Discipleship Project

Mapping the Future

Arenas of Discipleship and Spiritual Formation

The Quest for Maturity

 

~Gordon E. Carkner, PhD in Philosophical Theology~

University of Wales

Author of The Great Escape from Nihilism

Co-author with Michael Green  Ten Myths about Christianity

https://ubcgcu.org/new-book-release-the-great-escape/

Coordinator Graduate & Faculty Ministries

 

Today, there is an urgent need to think creatively and constructively about Christian growth and faithfulness. Faith communities would do well to put more emphasis on practicing discipleship as a quest, a drive to maturity and depth in Christ and his resurrection life. If we believe in the incarnation, then our prime driver should be to follow Jesus’ example in all that entails, towards the flourishing of a robust, engaging faith. The following arenas of discipleship highlight ways to establish Christians in the way, the disciplines, the truth, the beauty, and the goodness of the abundant life. A substantial list of resources towards this end is included in the bibliography. The flow of the points runs from most basic to more challenging aspects of the quest. When we began this project, we would never have imagined 28 categories. Many thanks to all the pastors who made suggestions for this document, especially Dr. John Redekop, Darrell Johnson and David Jenkins.

Mapping the Future: Arenas of Discipleship and Spiritual Formation

Copyright © 2017 by Gordon E. Carkner

 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by any means without the express permission of the author. This includes reprints, excerpts, photocopying, recording, or any future means of reproducing text. All rights to future publication or further editions of this work are the exclusive property of Gordon Carkner.

 

Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™

 

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Categories to Build Resilience into Today’s Followers of Jesus

  1. Basic Doctrine, Mere Christianity This is a foundational concern on what a Christian believes and lives (Eerdmans Handbook on Christian Belief; N.T. Wright, Simply Christian; S. Lewis, Mere Christianity; Os Guinness, The Call). Many churches do something in this arena but could do more to establish young Christians in their faith journey through some kind of catechism. Regular sermons help a lot, but are not enough to get an overview of the Christian life. Mike Breen, Building a Discipling Culture, helps us take discipleship seriously. Many high school grads are sadly not established in basic Christian beliefs, and so they are weak in defending their faith on secular college and university campuses. Many reject the faith before even knowing what it claims at depth.

 

  1. Spiritual Disciplines This arena includes prayer, fasting, simplicity, meditation, gratitude, and practices like lectio divina. (Excellent resources are found in Richard Foster, Spiritual Disciplines; and Streams of Living Water; Ruth Haley Barton, Sacred Rhythms.; Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy; Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation). Barry Whatley, an Outreach Canada staff person in Montreal (bwhatley@outreach.ca), carries a deep concern for this dimension of spiritual encouragement and the Christ, including the development of Christian leaders. Regent College Bookstore displays an amazing source of volumes on spiritual direction, ancient and modern. James Houston among others has championed the writings of the Western Church Fathers and other notable saints of the contemplative tradition. Hans Boersma has picked up his vision and carries it forward. David Bentley Hart has championed the Eastern Church Fathers. Ruth Haley Barton has championed the spiritual formation and health of leaders (Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership). Psychiatrist Curt Thompson offers something unique in his interdisciplinary work, The Anatomy of the Soul.

 

  1. Biblical Literacy and Theology This item includes the larger story or metanarrative horizon, that is, helping Christians develop an understanding of the overall architecture and content of Scripture (Old and New Testaments). We promote Covenant Theology, stresses the continuity of the covenants in the big story, that God’s promises continue and build over history. There is a serious need today to learn basic biblical hermeneutics (Gordon Fee, Reading the Bible for All its Worth; Walter C. Kaiser Jr. The Promise-Plan of God: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments.; Iain Provan, Seriously Dangerous Religion; Richard Middleton, A New Heaven and a New Earth; Bruce Waltke, An Old Testament Theology). Biblical knowledge is dangerously weak in an age of technology, social media, and superficial identities, but there are now excellent resources online if one knows where to look: for example, world-class educational resources can be found at http://www.biblicaltraining.org/. There is a need to help Christians build deeper roots in Scripture. English Bishop Lesslie Newbigin encouraged us to indwell the biblical story (The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society), to be so familiar with the Bible that its precepts flows through our veins like the Psalmist articulates in Psalm 119. John B. MacDonald, a Bible teacher in New Westminster, has developed a robust course on Matthew’s Gospel, which he developed as a paradigm for discipleship. John rightly sees discipleship as the deep structure of Scripture, a fulfilment of God’s promises to establish his kingdom among us.

