The Disruptive Process of Discipleship: the breaking and re-making of all things.

MANNA-DEC-IMAGES-ONLY-4 copyThe themes of “disruption” and “discipleship” don’t – at first – appear to sit well together. Like sugar and salt, their essences are of a completely different kind. But I want to propose that Jesus’ disciples have a vested interest in bringing these two apparently disjunctive essences together. The 21st-century, post-Christian age is surely a “disrupted” era. As Christ’s disciples, we had best learn to “understand the times” (1 Chronicles 12:32) in which we live. I want to explore the themes of disruption and discipleship under four key headings:

First, discipleship is itself a form of disruption. When Jesus called his disciples to “Come, follow me,” he broke into the daily rhythms of their everyday existence, and confronted them with his gospel. Both at the levels of their day-to-day activities and indeed in their deepest life-orientation, Jesus placed demands on his disciples that were life-changing in the extreme. Jesus didn’t want half-disciples, he wanted people in the totality of their beings to become his followers. The request was to give themselves to him utterly and completely. Such an invitation represents a disruption to the lives of disciples in every age and generation (us included). The call to discipleship is a disruption of human life of the most deep and fundamental kind. Or as Raimon Panikkar has claimed, “After consecration … there is no more ‘life as usual.’”[1]

Second, discipleship has always occurred in “disrupted” times. The reality is that there have been very few times in our 2000-year-long Christian history when things have not been chaotic, disordered and uncomfortable. For example, St Augustine wrote his influential book The City of God in the 4th century against the backdrop of the Goths and Visigoths sacking Rome. The Reformation of the 16th century occurred within the context of (and, of course, contributed to) enormous social, political and religious upheaval. Perhaps the one exception to the claim could be the 20th century, which some have labelled the “Christian century”. But even that was convulsed by a series of wars that threatened to destroy our culture, annihilate the youth of our population, and bankrupt our economy.

Third, discipleship requires an “interruption” of our existing church programs. In 2017 I undertook a research project looking at the state of discipleship in our South Australian churches. Although the research is not yet completed, early indications are that many congregations have not made discipleship a top priority. This means that – apart from some outstanding exceptions – disciple-making in our South Australian churches is more accidental than intentional. One of the things that pastors shared with me during our conversations was that if we are to do discipleship well, we will need to intentionally introduce discipleship practices into our existing church programs. This will inevitably represent an uncomfortable but necessary “interruption” of our existing church plans.

And fourth, disruption is what causes most people to become disciples. People come to faith in a myriad of ways, and God graciously provides space for each of us to take journeys to faith which reflect our particular needs. Some have grown up within Christian families and belonged to professing faith-communities since childhood. Others have come to faith via a radical conversion experience as adults. Many of us have turned to faith in Christ as a result of a personal crisis that threatens to derail our lives. One definition of conversion is that it is a much-needed solution to a fundamental problem in our lives. The turn to God in Christ is what allows us to continue to live, and to live meaningfully. But it can only happen because it “cuts across” and disrupts our normal mode of existence.

Many Christians are anxious about the disruptive times in which we live. Perhaps we need to hear once again Jesus’ words of reassurance and encouragement: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. … Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid” (John 14:27). We need not be anxious, as we look forward to the day when Jesus will return in power and majesty, the ultimate day of disruption and restoration, to make all things new.

 

 

By Dr Stuart Devenish, Director of the Postgraduate Department

[1] Raimon Panikkar. Blessed simplicity: the monk as universal archetype (New York: Seabury, 1982), 91

Jesus, the Family and the Present Debate

The nature of marriage and the family is presently being re-negotiated in secular society. In response, many Christians are doing everything they can to preserve traditional understandings of marriage and family, thinking they are defending the Christian faith. This article attempts to help Christians think more biblically about the family, in order to help us better respond to the current debate around the family.

Jesus on the Family

Jesus’ teaching on the family was radical and unexpected in his day. He took the principle of “leaving” and “cleaving” in Genesis 2:24 to be a foundational mandate for the created order. And along with it, he took the fifth commandment, to “Honor your father and mother” (Exodus 20:12), to be an abiding mandate for Israel and his disciples as the People of God. Yet it is clear that Jesus had in mind a fundamental re-prioritization of the family. For example, in Matthew19: 29 Jesus calls on his disciples to leave houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for his sake. Any decision to follow Jesus as Lord potentially involves a call to abandon blood-relatives – on account of one’s new-found faith in Christ. This is a question of changed allegiances at the very deepest level. As a result, some have labeled Jesus a “breaker” of families rather than a protector of the family.

In addition to re-prioritizing, Jesus also redefined family. For example, in Matthew 12: 46-50, he draws the focus away from his human family (Mary and his siblings), and instead points to his disciples saying, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother”. In this way, Jesus distinguished between his own blood-relatives, and those who are his spiritual family, prioritizing faith and its communal belonging and expression over familial, blood-related belonging.

