Category Archives: Discipleship

Moltmann on Identity, the Cross, & Discipleship

Hopefully tomorrow I will start posting outlines of Moltmann’s works, starting with The Crucified God.  These will be nothing fancy, just lightly edited and adapted entries from my academic journal.  I’m hopeful that if formatted properly they will stimulate some interesting conversation.  In anticipation of that, here is a quote I found quite moving:

Anyone who does not put himself to the test is hardly tried or tested at all.  Only when, with all the understanding and consistency he possesses, a man follows Christ along the way of self-emptying into non-identity, does he encounter contradiction, resistance and opposition.  Only when he leaves behind the circle of those who share and reinforce his opinions in the church, to go out into the anonymity of slums and peace movements, in a society ‘where the absence of peace is organized’, is he tempted and tested, inwardly and outwardly.    Then the crisis inevitably comes, in which the identity of that for which he involves and commits himself comes into question, and a decision has to be made about it [18].



Narcissism & Evangelical Piety

Narcissism 1

Being situated as i am in a mostly conservative evangelical setting, i have noticed an infatuation with the idea of understanding one’s “identity” as a means of spiritual formation.  In case some are not aware of it, here is a brief layout of the concept:

  1. A relationship with Christ makes one a new creation (eg one is “given a new identity”).
  2. Based largely upon Romans 12:1-2, much (all?) of one’s struggles in spiritual formation can be reduced to negative understandings of one’s self, a misunderstanding of their new identity.
  3. When one grasps their new identity, they are spiritually liberated/mature/in step with the Spirit, etc etc.

Although there are different nuances to this, that is pretty much it.  As (1) makes clear above, it is one’s connection to Christ that is the root of this new identity.  However, i see that often (1) is simply the instrument, the tool to get to the important stuff, which is who I am now.  In many ways, the discipleship process can be reduced to an almost anthropological journey of self-discovery.  It seems that one can fall into a sort of spiritual narcissism in their quest to unlock the awesomeness of their identities, ironically undercutting the fundamental needs for self-denial & an outward focus in the life of discipleship. 

To be fair, bright-minded women & men could respond that an outward focus & submissive life-style are also part of the identities which they must grasp.  Fair enough.  My question is if such a genuine grasping of these dimensions of discipleship is possible when there is a functional, instrumental Christology at work (an issue I recently wrote about here).  Did Jesus come only/primarily to give me a new identity?  Can the scope of the incarnation be reduced to this function, this need of mine?   I am doubtful; something seems fishy to me.  If the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection were only a tool to provide us with a new identity, how else can we understand these acts of God as anything more than just that, a tool for us?  If the Gospel is primarily about me & my need, how can i move beyond myself to genuine renunciation?   

Enough for now; bed time.  I hope to think more on this soon, but anyone have thoughts?  Am I just out to lunch here?

Ecclesiology in a Globalized World, Part 1

As promised about a week ago, i want to recap a couple of my favorite presentations from our conference last week (If this is the first time you’ve heard about it, click here for more background).  Without a doubt, one of my favorite presentations was done by Rev. Andrew Grosso, who currently is a rector at an episcopal church.  His talk was titled “Ecclesiology in a Globalized World: Revisiting One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic.”  I really enjoyed his presentation, and since there was much quality material (which i hope i can do justice to), i’m going to break up my reflections on his session into 2-3 posts.  WIthout further ado:

According to Grosso, there are two major ways experts view the process and factors behind globalization.  Rather than trying to tease out which one is more correct, Grosso assumes a level of validity to each and applies each model to the church.

Following the ideas of Philip Jenkins, Grosso labels one approach as the “bottom-up approach.”  Globalization is understood as to follow on the heels of the collapse of western colonialism, and with that, the emergence of indigenous churches.  In this view particularity and the unique embodiment of the faith are valued, thus many will seek to find the essentials of the faith in order to have the freedom to express their “individuality.”  

