Navigation key

The Article Archives

DISCIPLESHIP SERIES: Modern Discipleship: Preparing for Evacuation Rather Than Occupation

January 9, 2011
tweet this  share this on facebook  

As we enter a new year, I want to begin with what I am calling the “Discipleship Series.” It is all too evident that biblical discipleship is either absent or woefully inadequate to producing any tangible fruit, much less real freedom in Christ. Thus too many within the body are mired in sin management rather than freedom from it, while others remain shackled by past wounds and sinful choices, and far too many are discouraged by the elusiveness of peace that Christ promised.

There are a number of reasons why I think we have come to neglect disciple making. Foremost may be the reduction of the gospel to merely the personal plan of salvation. By excluding the kingdom and its present implications from the gospel of the kingdom that Jesus taught and preached, Christians are left with a gospel whose only real implication occurs when you die: you get to go to heaven! Unfortunately, by reducing the gospel to nothing more than the means of achieving eternal security, there is no impetus for bearing good works here and now or bringing forth the kingdom. Under this paradigm, loving your neighbors is only worthwhile if “you get them saved.” Defending righteousness, opposing injustice, helping the poor, sick, and suffering, and so on, is meaningful only if it directly leads people to faith in Christ. Everything else that Christ commanded his church to do is reprioritized under the preeminent goal of “saving souls.”

Of course the church is called to proclaim the message of salvation through Christ, but it is also called to do many other things, which together achieve and bear witness to God’s whole redemptive purpose. From the standpoint of discipleship, if all that matters is an individual’s eternal (i.e., future) security, what else is there to know about the Christian life? As a result, discipleship is reduced to teaching Christians nothing more than how to share the personal plan of salvation. I submit that a century of this reductionism has rendered the American evangelical church among the most theologically uninformed, radically individualized, and socially irrelevant in history.

This truncated view of the gospel gained traction in the late nineteenth century when American Christians were understandably pessimistic following the despair and devastation of the Civil War; hope for a better world seemed futile. Evangelist Dwight L. Moody expressed the sentiment of the era quite well when he said, “I look upon this world as a wrecked vessel. God has given me a lifeboat and said to me, ‘Moody, save all you can.’” In a very practical sense, the church would no longer prepare itself for redemptive occupation of the world as Christ commanded but would instead condemn the world as a sinking ship in need of evacuation.

However, God loves the world according to scripture (see John 3:16) and is redeeming it through Christ Jesus, to whom “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given” (i.e., the reign of God or kingdom). Furthermore, the body of Christ—the church—is to be the instrument of Christ’s rule through which this redemptive activity occurs. Finally, a condemnation of the world is, in essence, a disregard for the neighbor that Christ commands us to love. As Michael Horton writes, “In this view, improving the lot of our neighbors in the world is like polishing the brass on a sinking ship,” thus rendering the love of neighbor—a direct commandment from Jesus—an unworthy goal!

While I certainly respect D. L. Moody and believe he was used greatly by God, he represented a new breed of evangelical fundamentalism that would inadvertently embrace a false dualism (specifically, heaven is good and the world is bad). To be sure, these fundamentalists were the “good guys” trying to defend orthodoxy against its modernist opponents. However, theirs was a reaction that would unwittingly foster a destructive shift in the American church’s relationship to culture and the world. As James Fraser points out:

Since the Puritan era, American evangelicals had been believers in progress. For many, America was the place where the Kingdom of God would finally and fully blossom. Fundamentalists, for the most part, had none of this hopefulness … it was a significant shift from an optimistic belief in Christianity’s role as the ultimate agent of social and moral reform to a much more defeatist attitude toward culture and a desire to save as many individuals as possible for a better future life.” (James W. Fraser, Between Church and State, [St. Martin’s Press: New York, NY, 1999] p. 119)

Tragically, this pessimism toward the world would become the prevailing evangelical position in America until just recently. Lately, more and more Christians are attempting to recover an understanding of the gospel of the kingdom and, with it, an interest in redeeming the social, cultural, and economic systems that either positively or negatively affect human beings and God’s creation. However, without proper biblical training (discipleship) in the proper ordering of these systems and their relationship to Christ’s mission, errors have occurred in the opposite direction, namely an undue emphasis on social reform without spiritual formation—what we derisively refer to as the “social gospel.”

Without proper discipleship emanating from a biblical understanding of the gospel of the kingdom, we appear to have gravitated toward two extremes. On the one hand we have conservative Christians who want a king without a kingdom (privatized salvation without any public affect) and on the other, liberal Christians who want a kingdom without a king (utopian schemes apart from Christ). Both are products of misunderstanding at best and apostasy at worst.

My hope in writing this series is that you will be challenged when appropriate, reassured where needed, gain greater practical understanding of Christian life and practice, and be equipped (and resourced) to disciple others.  