 

  1. Moral Vision and the Quest for the Good This involves the politics of love, poetics of community, learning how to leverage agape love (D. Stephen Long, The Goodness of God; Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self; Jim Wallis, The (Un)Common Good). Academics, the church community, as well as the political and business communities realize that our culture needs recovery of, and retraining in, ethics. Radical left or alt-right views have taken the spotlight in the media, constantly pushing the envelope in the more liberal (freedom of individual choice or autonomy) direction, often with no emphasis on responsibility for the common good. Or we find ourselves with politicized Christian radical right. Margaret Somerville, distinguished Law Professor at McGill University, is a key conservative voice in Canada on public moral issues. There are issues to reckon with inside the church and with its leadership as well. One of the big issues is moral motivation—why be good if you can get away with narcissism, entitlement, cheating and lying? (Henry Cloud, Integrity: the courage to meet the demands of reality). Gordon Carkner’s PhD dissertation covered this topic as he critically examined a poststructuralist writer on ethics, Michel Foucault. The revelation of the work was enhanced by a critical dialogue with the recovery of the good in the work of eminent Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor of McGill. American activist Jim Wallis has a significant pastoral contribution here on the recovery of the language of the common good: (Un)Common Good: how the gospel brings hope to a divided world. There is also the growing field of research in virtue ethics where Christians and secular scholars can find common ground. Dr. Carkner’s recent 2016 publication The Great Escape from Nihilism makes a strong case for the recovery of meaning through the recovery of ethics in community.

 

  1. Creation Care What does our carbon footprint have to do with discipleship? Why is environmental responsibility and stewardship or creation care important to faithfulness, within a virtuous lifestyle? How do we encourage a broader ownership of the current problems and the fruitful solutions? This is a key area of integrity for the church and a key concern in reaching the younger generation, which are highly sensitive to this justice issue. They are often found leaving churches which are insensitive to environmental concerns. There is a strategic mission opportunity for people with expertise in environmental science in China and Mongolia. As in many other places, there is a genuine crisis and a gospel that brings practical insight would be welcomed news. It is a life and death concern for the developing world, especially the poor whose homes and livelihood are most at risk from radical global warming. It is a spiritual concern to love the biosphere and love our neighbor, as well as our grandchildren. Katharine Hayhoe, a top climate scientist, is a public spokeperson for this cause among evangelical Christians. See also Jonathan R. Wilson, God’s Good World.; Steven Bouma-Prediger, For the Beauty of the Earth.; Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything: Capitalism versus Climate; the Iwan Russell-Jones film Making Peace with Creation. A Rocha is a Christian educational agency which features this concern worldwide. The world is very near a tipping point in this arena, according to the overwhelming majority of climate scientists. The United Nations is saying that we could soon be faced with millions of ecological refugees. The Lausanne Committee Statement on this issue can perhaps help us to motivate evangelicals towards a more creative and responsible position that can bring healing to our planet and draw people together: http://www.lausanne.org/content/statement/creation-care-call-to-action and

http://www.lausanne.org/content/ctc/ctcommitment, Part I, Section 7)

 

  1. Christ Consciousness, Christo-centric Posture This involves building our identity in Christ and sending our roots deep into a robust vision of Jesus, versus a more comfortable, dumbed down faith position. There are super resources in Eugene Peterson, Practice Resurrection; and T. Wright’s excellent scholarship in Jesus and the Victory of God). Learning to build our identity in Christ and practice his Lordship in life and outlook will go a long way to mature us as believers. There are a lot of other forces manipulating the Christian identity (health and wealth gospel, culture wars) these days and a crisis of the self in late modernity. In a day of nihilism, we have to work hard to build a plausibility structure, and lay out clearly the plausibility conditions for belief (Charles Taylor, A Secular Age). Incarnational Christo-centrism is an anchor and a key credibility factor for Christian faith, to keep us from veering off into superficial trends. Jens Zimmermann (Incarnational Humanism) and James Davison Hunter (To Change the World) warn us that Christians can have their identity washed out by plurality of options, extreme emphasis on choice, and by what Hunter calls dissolution. Jim Wallis (The (Un)Common Good) encourages us to look at what it means to have Jesus as a Living Teacher walking with us to bring heaven to earth, to discern the kingdom of God here and now within society. He refuses a passive, gnostic, private faith posture. Wallis offers a very mature pastoral statement about the deeper walk of discipleship.

 

  1. International or Global Awareness This arena works on critical growth in identity as a global citizen of the kingdom, developing a global vision, growth in awareness of cultural and ethnic diversity within our neighborhood. The goal is to develop in disciples a missional (Ross Hastings, Missional God, Missional Church: hope for re-evangelizing the West.) There is now a large missional church literature and conversation in North America. Our OC leader on this file is Lorna Johnson. We are familiar with the concept of emotional intelligence in leadership discourse (Primal Leadership by Goleman, Boyatzis, and McKee). A key concept under this category is cultural intelligence. Graduate students in our universities are coming from literally everywhere in the world and are training for world citizenship and international leadership in various fields. We have 10,000 such students at UBC; think of their potential impact of this brainpower. Thus, you can sense why we are passionate about their spiritual wellbeing and growth as whole persons with a responsible outlook. We ought to take them more seriously in terms of the strategic future of the kingdom and the church, as well as their future leadership calling in society as international ambassadors. Outreach Canada’s Perspectives and Kairos courses have been quite effective in developing some vision of global Christianity, to raise consciousness of God’s embrace of the whole world. OC also has strategic dialogue with movements on several continents.

