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Putt-Putt Christians

2006 September 8
by Mike

From Dallas Willard’s The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’s Essential Teachings on Discipleship:

“For at least several decades the churches of the Western world have not made discipleship a condition of being a Christian. One is not required to be, or to intend to be, a disciple in order to become a Christian, and one may remain a Christian without any signs of progress toward or in discipleship. Contemporary American churches in particular do not require following Christ in his example, spirit, and teachings as a condition of membership — either of entering into or continuing in fellowship of a denominationn or local church. I would be glad to learn of any exception to this claim, but it would only serve to highlight its general validity and make the general rule more glaring. So far as the visible Christian institutions of our day are concerned, discipleship clearly is optional.”

Cornelius Plantinga has an insightful piece in the latest CT entitled “Dr. Willard’s Diagnosis: Why We Need to Really Die Before We Can Really Live.” It’s about Dallas Willard’s “mighty project” to encourage the church to take transformation seriously, to read the Sermon on the Mount as the way he really expects us to live (modern circumstances not withstanding).

Plantinga writes:

“According to Willard, the problem is that a lot of us nod amiably at these instructions for a big Christian life in God’s kingdom. Then we ignore them . . . .

“Dr. Willard’s diagnosis: A lot of us are doing Christianity at a putt-putt level. We want to be forgiven without following Jesus.

“We’re afraid to follow Jesus, because then we’d have to die and rise with him. . . . The truth is, we’re mildly attracted to his virtues, but we’re strongly attracted to our vices. We wouldn’t like to lose them because they please us, and the prospect of a significant life with Jesus doesn’t so much. Do we expect a new Christian life will just happen without our having to make inconvenient changes in how we live Monday to Sunday? If so, we are like people who want to be solvent and who also max out their credit cards. Or people who want to be sexually pure and who also bookmark porn sites. Or people who want to speak Japanese without all the tiresome study that’s normally required. . . .

“Willard shows us how to get this life — eloquently and enduringly. He tells us that learning to enjoy God forever and to particiipate in his big project is entirely like learning competitive baseball or the violin or Italian. God has put joy inside sports, music-making, and cross-cultural conversation, but the only way to get joy out of them is to work at them. You’ve got to listen to your teacher, imitate him or her, and then practice a lot. The disciple is not greater than his master. If Jesus needed to learn obedience, so will Jesus’ disciples. We will need to train our brain, heart, hand, eye, and tongue to get us in shape for robust Christian living. Eyebrows, too, when they still have a haughty spirit. Fortunately, says Willard, the essential disciplines for Jesus’ disciples have been taught and learned for centuries, including by our Lord himself.”

44 Responses leave one →
  1. September 8, 2006

    That is very convicting. “We’re mildly attracted to his virtues, but we’re strongly attracted to our vices” is a great quote.

  2. September 8, 2006

    Mike, it is easier to belong to the church today than Kiwanis or some other service organization. When I was in Kiwanis I was expected to attend, pay my dues, and be involved in service projects. Today service is spelled “serve us” in many churches. Some of us want to be carried to the skies of flowery beds of ease while others fought to win the prize and sailed through bloody seas. I think Isaac Watts wrote that last line or something like it. Watts that, you say?

  3. Amy Boone permalink
    September 8, 2006

    Funny– that is the exact quote I read to Grant one evening recently. Powerful.

  4. September 8, 2006

    Wow! Good stuff. I’m going to have to get that book.

    I recently Posted something similar on my Blog. It is a distressing and frustrating problem.

  5. Terry permalink
    September 8, 2006

    I agree with all you said. Sometimes it is scary, but I am suppose to be a servant. That is so opposite from what we are taught by the world. The hardest thing is when we see those we love going through trials that turn out to be false. And those we loved and believed in fail them. That is where prayer takes a new turn and you must pray for those that hurt you. My eyes were opened to learning about all kinds of addictions and how we as Christians MUST lovingly pray and love those who are ensnared in them. That is the only way they are brought through it. And also for those that make a bad situation worse–sometimes using the Lord as the reason.

  6. September 8, 2006

    “He tells us that learning to enjoy God forever and to particiipate in his big project is entirely like learning competitive baseball…”

    I dig it. And I need to hear that. And I need to remember that. Every day.