The Church as Family

An important example of how the early church embraced Jesus’ reprioritization and redefinition of the family can be found in the outcome of the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15. Whereas the early Jerusalem church was predominantly Jewish in its make-up, the ruling made by the Council was that entry into the faith-community was not on the basis of blood-dependent ethnicity, but on the basis of one’s confession that “Jesus was Lord”. According to Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”. Thus, entry into the early church was not blood-dependent, but faith-dependent. And by extension, belonging to the Christian faith required those who had been given entry to the faith-community, to demonstrate their faith on the basis of confession, mutual obligation and ritual means, in the form of baptism and the Eucharist. The apostle Paul employs family-like language to congregational relationships, on the basis that they were “sons and daughters of God”, (2 Cor 6: 18), and they were to treat one other as adelphoi, as brothers and sisters in the Lord (Rom 14:10-12; Eph 6:23-24).

 Significance for Today

On the basis of this brief excursion into the teaching of Jesus and the early church on the family, we observe three keystone realities. The first is that Jesus (like King Midas of old), transforms everything he touches … and this includes the family. His re-defining and re-prioritizing of family manifests itself in a change of emphasis from family as blood-community to family as confessing-community. The second is that the way we demonstrate our new kinship is the way we treat each other as “children” of God. Tragically, many churches experience pitched battles over differences in theology, preferences for worship-style, and conflicting personality-types. But viewed from a Jesus’-eye-perspective, the best way to measure our love for God is the quality of the love we have for one another (John 13:34). And the third is that family – whether viewed in terms of blood-relations (via the family of origin) or faith-relations (via the confessing church) – must demonstrate the values of the kingdom of God. So the measuring-stick for both will be righteousness, truthfulness, justice, and living for God as a matter of “first priority” – this is what the family of today (and the future) must be and strive to become if it is to remain ‘Christian’. If Jesus’ teaching on the family in his day was radical and unexpected – his teaching on the family in our day continues to be equally challenging and provocative.

Dr Stuart Devenish- Director of Postgraduate Studies, Tabor

sdevenish@adelaide.tabor.edu.au

Diaspora Families and Pastoral Care

Immigration is contributing to the growth of the Australian Christian community, with some of these diaspora families seeking out multi-ethnic rather than mother tongue culture congregations. The presence of these families brings tremendous blessing, but it can also create new challenges, especially when it comes to pastoral care, as they may operate with different family needs, values, practices and expectations. In this context, cultural intelligence (the capacity to function effectively cross-culturally), particularly CQ Knowledge and CQ Strategy, becomes significant.[1] Read More

Book Review- The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God

Book by Tim Keller with Kathy Keller- Penguin Books, 2013

The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy and Kathy Keller is one of the best books on marriage that I have read.  It is written not just for married couples, but also for single people.

Based on a very popular series of sermons delivered to a congregation of mainly single people at the Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, the Kellers argue for the goodness of both married and single life. They draw from their own experience as a married couple, and a close reading of the classic passage on marriage in Ephesians 5: 18-33, to present a realistic view of marriage (“You never marry the right person”), and to argue against what they see as the pathological idolization of marriage, and its opposite, the fear of commitment to marriage in our western cultural context. Both single and married people need to realize that, as wonderful as marriage is, it only works best if it is not held up as the ultimate in and of itself – the “Real Marriage that our souls need and the Real Family that our hearts were made for” can only be found in the love that God has for us, and our true brothers and sisters in the Christian community who share our ultimate hopes.

The great strength of this book is how the Kellers talk of marriage in a way that is shaped by the gospel:  “This is the secret- that the gospel of Jesus and marriage explain one another.” The secret of marriage, they insist, is not in finding the perfect partner, but in loving and caring for the partner that you are married to – it is the ongoing decision to love, and keep on loving, despite imperfections, just as Jesus loves his church. Each partner “giving themselves up for the other,” like Jesus did for us.

In one chapter Kathy tackles head on the widely misunderstood notions of authority and submission within marriage. To remove the “toxicity” from these ideas, we are to understand both in the light of Jesus’ example; who without domination exercised all authority (as the Lord who serves), and without loss of dignity submitted completely to the Father’s will (as the exalted servant): “In Jesus we see all the authoritarianism of authority laid to rest, and all the humility of submission glorified.” “Both women and men”, Kathy says, “get to ‘play the Jesus role’ in marriage – Jesus in his sacrificial authority, Jesus in his sacrificial submission.”

The mission of marriage – what marriage is for- is also to be understood in the light of Jesus’ ultimate purpose in shaping us into his glorious image. Husbands and wives become spiritual friends when, through their honesty with one other, their loving service to each other, and their gracious embrace of each other, they seek to encourage the work of God in each other’s lives, helping their partners become their true selves. “Most people, when looking for a spouse,” Kathy says, “are looking for a finished statue when they should be looking for a wonderful block of marble.”

Is the view of marriage as unselfish service of the other hopelessly unrealistic? In one of the most important chapters, the Kellers point out that Paul’s discussion of marriage as mutual, Christlike submission and love is prefaced with the injunction to keep on being filled with the Spirit (Eph 5: 18). It is only in receiving the fullness and joyfulness of the Spirit (who is the outgoing lovingness of God poured into our hearts), that we are able to transcend our own neediness and self-centredness, and genuinely think of others. This is an attractive way to live, whether you are married or single, and it is the true expression of spirituality.

