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Posts Tagged ‘Charles Dunahoo’


Sometimes you read a book that has been sitting on your shelf for years and think, “I wish I’d read this years ago.”

Making Kingdom Disciples: A New Framework by Charles Dunahoo is one of those books, at least for me.

I can’t remember how I got my copy. Someone else had read it so it was highlighted and underlined with black ink. I might be the third person to read it. I use red ink when I read a book. Now the book is quite colorful.

Dunahoo is the either retiring or now-retired coordinator for the PCA Committee for Christian Education and Publications (I can’t remember). He served on a variety of committees in the early and formative days of the PCA. He’s been a pastor and taught systematic theology and apologetics at the Atlanta School of Biblical Studies. The fruit of much of that work is displayed in this book. You can see the influence of Francis Shaeffer, Cornelius Van Til and John Frame in this volume. There is plenty of  interaction with postmodernism (as well as modernism).

This is not a nuts and bolts kind of book, as he admits. It is a framework. That framework will need to be filled out in ways appropriate to your particular context and strengths. This means the book is not about the acts of discipleship (reading plans, planning prayer and other practices we think of when we think about discipleship). His focus is on the big picture.

This book has three parts: Knowing the Word, Knowing the World and Biblical Models for Applying the Word to the World.

Knowing the Word

The first section is by far the longest at around 120 pages. Knowing the Word is the Framework for Discipleship. that Dunahoo is talking about. He calls this a kingdom model. Discipleship is about reordering a life around the realities of the kingdom of Jesus. That means not simply new practices but a new way of thinking.

“Generic definition: A disciple is someone who accepts a set of beliefs, and embraces a holistic, total, and intentional approach to life based on those beliefs.

“Kingdom definition: a kingdom disciple is someone who thinks God’s thoughts after him and applies them to all of life.”

This involves a brand new way of thinking as Paul repeatedly asserts in his epistles. We are, after all, transformed by the renewing of our minds. That means not simply new beliefs (it includes that) but new ways of viewing and thinking about everything. He differentiates between a program-based model, an individual (often parachurch) model, the small group model and his kingdom model. The kingdom model incorporates the other models but “places them in the context of God’s kingdom. It is informational, formational, and transformational!” There is content, it forms a worldview and transforms lives.

Dunahoo then dives into how we think and know. This has been complicated by neo-orthodoxy and postmodernism. He wants us to be “epistemologically self-conscious” which he defines as “being aware of what we know and how we know what we know.” This includes knowing what we don’t know. He describes the shift in authority from the premodern (revelation) to the modern (reason) and the postmodern (self & community). Since the premodern era “truth and knowledge have been divorced from the person of God.” He stresses that true knowledge comes in relationship with the God who made us and everything else. This God can reveal our biases and filters that so often color our judgments and make our thinking and conclusions distorted. Here his dependence on Schaeffer becomes clear as he develops a “checks-and-balances approach” that helps us identify our biases. One of the problems he identifies with a postmodern approach is “a knowing process wherein truth is relatively determined from moment to moment, form place to place” rather than in an observable process. Tik Tok is an example of this as many young people seem to think they can process politics and society from 30 second videos of people dancing to bad music.

From knowing, Dunahoo returns to the Kingdom and its implications for theology, mission and ministry. The kingdom is larger than the Church, encompassing the whole of creation and therefore determines how we live in all of life (not just at home or in church). Kingdom refers to the realm (creation) and his reign (providence and revealed will). This implies the limitations of the Church’s role in the world which individual Christians don’t share. The Church proclaims the good news and disciples Christians about what to believe and how to live. In the world, as part of the kingdom, Christians work for justice as well as proclaim the good news. The Church has no role in politics, but Christians certainly do as citizens of two kingdoms. We act in the name of Christ under His authority, but not in the name of the Church. Christians vote, but not the Church (nor should it bind your conscience in voting).

“… it helps the Christian know how to live as a member of Christ’s body, the church, but also how to live in the broader kingdom realm.”

From there, he gets into a Christian World-and-Life view. This builds on the previous chapters and is the logical conclusion. As the kingdom shapes our thinking & knowing we develop a Christian world-and-life view. He engages with how our world-and-life views are shaped (and re-shaped) and why it is important. There is a good caution that our world-and-life view is continually being reformed so be humble and don’t think you have it all figured out. You don’t.

The next two chapters cover the Reformed Faith and the Covenant. Discipleship, for him and other Reformed people, happens within the context of our theological heritage and the covenant by which God regulates His relationship with His people. They are essential rather than optional aspects of discipleship for a kingdom model. Discipleship is not atheological. He addresses some misconceptions of theology and then summarizes key doctrines in the Reformed heritage.

Covenant is a key aspect of Reformed Theology. Reformed Theology is covenantal theology, but covers more than covenant theology. Discipleship takes place within and should recognize certain covenantal realities. It shapes how we think of family and God’s work in and through families (you and your seed), as an example. In covenant theology grace precedes obedience. This logic of grace (as Ferguson calls it) is to be an important part of discipleship. Obedience is taught, but not as a way of meriting grace. It is a response to grace and flows out of faith expressing itself in love.

Knowing the World

The second section of Dunahoo’s book deals with the context of discipleship. Discipleship occurs in a context just as it also involves addressing how we know what we know and what we are supposed to know.

“We have to teach people to think biblically, and that requires more than simple Bible study. … We must understand God’s revelation, particularly his inscripturated Word, in our particular circumstance to know how to apply that Word and think biblically about life and reality.”

