Discipleship in the Old Testament

Picking up from On Losing the Story of Discipleship, here’s chapter 2 of my dissertation, a Practical Theology of Discipleship.

2.1 The God who creates, the God who calls

To fully grasp what it means to follow Jesus in the 21st century, it is important to go back to the beginning, to the story of a God who called all of creation into existence out of nothing, and in so doing, had in mind to form a people through whom he would show the world what he is like.

While the Old Testament texts do not explicitly invoke the language of discipleship, inherent within them is a sense of a God who creates and speaks, faithfully demonstrating that he is indeed deeply interested and involved in the present realities of the world. This is clearly seen in the act of calling out a people and giving them a framework by which they were to live in the world, with a view to embodying his loving purposes for that which he has created.

Inherent in any examination of the nature of discipleship is a sense of calling. Certainly this is seen most explicitly through the person of Jesus – namely ‘God with us’ – the one who provided the ultimate example of what it means to embody God’s loving and redemptive purposes for the world while concurrently calling people out to follow him. This, however, is a divine-human interaction that goes back to the point of creation.

In the words of Christoph Schwobel, “God speaks and the world comes into being. Humans are created in the image of the triune God as those creatures that are addressed by and enabled to respond to God. The creaturely responsibility lies in hearing and responding to God’s address.”1 With this in mind, the Old Testament must be read as the beginning of the “record of the divine-human conversation, of how God spoke in ‘many and various ways’ and of how humans are called to respond in speaking to God and speaking of God.”2 This has a direct bearing on any notion of discipleship today, for if the Bible is seen as an account of divine-human conversation, “one must take the Bible’s own claim seriously that this conversation does not finish with the completion of the biblical books.”3

This, then, is the basis for a biblical view of discipleship: human history is formed by a God who creates and speaks to his creation with a view to forming a special partnership with humankind, working together to fulfill his loving purposes for creation within the present realities of life.

1 Christoph Schwobel, “God as Conversation: Reflections on a Theological Ontology of Communicative Relations,” in Theology and Conversation: Towards a Relational Theology, ed. J. Haers & P. De Mey (Leuven: University Press, 2003), 46-47.

2 Ibid., 48.

3 Ibid., 48.

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