Eschatological Discipleship: Leading Christians to Understand Their Historical and Cultural Context

Eschatological Discipleship: Leading Christians to Understand Their Historical and Cultural Context

by Trevin Wax

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Discipleship is eschatological in nature, because the church that makes and receives disciples is eschatological in nature.
Often eschatology is thought to refer only to “last things” doctrines. However, eschatology in its broader sense encompasses the Christian view of time and the future of the world, informing both one’s evangelism and ecclesiology. Failing to relate the eschatological dimension to discipleship leaves one with an incomplete worldview, imbalanced discipleship, and eventually, a tragic inability to model the Christian way of life.
By answering questions like “What time is it?” and “Where is history going?” Trevin Wax helps Christians view the past, present, and future biblically, and shapes their understanding of following Jesus.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781462776399
Publisher: B&H Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/01/2018
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 288
File size: 2 MB
Age Range: 3 Months to 18 Years

About the Author

Trevin K. Wax (Ph.D., Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary) is Bible and Reference Publisher for LifeWay Christian Resources.
Trevin Wax is managing editor of The Gospel Project at LifeWay Christian Resources, a pastor, contributing editor to Christianity Today, and the author of previous books including Counterfeit Gospels and Holy Subversion. Trevin lives with his wife and children in Nashville.

Read an Excerpt


Toward a Definition of Eschatological Discipleship

> Defining the term eschatological discipleship requires a clear explanation of what is meant by eschatology and discipleship. Furthermore, worldview and wisdom relate to the definition toward which we are working. Because these terms will be used throughout this book, we will analyze them one-by-one before combining them into a definition.


Discipleship involves a holistic vision of life as a believer seeks to follow Jesus. Discipleship entails more than the transfer of biblical information or the affirmation of correct doctrines because it includes certain actions and sentiments that bear witness to the gospel.

Defining discipleship in a holistic manner such as this is in line with a number of contemporary theologians. For example, Kevin Vanhoozer defines a disciple as "one who seeks to speak, act, and live in ways that bear witness to the truth, goodness, and beauty of Jesus Christ." Vanhoozer's definition emphasizes discipleship as something people do, not something they are or say they believe. The focus is on "bearing witness."

Similarly, Anthony Thiselton points out that one's faith is "action-oriented, situation-related, and embedded in the particularities and contingencies of everyday living." Discipleship, then, is not only understanding the truth about Jesus in a cognitive manner but also presenting the truth through words and deeds in a particular time and place. Discipleship necessarily bends toward practice, as is made clear by Jesus Christ's command to "Follow me!" There is a sense, then, in which true understanding of Christian doctrine has not occurred until the one who has faith has put that faith into action.

1. Discipleship Is Balanced

If a disciple is one who follows and bears witness to Christ, then the goal of discipleship must be Christlikeness, and Christlikeness is a holistic notion including not only right belief but also right practice and right sentiment. Baptist ecclesiologist Gregg Allison rightly notes that the disciple-making process should consist of a balance between these three elements. First, followers of Christ should be characterized by orthodoxy (sound doctrine). Second, followers of Christ must be known for orthopraxis (right practice). Third, the follower of Christ must exude orthopatheia (proper sentiment). When any one of these three elements is excluded from a disciple's development, the other two elements are adversely affected, and the mission of the church is hindered because Christlikeness suffers.

Discipleship, then, includes the educational ministry of the church, but this education transcends the classroom because it includes more than merely the transfer of information. Indeed, Allison recommends a discipleship model that consists of indoctrination, character building, and worldview development, the latter of which he defines as "the formation of gospel-oriented disciples in terms of their feelings, assessment of moral and social issues, and purpose for living." This development is necessary in equipping people to be effective in their abilities "to evangelize, disciple, show mercy, and engage in other church ministries." The question of worldview development will be treated in more detail below.

2. Discipleship Is Modeled

Disciple making is accomplished by modelers, not just messengers. We develop not merely through cognitive transfer but also through witnessing the lives and choices of other disciples we encounter on our way. Perhaps this is the reason the Old Testament emphasizes the meditation and memorization of Scripture alongside conversations about the law that take place in the daily rhythms of life. As Oliver O'Donovan points out, "The disciple is, literally, 'a learner,' but at the same time, given the patterns of rabbinic learning current in Jesus' day, a 'follower.' The cognitive and affective are bound together in the life of the disciple who learns by following and follows by learning." This emphasis corresponds with the New Testament picture of Jesus with his disciples. Jesus was always teaching, not just through his public discourses but also through his actions.

