A Summons to Convenantal Discipleship

From the Summer 2011 issue of Knowing & Doing

A Summons to Convenantal Discipleship

by Jonathan M. Lunde, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies
Talbot School of Theology

The Current “Discipleship Crisis”

Anyone who is listening to what many professing Christians are saying about their faith these days knows that we have a bit of a “discipleship crisis” on our hands. Though there are many dimensions to this crisis, it stems in large part from the frequent adoption of increasingly truncated versions of biblical Christianity.

As recent studies have shown, a large percentage of American young people who claim to be Christians have embraced a form of Christian belief that falls far short of a vigorous expression of biblical discipleship. Dubbed “moralistic therapeutic Deism” (MTD), its contours reduce God to something of a “divine Butler” who remains aloof from his people until they summon him to address some felt need and who asks only that his people be “nice” to others. Even a superficial examination of Jesus’ actual teachings reveals how unbiblical this form of discipleship really is.

But it is also clear that this state of affairs does not plague merely the younger generation of American Christians. Rather, the researchers who conducted this study have concluded that Christian young people have adopted this version of Christianity because their parents and churches have mentored them toward this perspective. Researcher Kenda Dean opines:

The problem does not seem to be that churches are teaching their young people badly, but that they are doing an exceedingly good job of teaching youth what we really believe: namely, that Christianity is not a big deal, that God requires little, and the church is a helpful social institution filled with nice people focused primarily on “folks like us”… What if the blasé religiosity of most American teenagers is not the result of poor communication but the result of excellent communication of a watered-down gospel so devoid of God’s self-giving love in Jesus Christ, so immune to the sending love of the Holy Spirit that it might not be Christianity at all?… If this is the case… then perhaps most young people practice Moralistic Therapeutic Deism not because they reject Christianity, but because this is the only “Christianity” they know.

Obviously, this narcissistic version of “Christian” discipleship requires very little from its adherents, resulting in lifestyles that are hardly “salty” enough to compel others to turn from their own narcissism so as to follow the Jesus of the Scriptures. In fact, this insipid religiosity has resulted in a pervasive disillusionment by the watching world regarding Christians and their claims. Rather than standing as beacons of integrity, justice, compassion, and purity, Christians are increasingly viewed by non-Christians with skepticism, indifference, and even cynicism. Since Christianity is always but one generation from extinction, this dilution of Christian discipleship and its impotent evangelistic influence should cause great concern for every thoughtful believer.

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