 

  1. Maturity through Suffering This arena explores the art and meaning of suffering, the quest to redeem our suffering, the opportunity to build character through suffering and learn compassion through suffering (I Peter). Wisdom and suffering are closely allied in the Bible. How do we handle societal or academic marginalization as Christian exiles (James Houston, Joyful Exiles)? Resources include: poet Scott Cairns, The End of Suffering: finding the purpose of pain; Henri Nouwen, The Wounded Healer. Suffering and the problem of evil seem to coalesce as an issue that casts doubt in people’s minds. it is much better to grapple with suffering by itself. There is great discipleship benefit to drilling down into the biblical concept of suffering. People need help in learning how to suffer well, keep their dignity, and discover a new closeness to God and others in the middle of suffering. Agencies and books such as Voice of the Martyrs, Captive in Iran, and Face to Face with Jesus tell these kind of stories. The Apostle Paul had a strong consciousness of participating in Christ’s suffering, and suffering for the well-being of the early church believers. This is an arena where the Christian story can stand positively, teach late modern society, and confront a narcissistic culture of entitlement and consumeristic individualism. Deeper discipleship emerges when we suffer for doing the good and right thing—for the kingdom of God and his righteousness. This is a possible bridge arena with secular people who have to cope with much of the same kinds of suffering.

 

  1. Historical Heritage: This builds in a vision that today’s believer is standing on the shoulders of past saints, reformers and martyrs in church history. With all the intensity of church planting going on across the country, there is a strong need for teaching the history of the church community. Teaching in this arena offers correction and rebuttal to inadequate historical accounts of Christianity’s influence on Western culture (David Bentley Hart, Atheist Delusions: the Christian Revolution and its Fashionable Enemies; Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity). Churches should not shy away from tracing their roots and benefitting from the depth offered through a knowledge of the history of both doctrine and practice. At some stages in history, believers may have been more integrated and whole than we are today—they can help mirror our shortcomings. Many of the battles we are fighting today were also fought decades and centuries ago. We have ancient as well as modern colleagues from whom we can learn. There exists a great crowd of witnesses and we can benefit from the spiritual roads they have laid down, their theological spade work and the spiritual mountains they have climbed. We can also learn from their mistakes, especially how to avoid extremes (The Crusades, Religious/Denominational Wars and the Inquisition). One could draw on Bruce Hindmarsh at Regent College among others for inspiration in this arena. Classes at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School under noted scholars David Wells and John Woodbridge on church history revealed a gold mine of insights for discipleship. See also Donald Dayton’s Discovering an Evangelical Heritage; Mark Noll A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada; David Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s. Too many pastors tragically leave their interest in church history at seminary. This of course is very relevant for apologetics and Christian witness as well.

 

  1. Recovering an Incarnational Humanism Heritage It is important to recognize the tremendous social, institutional and cultural (human) impact of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension. The gospel is embedded in culture. Discipleship occurs within a social context. This arena focuses on learning how to become a better human being and how to hold out a vision for social health, civility and reform. What does it mean that we are the Body of Christ in cultural leadership? Fresh research and creative thought has emerged since 2012 from Trinity Western University’s Jens Zimmermann, (Incarnational Humanism: a philosophy of culture for the church in the world). Christians urgently should reclaim their heritage in the history of humanism, going all the way back to Augustine and indeed rooted in the Old Testament and the Sermon on the Mount. The cross-denominational journal First Things highlights this arena from a variety of perspectives as does the organization Cardus on public policy in Canada (Convivium Magazine). The challenges come from the Nihilists (anti-humanists and post-humanists of Nietzschean descent); scholars Brad Gregory (The Unintended Reformation) and Charles Taylor (A Secular Age) have very helpful insights on faith and culture. Is it not the purpose of redemption of our lives in Christ to make us better humans, committed to shalom, offering a blessing, contributing to the common good of society (Jim Wallis, The (Un)Common Good)? Sociologist James Davison Hunter (To Change the World) uses the language of faithful presence. James Houston works out a discourse on how to move from individualism to become a relational person (The Mentored Life: from Individualism to Personhood). Paul Ricoeur (Oneself as Another) is strong on the narrative aspect of personhood. We expand this concept later in a section on Church and Government. The recovery of the language of Christian humanism is vital and urgent in our day.

 

  1. Apologetics Skill and Giftedness This includes the skill to give an answer to those who ask why we believe and why we suffer with Christ, or why there is evil in the world if God is good. It also helps Christians who are going through questions and doubts about their faith. It sets up a dialogue between faith and reason. This involves learning the language of contemporary (late modern) culture, communication, debate, and dialogue. It helps develop the breadth and depth of language to include the transcendent and the poetic (Alister McGrath, Intellectuals Don’t Need God?; The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics: surveying the evidence for the truth of Christianity, Ed Hinson & Ergun Carter 2008; Tim Keller, The Reason for God; Philip Yancey, Reaching for the Invisible God). The agency ‘Apologetics Canada’ in British Columbia and the agency ‘Dig and Delve’ in Ottawa offer conferences specifically to develop and equip 18-30 year olds in this vision and their conferences have had a growing success. It is one thing to introduce someone to Christ. It is quite another to establish them and give them the tools to face their detractors, especially if they have converted from another religion or a secular home. Often one finds a culture of doubt and cynicism as the atmosphere on our campuses where the best and brightest are nurtured. Young students need this training to prepare them for the campus debates. It is very encouraging to see churches set up a tough questions series or run debates on relevant issues. We cannot state how critical is this arena.