    It’s a journey, praise the Lord, it’s a journey…

  7. David U permalink
    September 8, 2006

    I haven’t read that Willard book……but it will be on my Christmas list.
    “The Divine Conspiracy” changed the way I looked at the sermon on the mount. Jim Woodroof urged me to read it……..imagine that! 🙂

    Is there salvation without true discipleship? Historically, which of the two has our fellowship stressed the most?


  8. September 8, 2006

    “The Christian stands, not under the dictatorship of a legalistic ‘you ought,’ but in the magnetic field of Christian freedom, under the empowering of the ‘you may.'” – Helmut Thielicke

  9. mchristophoros permalink
    September 8, 2006

    We really need to re-claim the word “disciple”.

    “Church of Christ” is in the Bible once.
    “Christian” three times.
    “Disciple” over two hundred.

    It’s even in the Great Commision — “make disciples”.

    “Disciple” reminds us:
    1) We have a teacher.
    2) We’re still learning.

    Maybe “student” would be ok too.


  10. Ross M permalink
    September 8, 2006

    Thank you Mike for your post. It seems like a lot of the preaching today is about meeting people’s “felt needs.” Most of the sermons we hear are about “how to deal with things when life gets tough.” Too many want to be delivered from the trials of life instead of asking God “What do you want me to learn in the midst of my trial and how can I use this trial to become a better disciple?” May we all learn what it means to be true disciples of Jesus.

  11. September 8, 2006

    That first paragraph from Willard is right on.

    We who are the disciples in training can be blamed for walking through life with a lense telling us that there is plenty of time to get serious about turning every nook and cranny over to Jesus. “I’ll improve this area of my life next month,” is something I’ve said to myself more than once.

    I think church leadership shares in this problem too. A church of 250-500 members with two paid staff (one probably exclusive to youth), several elders, and the same lack of urgency just isn’t going to impact its people in a personal enough way. My experience is that discipleship growth comes from men encouraging each other (with equal doses of truth, grace, and love) to just do it. Without leadership being out in front of the “just do it” band, it simply doesn’t happen.

    Where I attend, we have taken to calling church “the place where you serve Jesus with your best friends.” When we can all say that and mean it, from leadership on down, discipleship will flourish.

  12. September 8, 2006

    Lee C Camp makes a similar point in his excellent book, Mere Discipleship.

  13. September 8, 2006

    Um, actually, in the International Churches of Christ, you ARE expected to be a disciple before you can be saved.

    The problem there is with their expectations of discipleship.

    Too often these days I find myself praying, Lord, make my life more convenient, prayers. And I also find myself very frustrated and angry at the state of American Christianity. We have “evolved” into a group that makes its litmus test for Christians the following: 1. Do you believe in prayer in the public schools? 2. Do you believe the Ten Commandments should be displayed on public property? 3. Are you a Republican who supports George Bush? 4. Do you believe the public schools are godless and that you should take your children out?

    If THAT is what American Christianity is all about, forget it!

  14. September 8, 2006

    Amen. In the last 10 months Willard’s writings have revolutionized the way my wife and I see Jesus. Our family has been totally, tangibly changed and I think our church is wondering just exactly what “red pill” we took.

  15. September 8, 2006

    Mike excellent post. We tend to forget that we are called to be disciples of Christ. It is not longer I but Christ in all things.

  16. September 8, 2006

    Ike – Please tell us more!

    Tina – What the ICC has been up to has very little to do with what Dallas Willard is talking about. His writings are filled with grace. They run from rigidity and power abuse by leaders. Yet they insist — as the best Christian writings and messages always have — that Christian life is defined by following Jesus.

  17. September 8, 2006

    Discipleship doesn’t seem to be trendy enough. What about “Baby-boomers and Discipleship” or “Gen-X and Discipleship” or “The Emergent Church and Discipleship?”

    I thought discipleship left with the Boston Movement?

  18. September 8, 2006

    Ike, tell about your move….that is a God story…the Spirit pushing a family to depth and fullness. Please share it….it is not boasting…people need to know that there are those out there who are willing to lay it all down because it is scary to do on your own.

  19. Josh Ross permalink
    September 8, 2006

    I’m printing your post as I write. This Sunday I begin a 21 week series in the gospel of Luke. Discipleship is a main thread that runs throughout the letter. The past few weeks I have been reading a number of books about the life and ministry of Jesus, and this past week has been Bonhoeffer’s “The Cost of Discipleship.”

