It’s been about nine years (what?!?) since I finished my Aberdeen dissertation entitled Following Jesus in the 21st Century: A Practical Theology of Discipleship. I have kind of been sitting on it, unsure of what to do with something that I worked on every day for almost a year. It’s seems crazy for it to simply take up space on my hard drive; as a work of practical theology, any contribution to the field [be it ever so minor as this] should be out there to enable the critical reflection and faithful participation that it requires and demands.
So, I am going to start posting bits and pieces of it, beginning with the introduction. My hope is that it will open up some good discussion, and that both writer and reader will be challenged in regards to discovering more and more what it means to follow along the ‘Way’ of Jesus.
Introducing a Practical Theology of Discipleship
Practical theology has been defined as the following:
Critical, theological reflection on the practices of the church as they interact with the practices of the world, with a view to ensuring and enabling faithful participation in God’s redemptive practices in and for the world.
What follows is an attempt to employ this definition in order to articulate what it means to be a disciple of Jesus in the 21st century. In order to do so, it is important to address the subtle yet precarious gap that currently exists between popular notions of modern, Western Christianity and the nature of true discipleship. This will lead into an examination of the biblical story of discipleship as outlined in both the Old and New Testaments, and finally a discussion in regards to the present implications of discipleship.
While practical theology is “rooted in the scripture and tradition of the Christian faith and takes theology very seriously”, the process of critical and theological reflection is always undertaken “for the sake of developing practices that faithfully reflect the actions and character of the triune God, as God has revealed God’s self in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.”
With this in mind, it will be argued that from the beginning of creation, the triune and loving God has been calling people to live faithfully to the reality that he is Lord over all creation, and that he is deeply interested and involved in that which he has created. While this invitation has often fallen on deaf ears, God has graciously continued to call out a people through whom his loving and redemptive purposes for the world could be made known.
Whereas Christianity today is often defined by its emphasis on belief in Jesus without any necessary visible change in relation to the world around us, the call to discipleship involves a turn from the old to the new, often at great cost, as well as an active involvement in the present realities of the world. This is accomplished through tangible steps of obedience by those whose lives have been reoriented according to ‘the Way’ of Jesus, and by a community of disciples whose practices and habits bear witness to the reality that, through Christ, a different way of living has been made possible.
To be a disciple, therefore, is to demonstrate to the world that to believe in Jesus is to understand that his message of good news is rooted within the present realities of life, and that to follow him requires a visible shift away from the dominant social, cultural and political powers of the day and into the world as imagined and revealed in Scripture and shaped by the teachings, example and practices of Jesus. From this understanding of what it means to follow Jesus in the 21st century, disciples will be better equipped to ensure and enable faithful participation in God’s redemptive practices in and for the world.
Riveted? Stay tuned for more!