 

  1. Knowledge of Other Religions and Worldviews Pluralism or hyper-pluralism of belief is often overwhelming Christians these days and they need help at discernment and skills in dialogue. Charles Taylor calls this the Nova Effect—the multiplication of spiritual journeys—as displayed in Banyon Books. This focus is a contribution to intensifying our knowledge of the Christian faith, and promote inter-religious dialogue, peace-making, appreciation and impact. The wise understanding of the relationship between philosophy and theology, reason and faith, is a key issue here (Miraslov Volf, Flourishing: why we need religion in an age of globalization; David Bentley Hart, The Experience of God: being, consciousness, bliss.; Eerdmans Handbook on World Religions). Sociologist Christian Smith at Notre Dame University has alerted us to the intense intellectual confusion and needs in this 18-23 age group, the most relativistic generation yet. It is inadequate simply to repeat that Jesus is the only way to God without grappling with the nuances of other religious views, and showing how Jesus fulfills aspirations within every religion, every human heart (Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society). How else are we to engage and love our neighbor of another faith tradition? We must first seek to understand and then wait to be understood; this works with students on campus. Don Klaassen, Chilliwack staff member at Outreach Canada, mobilizes concern for Punjabis in the Fraser Valley and reconciliation with Native Canadians in British Columbia. Dr. Miriam Adeney, Seattle Pacific University, is a sound and balanced academic resource in this arena. Christians could be much more effective with neighbor love and understand what they bring understanding and humility to the table. Outreach Canada teams up with CNMM to reach out to our new Muslim neighbours in Canada. The Syrian refugee crisis has provided new opportunities to make connections across religious boundaries. The interest often begins with our first friendship with someone from another religion and then we move into a real learning curve and break open our stereotypes. A basic course on understanding various religions is a good start.

 

  1. Theology and Philosophy of Bodies This involves sexuality, mindfulness, healing from abuse, whole personhood. Many are learning how to cope with sexual addictions, order their sexual desires, respect boundaries in relationships, cultivate faithfulness to married partners and children. The quest for sexual health and whole relationships is a huge issue currently for both married and single people as well as within Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox leadership. The pressures within our culture against sexual wholeness are immense. Stan Grenz (Sexual Ethics: an Evangelical Perspective) offers some wisdom. Technology of sin (see section 26.) is also an important area of teaching and discipleship: the internet poses intense new challenges to discipleship and holiness for young people, with pornography so immediately accessible at such an early age. Journey Canada (http://www.journeycanada.org) is an agency that has offered much help in the arena of sexual addiction, and gender identity. UBC Law Professor Benjamin Perrin continues to fight a good battle on the human trafficking issue, helping to shape Canadian government policy. Dr. Donn Welton (The Body: Classical and Contemporary Readings; Body and Flesh: a Philosophical Reader) Continental Philosophy specialist at Stony Brook University in New York, offers some help here at a sophisticated level of inquiry. Education Professor Allyson Jule at Trinity Western University is a top gender specialist in Canada and a leading voice in empowering women. Warren Brown and Brad Strawn (2012), employing the latest insights of neuroscience, psychology and sociology, give a brilliant argument for re-visioning spiritual formation as an embodied enterprise (The Physical Nature of Christian Life).

 

  1. Science in Perspective How do we understand in a balanced and holistic way science as it relates to Christian faith? Biophysicist Tom McLeish at Durham University (Faith and Wisdom in Science), a cutting edge thinker in this arena, challenges the church and seminaries with the need for developing a theology of science. He claims that “Science is the participative, relational, co-creative work within the kingdom of God of healing the fallen relationship of humans with nature.” Science must be understood as an essential part of human culture, a part that we can reflect upon theologically, understand through the redemptive work of the kingdom of God. It is not something to be just coped with: resisted or tolerated. There are many creation/origins texts throughout the Bible: Job 30-40; Proverbs 8; Psalms 19, 33, 104; Isaiah 40, 45; Jeremiah 10; Hosea 2; John 1; Genesis 1-3. The quest of McLeish and others is to deliver a more robust understanding of the doctrine of creation, and to show the connection between suffering, wisdom and science. The agency Faraday Institute for Dialogue on Science and Religion at St. Edmund’s Hall, Cambridge University is very a very robust resource (see their Test of Faith three-part video series by top Oxford and Cambridge scientists), the Ian Ramsey Centre on Science & Religion in Oxford, run by Alister McGrath, as is the Canadian Science and Christian Affiliation and BioLogos (understanding evolutionary creation). Many people find Sir John Polkinghorne, Owen Gingerich, Dennis Danielson, Alister McGrath, John Lennox, historian Peter Harrison and Ian Hutchinson well informed and helpful on this arena of discipleship. This is a key issue of credibility for the church today and the generally perceived conflict between science and religion is a barrier to Christian credibility, and one of the top reasons young educated people are fleeing the church (Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith). One needs to find a balanced understanding of science and its relation to the Christian faith amidst the various prejudiced and extreme views. Churches ought to bring in credible university science faculty to help cover this concern, but studiously avoid the travelling road show speakers. Gordon Carkner has a substantial paper on Scientism, the ideology which is at the heart of the alienation of science and theology today. He also talks about the problem as it relates to our understanding of the secular world in his 2016 publication The Great Escape from Nihilism.

