False Dichotomy: Evangelism or Discipleship

biblestudydiscipleshipWhen I became serious about being in church and made my first baby steps in the Christian walk, I learned about evangelism. If I cared about people and loved Jesus, my teachers told me that I must also tell others about Jesus and how He made the way for them to go to heaven. Honestly, I can’t argue with that. It was basic then. It is basic now.

However, I didn’t hear a lot about discipleship until I went to seminary. As I have talked with others through the years, I’ve seen that my experience is not unique. It seems that many churches, church leaders, and others hold evangelism and discipleship in an unnecessary tension. Some almost seem to think if you do one, you have to diminish the other. In fact, I have heard that expressed verbally. However, Jesus never had such a conflict in mind.

In the Great Commission, Jesus gave one command: Make disciples. The other verb forms in those verses–going, baptizing, teaching to obey whatever Jesus commanded–are all participles. Because they explain an imperative form, they also carry an imperative or command form meaning. As we use the phrase today, most people relate making disciples to what happens after people become followers of Jesus. We baptize them* and teach them. We usually associate baptizing and teaching with discipleship. Evangelism is going to unbelievers and sharing the gospel with them.

However, based upon the structure of the Great Commission, I believe that we should think of making disciples as one process with parts–parts that today we often refer to as evangelism and discipleship. Evangelism and discipleship should not compete with one another for a church’s attention but should both be part of any church’s ministry. The reasons are very practical.

  1. We won’t have believers to disciple without evangelism since faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. People have to listen to the gospel before they can profess faith in Christ as their Lord and Savior.
  2. Discipleship does not slow down the witness. Rather, it multiplies it. In 2 Timothy 2:2, Paul encouraged Timothy to pass on what Timothy learned from him to faithful men who would teach others. Let’s apply that teaching to sharing the gospel. The town where I attend church has a little less than 9,000 people. For the sake of argument, let’s assume I am the only believer in the city. By the end of this year, I share Christ with two people who I teach to witness to others. Next, each of us teaches two others, and this pattern is consistent for several years. Assuming that this trend continues, between year 7 and 8, everyone in the town would hear and respond to the gospel. Evangelism alone adds believers. Evangelism with discipleship multiplies believers.
  3. Evangelism and discipleship together use the entire spiritual gifting of a church. One-on-one discipleship (or mentoring) is important and helps especially with accountability. I highly recommend it. But no one person has all the spiritual gifts necessary to help a believer reach maturity in Christ. While all should share the gospel, some are more gifted at it than others. My experience has been that most people with evangelistic gifts are not as gifted with the gifts needed to teach these new believers to obey Jesus’ commands. It takes the entire body of Christ working together to help one another grow into the likeness of Christ. So, no church should ever ask, should we emphasize evangelism or discipleship. Both are equally important parts of the process of making disciples.

*I am a Baptist, and I believe biblical baptism is a baptism of believers only by immersion in water. The Great Commission implies this understanding.

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A review of 41 Will Come by Chuck E. Tate

41willcome41 Will Come by Chuck E. Tate is an encouraging book on the importance of waiting for God’s breakthrough in life’s tough situations. Tate is the founding pastor of RockChurch in Illinois.

Tate bases his book on the premise that in the Bible, 40 days (or whatever period) of a trial is followed by the 41st day, a time of God’s intervention, blessing, and work. Tate is correct in seeing this pattern in Scripture. It is why I always take note when I see the number 40 in the Bible. Tate focuses on the story of Goliath defying the army of Israel for 40 days until, on the 41st day, David in faith faces him.

The Good

Tate is a “warm and friendly” writer, encouraging. It is obvious that he has concern for people. The writing style reminds of that of Craig Groeschel and Matt Batterson. The book is illustrated not just with Biblical stories, but also with the lives of people today. The reader passing through difficult days will likely find some encouragement in this book. (I did.) The book is very practical.

But…

Sometimes it is practical to point of passing over deeper theological truth. For example in the chapter on the Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness (another 40 in the Bible), Tate emphasizes Jesus use of the Word in terms of claiming God’s promises and launching toward God’s purpose. All of that is fine and well, but a deeper theological truth is at work in that passage. Jesus was tempted as we are, but without sin. He faced what the first Adam faced and did not sin as Adam did. Because He was sinless, He was worthy to be our Savior. He still is.

However…

Tate’s purpose was not to write a systematic theology but to encourage those waiting for God to help them or to fulfill their dreams. Such people are looking for encouragement based upon God’s Word that will them get to their 41. This book fits that need, and I recommend it.

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book through Tyndale’s Blog Network program in exchange for a review. I was under no obligation to give a positive review.)