Book Review by David McGregor, Senior Lecturer in Theology – Tabor

dmgregor@adelaide.tabor.edu.au

 

A conversation about Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife: My Story of Finding Hope after Domestic Abuse

A conversation about Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife: My Story of Finding Hope after Domestic Abuse by Ruth Tucker (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016) with Bruce Hulme and Dr Melinda Cousins.

Bruce Melinda, I came across this book by Ruth Tucker and found that you’ve recently read it too. Through her own story and theological reflection, she explores how particular views of male headship/female submission can perpetuate domestic violence (DV), which can include physical, sexual, psychological and emotional violence. Not a light topic! What did you make of it?
Melinda It’s a harrowing read; she is very open and vulnerable about the abuse she experienced.  I don’t think the book fully answers all the questions it raises, but her story is one that is all too common and therefore so important to tell, particularly given that as a well educated Christian theologian, she doesn’t conform to some of the expectations people might have of DV victims.
Bruce You think it’s common?
Melinda The most recent ABS statistics show at least 1 in 4 women have experienced physical or sexual violence from a current or former partner. Two Australian studies in the 1990s and a 2006 British study found there is basically no difference in DV rates within the church. Even if those studies are dated, there’s no reason to think the numbers have shifted significantly. But this doesn’t seem to be a topic that we talk about too often in our churches.
Bruce Perhaps we think the problem is ‘out there’; it is confronting to think of similar statistics reflected in Christian communities. The issue did find a public voice two years ago in Sydney circles starting with some Sydney Morning Herald articles by Julia Baird, but there hasn’t been much since.
Melinda I remember that. At the time Julia and an anonymous woman who had experienced DV, ‘Isabella Young’, received a flood of communication from women sharing similar stories. I was horrified when a pastor in my own denomination wrote a response saying he was unaware of DV within our churches. That’s certainly not been my experience.
Bruce Your experience?
Melinda I know numerous stories from women in our churches who have experienced DV. I have my own story of a relationship I was in when I was younger that was physically violent and justified by the misuse of Scripture.
Bruce I don’t tend to hear those stories …
Melinda I think that’s the challenge. Because specific data is hard to come by, we can think the issue doesn’t exist in our churches. But the stories are there if we will listen and provide space for them. Tucker’s book is an important voice in that conversation.
Bruce So it’s a significant issue. I wonder, though, about the causal connection Tucker makes. I was horrified at the way her husband—a pastor—blatantly misused headship/submission to justify his abuse; clearly loving his wife as Christ loved the church didn’t feature. So is it fair to blame a complementarian viewpoint if the perpetrator isn’t faithful to every aspect of that perspective?
Melinda Some have critiqued Tucker’s book saying that her husband was not a ‘true complementarian’. However, while it may not be the cause, the teaching he received provided him with justifications for his behaviour. Without wanting to get into a debate on the merits of complementarianism itself, I think it is worth pointing out – as Tucker does – that proponents of that view have often heavily focused, rightly or wrongly, on male headship and authority and wifely submission. In our cultural context, where we know that two Australian women are killed each week by their partners, and given that DV is about controlling behaviour, we need to be extremely careful that we are never heard as giving licence to that. How willing are we to name the issue of domestic violence from our pulpits? Do we have systems in place to respond to someone experiencing it? Would we ask them to stay in danger? Would we even believe them?
Bruce That’s the challenge, whatever perspective you take on the complementarian-egalitarian ‘debate’. In fact, Tucker names that as central to the problem; headship vs. mutual submission has been fashioned as a proof-texting debate, rather than as an opportunity for stories to be heard and responded to. The book steps in that direction. But what levels of response are called for, do you think?
Melinda I think the book raises some questions worth asking about complementarianism itself, even if Tucker herself does not provide the best articulation of an alternative viewpoint. Her book also reminds us that we don’t speak into a vacuum on this issue and so need to be extra careful lest we provide abusers with justification for their actions. Most of all, I hope it raises our awareness of stories like this. Too often we can pretend that the church is only made up of ‘happy families’; we can assume DV doesn’t happen among our people. If we take the statistics and stories seriously, we would instead operate from the assumption that there are both perpetrators and victims of DV in our congregations right now. How does knowing that shape the way we preach and teach?

 

If this is an issue that you would like to address further, a good resource is J. McClure and N. Ramsay (eds.), Telling the Truth: Preaching Against Sexual and Domestic Violence (Cleveland: United Church Press, 1998), especially chapter 9 “Preaching about Sexual and Domestic Violence”. This book grew out of a consultation on preaching and sexual and domestic violence held by the Presbyterian Church in Louisville, Kentucky. This book is now out of print and can be downloaded for free at http://www.ministrymatters.com/all/entry/1976/preaching-about-sexual-and-domestic-violence-free-e-book

Rev Dr Melinda Cousins- mcousins@adelaide.taboir.edu.au

Bruce Hulme- bhulme@adelaide.tabor.edu.au