 

  1. Worship as Formation in a Personal, Trinitarian Space Worship is an important part of spiritual formation, as well as contributing to the apologetic for the faith in late modernity. Theological resources in this arena include: Alan Torrance, Kallistos Ware, Jens Zimmermann, Jeremy Begbie, and James K.A. Smith. Brian Doerksen runs a school of worship arts for Prairie College as of 2014. Worship is rarely talked about in churches or denomination meetings at more advanced levels and is generally under-studied. We need more depth and inter-tradition breadth. There are some conferences on worship and liturgy for leaders. Duke University Professor Jeremy Begbie combines the Arts in theology and worship. His is a very thoughtful contribution amongst the Gospel and Culture theologians. Malcolm Guite, a poet-chaplain at Cambridge University, offers powerful poet imagery to worship. Youth and adults would benefit much from teaching and discipleship in worship and the place of the eucharist (Jens Zimmermann, Incarnational Humanism; Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts). There are tendencies in a number of church traditions to focus on only one member of the Trinity in worship or to take too rationalistic an approach. With its strong aesthetic and poetic component, worship has great potential to become much more prophetic in Canada. Rooted in good theology, worship can reach the stratosphere in creativity. Bethel Church in California seems to be a major center for developing cutting edge talent in worship leadership. There is a phenomenal genius in the history of worship and the potential of combining the classical with modern music. Among the new innovations, there is David Wesley (Basement Praise) from Waterloo, Ontario, who has pioneered Acapella praise, a new phenomenon that combines the classics with a fresh style and tremendous power. We’ll also recommend Hillsong United’s album Zion and Brian Doerksen’s Holy God, or Kari Jobe’s Majestic.
  2. Recovery of the Virtues and the Virtuous Community This arena includes character formation as per II Peter 1: 3-8; Philippians 4. The C.S. Lewis Summer Institute in Cambridge and Oxford during July 2014 focused on the theme: Recovering the Virtues for Human Flourishing. Here are some of the talks for free http://www.cslewis.org/?utm_source=E-Chronicles+October+23%2C+2014&utm_campaign=October23+E-Chronicles&utm_medium=email

I believe that the conference has captured something quite vital as an arena for exploration, discovery and impact for the church. We see a robust recovery of virtue ethics within academia (David Lyle Jeffrey of Baylor University; Cambridge Companion on Virtue Ethics, edited by Daniel C. Russell). There is also a renewed  emphasis on character formation these days in business leadership (Henry Cloud, Integrity). Fran Vanderpol has found that the discussion of character offers leverage within the general community in Abbotsford, British Columbia. We have to ask the tough question: Is virtue being taught at any serious level in our churches? Do we highlight character and the virtues as a strength to be promoted under the overall quest for righteousness? If we do not, we are missing a major opportunity of discipleship. Do we just assume it is being caught by osmosis? Good resources for further discussion are found in: Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue; and Stephen Bouma-Prediger, For the Beauty of the Earth. Other resources on the intellectual virtues include Brad Gregory, The Unintended Reformation; and Linda Zagzebski, Virtues of the Mind.

The Virtuous Community This is an urgent concern given the crisis of civility and threats of hate speech and violence in the West inspired by the alt-right. Churches have an opportunity to lead by example: building moral capital and enhancing the plausibility conditions for faith within society at large, possibly even helping curb fundamentalist religious radicalization. The Catholic Church has traditionally carried the strongest flame for the virtuous community, especially in the monastic movements, but Protestants have regained an interest and a stake in the discussion. Martin Luther King Jr. regularly heralded the concept of the beloved community as a key pillar of his vision. It is a concept that can be recovered for the good of the church, as we see in the new monasticism movement where young Christians build community in a poor section of town (Jim Wallis, The (Un)Common Good) and reach out to the neighbourhood. This arena of formation offers a strategic cutting edge of witness to a cynical culture which is struggling with dishonesty, greed, gossip, cheating and incivility. The Apostle Paul adjures us to pursue the power of virtue ordained by the Holy Spirit in Philippians 4: “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, etc.” Notre Dame History Professor Brad Gregory (The Unintended Reformation) articulated the vital importance of this issue in recent years and showed how human rights discourse could recover a more holistic context when re-embedded in the virtues. Jim Wallis’ notable 2014 book, The (Un)Common Good: how the gospel brings hope to a world divided, also gives a rich discussion of a robust kingdom heritage in Jesus teaching. When we speak of virtues, we are speaking of those rooted in Trinitarian communion over against a Stoic approach of secular self-management. Christians need to recover their own ethics; a parallel discussion occurs in Charles Taylor’s recovery of the good (Sources of the Self) which is a key area of research.