Review of Derek Cooper’s Introduction to World Christian History

IntroductionbyCooperRecently released by IVP Academic, Derek Cooper’s Introduction to World Christian History is an excellent introductory text to the people, controversies, and events that have shaped twenty-one centuries of Christianity. Truly global in scope, the book will help Western Christians see and understand how Christianity developed in other parts of the world. As the center of Christianity has shifted to the Global South, it is important that we see Christianity through non-Western eyes. Derek Cooper, associate professor of World Christian History at Biblical Seminary, helps us to begin to see that Christianity’s history is not a Western alone. Christianity’s history began in Asia and has stretched around the world.

Strengths

The major strength of the book is the shift of focus from Western Christianity to Global Christianity. Cooper embraces the focus by placing a demarcation line of Christian history at the rise of Islam rather than the conversion of Constantine. This line shows great respect for Christians outside the West, as Islam has held more significant influence over the lives of Christians in the majority of the world than the rise of Christendom in the Roman Empire.

The book surveys history rapidly. (See thoughts on depth below.) The writing flows. The language is not so technical that the reading would be difficult for most readers with an interest in the topic. A basic knowledge of theology and historical controversies that shaped systematic theology is helpful for understanding, but the lack of it would not prevent a reader from finding this book worthwhile.

Weaknesses

If the reader is looking for an in-depth study of the various aspects of world Christianity, this book does not meet the need. The book is an introduction and covers twenty-plus centuries in a little over two hundred pages. Personally, as an introduction, I find it excellent.

Conclusion

For a student in college or seminary, this book makes an excellent historical, survey text that could stimulate interest in further study later. Christians who are not in ministry professionally but who want to know more about Christianity’s history will find the book very accessible. I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a basic understanding of Christianity as it has come to be throughout the world.

(Full Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of the book from IVP Academic for review purposes. I was under no obligation to give a positive review.)

Christian Citizenship: The Duty of Prayer Part 1

A few weeks ago, I attended a National Day of Prayer observance for the first time. As Christians, we have a responsibility to pray for our government. However, that is not where I want to begin. I want to start with the church’s responsibility to pray for herself–for the church.

I suppose it will strike many as self-centered to say that the church’s duty is to pray for herself. What about praying for leaders? Well, I plan to cover praying for leaders in my next post in this series. However, I think the church will never be active in its mission—its first duty—of making disciples of all nations unless the Church draws near to God and becomes what God desires.

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When many speak about renewal or revival, they reference 2 Chronicles 7:14. I see one common misapplication of this verse. Many take the reference to “My people” as somehow being a reference to the United States of America. Without getting into if the Founders founded America as a Christian nation or not, we just cannot theologically conclude that this verse applies to all Americans. The people of God, those called by His name, can only refer to those who have a covenant relationship with Him. Under the New Covenant, only those who have trusted in the substitutionary atoning work of Christ upon the Cross can truly be God’s people.

However, some say that this verse only applies to Israel under the Old Covenant. To use it today as a call to prayer for renewal is to rip it from its context. I disagree. “My people” refers to the covenant people of God, and the Church is the covenant people of God. The actions called for in the verse are timeless principles applicable to the church now as they were in Israel. Though the Church does not occupy land as Israel did as a political entity, the Church is in need of healing, renewal, and revival.

As the people of God, we face many challenges. Our influence in society has decreased. Others marginalize us away from public debate. Politics divides. Our society no longer shares the values that we hold, and in fact, many find our values repugnant.

Therefore, in light of the challenges we experience as a result of being both people of this country and His people, we need to humble ourselves, pray, seek God’s face, and turn from any evil in which we participate. If we are to have any power at all, it must be God’s power working through us to witness, make disciples, and to transform the world in which we live.

Christians* in a Pagan Empire

I see the panic in some people’s eyes. I see the confusion.  They seem to be saying, “What happened? I thought we were a Christian nation.”

The point of this blog post is not to debate if the Founding Fathers of the  United States of America founded it as a Christian nation. The answer to that question seems to depend on the perspective from which one begins. Clearly, in the early 1800s, Christianity in its Protestant and comparatively speaking, evangelical form, had an enormous influence over the direction of the country. What some stand in shock of today, the loss of that influence, began gradually in the late 1800s, but it has accelerated exponentially in recent years. In other words, we shouldn’t be shocked.

Also, we should not panic. On one hand, we should not retreat from the public square, build walls around what remains of us, and scream and shout at those outside. The Pagan Empire that I refer to in the title is not the USA but rather the Roman Empire. Christianity has been in this situation before today. In fact, it thrived there. It may thrive again if we prove ourselves to be faithful, which brings me to the other hand.

We must not give in to the temptation to compromise with the world, to heed the call to “modernize” or “post-modernize” or whatever philosophy rules this month. So-called progressive Christians who encourage us to compromise with the world so that we can continue to have a voice are terribly deceived. First of all, to compromise Biblical truth in exchange for worldly influence (yes, some conservative, fundamental Christians are guilty of this as well) is not progress but regression. Also, historically, such assumptions have proven false. Sociologists Peter Finke and Rodney Starke in their book, The Churching of America 1776-2005, point out that the churches that thrived in the USA were “aggressive churches committed to vivid otherworldliness.”(Finke and Starke, 2005, p. 1) They also assert that those churches and denominations that “rejected traditional doctrines” and “ceased to make serious demands of their followers” declined.