© 2011 by S. Michael Craven

Back to Top

Response from : Doug Salser  

January 10, 2011 10:23 AM

I guess Paul had the Dwight Moody syndrome...he spoke of those in Christ as "new creations," entrusted with the message of reconciliation as ambassadors for Christ (and that was the result of having the kingdom of God preached to them). Paul even went so far as to summarize his ministry years as not shrinking from declaring anything that was profitable, teaching in public and in homes, both to Jews and gentiles, repentance toward God and faith in Christ. He was ready to die, wishing only to complete his assignment from God "to testify to the gospel of the grace of God" (2 Cor 5, Acts 20).

To want my neighbors to be saved first and foremost is not a misunderstanding of the kingdom of God; it's my core kingdom responsibility if I love them as myself. All other good works of discipleship flow from loving God with all my heart and loving my neighbor as myself.

Response from : Jae Charles  

January 10, 2011 11:26 AM

As I read this article, I rejoiced in my heart that there is a voice speaking out about Discipleship. Long have I chosen to abandoned the word, "Christian" in lieu of Disciple, for several reasons that are pointed out in this article, but more specifically, the overwhelming

sentiment that I see in the body that put so much emphasize on the simple act of knowing they need a savior and making the easy confession for Jesus as Savior and neglecting the responsibility of Him being Lord. I am saddened by the obvious trait of many who are

"stuck" with Paul's statment in 1 Cor 3:2, " have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able [to bear it], neither

yet now are ye able.". You hear all the time that this person is "Christian" or that person is "Christian" and yet they think it is because

they believe in God or attend church. The devils believe and they tremble" James 2:19. So clearly, belief is not enough.
In addition, I find the zeal to want to convert as their duty can actually make those converted worse. Matthews 23:15. Why is this so

prevalent today and why are the "Christians" so ignorant of Discipleship? In this information age, so much data passes by any one

individual, that they are now a product of their environment and they have to quickly sift through the data and disregard the meat of the

information. Also, we take too much for granted and accept something as the gospel without prayer, meditation and studying the word.

Finally we have to believe that it is The Holy Spirit that will work out the sanctification moving us into Discipleship.
Like all subjects, discipline is something that must be done prior to the action. Great sportsmen, writers, scientists, etc. have labored

long and hard prior to any of their great work being revealed. Thus it should be so with the Disciple.
We have classes that have the audacity to say we are "Men of Faith" and yet the body does not even know what true faith is! You hear it

all the time and yet, what did Tozer say about it? I have omitted his remark purposely to force the reader to investigate. Why quote

Tozer? He did indeed "pursue" God, another writing I am offering an apologetic response of, seldom do. His long hours of prayer on

his knees was just one way that he revered God. His statement, "Only a Disciple can make another Disciple" shows just how few

Disciples there probably are. To be unveiled in your heart, to be rooted with righteousness, to be pant after God, to deny yourself and

ultimately to Love your God with all your heart. Go ahead, ask anyone in the body, do they love God. You will get responding "yes" and

"but of course" Now then ask them when was the last time they loved their brother. 1 John 4:20 separates the believer. It is amazing to

me of all that we encounter in the body, in the word, for those who can understand theology and the intricate issues that men ponder, it

all comes down to love. Not the love we know, but the love God showed us, Agape. Selfless love. To be a Disciple of Christ, to be a

Disciple of love. We are bond servant to Christ, our life is forfeit in servitude to Him. To be anything less than imitating Christ is falling

short of what we are called. How often do we look good at the alter, when obedience is better than sacrifice? 1 Sam 15:22. Oh that we

could even get to the point of sacrifice, how far are we from obedience? And yet, in Romans 12:1, we are admonished to offer up our

bodies as living sacrifices. When do we do this? Every day, every hour, every minute. Not just on Sunday or Wednesday. To live and

walk with Christ in love through crisis, through pain, through doubt, through struggle, through disappointment. Christ is sufficient. He is

all we need. This is being a Disciple, not a Christian. We have no other purpose.

Response from : Greg Williams  

January 10, 2011 1:52 PM

Excellent and very well put, especially the description of the 2 extremes. It seems we humans always swing the pendulum to the extremes in almost everything! Thanks and I look forward to the series! I trust you had a very Blessed CHRISTmas and Joyous New Year in the Lord! God bless in Christ!


Response from : Kenneth Tremble  

January 10, 2011 4:35 PM

Holy Spirit has called us to differant callings. Do not forget this Michael. You do yours and we will do ours. 2010 is the start of The Days of Noah with Record Breaking Flooding Rainfalls all over Planet Earth. Now it is in my home state of QLD. Our LORD YAHSHUA wants us to give The Word of Warning even though they will not listen. Here in Australia people in the churches are voting ALP supporting Abortion, Decriminalizing Partial Abortion. Judgment has come even though they do not want to believe it. Violence is increasing in many ways.