 

  1. The Nature of the Church Why is this question important to spiritual formation? We seem to have seen a bit of an identity crisis on this issue in late modernity (i.e. confusion about what we mean by church). There is real conflict among believers on the nature of church (traditional versus emerging/emergent) between generations of pastoral leadership. It is serious because the meaning of church affects what kind of discipleship we conceive. Some pastors see themselves as more ‘postmodern’ in their outlook, even while they may not realize the Nietzschean implications of that overused term, and love to experiment with form. Some use Deep Church (Jim Belcher, Deep Church) or Mere Christian as a talking point on a third alternative. We’ve all been to conferences on the subject and found the vibes fascinating. Eugene Peterson has a mature statement on church and Christian identity in important Practice Resurrection: a conversation of growing up in Christ, which is a prophetic exposition of the book of Ephesians. Many young people are leaving the traditional church out of boredom (millennials are particularly not doing church these days). Many otherwise faithful believers do not attend any church because they are fed up with being patronized or just used as a wallet or pew warmer to keep organizational machinery going. This is a real wake-up call to leaders. Openness, wisdom, creativity, dialogue and imagination are needed. The tensions can be used to creative advantage if we pay attention to the nuances. Included in this problematic issue is whether women should be allowed (top) leadership positions within church hierarchy, or in several cases any official (eldership) leadership. American New Testament Scholar Scot McKnight has some fresh views in this file. Fuller Neuroscientist Warren Brown and Brad Strawn address the problem of Gnosticism in today’s evangelical churches. They suggest the we need a new definition of church which is characterized by wholeness, embodied and embedded: “the formation of a community of persons that is characterized by, and thus makes visible, the reign of God as a means of grace to the world and growth for its members.” (Brown & Strawn, The Physical Nature of Christian Life, 2012, 110)

 

  1. The Myths of Secularity Charles Taylor (A Secular Age), Jens Zimmermann (Incarnational Humanism), and James KA Smith offer three deep analyses on this critical question of how religion relates to the secular. Christian leaders often struggle to understand the culture in which people in their congregations live and the language they use day to day, especially if they have travelled through only Christian education. It can be confusing living as a follower of Jesus when the entire worldview of your larger culture is opposed to you. James Houston calls this phenomenon living the paradox of Joyful Exiles. The myth here is that the rise of science has brought an end to religion, or replaced religion, in the West (the subtraction thesis). Materialisstic naturalism is brought under effective critical examination by such scholars as: David Bentley Hart, The Experience of God: being, consciousness, and bliss; Alvin Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies. This also includes wrestling with Nihilism and the anti-human spirit in Western thought, Post-Romanticism. Gordon Carkner’s The Great Escape from Nihilism uses Taylor as a backbone philosopher to try to rebuild the plausibility conditions for belief. See also Jens Zimmermann, Incarnational Humanism: a philosophy of culture for the church in the world. Al Gore’s insightful book The Future: six drivers of global change is also a good read for progressive thinkers, giving the big picture onlarge global challenges. One wise leader in the business community suggested that pastors have lunch with the business colleagues of their parishioners to get to know their world and their language game (finance, mergers, legal, stock markets, immigration, supply chain management, lawsuits, economic challenges). Sermons should connect with real world concerns of parishioners and the languages of society.

 

  1. The Culture of Peace, Compassion, Non-violence, Reconciliation and Justice One might call this the Politics of Agape Love. Essential to the teaching of the New Covenant is the art and ministry of reconciliation (II Corinthians 5). Never has there been a greater need for this skill of peacemaking as a key discipleship tool for Christians in a violent world of militant ideologies, dwindling resources, child soldiers, radical ideologies, cruel dictatorships. These forces are like tectonic plates rubbing and grinding against one another. Such worries are compounded by intense capitalist greed, financial institution reckless irresponsibility, growing disparity of wealth between plutocratic rich and poor, sex trafficking, abuse of women and children, millions of refugees and displaced peoples from terrorism. The poor, the immigrant (the least of these) as Jesus speaks about it in Matthew 25 are often the last priority and the most vulnerable readily exploited. This arena of concern involves teaching Christian believers to cooperate, mobilize prayer and activism across denominations and the political right and left for the sake of noble kingdom causes as we find in the Sermon on the Mount. Heroic figures include: Ron Sider, Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, Miraslov Volf, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King Jr., Gene Bethke Elshtain, Nicholas Wolterstorff, and Jim Wallis. Notable books are: Elizabeth Gerhardt, The Cross and Gendercide; and Miraslov Volf, Exclusion and Embrace. A good story is found in the movie I Am by Tom Shadyac, a testimonial giving direction to a whole new paradigm, a virtual rethinking of what life’s purpose. Through a terrible accident, he had time to reflect on his life and on how North Americans are badly treating one another and the biosphere. He offers a new trajectory where one lives more simply, walls are broken down and love returns to the center of motivation. Although we do not agree with every ideology represented in the film, it is a story of someone who has rethought his paradigm of the ‘good life’. It brings into critique the spirit of entitlement, individualism, racism, clannish behaviour and isolationism. The Justice Institute in Vancouver has also been helpful to so many Christian individuals and agencies seeking guidance in this arena.

