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Following the MasterA Biblical Theology of Discipleship
By Michael J. Wilkins
ZondervanCopyright © 1992 Zondervan
All right reserved.
Chapter OneA Preview of the Journey
1. What images come into your mind when you think of the words disciple and discipleship?
2. Why would someone want to be a disciple of Jesus?
3. How is a study of Jesus and his disciples relevant to modern readers?
Life is a journey. It is a journey that produces exciting adventures, perilous expeditions, monotonous treks, and painful passages. While everyone embarks on the journey without knowing positively what lies ahead, the wonderfully profound truth of the Christian life is that we do not journey alone. Jesus calls us to follow him on the journey as our Guide, Protector, and Example.
In the first century A.D. Jesus of Nazareth called people to follow him. Although our vision is often clouded-not only by time, but also by our own perspectives-that biblical scene remains as one of the most enchanting, challenging, and even poignant portraits for the contemporary church.
Several years ago I was standing by the shoreline at the beach near our home watching one of our daughters and several neighborhood kids out in the water surfing. A young man, whom I knew only casually, walked up and began a conversation with me. He was a professional surfer and a fairly new Christian. As we talked he began to confide to me how difficult it was living as a Christian on the international professional surfing circuit. He expressed to me that he needed help.
He said, "I hear that you help people become better Christians." I loved his innocent way of expressing himself!
"Well, yes. I sure try to help them, Chris," I said.
"I've read about Jesus' disciples," Chris explained. "They seem like a radical group, and I'd like to live like that out there in the professional surfing world. I really don't know very much about all of this, but would you help me to be like those disciples?"
Although Chris did not know very much about the Bible, he knew that when the disciples followed Jesus they were never the same and they made a difference in the world in which they lived. Chris's world was the world of professional surfing; he wanted to live differently and to make a difference in that world. That meant following Jesus as a disciple.
For many of us, Jesus' world seems very far from our own. Technological sophistication, altered worldview, philosophical reasoning, scientific understanding, and psychological analysis have combined to make Jesus' world seem foreign or archaic to modern people. But, paradoxically, Jesus and his disciples continue to fascinate modern people. The vision of Jesus calling and equipping disciples to go and make a difference in their world offers as much hope and meaning to modern men and women as it did to the people of the first century. Jesus still beckons as the Master who offers guidance through the realities of common human experience.
The biblical teaching of discipleship offers the bridge from Jesus' world to our own. In this book we will journey through the biblical picture to explore in depth the meaning of following the Master. We will begin the adventure with the people of Israel in the Old Testament as they walk in covenant relationship with the Lord God. We will also look at the portrait of discipleship found in the world of the Greek philosophers and teachers and then explore the fascinating world of Judaism. After that we will explore the form of discipleship Jesus developed. We will enter into the Gospels' lucid picture of the Master and his disciples walking under Palestinian skies. Then our journey will take us into the expanding world of the early apostolic church, recorded in Acts and the Epistles, as it follows a risen and ascended Jesus, making disciples of all nations. From there we will move ahead and observe the postapostolic church of the late first century as it begins the walk with Jesus down the road of history, a road leading to martyrdom for many. Finally, we will arrive at the dawning of the twenty-first century to ask what it means for us to follow the Master into the third millennium of the common era.
WHY STUDY THE JOURNEY?
Because the last twenty years have witnessed a remarkable, renewed interest in discipleship, our biblical journey is vital. Scholarly studies of biblical teaching and the world of the first century have produced an almost overwhelming mountain of material. Most of it is inaccessible-and often incomprehensible!-to the people of the church. This book draws upon more than fifteen years of study of such material. To be frank, much scholarly work fruitlessly debates issues irrelevant to the church. But, on the other hand, scholarly investigations of narrowly focused biblical and historical conceptions of discipleship can be incredibly enlightening. They can make Jesus' world much more real and practical to us. Our study will benefit from this scholarly work without getting off on insignificant or potentially dangerous side paths.
A flood of practical discipleship books, programs, and applications has swept over the church in the past twenty years. They have come from men and women who have been quite fruitful in various kinds of ministries, both within and outside of established churches. Most of these ministries developed in the practical, day-to-day process of helping people grow as disciples of Jesus. I began my own walk with Jesus during the time when many of them were developing their understanding of discipleship. I have learned much from each of them. In addition to drawing upon scholarly studies of discipleship, our present study profits from the wealth of material to be found within these practical ministries.
However, some practical handbooks are based upon incomplete, sometimes even faulty, understanding of biblical teaching. The goal here is to provide a resource tool from which practical ministries can benefit. While this book is based upon years of scholarly study of biblical discipleship, it also draws upon my nearly twenty years of ministry experience as youth worker, pastor, and Christian educator. The goal here is to furnish students, pastors, layworkers, and educators with a readable and thorough examination of the biblical teaching so that they can be even more effective in making disciples Jesus' way.
The subtitle of this book, Discipleship in the Steps of Jesus, hints at another important issue. This book is an exercise in developing a biblical theology of discipleship. We will describe the biblical data before attempting to reconcile it with any specific theological system. We will follow the biblical portrait of discipleship as it unfolds in its historical and literary environment, from the Old Testament to the New Testament. Once we clearly see the biblical portrait, we can attempt to see the implications for our theological system (e.g., whether Arminian or Calvinistic). For example, Jesus' teaching on "counting the cost of discipleship" has crucial implications for theological debates. If we hope to understand this teaching as Jesus originally intended it, we must try to comprehend it first within its historical and literary context before we see its implications for our particular system. Too often we allow our theological perspective to interpret the passage before we hear it as God originally intended it. Hopefully this study will profit anyone from any theological position.
The study of ancient discipleship is a rewarding task today because various academic disciplines have been harnessed by biblical scholars to help remove the shroud that time has placed over first-century discipleship practices. Historical, sociological, and philological methods now help us understand more clearly what it meant to be a disciple in ancient times. We will combine recent philological methods with traditional word study approaches to understand the most common words for "disciples" found in the New Testament. Social scientific methods aid us in understanding the sociocultural environment within which master-disciple relationships existed. Historical analysis helps us arrive at an objective understanding of the events of history that lead to Jesus calling his disciples. Used together in conjunction with the biblical record, these various disciplines assist us in pulling back the shroud of time that obscures the ancient world of disciples.
Excerpted from Following the Master by Michael J. Wilkins Copyright © 1992 by Zondervan . Excerpted by permission.
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