I believe that this approach is inadequate.  As Grosso points out, this model pushes toward increasingly narrow forms of the faith.  Further, these unique forms are highly enculturated, making true dialogue and interdependence on the church difficult, if not impossible.  In my view, if the “bottom-up model” were to become too dominant, churches in the world would find themselves to be increasingly isolated, turning into individual artifacts dispersed all over the more integrated and interconnected global world. 

Grosso articulates the other major model through the work of Fukuyama.  Grosso calls this the “top-down” approach to globalization.  In this model, globalization occurs primarily due to the dominance of the free market and the consequent imbalance of power that it engenders.  While the side effects of this are tragic, it is hard to deny that the free market is the primary means of cross-cultural communication.  This goes hand in hand with the spread of liberal democracy and the economic model of capatilism.  Add to these factors the instant access to information through technological means and you have the tools to become a global culture.     

This model, in contrast to the other one discussed, takes seriously universality.  It tends to view things as very interconnected.  However, as Grosso pointed out in the session, this alone isn’t a great thing.  This model if left unchecked tends to favor utility to the point where there becomes a genuine need for the explication of what Grosso calls “universal parameters of the faith.”  

While one can debate the merits of these two models (false dichotomy?), I believe that we can see evidence of both.  According to Grosso, we must neither wholly embrace or reject one approach.  In the next post, we will begin to unpack how Grosso believes we can meet this challenge of “the one and the many.”

At this point, i would love to hear feedback on his initial “two models” approach.  Do you agree or not, and why?  Is this a helpful way to start thinking about the issues for the church that surround globalization?

The Hijacking of the Evangelical Manifesto

This is an interesting interview with one of the signees of the manifesto, Frank Wright.  Although in many circles the manifesto was understood to be further evidence of the movement within evangelicalism to untangle or change the nature of the movement’s engagement with politics, Wright claims that it has devolved into Christians throwing stones at each other, and this occurred primarily due to the document being “hijacked” by some of the more “liberal signers.” 

Islamic views of “Christianity”


Robby Butler tells the story of a Kuwaiti Muslim who was asked what he knew about Christians and Christianity.  He replied that a Christian is someone who promotes immorality, pornography, and sexually oriented television programs like Sex in the City, Desperate Housewives, and so on.  Butler goes on to comment that “for a Muslim to say that he has become a Christian is to communicate that he has launched into a secret life of immorality.”  In short, Butler argues that becoming a Christian is perceived by Muslims to be entering a prayerless, apostate community.  Yet, despite these perceptions, Muslims generally hold positive views of Jesus Christ.  The Quran teaches that Christ had a miraculous birth, was a miracle worker, and was a prophet without sin.

A couple thoughts on this.  First, this shows very clearly why we need to get away from calling America a “Christian Nation.”  While sincere Kingdom people may struggle with any of the above mentioned issues, it isn’t who we are, and by Christ’s power we can overcome them.  However, whenever an entire nation is branded “Christian,” then the Kingdom of the world gets equated with what we’re about.  This is tragic, since it gives the Muslim nation a sad and inaccurate picture oftentimes of followers of Christ.

Second, even though I believe my first point to be valid (that our nationalism has given Muslims a misinformed opinion of what it I looks like to follow Christ), I have to admit that even among churches seeking to follow Christ today there is a lot of people living “secret lives of immorality.”  Our legalism and love of judging others has forced Christians to hide their sins in a closet, rather than bringing them to the community of faith to be healed, restored, and held accountable.  

Muslims are right to hold our feet to the fire on these I think.  Will we be humble enough to allow those from other faiths point out to us where we don’t live out what we say is important to us?  Will we be honest enough to admit that what most Muslims rejects is a form of following Christ that has be wedded to the American Democratic form of government, not Christ Himself?  Lastly, will we be humble enough to realize that it is often our lives, and not a militant resistance to Christ, that prevents Muslims from following Jesus?