 

  1. Loving a Muslim Neighbour With major immigration to Canada from the Middle East in the next thirty years, thousands of Muslim students attending our Canadian campuses, large refugee problems due to war, famine and globalization, we have a strategic opportunity. This is a challenge to get to know and reach out to people from the various sects of the Muslim community right within our Western cities. Jonathan Sacks would say that we need to make peace with our religious sibling and work against the clash of civilizations. The same applies internationally as we travel and work in various industries, countries, NGOs and humanitarian organizations. This again is a serious call to maturity: i.e. to go the extra mile in discipleship, welcoming the stranger and compassion. The need has hardly been more intense than today, with much research, thinking and wisdom required. It includes developing a working knowledge of the documents (Koran, Hadith) and Apologetics to meet Muslim challenges to the Christian faith in various parts of the world. Fundamentally, it requires much love, dialogue and listening. One must discern between radical Islam (as in the Muslim Brotherhood, Al Quaeda, ISIS) and faithful Muslims with family values who believe in a just and merciful Allah. Yale theologian Miraslov Volf (Allah: a Christian Response) has an important YouTube talk on comparing the Good of Christianity and the Good of Islam: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BylHdkuxmec His book Flourishing also talks about appropriate dialogue between different religions. Gordon Nickel (Peaceable Witness Among Muslims; helpful with original documents of Islam), Andy Bannister (Ph.D. in Muslim Studies) and Nabeel Qureshi (Seeking Allah Finding Jesus) of RZIM, and Ron Dart at University of the Fraser Valley are thoughtful resources on this subject. The Canadian Network of Ministry to Muslims, a partnership with Outreach Canada, is a discussion and support group in this arena. Reverend Bob Roberts at Northwood Church in Dallas/Fort Worth sets an example for leveraging agape love in reaching out to the Muslim community (Bold as Love: what happens when we see people as God does). See also David Garrison, A Wind in the House of Islam; and David Goa at the Charles Ronning Centre, University of Alberta, which deals with research and dialogue on religion and public life. In the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, there is significant growth in prayer groups for reaching out to Muslims.

 

  1. The Christian Mind or Worldview John Patrick at St. Augustine College in Ottawa is doing a great job of preparing high school grads for university in a one year program on Christian foundations. The program takes seriously the interface between faith and culture. Over eighty percent of the grads of this school do not lose their faith while going through secular universities. Other such programs are desperately needed for youth entering academia. James Sire has a long track record of supporting university students in this arena (Discipleship of the Mind; The Universe Next Door). Brian Walsh and Richard Middleton (Transforming Vision) have also contributed much encouragement in developing a Christian worldview. More recently, Andy Crouch has become a very popular spokesperson for this cause (Culture-Making: recovering our creative calling; Playing God: redeeming the gift of power) with sharp sensibility towards key issues in late modernity. This has always been a big part of our work with postgraduate students, i.e. helping them to engage their studies from a Christian critical outlook. Intervarsity Press (IVP and IVP Academic) has traditionally taken a lead here, employing Christian faculty in different fields, but of course many other publishers such as Brazos, or Eerdmans complement this work of Christian scholarship. Marketplace Theology at Regent College (Paul Williams) puts a high priority on the mind; they launched an eight-session video course on the subject called Reframe in fall of 2014, making the discussion quite accessible for church communities and other Christian agencies.. This vision is also carried by the Pascal Lectures at University of Waterloo, Graduate & Faculty Christian Forum at UBC, Gifford Lectures at University of Edinburgh, Veritas Forums on campuses across North America. There is also a faith and culture section and posts on the UBC graduate student blog written by various faculty, graduate students and Gordon Carkner: ubcgcu.org. Christian faculty members of secular and Christian universities and colleges are a strategic help in this arena of discipleship, encouraging vital Christian reflection. This moves us a level beyond apologetics to thinking more deeply as a Christian, thinking Christianly so to speak. This is vital for establishing the church with intellectual depth.

 

  1. Global Intercession This arena involves the development and nurture of an awareness, aptitude, faith and passion for the big seismic shifts that prayer can bring about. It takes seriously the movement of the hearts of kings and governors (Psalm 138, Daniel, Esther), heading off an evil movement, ending Apartheid, releasing political prisoners, journalists, deconstructing an oppressive regime, supporting the persecuted church in other countries. It takes seriously the concept of principalities and powers (Walter Wink, The Powers That Be; Engaging the Powers; Ephesians 6). Here discipleship builds the awareness that God is interested in and cares about Berlin Walls, Russian incursion into Ukraine, ISIS brutality, North Korean oppression. Ute Carkner, staff member at Outreach Canada, has a strong commitment to this end of this concern. She also spends time in spiritual mentorship of faculty wives, young emerging leaders and graduate students at UBC. Various groups exist across Canada to build prayer as a rhythm of ministry.