The idea of "modeling," and specifically "imitation," seems to have fallen out of favor among some contemporary evangelicals, perhaps because of an overemphasis on practicing virtues that has sometimes led to a tiresome moralizing of biblical texts, or perhaps the reason is that imitation is no longer thought of as part of the discipleship process. People are more likely to see spiritual direction as the individual's responsibility to fulfill certain requirements common to Christians. However, a neglect of "imitation" and "modeling" language in the discipleship process leads to other problems, including an overemphasis on technique or a classroom experience. A biblical understanding of discipleship involves "modeling" at two levels, imitation of behavior (what one does) and imitation of reasoning (how one thinks).

Modeling takes place through the imitation of behavior. Modeling is a central component of being a disciple and of making disciples. Surveying the landscape of various approaches to spiritual direction (often under terms such as "spiritual director," "spiritual guide," "spiritual friend," "mentor," or in evangelical parlance, "discipler"), Victor Copan provides a working definition of the concept: "Spiritual direction is the (variegated) means by which one person intentionally influences another person or persons in the development of his life as a Christian with the goal of developing his relationship to God and His purposes for that person in the world."

Using this definition as a baseline, Copan turns to the example of the apostle Paul. Interestingly, the Gospels do not include any specific commands from Jesus concerning imitation, even though numerous calls were present to follow him. In Paul's letters, the reverse is true. Paul urged people to imitate him as he followed Christ (1 Cor 4:16; 11:1). Copan shows that the emulation of human beings was widespread in ancient literature, with particular focus on the classical virtues, specific actions of respected individuals, or the overall mimicking of another person's lifestyle and character. Paul utilized the relational spheres common to ancient literature (parent-child, teacher-student, and leader-people), often choosing to rely more heavily on one sphere or another, depending on his particular intentions. As Copan notes, imitation in the ancient world was directed toward the improvement of character, and it was viewed positively (although thoughtless mimicry was viewed negatively).

In Paul's Corinthian correspondence Copan notices a specific and a general referent in Paul's desire for the church to imitate him. Specifically, he points to Paul's life of humble, sacrificial service to others and his rejection of the world's view of wisdom, strength, and honor. Generally everything in Paul's life ("actions, virtues, emotions, and lifestyle") that flows from his service to Christ is in view when he called the Corinthians to imitate him.

Other theologians support the contention that modeling is essential for being a disciple and making disciples. Missionary theologian Lesslie Newbigin, for example, writes that "a true Christian pastor will be one who can dare to say to his people: 'Follow me, as I am following Jesus.'" He goes on to say, "A true pastor must have such a relation with Jesus and with his people that he follows Jesus and they follow him." Notice the double relationship here, the relationship with Jesus and the relationship with people. In relationship with Jesus, the pastor is a disciple; in relationship with people, the pastor is a discipler. Both of these aspects are included in discipleship, and both of these aspects point toward a definition of discipleship that includes modeling. Though Newbigin was speaking of pastors, the same truth is relevant for all those who follow Christ and make disciples.

Similarly, Jason Hood writes, "A maturing believer in Jesus can present herself as a model for others to imitate. In fact, if she is faithful to her identity in Christ, she must become a model." A key component of the discipleship process, then, is imitating the behavior of people who are following Christ.

Modeling takes place through the imitation of reasoning. In emphasizing discipleship as something that is modeled, we might be tempted to think of "imitation" as merely a matter of activity. In other words we might be inclined to think of discipleship in two stages: (1) the inculcation of Christian doctrine (information), and (2) the imitation of Christian behavior (modeling). However, the New Testament does not distinguish between these stages. Instead, it brings together the informational and imitational aspects of discipleship and, in the process, transcends them.

One of the most important ways the New Testament vision of discipleship transcends the boundary between "information" and "imitation" is its emphasis on the believer's union with Christ. What keeps imitation from slipping into hypocrisy is the reality that disciples are acting in accordance with the Christ who indwells them. "What disciples act out is their being in Christ." It is not surprising, then, to see that biblical imitation is not described as thoughtless mimicry but as having the mind of Christ (Phil 2:5) in order to respond to new circumstances with the humility and wisdom of the Savior who indwells believers by his Spirit.

