in it.” — Eugene Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor

I am on a journey. I know I am not the only one. I am on a journey to know God, a journey to be seamlessly integrated into the life of God, into what Eugene Peterson calls “all the operations of the Trinity.” Our God, the Christian God, is not a stagnant monolith. As we Christians speak of God, we do not talk about a God who is immovable, impersonal, or impenetrable. We have not received a faith tradition which describes God as a long-forgotten, far-removed idea or an insignificant element tucked away in the material attributes of all things. Our God has existed from before the beginning as a dynamic, self-giving, active, moving, living, communion of persons: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We find our journey on the well-traveled path of our faithful ancestors who have handed down the faith from the apostles who received it from Jesus himself. It is a journey to both know God and make him known, a journey of love that motivates us to broadcast this good news and invite other to join us. It is a journey of discipleship and disciple-making.

Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20 ESV). We are traveling to be with Jesus and as he sends us out he promises never to break the bonds of being present, to never sever the relational chords between us and him, to never to end the steady flow of love that bind us to him. This very love we have received from the Father through the Son by the Spirit compels us in obedience to go and make disciples, but how? Jesus tells us clearly what to do, but he does not tell us how to do. So the church has wrestled and shifted and morphed into this expression of discipleship and that expression, a shifting that continues into our present day. This shifting and rethinking is a necessary part of remaining faithful to Christ where we join in with the tradition of the Protestant reformers and say “we are reformed and always reforming.” We do not intend to reform the practice of Christian discipleship for the sake of novelty and innovation. We seek to be always reforming our practices so we can remain faithful to Jesus as he was revealed according to apostolic teaching.

Admittedly I have been schooled in evangelical models of discipleship that I would describe as programmatic and heavy on education. I appreciate all I have received benefit from those models, but it seems they were developed with the thinking that the ultimate and primary goal of discipleship was to become knowledgeable. What if the goal of Christian discipleship is different? What if the purpose of discipleship is to become #TrulyHuman, fully human, fully alive as a human being resembling the life of Jesus himself? Athanasius from the third century famously said regarding the incarnation, “God became man so man could become God.” To “become God” does not mean we become less human. To “become God” means we become so united with God that we fully bear his image and likeness and thus become #TrulyHuman.

So if the goal of discipleship, or formation, is to become like Jesus, to fully reflect the image of God, then how does that shape or reshape our practices of discipleship-making?


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