Wednesday, December 05, 2018

What Kind of Disciples Are You Making?

God tests men’s faith. Women’s too. It’s what he does.

Why? Because faith is hugely important to him. It might be the most important thing of all. As scripture tells us, “without faith it is impossible to please him.”

Impossible. Not difficult, very difficult or in the 99th percentile of difficulty. Completely impossible. It cannot be done. Faith is critical to any relationship with God.

Expect the Expected

Consequently, we ought to expect that as followers of Christ we are going to have our faith tested regularly. This is what Hebrews 11 is all about. It’s a long list of the people in our Bibles whose faith God tested, and who came through with flying colors. The writer to the Hebrews is not shy about drawing his readers’ attention to the fact that he is making a point here about them, and here it is:
WE are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.”
And again:
“Therefore, since WE are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let US also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let US run with endurance the race that is set before US, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of OUR faith.”
Here “endurance” means not giving up. Not losing faith. Not failing to trust God when he speaks. The alternative to faith is shrinking back and being destroyed.

Not an option in my book.

The Nature of Faith

Now, faith is not irrational. It does not act in the complete absence of evidence, nor does it necessarily fly in the face of available evidence. Faith is facilitated by a series of logical and relation-based conclusions drawn from careful observation.

Abraham climbed a mountain prepared to offer up his son at God’s request, but he did not do it in an information vacuum. He was not an idiot or a psychopath. God had appeared to him on several occasions. He had made unilateral promises, and he had subsequently delivered on many of these, including a son in Abraham’s old age, well out of the realm of normal possibility. Abraham had observed that God is both powerful and consistent, and he had likely concluded that God also had his best interests steadily in view.

But faith is also not without risk. It is still a step off the side of the mountain, even though you have been reliably informed your hang glider will indeed hold you up, and you may even have seen others successfully hang-glide. When you are dealing with the Infinite, there is always the possibility that things will not go quite the way you expect.

So faith is not without affirmative data, but it also involves taking a step beyond the available information. It is projection based on logic and trust.

Making Disciples

Christ commanded us to make disciples. That is one good reason we are still here on this planet, rather than gathered around a throne in eternal glory: to make more like ourselves. To introduce other human beings to the God we have experienced and whom we have learned to love and trust.

And if we are to make disciples, then the disciples we make are going to have to exercise faith. Otherwise, they are not disciples. “Whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” That’s the basic starting point for discipleship.

Jesus showed a bunch of fishermen that he could equip them to catch fish, then told them he would teach them to catch men. Simon, Andrew, James and John saw the fish and they believed about the men. They received data, then they projected based on the data. “He did this, therefore it’s plausible that he can do that too.”

Good, sound reasoning, but also a bit of a leap.

Jesus and Disciple-Testing

After he called his disciples, Jesus continued to test their faith regularly. Sometimes they passed the tests. Sometimes they didn’t. But he definitely didn’t let up. He tested them with his words. Things like saying, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day,” after which many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. These disciples had been given data, but they either did not analyze it correctly or could not project from it. So they packed it in. But others could not walk away. Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” That’s faith, tested and responding as God intended.

Jesus also tested their faith in practical ways. To Peter, Jesus said, “Come.” And Peter walked on water. Until he didn’t. He saw the wind, he was afraid, and he began to sink.

Happily, the setback was temporary. But my point is that when Jesus taught, he regularly tested the faith of his students. Nobody was allowed to just audit the course, except maybe Judas.

Warriors and Fragile Flowers

So let me project again: when we disciple others, it is reasonable to expect that the Lord will test their faith too. For their sakes, if for no other reason.

Note that I’m not saying WE should go around deliberately testing the faith of those we disciple. I can’t recall a single New Testament instruction to engage in that sort of exercise when we’re discipling others. We’re neither as wise as our Master, nor are we as loving. We don’t know what the breaking point of any one person’s faith may be, and as a result we ought to be cautious about arbitrarily deciding to hold someone else’s feet over the fire just to see where they’re at, or for our own amusement. Thankfully, we don’t need to. The Lord is able to do that just fine. You’ve had your tests, and I’ve had mine. They came when the Lord saw fit, and they were at just the appropriate intensity for the occasion.

All to say, the testing of faith is a necessary part of discipleship. We should expect it, and not be surprised by it. After all, we are looking to make warriors, not fragile flowers in perpetual need of smelling salts and a safe space. We are looking to bolster the faith of those we disciple to the point that they too will get out of the boat when Jesus says “Come.” Maybe they’ll even walk on the water a ways.

Afraid to Fail

Andy Stanley is afraid of testing the faith of others. I can understand that. Nobody wants to see others fail:
“For too many Christians, their faith hangs by the thread of an all-or-nothing proposition.


Because of the way the Bible was first explained to them and the way pastors and teachers consistently refer to it.”
He is afraid the disciples he makes, and that we make, are insufficiently robust to withstand the testing of their faith in areas like the Genesis flood narrative, the exodus from Egypt and the fall of Jericho. Secular science and archaeology do not currently back up the Bible’s narrative of these events and others. They do not give us 100% certainty. We have not got all the data we would like.

Stanley again:
“My concern here is not your faith. My concern is the faith of the next generation. A generation with an all-access pass to all things skeptical, critical, and contemptible. I’m concerned about folks who’ve lost faith and those struggling to maintain faith. And many … perhaps most … of the lost faith crowd lost faith when they lost faith in the Bible. For them, Christianity was a house of cards.

Sixty-six cards.

Discredit one, and the entire edifice comes tumbling down.


Imagine Mo’ Concessions

Imagine with me the sort of disciples we’ll make if Stanley has his way. They will be the sort who require 100% documented certainty in order to make the slightest intellectual or spiritual move. They will be slaves to science, and not even real test-in-a-lab-and-analyze-the-results science, but rather the politicized, propagandized, highly questionable scientistry to which our modern world constantly genuflects without hesitation or reserve; science with an ideological agenda, and with no hesitation about manipulating its acolytes. They will be slaves to the latest random archaeological discovery and the latest opinion of politically-corrected history.

They will be disciples without a scintilla of faith. Disciples who are never tested.

Hey, faith doesn’t have all the answers. Not now at least. Sometimes men of characteristic faith sink in Genneseret. Sometimes they even deny their Lord. But men and women of faith get up, because despite the intimidating fa├žade science and archaeology and secular history present to the world, they are frequently wrong.

Besides, where else are we going to go? Jesus has the words of eternal life.

Do we get that?

Curling Up in the Fetal Position

What kind of disciples are you making? Can they take a hit, or do they shrivel under fire? Can they counter propaganda and false arguments with compelling, logical, convicting responses of their own, or do they curl up in a fetal position at the first sign the world no longer considers the Christian viewpoint credible?

The testing of our faith is to be expected. It is even to be desired. Job said, “When he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.” And so he did.

I want to make disciples that love the Old Testament and stand in the historic tradition of those who chose to exercise faith. Who choose to check the data, and then step off the cliff as often as required. I reject Stanley’s defeatism, and I think you should reject it too. Rather than give away the books of my Old Testament one after the other in the forlorn attempt to preserve a Christ-story science devotees will (momentarily) consider semi-plausible, I would rather teach my fellow believers to accept the Old Testament Jesus Christ himself accepted, and accepted lock, stock and barrel. Or, if you prefer, accepted iota and dot. Or even jot and tittle.

Besides, what on earth makes Mr. Stanley think for even a nanosecond that the “generation with an all-access pass to all things skeptical, critical, and contemptible” has any intention of stopping its orgy of critical destruction with the Old Testament?

Mull that one over for a bit.

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