Feb 1, 2012
This is not at all in sequence with my previous posts. However, I had to get this out while it was fresh on my mind.
I live in the Bible Belt. As a matter of fact, I live in the Bible Belt Buckle. There’s a church on every corner, and it seems that most people profess at least a cultural connection to Christianity. They are a member of one church or another, whether or not they’ve attended in the last twenty years. They are still at least somewhat concerned with conservative Christian values. They generally place a strong value on family and have a good work ethic. Sure, we definitely have our share of agnostics and atheists (personally, I don’t believe they exist), but predominantly, most people around me are in some way connected to the church, whether they have strong convictions in any particular biblical value, or have even picked up a Bible in their lifetime. I call this Cultural Christianity.
Cultural Christians are so, because their “brand” of Christianity has been passed down to them from generations past. They may have never darkened the door of a church but to be baptized, nor opened their Bible longer than to inscribe the names of their children in the genealogical section beneath the cover. However, they call themselves a Baptist or a Methodist, and feel that they have a connection to an organism far greater than themselves. They are “Christian” more by association, than by faith or a living experience with the Living Redeemer. They are “members.”
While at first glance this seems quite innocuous, it reveals a deeper issue that lies beneath the surface. Quoting A. W. Tozer’s argument against Christians accepting Christ as Savior without accepting him as Lord, Dallas Willard makes a very interesting comment that helps to shock us into the perspective of our spiritual reality. First, he affirms Tozer’s statement that “salvation apart from obedience is unknown in the sacred scriptures.” He then goes on to say,
“This ‘heresy’ has created the impression that it is quite reasonable to be a ‘vampire Christian.’ One in effect says to Jesus, ‘I’d like a little of your blood, please. But I don’t care to be your student or have your character. In fact, won’t you just excuse me while I get on with my life, and I’ll see you in heaven.'”
Ouch! A vampire Christian? Yes – that hurts. But truth is often revealed in pain, because it breaks us out of our personal utopia and forces us to confront reality. I know that no one in their right mind would consciously say these words. However, Willard has uttered here the subconscious thoughts of all Cultural Christians. He has exposed the heart of those who would invoke the blood of the Messiah in order to wash away their sinful past, but continue to walk in stride with a life in which the Risen Lord has no place. Paul tells us that if we have life in the Spirit, then our daily walk (life) should also be “in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25). If we are walking on our own path, rather than following in the dust of our Master, it should give us pause. Are we a “vampire Christian”? Have we insulted the Spirit of grace (Hebrews 10:29)? Has our Cultural Christianity lulled us into a spiritual coma from which we cannot awaken? The gift of grace through the blood of the Risen Messiah is entirely free. Yet it cost Jesus his very life. Shouldn’t we at the very least give ours back to him, rather than merely feeding off of his blood?
For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:26-31 ESV)
Jan 30, 2012
Since it has been a while since my last post on Discipleship, I thought I would at least give an update on where I am in this series.
First, I’ll let the cat out of the bag. As some have asked & assumed, yes – I am in the process of writing a book on Discipleship. In my writing process, however, I realized that I needed to do more that just present my information. I felt the need to go back, and research the existing materials on discipleship currently available, and give credit to and contrast between the existing views, materials and information and my own. This is where I have been spending the majority of my time lately. With that being said, I still have a long way to go. I have definitely been writing. However, it has caused me to re-organize my thoughts and add quite a bit of background material to my subject. I plan on posting more soon, but working through this background information is causing me to focus my thoughts in different areas.
So… If you would like to help speed things along, I could use some help. I am in need of some research materials and I currently cannot afford to get them. I hate to even ask for help. I feel guilty about it. However, I know some of you are anxious for this material to be out. I am merely offering you an opportunity to help me get it out quicker.
If you would like to contribute to this endeavor, I have a book list below of titles I am needing to help me with my research. Some of these titles I already had, but have given away over the years. Others I have never even seen, but have been recommended to me by others. Also, I have one or two of these titles on Kindle, but as wonderful as the Kindle is, is not conducive to citations. If you would like to donate towards the purchase of these resources you can do so in a number of ways. First, you can use the Donate button in the sidebar to give a generation donation towards these resources. Or, you can donate towards a specific title (just indicate this in the notes section of the donation page). Or, if you have a copy of a particular book that you would like to donate, you can mail it to me (please email me for my shipping address: darren [at] digging with darren [dot] com – no spaces, and replace the special characters).
Here is the list. Feel free to ask me any questions you may have in regard to the books or my research.
The Great Omission – Dallas Willard (Thank You!)
The Divine Conspiracy – Dallas Willard (Thank You!)
- Disciples Are Made Not Born – Walter A. Henrichsen
The Lost Art of Disciple Making – LeRoy Eims (Thank you!)
- Intentional Disciplemaking: Cultivating Spiritual Maturity in the Local Church – Ron Bennett
- Fight Club: Gospel-Driven Discipleship – Jonathan Dodson
- What Jesus Demands from the World – John Piper
Celebration of Discipline – Richard J. Foster (Thank you!)