Response from : John H. Armstrong  

January 10, 2011 5:33 PM

This is a fine introduction to a much needed series. I hope readers will take to heart the things they may find disturbing and learn to think more deeply about the kingdom of God. If we ask how did Jesus preach the gospel the answer is in Mark 1:14-18 and it sounds more like what you are saying than what most of us have heard in our lifetimes.

Response from : Mark Dyar  

January 10, 2011 5:34 PM

Man, you NAILED it with this article. First time in many months I have completely agreed with a Crosswalk article. I'm looking forward to the rest of this series.

Yours for the Kingdom,
Mark A. Dyar

Response from : Selase  

January 11, 2011 1:05 AM

Dear Michael, I seriously cannot wait to read the rest and especially how i will be changed by them. I hope they come with all the references so i can also teach them to others. Thank you and what a beginning to 2011. God bless you and the family.

Response from : Monica  

January 11, 2011 12:08 PM

Perhaps, what we continue to overlook, is the fact that only Jesus himself, has the power to set people free. Generally, discipleship does not speak to everyone the same. People who are poor, and concerned about where their next meal is coming from, are unlike those who do not have to be concerned. Jesus loves all men. Men do not care for everyone equally. Religion has proven this on a regular basis.

Response from : Matt Edwards  

January 11, 2011 7:37 PM

Oh, Mr. Salser (first responder to this article) - you still do not get it. You are still burying your head in the sand of John 3:16, ignoring the rest of what Jesus taught us. Why don't you just keep John 3:16 and throw out the rest of the Scriptures? Or why not just ignore everything else that Jesus taught and come to your own faith conclusions based solely on Paul's writings? Don't you know that you cannot interpret Paul's writings without first having a foundation built upon what Jesus said? Paul's writings were meaningless without the foundation of Christ and His teachings. Do you know what Jesus' plan for inheriting eternal life was? It was not the easy-believism that has permeated much of modern Christianity like metastases. When a teacher of the law asked Jesus what it took to inherit eternal life in Luke 10, Jesus agreed that the requirements were loving God and loving one's neighbor as one's self. And to explain what loving one's neighbor looked like, He told the story of the Good Samaritan, a story in which one man helped to meet the needs of another man through actions of self-sacrifice. Jesus was teaching us that this is what true faith, true membership in Gods kingdom looks like. This is the fruit your life will produce if you have true faith. It is in so living that we will have a true witness to the transformed lives that Jesus intends for all of us. If we just spout off Scriptures but have nothing different in our lives than our neighbors do, what good is that? If we are not actively working in the movement of God's Kingdom to transform earth into a place where His will is done as it is done in Heaven, what are we still doing here? Jesus intent was for us to be like Him, not just worship Him, or, as Romans 8:29 puts it, that Jesus would be the first of many brothers and sisters in God's family. Perhaps we all need to ask ourselves - do people look at our lives and say, "he/she lives his/her life a lot like how Jesus lived when He was here on earth?" If people cannot see the family resemblance, do we really even have faith at all? A thermometer will not give someone a fever. But the thermometer will certainly show if someone has a fever or not. In a like manner, works can never save us. But those works had better be present as indicators of what we truly believe or we will find ourselves among the many who will say on that last day, "did we not prophesy and cast out demons" and give out tracts and "witness" in your name? Because Jesus will say, "when I was hungry, you did not feed me. When I was thirsty, you gave me nothing to drink. I was a stranger, but you did not invite me in...away from me you evildoers. I never knew you." It's time to wake up and realize that the business of leading others to Christ in INSEPARABLE from doing the things that Jesus called us to do. Otherwise we are just preaching a false gospel. Jesus told us to make disciples, not converts, and He defined what a disciple is someone who obeys all that He commanded us to do. How many times in Scripture does Jesus refer to being born again? One time - to Nicodemus. This was not a concept that He widely taught because it was a way to explain a spiritual truth to one particular person. But how many times did Jesus refer to God's Kingdom? 108 times! Which do you think was more important to Him? Why did Jesus even give us the Sermon on the Mount if all we really needed was just to "believe"? The above article is 100% on the mark. If you choose to believe otherwise, that's your choice. But I hope you realize that just giving out tracts and asking people just to say the sinner's prayer and leaving it at that is not what salvation was about in Jesus' eyes. Otherwise He would never have opened His mouth and taught us how to live.

Response from : Guy  

January 12, 2011 7:36 AM

Thanks Michael, This is what I needed to hear today. Your thoughts are a gift from God.

