The Emergence of Evangelical Discipleship: Learning to Walk with Jesus - page 1


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From the Spring 2017 issue of Knowing & Doing:  

The Emergence of Evangelical Discipleship:
Learning to Walk with Jesus

by Tom Schwanda, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Christian Formation
and Ministry at Wheaton College

n every age the followers of Jesus have been called disciples. Sometimes we in the contemporary church act as if we were the first serious believers of Jesus. In reality, we can learn a great deal from earlier Christians in how they sought to walk with Jesus. I have a particular interest in the early evangelicals of the eighteenth century; many of these key leaders have influenced us today. This article is based on my recent book, The Emergence of Evangelical Spirituality: The Age of Edwards, Newton, and Whitefield.1

True Disciples

  To contrast the sharp distinction between faithful followers of Jesus and those only in name, early evangelicals often spoke of “true disciples.” Some actually referred to what we might call nominal Christians as “pretenders.” Jonathan Edwards asserted,

There is no man but a true disciple of Christ, that is willing thoroughly to deny himself for him, and follow him in a way of obedience to all his commands, unto the end, through all difficulties which Christ has given his followers reason to expect.2

  George Whitefield, who crossed the Atlantic Ocean six-and-a-half times (he died and was buried in Newburyport, Massachusetts), declared,

Not that all who followed him, were his true disciples. No, some followed him only for his loaves, others out of curiosity; though some undoubtedly followed to hear, and be edified by, the gracious words that proceeded out of his mouth.3

  Edwards cautioned his listeners that the world was not conducive to the gospel of Jesus Christ and that believers of Jesus must deny those earthly pleasures that hinder their growth in Christ. He declared,

I know of nothing that is more abundantly insisted on as a requisite and necessary work of a sincere disciple in the Scriptures than this is. It is a great thing to part with the world. The world is a natural man’s god, and it is his all. It is a great thing for a man to be cut down in this affair, and to be willing to cut himself off from the world for Christ’s sake, and so to give up all and reserve nothing.4


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