- True Discipleship – William MacDonald
- Born to Reproduce – Dawson Trottman
Gospel Centered Discipleship – Jonathan K. Dodson, Matt Chandler (Thank You!)
Growing True Disciples: New Strategies for Producing Genuine Followers of Christ – George Barna (Thank you!)
The Complete Book of Discipleship: On Being and Making Followers of Christ – Bill Hull (Thank you!)
Organic Discipleship (Dennis McCallum) (Thank You, Dennis!)
- New Light on the Difficult Words of Jesus – David Bivin
The Great Yet Completely Misunderstood Commission of Jesus: The Original Hebrew Understanding of Discipleship – Brian S. Wright M.R.E. (Thank You!)
- Mere Christianity – C.S. Lewis
The Jesus Creed – Scot McKnight
The King Jesus Gospel – Scot McKnight
The Jesus Quest – Ben Witherington III
A Guide For Young Disciples – J. G. Pike
I am also open to any other suggestions you may have. Thanks in advance for any help you might be able to give. Blessings…
Jan 18, 2012
For the past few days we have been in the Atlanta, GA area. We drove through the night the past Saturday night so that we could arrive in time to experience the home birth of some very close friends of ours (Jeff & Melissa Turner) who live about an hour or so outside of the Atlanta area. We were blessed to make it here in time to experience the birth of their daughter and be able to spend time with them over these last few days.
Today, Jeff & I took a trip into Atlanta, and I was privileged to finally meet fellow-blogger Derek Leman in the real world, rather than merely in cyberspace. We all ate lunch together at the Pita Palace, a very tasty kosher restaurant that serves things like shawarma & falafel. It was good to finally meet Derek and spend some time talking about our stories of how we each came to recognize the validity of Torah, as well as hear about the things his congregation, Tikvat David (Hope of David), was doing. It seems like he has a wonderful opportunity to reach out to the greater Atlanta community and bring the hope of Yeshua, coupled with the foundation of the Torah to a world that so desperately needs both. Great to meet you, Derek. Many blessings to you and your congregants!
Jan 6, 2012
Continuing with examples of misinterpretation, I would like to present one additional, more recent example of how a teacher’s words can be replicated, but his original message completely obscured by his followers. This particular example, however, has far-reaching implications and one with which the church struggles today. It is that of Martin Luther and the Protestant church.
We all know of Martin Luther as the leader of the Protestant Reformation. He is know by his rejection of the practice of indulgences by the Catholic church (of which he was currently a part), and his theological “discovery” of justification through faith, which has become the foundational doctrine of the Protestant church. His questioning of papal practice and refusal to submit to papal authority caused his excommunication from the Catholic church and forced his hand at creating a “protest” movement against the Catholic church in which papal authority was not at the helm.
Protestants across the globe are indebted to Luther for his revelation in regard to justification through faith. This theological premise has been the cornerstone which has shaped Protestant faith and practice since the time of the Reformation. However, for the last century or more, this confession has experienced a metamorphosis in its interpretation and application. The Christianity of pre-holocaust Germany is an illustration of how this misunderstanding of Luther’s message allowed Christians to believe that their mental acknowledgement of the work of Christ secured their eternal salvation and precluded them from living a life of faithfulness in the present world.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German Lutheran pastor, theologian and Holocaust martyr, is best known for his outspoken opposition to Hitler and the Nazi regime. In his preeminent work The Cost of Discipleship, Bonhoeffer explains the problem that arose between Luther’s original teaching of justification through faith, and the practical application of the Protestantism of his day.
“When he spoke of grace, Luther always implied as a corollary that it cost him his own life, the life which was now for the first time subjected to the absolute obedience of Christ. Only so could he speak of grace. Luther had said that grace alone can save; his followers took up his doctrine and repeated it word for word. But they left out its invariable corollary, the obligation of discipleship. There was no need for Luther always to mention that corollary explicitly for he always spoke as one who had been led by grace to the strictest following of Christ. Judged by the standard of Luther’s doctrine, that of his followers was unassailable, and yet their orthodoxy spelt the end and destruction of the Reformation as the revelation on earth of the costly grace of God. The justification of the sinner in the world degenerated into the justification of sin and the world. Costly grace was turned into cheap grace without discipleship.”
Bonhoeffer is writing in a time when Christianity in Germany had been diluted to the point of almost no-return. It is this context that allowed Hitler to rise to power, and the Nazi party to sweep through Europe like a brush fire. For the most part, Christians were more concerned about theology, doctrine & creed than living out lives dedicated to Christ. Like today, Protestants generally did not see a disconnect between Luther’s doctrine of faith and grace, and their modern application. However, Bonhoeffer observed that at the place where theory and practice should meet, they went their separate ways. In his terminology, the justification of the sin, rather than the sinner, became the preeminent function of grace. Therefore, the Christian became justified in his sin, rather than being justified as a new creation.