Response from : Eileen  

January 12, 2011 9:00 AM

There is hope! In Riverside Mo there is a ministry called Set Free Discipleship Program where we are trained to serve Christ. We practise the great commission given by Christ in Matthew 28:18-20 check us out at

Response from : Lee Reed  

January 12, 2011 11:50 AM

I have always suspected that the vitriol displayed by the mainstream scientific community toward ID revealed more about their predjudices than about any claims made by ID proponents. Theoretically, science has no interest in where the theories come from; only in testing and validating those theories. We are frequently told that we learn as much from a failed theory as form one that is confirmed. No, the venom lavished on ID reveals just how shaky is the house of cards science built; a world where, as Stephen Hawkings likes to say, "science makes God unnecessary."
If ID is proven wrong my faith will not be challenged; but that does not appear to be the case with those who blindly accept the prevailing scientific theories without allowing questions that may force them to re-evaluate their view of the universe... or their role in it.

Response from : Tiffany  

January 12, 2011 3:05 PM

I loved this article as it highlighted many issues I've seen everywhere, and especially locally, that really need to be addressed and worked on. I once had that viewpoint myself but then got involved with a wonderful group of Christians in the area. We developed a spiritual family together and took our first step at making a "discipleship" house where a number of us would live together in fellowship to worship and continue to learn and grow spiritual. It's a small beginning as we aspire to branch out into more discipleship houses. It's a challenging way to live, but it certainly is worth it for the fruits it produces and I believe it would be very beneficial to most modern Christians, even if it's only for a season. This article really encouraged and reinforced my desire to see our aspirations come to fruition, and helped me understand, specifically, what more needs to be done to further God's Kingdom. Thank you!

Response from : Chris  

January 12, 2011 5:01 PM

Wow! This article really hits a Home Run right to the heart. It speaks of so many painful, but real truths. We need to work together and for the KINGDOM. "For God so love the World, he gave his one and only begotten son." He didn't send Jesus to condemn us, the human race already did that, but he came to show us a better life, as a WHOLE, here on Earth AND in Heaven.
May the Holy Trinity bless you all!!

Response from : D. A. Long  

January 16, 2011 8:28 PM

Thank you Michael for this article and I do look forward to the upcoming ones.

Discipleship is indeed a misunderstood doctrine of the church and does need much attention. One area that I would argue for, and you may argue for as well, is that of catechism.

I believe the church should be catechizing because it is this kind of teaching that preserves doctrine. Sound Biblical doctrine is what makes the church the church. We are failing to pass on the doctrinal core of the faith, and that goes to the heart of the church's weakness in this day 'n age.

Response from : Jae Charles  

January 17, 2011 10:38 AM

I look forward to the continuing discussion of this intriquing and insightful discussion. I enjoy and agree with Michaels discernment, yet sadly, the revelations I find leave Modern Discipleship in a quandry, at least up until this point. The Great Awakening's impact on our society causes our own inability to discern our own sickness, at least it seems for the majority; the only real lasting impact was from the
First Awakening. The Second and Third (salvation from revivals,"The Call" to accept Christ and or "Sinking Ship" Syndrome only propagate the problem. Add to that a proposed "Fourth Awakening" which I would liken to Michael's reference to a Kingdom without a King scenario in which The Prosperity Gospel creaps in (one could argue various scenarios for the 4th awakening) and one would find the path to Modern Discipleship marred, disheveled and obscured; thus creating an uninviting scenario that is both not ventured or approached by many and indeed if undertaken, the later state leaves the novice in a state worse than from the beginning.
Eighty years after T.S. Elliot's 'Chrosus From The Rock' we find even more so now than ever that man stands alienated from God, even in the guise of being a 'Christian'. How did this happen? For the most part, it happens so gradually that most never really is aware of when, where or how. But they are convinced that where they are and what they have attained is 'The Truth'. They are duped into believing that they are right where they should be and that the onus of converting and witnessing to others is their paramount duty, never
suspecting that their own self can be the real concern. Would that the Spirit of The Lord reveal to all of us our need to continually, "Stir" ourselves up. I can relate to individuals that wrestle with their thoughts like Sir Robert Anderson. In the preface to his book
Forgotten Truths, he said this: "In the early years of my Christian life (for most, they keep this simple truth far from them throughout their whole Christian life) I was greatly perplexed and distressed by the supposition that the plain and simple words of such Scriptures as John 3:16. How is it that one man has discernment and another lacks it? John 6:63 It is the Spirit who gives life. That we should all examine
ourselves enough that by obedience and humility we submit constantly to The Holy Spirit for truth with a passionate desire to become His Disciples.


Return to topics Return to articles
Back to Top

Respond to This Article

Form Authentication: 

Refresh the page if  
image does not appear  

Please enter the form validation code
you see displayed above.

Your Information:
You must include your full name. Submissions that do not include both first and last names will not be posted.



Email Address:


Respond to This Article:

Your comments will be reviewed and either approved or denied publication.


Back to Top

Navigation Key

 Return to topics
 Return to articles 
 Read article with responses 
 Respond to this article