Another way the New Testament vision of discipleship transcends the line between information and imitation is in revealing the connection between imitation and reasoning in Paul's interactions with the Corinthians. There Paul's focus on imitation is more comprehensive than a mere correspondence between his own activities and what he desires the church to do. Paul wanted the people to follow the same "reasoning process" that led him to such actions; he wanted the Corinthians to display the same "ethos." To put it another way, modeling the Christian life includes the cultivation of wisdom from within a biblical framework, wisdom that leads to the right decisions when the circumstances are difficult. Passing on the capability of wise reflection is an important aspect of discipleship, leading to the next element of the discipleship process, a worldview.

3. Discipleship Is Worldview Oriented

Disciple making presupposes a worldview, viewing the world through a Christian lens. If disciple making begins with conversion, believers must ask themselves the question, What is conversion? Missiologist Paul Hiebert argues true conversion is comprehensive, encompassing three levels: behavior, beliefs, and the worldview that underlies those behaviors and beliefs. The neglect of this latter element (worldview transformation) is largely responsible for syncretism, where people convert to Christianity by adopting certain beliefs, or by changing certain behaviors, without ever having the structural issues, the scaffolding of their old worldviews, challenged.

Why do these dimensions of a worldview matter? Because people matter, and if one is to get to know people in their efforts to present the gospel, they must take their belief systems seriously. Worldviews matter for both the calling of disciples (believers should know and love other people in order to be effective in sharing the gospel) and in the formation of disciples (believers should be transformed by the renewing of their minds as they seek to follow Christ).

Biblical faith presupposes a worldview because faith is directed toward the God who directs this world. As Albert Wolters suggests, believers "look to the Scriptures for a 'biblical worldview' — now taking that term in an expanded sense to refer to an overall perspective on the world and human life in general." He elaborates:

Biblical faith in fact involves a worldview, at least implicitly and in principle. The central notion of creation (a given order of reality), fall (human mutiny at the root of all perversion of the given order) and redemption (unearned restoration of the order in Christ) are cosmic and transformational in their implications. Together with other elements ... these central ideas ... give believers the fundamental outline of a completely antipagan Weltanschauung, a worldview which provides the interpretive framework for history, society, culture, politics, and everything else that enters human experience.

Building upon all that has been seen about discipleship up to this point, our focus now turns to the formative worldview aspect of disciple making and the definition of worldview as a term.


If disciple making includes the inculcation of a Christian worldview, then we must ask what we mean when we use this term. In this section we engage in a brief historical overview of the term worldview, consider what it is, how it functions, the questions it answers, and respond to a few contemporary criticisms of the concept.

History of Worldview as a Concept

The German word Weltanschauung was first used by Immanuel Kant in 1790. By the 1840s, it was commonly accepted in the vocabulary of the educated German. Describing the idea behind this word, Albert Wolters writes, "Basic to the idea of Weltanschauung is that it is a point of view on the world, a perspective on things, a way of looking at the cosmos from a particular vantage point. It therefore tends to carry the connotation of being personal, dated, and private, limited in validity by its historical conditions."

Whereas Kant introduced the term in reference to one's understanding of the world and where one fits in it, other philosophers, such as Friedrich Schelling (1775–1854) and William Dilthey (1833–1911), emphasized the comprehensive nature of worldview thinking and the inherent plurality and relativity of worldviews. Historians and anthropologists adopted the term to refer to "the deep, enduring cultural patterns of a people," and in this way they were able to distinguish one period of history from another in terms of a people's underlying structures of belief that give shape to all subsequent thinking.

James Orr (1844–1913) and Abraham Kuyper (1837–1920) are most responsible for bringing the term into Christian academic circles. Both Orr and Kuyper emphasized Christianity as a comprehensive vision for every sphere of life, the ability to see the world with new eyes, "guided bylove, by an abiding desire to care about what God cares about — to rejoice in what makes God's heart glad and to grieve about what saddens him."

More recently the concept of worldview has been popularized by Christian thinkers and communicators, such as James Sire ("a set of presuppositions which we hold — consciously or unconsciously — about the world in which we live"), Charles Colson, and Nancy Pearcey. From the examples above, it seems clear that Christians who use the term worldview generally consider it as something that precedes philosophy. Their vision is of "a worldview yielding or being developed into a Christian philosophy;" that is, a worldview provides the underlying and usually unconscious framework for further belief and action.

