Thursday, April 19, 2007

Discipleship and Freedom

Was talking with a pastor yesterday, currently on sabbatical, who noticed that many if not most of the church growth churches, have as their model for preaching and ministry a focus on "practices"- do the Christian life this way, and you will have more purpose, deepen your faith, etc. Evangelicals have one shape for this message, but the whole Dorothy Bass "practices" approach emphasizes Christian works, as do some ELCA models for "discipleship."

The alternative, lifted up especially by some significant Lutheran theologians, emphasizes the freedom established by the gospel in the Spirit. So, to oversimplify, you simply proclaim the pure gospel--you are forgiven, saved by faith--and the preacher/church/whoever leaves it at that, taking a stance of trust or faith that the Spirit will be alive in that proclamation, and that God's Word will not return empty.

Different models of grace are operative here. In the first model, grace gives a shape to Christian existence. The emphasis is on "Jesus as Lord", but Lordship guides us into practices. In the second model, Jesus is also Lord, but in the sense of "in Christ you are free indeed- therefore no longer...".

I'm not convinced the two need to be opposed to each other per se, but on the other hand, each would offer up significant critique of the other.

My response in conversation was to envision a third way, Irenaeus or whomever, the way of participation, perichoresis, divinization, which I tend to think encompasses Jesus as Lord both in the declarative as well as the descriptive mode. Inasmuch as we are being made into Christ's body, the church, we are both prescribed a set of practices and set free to live as that body, a body that will have a peculiar freedom in the world in the power of the Spirit that may ever again stand at odds to any prescriptions.

I'm not convinced my third way is completely convincing, but it does seem to have some merit.


  1. The fundies micromanage your WORKS, ignoring sin. There's not so much a terror of the conscience but a terror of being able to keep up with the prescribed workload. There is no rest for the weary.

    The paleo-libertarians refuse to mention sin or works, for fear of preaching works righteousness. They leave us with no terror of the conscience, and "by making our sins small, make Christ small."

    A third way would actually involves law and gospel preaching. One's preaching might micro-manage, as it were, our lives by means of a list of specific SINS but then rightly leave it up to the Spirit and that person to work out discipleship details.

  2. Chad K9:52 AM

    I think it is always valid to consider the Gospels :)

    Jesus always seems to give the disciples something to 'do' (i.e. 'follow me', 'feed my sheep').

    Again, I think it is the paradox of faith that Luther was never afraid of to venture into either.

  3. I don't know- practices seems to be different from "micromanaging" your works in order to avoid the issue of sin, and the "paleo-libertarians" do indeed preach about sin- it's just that they don't define "how you should then live."

    I think I do quite a bit of law/gospel preaching- but on the other hand, I think that term gets thrown into the mix quite a bit without being carefully defined....

  4. I'm the guy Clint spoke with.

    I don't go much for the participation/divinization stuff. I think that pretty quickly gets away from the fact that when we are redeemed, we are given our humanity back. I find the heart of sin is our reluctance to accept that we are human, dependent on God, have limits, etc. I think the way the Formula of Concord presents the 3rd use of the law could accomplish much the same goal, giving a "shape" to Christian practice, without making us into closet Aristotelian's.

    To my original question: My real concern in all this is evangelism to the next generation. I keep finding this disturbing common thread in churches that have a reputation for reaching 20-somethings: the preaching is almost all law.

    To wit: I was at Blackhawk Evangelical Free Church last night. They average 700 undergrads a week, amongst their crowd of 3000 attendees. The sermon was 100% law. Not a whiff of grace, not even the "spiritual steriods" kind of grace to go and fulfill the law. Just "go and do." The sermon didn't require God in any way. An atheist could have delivered the message with total integrity.

    And this church is REALLY popular with college students.

    Is that what it takes to reach the next generation -- forsaking the gospel?

    So I work, that the Gospel will not disappear from the earth.


  5. Well, of course, the hard core Gnesio-Lutherans will argue that there is no 3rd use of the law... to further prove my point.

    And I don't think proclamation and theology related to divinization is closet Aristotelianism. That's a straw man. Some forms of it certainly are, but not Irenaeus, IMHO.

    I do agree that if "successful" church means legalism, we want to avoid that, and the proper tension between law and gospel is necessary to maintain.

    What was the content of the preaching and service at Blackhawk, btw?