The Emergence of Evangelical Discipleship: Learning to Walk with Jesus - page 3


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Knowing & Doing

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

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  While there are many benefits to walking with Jesus, early evangelicals also understood the cost of discipleship. Also writing in a letter, Whitefield reminded his friends of the lifelong practice of following Christ:

Let your obedience be constant, universal and uniform, founded on a living faith in Christ Jesus, that by well-doing you may put to silence the slanders of foolish and evil men. Let your speech, and all your actions, manifest whose disciples you are. Confess your Lord publicly before men, and be not afraid to tell those that have ears to hear, what God has done for your souls. It is good to keep close the secrets of a king, but it is honorable to reveal the works of the Almighty. Above all things, my brethren, have fervent charity among yourselves. Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.10

  Clearly discipleship included hardships and struggles as one attempted to faithfully obey Jesus Christ. Whitefield reinforced this truth in a sermon on Luke 9:23, simply titled “Self Denial,” in which he announced:

Our blessed Lord took all opportunities of reminding his disciples that his kingdom was not of this world: that his doctrine was a doctrine of the cross; and that their professing themselves to be his followers, would call them to a constant state of voluntary suffering and self-denial.sup>11

  To summarize, early evangelicals recognized that a disciple was a true believer of Jesus Christ. That person desired to walk in the way that Jesus called His followers to walk.

Cultivating a Vital Faithfulness

  During the early decades of the eighteenth century, church life lacked vibrancy, and cultural competition was often at odds with faithful discipleship. Not surprisingly the evangelical emphasis on new birth that is the expectation of readers of Knowing & Doing was a new message for many. How then did the early evangelicals seek to cultivate a vital faithfulness in following after Jesus? Noted evangelical scholar Mark Noll in his foreword to The Emergence of Evangelical Spirituality succinctly answers that question:

The book begins with a focus on “New Life in Christ,” where the standard themes of evangelical conversion predominate. The following sections––on the Holy Spirit, Scripture, spiritual practices, love for God, and love for neighbor–represent the natural outgrowth of a converted life for evangelicals.12


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