    “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

    “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”

  20. September 8, 2006

    As Tina noted, most ICOC members pretty much taught that one must be a Disciple in order to be a candidate for baptism. While many ICOCs now lean toward more Grace, some still teach the old “Legalistic CoC On Steroids” stuff. There’s quite a diverse range of experiences with it, though, and not everyone experienced the rigidity and power abuse Mike refers to. Many of us still freak out, if only a little bit, at the word “Discipleship”, especially when we see the word “Disciple” used as a verb. As valid as it may be, that word was given a load of baggage for some of us. I inferred from Mike’s response that it’s hard to screw it up too much if the focus is on being a disciple of Jesus.

    It’s also worth noting (mchristophoros) that the word “disciple” is never used at all in any of the letters after Acts.

  21. September 8, 2006

    Mike –

    Thanks so much for this post. To me, being a disciple is the crux of the matter. Not outwardly imposed on each of us by a group such as Tina mentioned (the ICC), but by encouragement of others for each of us to “be all that we can be”, to quote the Army.

    I’ve long thought that the two most important passages Christ spoke about “Christian living” as servant disciples are the “Sermon on the Mount” and his discourse in Matt. 25 about the judgment day and who will be welcomed into heaven and who will be turned away.

    Both of those passages, plus many otherss by the inspired writers of the New Testament, speak to each and every one of us as individuals in our daily lives, each and every moment of our life. Being a member of Christ’s church is not a dressy Christian outfit we clothe ourselves in 3 times a week beginning with Sunday morning worship and ending Wednesday evening with Bible classes, songs, prayer and final amen.

    Being “clothed” as a disciple means being dressed in WORK clohes 24/7 in every moment of our life, ready to serve others, even if in the darkness of night in a one on one basis. Especially then, perhaps.

    So many Christians I know excuse themselves by saying, well, this is just the way I am and I can’t really get a grasp on trying to change this or that, or a whole myriad of things. In other words, they are lazy. It’s hard. It’s not easy. It’s a – say what? – a Discipline!! Takes hard work and much effort. Muscles get sored, backs get tired, fingers ache.

    Don’t we think Jesus felt all of those things? Or his followers? Don’t we think we should, too? Or is that for these other, more mature, Christians we know who seem to “have it made.” They didn’t get that way accidentally and neither will we.

    I have to work very hard at all of these things, myself, I don’t know about y’all. But grace lifts me up when I’m weak and God’s strength sustains me when I’m down. So I carry on.

  22. September 8, 2006

    Great Post – D. Willard continues to challenge my ministry and my level of discipleship.

    A question I have been looking at lately is; when was Peter’s salvation realized? Was it Luke 5, Matthew 16, John 21 or Acts 2? I tend to lean toward the answer that it was all of those. Peter followed, confessed, fell, confessed again, fell again and then preached the gospel. All of it was part of his discipleship and it was what Jesus focused on most.

    Unfortunately, we focus on the one time act of baptism and we assume that if people show up for services on Sundays they are good to go. That is just not the case.

  23. September 8, 2006

    We have allowed discipleship to be come a “churchie” word and don’t really understand it’s first century application. I have started using apprentice as a defining term for disciple. To me, it is a much clearer picture of what it is to be a disciple.

    Great quotes Mike! Thanks.

  24. September 8, 2006

    Excellent stuff, Mike. Convicting. I need this. I just printed it and plan to hand it out to our volunteers and neighbors that come to the Service Center today.

  25. mchristophoros permalink
    September 8, 2006

    Mark correctly notes that thw word “disciple” isn’t used in the letters. I too have wondered about that some, why it’s not in the language there, though the concept surely is.

    But “rediscovering” the Great Commission sort of trumps all for me. Jesus’ instructions — “Make disciples”, and “baptize them”, and “teach them to obey”, and “I am with you always”.


  26. September 8, 2006

    I’ve tried it all – from being careful to dot i’s and cross t’s to seeking to escape the difficult texts on discipleship through appealing to some “higher form of criticism.” For me being a disciple was to dedicate my life (what ever is left of it) to “standing with Jesus on the giving side of human need.” I have found a lot of wonderful people there, all happy because they finally took Jesus at his word when he said “It is more blessed to give…..”

  27. September 8, 2006

    mrchristophoros – Yes, Yes!

    “ut “rediscovering” the Great Commission sort of trumps all for me. Jesus’ instructions — “Make disciples”, and “baptize them”, and “teach them to obey”, and “I am with you always”.