What a Worldview Is

In order to define "worldview" for our present purposes, it is best to start with the most basic, fundamental premise and then dig under the surface until we unearth additional elements that aid us in understanding the breadth and depth of the concept. At its most basic level, a worldview is the lens through which one sees the world. N. T. Wright defines a worldview as "the basic stuff of human existence, the lens through which the world is seen, the blueprint for how one should live in it, and above all the sense of identity and place which enables human beings to be what they are." Comparing a worldview to a lens reminds that most of us do not spend our time looking at the lens of our glasses, but rather looking through them. In a similar manner, we do not spend most of our time looking at our worldview, but rather through it, a fact that makes worldview analysis a difficult endeavor and the discernment of our own perspective a perennial challenge.

The illustration of a worldview as a lens is helpful, as long as we take care to not reduce a worldview to seeing alone. We can see above how Wright mentions a worldview's "blueprint for how one should live"; likewise, Brian Walsh and J. Richard Middleton caution against reducing a worldview to "a vision of life" that does not "lead a person or a people into a particular way of life." Conduct is essential both in the outcome and in the understanding of worldview.

Describing a worldview is a way of giving voice to what we see or what others see — the perspective that we have adopted or the framework from which we interpret reality. Michael Goheen and Craig Bartholomew define the term as "an articulation of the basic beliefs embedded in a shared grand story that are rooted in a faith commitment and that give shape and direction to the whole of our individual and corporate lives."


Excerpted from "Eschatological Discipleship"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Trevin K. Wax.
Excerpted by permission of B&H Academic.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Eschatological Discipleship and Contemporary Christianity
Part 1: Defining “Eschatological Discipleship”
Chapter 1: Toward a Definition of “Eschatological Discipleship”
Part 2: Biblical Foundations for Eschatological Discipleship
Chapter 2: Old Testament Precedent for Eschatological Discipleship
Chapter 3: Eschatological Discipleship in the Gospels and Acts
Chapter 4: Eschatological Discipleship in the Letters of Paul
Part 3: Christianity in Light of Rival Eschatologies
Chapter 5: Introduction to Rival Eschatologies
Chapter 6: Christianity and Enlightenment Eschatology
Chapter 7: Christianity and The Sexual Revolution
Chapter 8: Christianity and Consumerism
Part 4: Eschatological Discipleship for Evangelicalism
Chapter 9: Evangelical Conceptions of Discipleship
Select Bibliography

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Eschatological Discipleship: Leading Christians to Understand Their Historical and Cultural Context 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
APritchett More than 1 year ago
This book is excellent for: 1. Wedding theology and practice 2. An eschatological understanding of the whole of the Bible 3. Cultural analysis 4. Development of existing discipleship practices. I would highly recommend it. For a full review, visit
grae_bird More than 1 year ago
Who are you? WHEN are you? Trevor Wax argues that to be a disciple means we must understand our time, time’s progress, and the end of time and our unique time and place. Christianity is rooted in the historical act of Jesus, and it is still historically lived out. Thus, as disciples, we must ask “When are we? What time is it?” Bringing the Christian vision of time, progress, and destiny (eschatology) to bear …. While always eager to learn more about discipleship, it was the section on biblical theology that made me choose this book. The discipleship aspect is a needed, orienting question. His research is impressive, quoting from numerous authors. His point is very, very well made (if not to the point of repetition). His book is more theoretical then step-by-step how-to book, yet his examples of how Christian eschatology engages with our culture in the Enlightenment, sexual revolution, and consumerism is excellent. Moreover, he ends with aptly explaining how an eschatological perspective can strengthen common discipleship frameworks. This leaves me and any reader, lay person, counselor, pastor with apt guidelines and advice. Moreover, this also helps equip us with a holy-set-apart engagement with the world and apologetic facet to discipleship. Yet, as much as I deeply appreciate Wax’s inclusion of biblical theology, this part was weaker and somewhat light compared to the rest of the book (however, including more in-depth could have led to a voluminous tome). I was slightly disappointed in that, and he acknowledges in the conclusion that the area of eschatological discipleship biblical theology is an area of further study. Overall, an excellent book with an important, well-argued for point. The future impacts now and how we live now. Knowing our time and our destiny allows us to engage with the culture in a hope-giving, challenging, holy way, allowing us to faithfully follow Jesus today, rather than mindlessly being absorbed into the world. Read more personal reflections about how this shaped my identity here: "I received this copy from the publisher in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review."