Dunahoo begins with Modernity. He views it as a threat IF it is allowed to “control our lifestyles consciously, subconsciously, or unconsciously.” It can be an opportunity IF “we understand it and its influence, and know how to use it in proper ways.” In this context he defines premodern, modernity and postmodernism as he did earlier in terms of sources of authority for knowledge and true.

Then he moves into modernity’s influence on (American) Christianity. We see it’s influence in pluralism which offers people choices and allows for change. It can make Christianity seemingly irrelevant in the marketplace of ideas. It leads to privatism which also relegates faith to the private sphere of one’s life. This seeks to limit faiths influence on the public sphere so that laws don’t reflect one’s moral views but lack a fixed reference point. He also examines individualism in which my reason (not ours) is the measure of truth. There is a lack of community since life is about me. This also leads us to relativism so there is no standard to measure cultures.

“As Francis Schaeffer often said in his lectures and writings, if there are no absolutes by which to judge society, then society itself becomes absolute.”

He also addresses, briefly, techism. We tend to think newer is better. People become a commodity even as we try to extend life (with medicine) without creating proper financial support systems for those longer lives. Tied to this is the rise of pop culture and immediacy.

The next chapter address the postmodern paradigm. Postmodernism takes pluralism to new heights, or possibly depths. Postmodernism is existentialism and nihilism in more concrete forms. Absolute truth becomes a meaningless concept since we can’t define truth. We look to ourselves to create meaning.

He briefly examines four key postmodernists: Jean Francois Lyotard, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida and Richard Rorty. He then examines the key terms of postmodernism: Foundationalism, Pragmatism (Utilitarianism), Relativism and Structuralism. In evaluating postmodernism he asserts that it is not a reaction to modernism but rather the collapse of modernism which couldn’t bear the weight of its beliefs. Postmodernism can’t bear its own weight either. Long term communities can’t exist when they leave God out as a reference point. Otherwise self-interest and extremism rip them apart.

Both modernism and postmodernism are present in our culture. This is a function of the generational context. Older generations still operate in a modernist mindset (generally) and younger generations are more influenced by postmodernism. Discipleship can’t ignore modernism and postmodernism, and can’t ignore the generational context either.

He explores the Traditionalist, In Betweener, Boomer, Gen X and Millennial generations. He looks at the context in which they grew and their commitments (or lack thereof).

“We need all the generations coming together to produce the kind of covenant family that will survive the pressures, dangers, and consequences of today’s often degenerate and demoralizing world.”

Dunahoo is not trying to pit one generation against the other. He does note their strengths and weaknesses, as well as their general outlooks which can complement one another. Multi-generational ministries will balance the concerns of the various generations and help them humbly offer their strengths.

Applying the Word to the World

The third section applies the Word we’ve come to know to the world in which we live. This is the crux of discipleship because theology is meant to be lived, not simply asserted and assented.

He provides three biblical models or examples of how to do this. The first is Paul in Athens (Acts 17). Paul gains a hearing by building bridges through points of contact. Our message has to have some meaning to those who listen. In many cases this means first listening to the concerns and questions of those to whom we speak. This doesn’t mean that Paul was a relativist. He had a fixed reference point. He didn’t compromise his worldview but built on common concerns to then communicate his worldview. In this Dunahoo distinguishes between actual relevance (what it means for our lives) and functional relevance (whether or not we see that relevance).

The second model is Ecclesiastes which examines various worldviews to reveal their inadequacies. He notes that many Muslims criticize Christianity because western Christians have ceased to see it as a worldview, a system of thinking and doing. The topics he relates through Ecclesiastes are life, pleasure, happiness, wisdom, work, possessions, man and eternity. These are viewed from “under the sun” or from a human perspective and “above the sun” the view from above otherwise known as a Christian worldview.

In this context Dunahoo approaches the problem of legalism. We have liberties that we can enjoy in this life. We don’t avoid pleasure, happiness, wisdom etc. but seek them in God-honoring ways. This means in their proper place so they are not what we are living for but rather enjoying them as gifts from God to be used for His glory.

The third example is a covenantal reading of Genesis 13. We have to place texts within their context of the rest of Scripture and therefore the covenants. Dunahoo is getting at the gospel logic of indicative-imperative, moving from God’s grace to gospel implications. This rescues us from trying to merit God’s favor. The successes and failures of Abram must be viewed within the context of the covenant in which God gave grace to pagan Abram.

“That is the heart of discipleship: knowing about God in a way that transforms our lives by making us more like him, loving and caring for what he love and cares for.”

He is highly dependent upon S.G. DeGraaf’s Promise and Deliverance which seems to be out of print now. The life of a disciple is fundamentally a life of faith in the promises of God. As we see in Hebrews 11 faith acts on the promises of God. Our faith is “truths fleshed out in vertical and horizontal relationships.”

As I noted, this is a book I wish I had read years ago. It is a more theological, abstract book. It does get at the presuppositions of discipleship and that is a necessary endeavor. I may try to communicate this material in a SS class or in teacher training. It will inform what I’m looking to do going forward.

Providing a framework, Dunahoo does not exhaustively examine his topics. He summarizes quite a bit, and necessarily so. In other words, this is not a book on postmodernism but summarizes the high points pertaining to kingdom discipleship. He then provides some resources to better understand postmodernism (or Reformed Theology or generational differences etc.).

One of my takeaways, for instance, came from the chapter on generations. Boomers tend to look for a “how to” in sermons. One older elder I knew used to write YBH in outlines, meaning “Yes, but how”. Busters/Xers like myself tend to look for “Why” in a sermon. Those are the two that I’m used to addressing. The one I need to add more consciously is the Millennial focus on the “so what”. Hopefully this will improve my preaching as a result, and preaching is a key component of discipleship.

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