    Wow. ”

    If we would keep our eyes on the order of things as given by Jesus, maybe these types of discussions would be moot. Ya’ think?

    It takes time, energy, dedication, discipline to ‘make disciples’ – baptism takes a few minutes, but the followup ‘teach them to obey’ is definitely long-term. The promised “I am with you always” gives us the motivation, wisdom, and strength to be about making disciples, as well as being engaged in the long-term.

    The long-term teaching and encouraging will, imho, develop strong believers, able to, in Paul’s words, eat meat leaving the mild diet and will develop believers that are willing to go out in the neighborhoods, serve the poor, widows and fatherless. I do not believe any fully devloped believer wants to serve those that are different than they are, maybe not as well bathed as they are, maybe even crude of speech and habits, but are so in need of Jesus.

    In other words, making disciples and developing fully matured Believers is all part of one whole, obeying Jesus as His word asks of us.

    And that is my rant for the day. LOL

  28. Craig permalink
    September 8, 2006

    What a challenging post today, Mike. And the comments by others having been good, too. Thank you for stimulating my thinking.

  29. September 8, 2006

    Ooops! One glaring typo among several minor ones, but this one definitely needs correcting.

    Originall read:

    ‘I do not believe any fully devloped believer wants to serve those that are different than they are, maybe not as well bathed as they are, maybe even crude of speech and habits, but are so in need of Jesus.”

    Should read:

    I do not believe that any BUT a fully developed/mature believer wants to serve…

  30. September 8, 2006

    Don’t miss Plantinga’s statement from the middle of the last paragraph: “God has put joy inside sports, music-making, and cross-cultural conversation, but the only way to get joy out of them is to work at them. You’ve got to listen to your teacher, imitate him or her, and then practice a lot.”

    The solution isn’t simply to intellectually endorse discipleship as a good idea, nor to develop a general intention about doing it. Believers need to find ways to regularly PRACTICE things that are important for our spiritual development AND the self discipline to stay after it. You aren’t fully hearing Willard’s message unless you hear that as well.

  31. September 8, 2006

    Challenging indeed – thanks Mike. I’m honestly not sure how the church got so off-track, but it certainly did. Probably somewhere about the time we decided a perfect attendance mark equated to discipleship. How many elders, let alone “regulars” read, think critically or meditate on their personal walk with Jesus?

  32. September 8, 2006

    “Hear and do.”

    That’s how a good friend, mentor, and theologian Kent Smith boils down the responsibility of disciples in the kingdom of God.

    I also appreciate the point that Matt R made about our responsibility to work at becoming more like Jesus. We know what God wants us to by regularly listening to Him, and many spiritual disciplines serve as resources through which we can hear God more clearly.

    A great little book by a couple CofC authors that aims to illuminate many of the spiritual disciplines that help us hear God more clearly (so we can become more like Jesus) is Living God’s Love: An Invitation to Christian Spirituality by Earl Lavender and Gary Holloway.

    I got to take a summer course with Earl (he is a prof at Lipscomb), and that class was one of the most formative experiences of my life. It was like a curtain was pulled back and I finally “got it.” I don’t “get all of it” of course, but I feel like I understand “the point” of all this Christianity stuff, a point that Willard makes wonderfully: following Jesus. Becoming more like him. Modeling his Way in the world. Listening to him. Doing what he tells us to do.

    There is not a more pertinent message in the world than the good news that a better Way exists, and that we were created for a purpose — to reflect the glory of God. Thanks for reminding of this message today, Mike.

  33. September 8, 2006

    Great article. I read it recently and I am ready for the book. I appreciate the discussion about the ICOC. I have been challenged lately by some great discussions with members and former members of the local ICOC congreation that have recently become of part of the my church family. They have helped me look at the congregation where I serve in a new way when it comes to what we teach those that are attracted to the church or Christ. Finding a way to talk to people about Christ and becoming a disciple without legalism is such a challenge once you begin trying. The journey metaphor seems so right. I really enjoy talking to people about the journey of being a disciple motivated by the love of Christ. It is compelling!

  34. September 8, 2006

    My wife Kaelea and I started asking ourselves the question “In light of good news what do we *want* to for God?” We’ve answered the question in lots of different ways.

    One answer was “Be generous givers.” We really couldn’t be that in our financial situation at the time, so we sold our house and moved our family into an apartment. Now with almost no effort on our part we are generous givers.