Instead of maintaining the bar & recognizing that there will be times in which we fall short as disciples, and thus allowing the grace of God to pick us back up, brush us off and set us back on the path again, we have chosen the path of less resistance. We have chosen to lower the bar (or remove it altogether), and justify our inability to conform to the image of Messiah as merely “who we are.” As Bonhoeffer puts it, “The Christian life comes to mean nothing more than living in the world and as the world, in being no different from the world, in fact, in being prohibited from being different from the world for the sake of grace.”
Bonhoeffer saw what persists until today — a diluted Christianity in which confession of creed has swallowed the confession and renunciation of sin. We now have a world in which Christianity has become accepted, but at the expense of its integrity. Bonhoeffer described what he saw as follows:
“It is under the influence of this kind of ‘grace’ that the world has been made ‘Christian,’ but at the cost of secularizing the Christian religion as never before. The antithesis between the Christian life and the life of bourgeois respectability is at an end. The Christian life comes to mean nothing more than living in the world and as the world, in being no different from the world, in fact, in being prohibited from being different from the world for the sake of grace.”
Bonhoeffer summarizes by saying,
“In both cases [which he has previously described – that of which he calls “costly grace” and that of which he calls “cheap grace”] we have the identical formula—’justification by faith alone.’ Yet the misuse of the formula leads to the complete destruction of its very essence.”
Bonhoeffer allows us to see another example of how the teachings of someone can be distorted and misapplied by his followers. As we can see by this example, misinterpretation and misapplication can have alarming results. If we have done so with theologians such as Luther from which we are only a few centuries removed, how much more so have we done with the likes of Paul and Jesus? We will return to this discussion when we discuss understanding the message of Jesus.
Dec 19, 2011
First, let me say that I am no expert in mussar. And in all honesty, I haven’t really even started. Right now I am only exploring the middot (character traits – middah, singular) that ring out to me as I prepare myself for the actual practice of mussar. From there I will pick the thirteen which I feel to be most applicable in my life and begin to focus on them one week at a time, journaling about my journey. However, from what I have read in Everyday Holiness, almost every middah hangs on anavah (humility). According to Rabbi Bachya ibn Pakuda, in his book Duties of the Heart (as quoted by Morinis in Everyday Holiness), “All virtues and duties are dependent on humility.” And it makes sense. Once I learned the Jewish perspective on anavah, humility, I became drawn to it, realizing my deep lack of understanding of this character trait, as well as my deficiency of its possession. Here’s why…
When the word humility is mentioned, what comes to mind? Too many times our working definition of humility is self-abasement. My new, working definition of humility comes from Morinis in Everyday Holiness. My paraphrase is as follows:
Humility is occupying our proper space, neither too much, nor too little.
I think this is the best definition I’ve ever heard. It makes sense on so many levels. When we break down a character trait into a definition such as this, we are able to truly define it’s parameters, rather than it being some ethereal, elusive non-tangible. Let’s explore this definition for a moment.
If humility is “occupying our proper space, neither too much, nor too little,” it’s obvious the result when we occupy too much space. At the minimum this is pride, and at its extreme, narcissism. We become so wrapped up in ourselves that the boundaries between us and others is unseen. We quickly overstep those boundaries and invade someone else’s space, whether physically, socially or verbally. One example Morinis gave that I thought was really good was in regard to speech:
“…when someone shares a piece of news with you, do you come right back with your own concerns, filling the space they’ve opened, or do you make room to follow up what the other person has introduced?”
I have had this flaw as long as I can remember. I remember when a friend of mine first brought it to my attention. His bringing it to my attention hurt me, but it was a much needed exposure of a flaw in my character that brought it to the surface in order that I could deal with it, and not be oblivious to it. However, since I was only made aware of this, and not given any tools for tikkun (repair / undoing), I still have not overcome in this. Now, I have passed it on to my children. And seeing this blemish magnified in them, it has set off internal alarms that I did not understand until recently. Having a proper definition of this middah with well-defined parameters helps me not only to better identify the breach in our family composition, but gives me a more solid means by which to correct it.
On the opposite extreme is not occupying enough space. If we occupy too little space, we are not fulfilling our God-given role in the world. It is not stepping up to the plate for which you were created. Hillel tells us,
“In a place where there are no men strive to be a man.” (Avot 2:6)
Remember, “Birth is G‑d saying you matter.” And you really do. We all do. We all have our special role to play. And if we don’t fill up our alloted space, we are destined to fail others who are relying upon us.
For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. (1 Corinthians 12:14-20)
In this quote from the Apostle Paul, he reminds us of the exact same thing. We all have our role, and we must not only fill that role, but we must also be content with that role.
But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” (Romans 9:20)
“Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work” (2 Timothy 2:20-21, ESV).
I believe humility is the starting point for this. Once we realize the space we are supposed to occupy, we can begin filling it properly and neither spilling out onto others, nor shrinking back from our responsibilities. Are you occupying your proper space?