Monday, December 11, 2006

Willard on Discipleship

So what exactly is discipleship?

For an answer to that question I’ve turned to who I believe is the number one expert on Christian discipleship, Dallas Willard.

Discipleship belongs to the category of spiritual formation. This is a popular topic in today’s world. (A
search on Google returns 1.5 million hits.) There is Buddhist spiritual formation. There is generic spiritual formation. Some think that spiritual formation is a Trojan horse for heresy.

The truth is that
everyone is a product of spiritual formation, even atheists. The only question is what kind of a person each is being formed into.

Unfortunately, most North American Christians are not intentional about their spiritual formation. Their spirits are unconsciously shaped by
Woody Allen movies, by The Oprah Winfrey Show, by The Simpsons, by U2, by Dr. Phil, by Rick Warren, by Dan Brown, and by Bill O’Reilly.

Instead of this haphazard spiritual formation, followers of Jesus are called to an intentional process of Christian spiritual formation (
2 Peter 1:5–7).

Living A Transformed Life Adequate To Our Calling, Dallas Willard explains:

Spiritual formation for the Christian is a Spirit-driven process of forming the inner world of the human self—our “spiritual” side—in such a way that it becomes like the inner being of Christ himself.

Christian spiritual formation “is not a matter of behaving in certain ways, but of being inwardly and thoroughly a different kind of person: having the character of Jesus Christ.”

But that inner transformation will result in observable differences in behavior:

Discipleship focuses on the inner self, which consists of our ideas, beliefs, and emotions. Character grows out of our inner lives, and it governs what we think and feel. As our character is transformed, our behavior is transformed as well.
Dallas Willard, “
Apprentice to the Master,” Discipleship Journal, #107

It is widely accepted that Christians behave in ways that are virtually indistinguishable from nonbelievers. Why is this the case?

The modern church has changed what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.
Being a Christian has come to mean going to church and being saved when you die. The ministry of the church is given over to “making the final cut” and solving problems (marital problems, witnessing problems, apologetics, pain and suffering), not to discipleship.
Dallas Willard, “
Apprentice to the Master,” Discipleship Journal, #107
In this article, Willard explains:
[Christians] believe there is a God and they need to check in with him. But they don't have any sense that he is an active agent in their lives. As a result, they don't become disciples of Jesus. They consume his merits and the services of the church. … Discipleship is no essential part of Christianity today…. We don't preach life in the kingdom of God through faith in Jesus as an existential reality that leads to discipleship and then character transformation…. When you don't have character transformation in a large number of your people, then when something happens, everything flies apart and you have people acting in the most ungodly ways imaginable.

Christians generally do not exhibit that character of Jesus. And the reason they don’t is that they don’t intend to. They don’t think that the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount are livable in the real world. They believe that “turning the other cheek” and blessing “those who persecute you” are idealistic moral sentiments rather than commands.

Of course, there are other issues involved such as a misunderstanding of the nature of grace and very real concerns about legalism. Then there is the question of whether it is even possible for us to develop the character of Jesus.

I’ll address these issues in subsequent posts.

Pastor Rod

“Helping You Become the Person God Created You to Be”

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