    Taking up less space is hardly something to boast about. What God has done for us in Christ, now *that* is something I can boast about.

  35. Chris permalink
    September 9, 2006

    Before anyone takes Dallas Willard seriously, I would urge you to check his belief system out. You can just google his name. A lot of his teachings are not according to scripture to say the least.

  36. September 9, 2006

    I’m curious what you have specfically read that would lead you to make that statement. I don’t agree with everything Willard writes, but I find most all of what I have read of his to be consonant with Scripture. I submit to you that if one wants to explore Willard’s belief system, his books are a much better source than Google.

  37. annie permalink
    September 9, 2006

    Chris, Except for the Bible, there’s not a book out there that I would TOTALLY agree with all of the writer’s thoughts either. But, God created Dallas Willard, & gave him a bright mind, & I believe Willard is using his God-given talent to help us think outside the box—and we know de-fi-ni-tive-ly that God is not in a box AT ALL.

  38. Chris permalink
    September 9, 2006

    From what I have read, Dallas Willard is a key player in the Spiritual Formation Movement which is another name for Contemplative Spirituality.It is a combination of Eastern Mysticism, psychology, New Age Movement, liberation theology, Roman Catholism and Protestantism all rolled into one.

    He is also a key player in the Emergent Church Movement which is getting more crazy by the day.

  39. September 9, 2006

    Willard has published his thoughts on Spiritual Formation in a book called The Spirit of the Disciplines. I read that book and did not find any major contradictions with Scripture in it.

    Based on your synopsis of “Spiritual Formation/Contemplative Spirituality” and the “Emergent Church Movement” I would be hesitant to trust your reference material too heavily. I encourage you to pick up one of Willard’s books and read straight from source if you haven’t already.

  40. September 9, 2006

    We will have this problem as long as our churches’ main focus is to get as many people as possible to sit in our pews (or folding chairs).

  41. Richard permalink
    September 9, 2006

    Just out of curiosity I did what Chris suggested. I found it very interesting. My conclusion was twofold. First, I haven’t read enough of Willard to form my own opinion. Second, there seems for some reason to be a growing reaction against the “Emergent Church Movement.” That could mean a thousand different things, but at least among some in evangelical circles red flags have been raised. Chris, I think several people have made a very good suggestion, and that is to make sure you make up your mind about the belief system of a person based on their own words and not what others write about them. That just makes sense. I noticed that several people who wrote against Willard used some very strong language and didn’t seem to have much to back it up with. Others seemed to be more reasonable in their criticism and at least made me stop and think. I could be wrong, but I sense that there is a battle brewing among evangelicals over the “Emergent Church Movement.” At this point one difficulty is trying to give clear definitions on the subject. I would be very interested to hear Mike explain what he sees are the reasons that there is such strong reaction against Willard and especially McClaren among some Evangelicals.

  42. September 12, 2006

    The stark truth is that we have not fulfilled the great commission until we have discipled them have we? Remember the phrase in Matthew?; “..teaching them to observe to observe all things that I have commanded you.”

    Mike, you are exactly right. The very few groups that do disciple would stick out like a sore thumb among the rest of us.

    Thanks for the thought provoking post.

    Grace and Peace,
    Royce Ogle

  43. September 13, 2006

    I don’t recall us ever being called in the scripture to become Christians. When Jesus sent out his disciples, they were instructed to go and make disciples; not Christians. Disciples make disciples. By Biblical standards, at least.

    My understanding of these instructions is there is to be a never ending process of discipling. Instead, we cloister ourselves amongst our fellow Christians and never reach out to the lost.

    When we in the c of C sometimes in the late 1950/s or 1960’s began accepting, if only reluctantly, other believers as fellow Christians, we failed to realize there are countless others out there who do not know Jesus as their savior. Proselytizing Baptists and Methodists, etc., was never, in my opinion, a discipling process. We, concurrently never developed a mindset or reaching out to the lost. We also quit proselytizing. Consequently, the c of C has become a dying institution.

    In the 1950’s we were considered the fastest growing religious body in the nation.We have since become a not so slowly dying group of “Christians” who have retreated into a ghetto of people who only look inward rather than out to the lost. We spend endless hours in classes; studying the scripture with little to no discourse on how to spread the Good News to a largely dying world of lost souls.

    Ours will be the shame come judgement day!

  44. April 15, 2007

    Interesting comments.. 😀

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