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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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The book arrived unbidden. Unexpected.

This was my first Advance Reading Copy, and I was not sure why I got one. Perhaps I’ll never get another one.

The book is the story of 5 Mexican fishermen who ran out of gas after a fierce storm. The current pulled them westward until the 3 men still alive were picked up by a fishing trawler out of Taiwan.  They had spent nearly 10 months at sea spending their days looking for ships and food, gathering rainwater and reading the Bible one of them had brought with him.

The book is also the story of the author who was quite successful selling syndication rights, but very much adrift and lost himself. After his life falls apart, he leans of the fishermen who’d just been rescued and feels called to tell their story to the world.

There are parts of this book that are VERY interesting. I was fascinated by the story of the Mexican fishermen. I want to know more about their story. It sort of reminds me of 127 Hours, which I recently watched.

Joe Kissack’s story was interesting, but not nearly as interesting. I hate to say that- as though how God brings a sinner to saving faith is not interesting. But it is clearly more ordinary- I know hundreds, thousands of saved sinners. But I’ve never met anyone who survived adrift on the Pacific for 10 months. Unlike the people near the end of the story who encouraged Joe to see the 2 stories as one, I was not as enthused by the process. It distracted me. I understand the contrasts, but they just didn’t work for me like they did for others. That’s okay.

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In his (possibly last) book, The Radical Disciple, John Stott addresses the 8 characteristics of discipleship that he believes are most lacking in western forms of Christianity.  So, I’ll spend a little time going over what he says about them.  The first is non-conformity, but before we get there a few words from his preface.

“For genuine discipleship is wholehearted discipleship … Our common way of avoiding radical discipleship is to be selective.”

This is the nature of the human heart.  We think that we are obedient if we keep some of this demands.  But Jesus’ call to discipleship requires that we follow with all our heart, and all that we are.  We do not pick and choose the ways we will love Him any more than we should pick and choose how to love our spouse.

“Escapism and conformism are thus both forbidden to us. … We are neither to see to preserve our holiness by escaping from the world nor to sacrifice our holiness by conforming to the world.”

This is the point of Jesus’ statement about us being “in the world, but not of it.”  Stott summarizes it well.  He specifies a few challenges we face as we try to live this out.  The first is pluralism.  While maintaining humility, we need to affirm his uniqueness in incarnation, atonement and resurrection.  As a result, Jesus is “uniquely competent to save sinners.”

Materialism is another challenge.  We are not to be like some obscure philosophers who denied the reality of the material world.  Materialism is a “preoccupation with material things”.  In the parable of the Sower, Jesus mentions how such a preoccupation stifles spiritual life.  We are not to live for this life.  We are to lose our lives for the sake of the gospel- self-denial.

The next challenge is ethical relativism.  Postmodernism’s attack on absolute truth has seen a reject of absolute moral standards.   One of those is the attack on “traditional marriage”.  Some churches are even beginning to question this.  They say that Jesus never addressed homosexuality.  Jesus did address marriage, and in a way that eliminates non-traditional marriage.  He quotes Genesis 1:27 and 2:24 in discussing marriage.  God made men and women in His image, and then gives the biblical definition of marriage: a man united to his wife.  Jesus affirms this view of marriage as God’s view of marriage (Mt. 19).  One of the key elements of true discipleship is the Lordship of Jesus.  He, not culture, defines right and wrong for us.

“To confess Jesus as Lord but not obey him is to build our lives on a foundation of sand.”

He also notes narcissism as a serious problem that we face.  The church has often bought into the therapeutic pseudo-gospel which advocates self-love (thank you Robert Shuller).  The point of agape, as he mentions, is sacrificial love.  Self-love, on the other hand, is a sign of the last days (2 Timothy 3:2).  Self-love actually sabotages the love of community that is a reflection of the gospel (God is love, an eternal community of love).

These are some important trends and pattern which challenge us.  We cannot risk conforming to the materialism, pluralism, relativism and narcissism of the culture.  True disciples are conformed to Christ, not the world.  But they don’t escape the world in a holy huddle either.

