Monday, May 30, 2011

Terrible Things

My cousin pitched me a set of Cutco knives today for eight hundred dollars. My life insurance salesman is pushing annuities at a good rate. Some lady wants my wife to buy sixty-dollar vitamins to help her stomach settle. I almost forgot to send the offering baskets around church again this week. And we spent forty dollars on a dinner date a few nights ago.

Oh money, you terrible thing.

I've been preaching through the prophets. They talk a storm about Israel and her forbidden lovers. Idols carved of wood and overlaid with gold. Idols taking bribes and preaching peace. Idols for him. Idols for her. Idols for kids on gluten-free diets.

Oh idols, you terrible things.

Idolatry doesn't come up in casual conversation, unless it relates to pop stars and wannabes. But there are others. Health and wealth. Sex and fame. Power and glory. Facebook and other digital distractions. They rival God for our affections. We are slow to call them idols. It's what they are--terrible things.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Discipleship

In an experiment to better understand discipleship, I've made a miserable observation: Books with the term discipleship in them often stink. I've read two of these books recently, and rather than providing any clear teaching on the matter, I've been ferried down theological and historical streams that contribute nothing of practical value.

I'll provide an example, without naming the source (although, be certain, The Bible and Discipleship constitute its subtitle).

"Discipleship requires a whole new conversation in a church that has been too long accomodationist and at ease in the dominant values of culture that fly in the face of the purposes of God... Such disciplines intend and permit a drastic reorienting of one's life, an embrace of new practices, and most particularly, a departure from other loyalties that have seemed both legitimate and convenient" (pp. 95-96).

At first glance, this quotation offers some helpful background for a theology of discipleship.
  • First, it is the work of the church--ideally the Christian church.
  • Second, it calls the church out from the ideology of its larger culture.
  • Thirdly, being called out implies certain practices, called disciplines, that contrast church members from the common taxpayer in Cook County.
  • Finally, what sustains this distinct lifestyle is a greater loyalty to God than the gods of convenience and popular opinion.

Later the author lists, with little definition, the "practices" of a disciple--teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer--as observed in Acts 2:42. Shortly thereafter, the chapter ends, as does the book's explicit teaching on discipleship. Next chapter: Citizens versus consumers.

To be fair, this is one example, but I run up against this time and time again when looking for specific, practical guidance on a given topic. The fine art of joining theological foundation with practical application rarely surfaces in printable form. Moralism abounds in the Christian bookstore. Scholasticism reigns in the Seminary library.

What I'm looking for is a text that blends truth with exhortation. Maybe I'm looking too hard.

"Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations...teaching them to obey all that I've commanded you..." (Matthew 28:19-20).