So, the the first step for Christians and churches to thrive in our present situation is to accept it for one it is. We are one voice among many competing voices, some of which also claim to speak for Christianity. We live in a pluralistic nation, but we do not accept pluralism. (For a more in-depth discussion of that last sentence please find and read the book that I reviewed here.) Yet, we have the right to speak (at least for now) and to proclaim the gospel of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Let us do so faithfully and boldly. And let us learn from Scripture–from those who came before us–how to live as Christians in a “pagan” world.

Over the next several days or weeks (I don’t know yet), I will write blog posts about Scripture passages that speak to how we should relate to government and society, even when both stand against us. Today, I dealt with the first step we must take–accept reality for what it is. We do not live in a Christian nation, nor do Christians have the influence that they once enjoyed.

Our priority is to share the Gospel and make disciples. But the Bible says other things about how to relate to those around us. What will follow are steps that have no particular order. I hope to write a blog post on each one.

  • Pray for leaders, for our nation, and for the church.
  • What the Bible says about paying taxes.
  • What the Bible says about obeying laws.
  • What the Bible says about doing right to all people.
  • What the Bible says about the priority of obeying God above all others.
  • What happens when the price for following God is high.

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*Yes, I am using Christian here to refer to conservative, evangelical Christianity. Yes, I know there is a broader meaning. I do not mean to exclude so much as not to have to explain what I mean in every paragraph.

When My Heart And His Word Disagree

This morning I studied Psalm 57. Psalm 57:7 in the English Standard Version reads:

My heart is steadfast, O God,
My heart is steadfast!
I will sing and make melody!

Those words struck hard. My heart is not steadfast. I doubt. I worry. I despair. Like the words of the hymn, “Prone to wonder, Lord, I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love.”

How can a heart be steadfast? David had every reason to feel as I did this morning when he wrote this Psalm. In fact, he had more reason. He, the man anointed to become king, was hiding in a cave from jealous King Saul. David likely wrote this Psalm around the events of either 1 Samuel 22:1 or 1 Samuel 24. God anointed David for kingship, but instead, David was hiding like a criminal. The quickest way out was to compromise his beliefs and to kill God’s anointed King. He would not do so. Despite his circumstances, his heart was steadfast. How could that be? A few other verses point us toward understanding.

I cry out to God Most High, to God, who fulfills his purpose for me.
He will send from heaven and save me; he will put to shame him who tramples on me. God will send out his steadfast love and his faithfulness. (vv. 2-3)

For your steadfast love is great to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds. (v. 10)

David’s heart was steadfast because of his faith in the steadfastness of God. God would be faithful to fulfill His promise, His purpose for David’s life. David trusted in God’s constant love and perfect, unchanging nature. David had faith because even hiding in a dark cave he could see the light of God’s faithfulness. When I was younger, I used to have a poster hanging above my bed. It was a picture of a tall mountain with words written above, “Our faith does not rest in our feelings: it rests in the unshakeable character of God.”

Steadfast hearts do not come from willpower or training. They come from resting in God and His unchanging love.

 

 

Are Voters Ready to Ask the Question?

Ask The Question by Stephen Mansfield challenges voters and the media to take the religion of presidential candidates seriously. He encourages citizens to dare ask how the religious beliefs of candidates shape them as individuals and how those spiritual ideas shape their policy position. Mansfield is the author of other books dealing with politics and presidents: The Faith of George W. Bush and The Faith of Barack Obama. In this book, Mansfield deals with the faith of past presidents, past candidates, and a potential president. He gives examples of how faith shapes each person.

Mansfield deals with a variety of religious positions ranging from conservative evangelical to progressive mainstream. Mansfield treats each one with respect and objectivity. He assumes religious sincerity on the part of each candidate. Thus, he models the point that he is trying to make. Reporters and voters tend to believe statements of faith by candidates are political posturing. Such assumptions particularly happen when the candidate holds views that the reporter or voter finds distasteful. Some conservatives carry the assumption that all liberals are godless and discount the sincerity of their faith. Some liberals still assume that evangelicals are uneducated and easily manipulated leading them to believe that conservative candidates use religious rhetoric for purely political purposes.

Another key point that Mansfield is our postmodern era makes the question of religion more important rather than less important. He points to Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln as past examples of “nones.” Mansfield both would have been considered as such because they were not members of an organized religious group. Both had strong religious and spiritual understandings. Postmodernism makes labels meaningless today. One must not just know a candidate is Baptist or Roman Catholic. One must understand the full spiritual foundation of the candidate and how it influences their policy decisions.

This book is an important one to read. Hopefully, more voters and reporters will take the book’s advice and ask the question.

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy from Baker Books for review purposes. I was under no obligation to write a positive review.)