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D.A. Carson re-enters the discussion of Christianity’s relationship with culture in Christ and Culture Revisited.  I say re-enters because he hits some similar issues in The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism and his more recent Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church.  This time he evaluates the classic, influential work of H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture.  He arrives at the same essential point that I did while in seminary, just in a far more thoughtful and thorough way.  Due to my circumstances, it may have taken me as long to read it as it did for him to write it.

Here is a quick summery of Carson’s conclusions for you:

“Niebuhr’s typology offers his five types as slightly idealized competing options.  Yet this emphasis on choosing from among the options does not square with the canonical function of Scripture.  … Christians do not have the right to choose one of the options in the fivefold typology as if it were the whole.  The name of that game is reductionism.”

What Carson does is rightly is say that no one paradigm fits every situation.  Scripture reveals very different responses to different circumstances as people sought to live life under the gaze of God.  We are to utilize wisdom, always checking our hearts with Scripture lest we deceive ourselves, to chart the best course.

In developing this, Carson digs into some good biblical theology.  This is so we live in light of the main turning points of redemptive history (creation, fall, redemption, restoration), and in light of the already/not yet realities of our salvation.  When we focus on only one or two turning points of redemptive history we fall into reductionism and hover in one (often knee-jerk) response to what is happening around us.

Inevitably Christians find themselves squeezed between the claims and obligations of the broader culture and their allegiance to Christ.  The tensions between Christ and culture are both diverse and complex, but from a Christian perspective they find their origins in the stubborn refusal of human beings, made in God’s image, to acknowledge their creaturely dependence on their Maker. … Although there are better and worse examples of how these tensions might play out, there is no ideal stable paradigm that can be transported to other times and places: every culture is perpetually in flux, ensuring that no political structure is a permanent “solution” to the tension.

It may sound to some as relativism, but it really isn’t.  We apply unchanging standards to changing circumstances.  So at times we will adopt cultural practices, at times abandon them, at times adapt them etc.

It is when Carson begins to examine the various uses of the term ‘culture’ that this book gets a bit heady and philosophical.  It is at moments like that when I realize how average a thinker and how poorly read I am.  But my calling is different from his.  He wisely says you can jump to the next chapter.

He focuses a great deal of attention of the relationship between church and state (and how those terms are variously used).  In our quest for one ideal arraingment, we err.  He traces the development of various views in the West (notably the U.S. and France).  We should learn to tread lightly when wanting to criticize Christians in other cultures.  We often don’t have the frame of reference, and circumstances, they do.  And we often flounder in our own circumstances.  I gather we should take the log out of our eyes.

Overall it was a good read, but not an easy read.  But pastors and elders should labor through that they might shepherd their people through this potential quagmire.  I’m glad Carson revisited some old ground and gave us a better lay of the land.

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I’m continuing to work my way through McLaren’s book A New Kind of Christian.  I would sum it up as increasingly frustrating.  Neo keeps getting further and further out there.  And the strawmen he argues against are increasingly obscure.

This is an incredible nit-pick, but World Cup soccer is played by national teams.  DC United wouldn’t play, much less win, that competition.  Yep, this is fiction but try to keep the connections to reality there to make it believable and in the spirit of being missional- being ignorant of such matters means you lose street cred.  Okay, off the box.

Neo’s sermon contains a section from C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle, one I have a particularly difficult time with.  But Neo uses it to teach truth, not illustrate truth.  This would be because the truth he’s trying to illustrate doesn’t exist.  Kind hearted muslims (or pick your religion) are not serving Jesus unknowingly.  In Scripture you find that people forsake their worthless idols to worship the true God.  That’s a bit different than what Neo is trying to encourage.

I’ll give McLaren the credit for reminding people that the church exists to expand the kingdom, benefiting the world.  How he and I understand that is a bit different.  Yes, some Christians reduce the gospel to personal salvation, ignoring the cosmic implications.  Is it possible to make too much of the cosmic implications?  Yes, if you minimize what Scripture maxamizes.  Scripture addresses the need for personal salvation far more than the cosmic implications of redemption.  Jesus and the Apostles do show a great deal of concern for the people’s fate.  His first “sermon”, “repent and believe for the kingdom is at hand.”  “Repent and believe” is conversion talk.  “Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins” is conversion talk, and the point of Peter’s very first sermon.  So this notion that “it’s none of your business who goes to hell” is not in step with Scripture.  If modern evangelicals are to be chastized for importing  modern notions onto the Scripture (and they are at times), so should McLaren be chastized for importing notions foreign to Scripture and deny notions prevalent in Scripture.  He also takes some Scripture completely out of context to make his point.  He mentions Jesus’ words to Peter as though we should not be concerned with anyone else’s eternal destiny.  But Peter is asking how John will die.  THAT is of no concern to Peter.

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The 3rd chapter of Velvet Elvis is called True, and I think I know what Rob Bell is trying to say, and I estimate I agree with about 90-95% of it.  I only say I think I know because Rob is not writing to me, someone who prefers precision, but for a group of “spiritual” people who want to find a non-dogmatic religion.

What is Rob “trying” to say?  That there is such a thing as General Revelation, and that all truth (not just what you might think is true) has the triune God as its source.  It is his world, and not all truth is found in Scripture (though all Scripture is true).  So, other religions have fragments of truth.  His example is Muslims being debt adverse.  I’d tell Rob that this is actually a biblical idea they happen to share with us.  So, other religions have areas of overlap with Christianity.

But he doesn’t put it that way, which opens the door for pluralism (even if he didn’t intend it).  This is where Rob’s non-linear style, focused on tangentially related stories does him a disservice.

Rob makes a good point that many kids who grow up in fundamentalist homes think that the church as a market on truth.  So they go to college and some prof blows their mind and they leave their faith behind.  Yep, happens.  The problem is not Christianity but parents who don’t live in the real world, nor prepare their kids for the real world.

Where Rob really loses me is in talking about missionaries “transporting God” to other cultures.  He sees this as a basic misunderstanding some have about missionaries.  God is everywhere.  Yep- with you.  But I’ve never heard of any misguided person talk about “bringing God” to other people.  Bringing the gospel, yes.

And I guess this is what saddens me about sections of this book.  He does what John McArthur often does- take an extreme, often foolish example as though it were the norm for a particular group of people he doesn’t really like or agree with.  So, Rob pokes fun at Fundamentalists and how goofy they are (and they really can be).  But he never really says that is who they are- so your average conservative Christian whose not as hip as some, gets painted as guilty by association.  Don’t want to contend for the faith once delivered to the saints or you are a “wall builder”, and that is bad.  Don’t want to say “Scripture alone” because some dolt in Idaho uses that to defend his strange views.  Sola Scriptura becomes bad.

I guess I’d like it if Rob just said something like, “I grew up Fundamentalist” (I don’t know if that’s true), “and had a bad reaction.”  I prefer if he expressed his prejudices so people would know upfront instead of us having to read between the lines.  He’s not objective- but neither is he upfront about his true convictions.

(I am a Christian who finds his heritage in the conservative, evangelical, Reformed, Prebyterian, missional branch of the church.  I grew up Catholic, converted in college was a Conservative Baptist => Reformed Baptist => PCA/ARP.  Just to be fair, you know.)

Add-on:  I slept on the chapter and had some additional thoughts.  Rob is not really repainting the Christian view of faith here, just disagreeing with a fringe element.  But what is disappointing, is that Rob provides no real framework for people to separate the true from the fascinating.  His example of kids going to to college is important.  At college, some of what they hear will be true, but lots of it will be fascinating half-truths, false interpretations etc.  I don’t think that has changed much from when I went to college.  You have many different theories of economics, psychology, politics etc.  Many of these can seem fascinating, for they “ring true” to someone’s experience.  But interesting/fascinating does not truth make.  Non-Christians know lots of true things.  But, due to the noetic effect of the Fall, they have a tendency to mis-interpret reality by denying the Creator.  Becoming a Christian does not utterly remove that tendency.  But Rob opens the floodgates without providing any sort of way for a young person to discern what is true and what is false.  I guess he’s assuming someone else, an agenda-driven prof perhaps, will provide that.

Repainting truth from the reality of General Revelation => (what sounds like) Pluralism.

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