 

  1. Spiritual Gifts and Giftedness This is a very challenging but important arena of stewardship, one that requires significant spiritual imagination. It is filled with radical potential as shown by Eugene Peterson in Practice Resurrection. How do we help people discover their spiritual gifts and put them into practice in the local church and beyond? Many parishioners today are frustrated with the lock down on leadership by professional ministry staff, especially in larger churches. Many church members feel underemployed concerning their actual gifts by ushering, greeting, parking cars, making coffee, counting the offering and teaching Sunday School. These are vital roles but many are yearning to be developed and mentored, thinking that there must be more to Christian service than what they are currently experiencing. The gifts can be taught, but individuals need an opportunity to explore their giftedness in real time with healthy feedback from a wise community of believers. They also need to be mentored. As this is taken seriously, it will motivate and mobilize massive amounts of hidden talent within our congregations and assemblies, issuing in the development of new leadership beyond our imagination (Romans 12; I Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4). The Holy Spirit wants to do so much more with our corporate giftedness and release an abundant grace and blessing upon Canada. Lay people also have a responsibility to courageously present serious ideas to clergy for their engagement and evaluation. This is also a potential area for wise and loving senior citizens in our midst.

 

  1. Eschatology of Discipleship What is the end game of one’s discipleship? C.S. Lewis puts it in context of eternity in the Eternal Weight of Glory. J.R.R. Tolkein (The Hobbit; Lord of the Rings) and Lewis (Narnia Chrinicles) put it in terms of a great battle between good and evil, where evil is finally vanquished. The Apostle Paul sees the destiny of the quest as the oikodome of righteousness (II Corinthians 5) an eternal dwelling which is more real than our own bodies. Darrell Johnson gives perspective on the relationship between time and eternity, the two realms of discipleship, in his popular commentary on the book of Revelation, Discipleship on the Edge. See also Richard Middleton’s new book on this theme: A New Heaven and a New Earth. The key word here is pilgrimage. Have we lost the sense that we are on an important, urgent quest, one which requires heroism, loyalty and courage. There are big consequences to our choices and attitudes? Philosopher of Religion Ingolf Dalferth (Theology and Philosophy) has an intriguing concept of the eschatology as a spiral upwards towards the heavenly. This reminds us of Dante. Baylor University English professor Ralph Wood, a Tolkein expert, thinks we should be less concerned to get to heaven rather than to currently get heaven into us https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0QAnfJloJec Incarnational theology is committed to exploring the connections between the temporal and eternal right now.

 

  1. Cultivating Wholeness through Healthy Aging and Mentoring A whole body of research is emerging sparked by aging Baby Boomers (Zoomers). See Cultivating Wholeness: A Guide to Care and Counseling in Faith Communities. by Margaret Kornfeld (especially the chapter on death and dying); James Houston, A Vision for the Aging Church: renewing ministry for and by seniors; The Mentored Life: from Individualism to Personhood. These authors are concerned about the significant mentorship capacity of people in their senior years—to pass on moral, spiritual and intellectual heritage to a younger generation. See also the program Aging Matters: Finding Meaning & Purpose In Senior Years at Carey Theological College, Vancouver, British Columbia.

 

  1. Digital Discipleship: Social Networking and Media Consumption We are in the age of addiction to cell phones and social media. School psychologists are very concerned about the impact on the lives of the young. Check out the MennoNerds blog site and The Digital Society: Christians Interested in Technology & Culture Facebook Group. Broadcast media and film are increasingly profane and graphic in portraying gratuitous violence and sexuality, within a ratings system that doesn’t reveal the exact language and depictions that might make a difference to impressionable teenagers in the younger age group who feel that they’ve outgrown PG (parental guidance). Web sites like pluggedin.ca are trying to add that information which secular reviewers may not see the need to mention. Social networks can enable ongoing connections with people whom we would not otherwise phone or write to, but can lead to isolation when they replace human contact and physical interaction—e.g. excessive video gaming online. Ubiquitous, fast, and nearly anonymous data connections, in conjunction with the frictionless sharing and promotion of illicit and sensational content, has created many moral hazards in how we use the Internet. Everything from hate speech to pornography to pirated games, music and movies are easier to find and use without appreciating the impact. Such consumption is spreading intolerance, warping sexual norms, and depriving artists of royalties. Christian disciples would do well to keep in mind the advice in 1 Corinthians 10: 23 “All things are lawful … but all things do not edify.” and Philippians 4:8 “Focus on whatever is true, noble, praiseworthy.” Professors Albert Borgmann at University of Montana, Quentin Schultze at Calvin College, and Craig Gay, now Ashley Moyse at Regent College are thinking much and writing about such topics as technology and faith. Borgmann is truly brilliant in showing us how technology shapes us psychologically and culturally and can destroy valuable Christian rituals and traditions such as the family meal and Sabbath. The other side of this is that the blog, Internet, and other social media can be employed towards good discipleship, apologetics dialogue and attracting people to the Christian faith. There is a great amount of free, constructive material in commentaries, courses, bibliography, lectures on YouTube, online courses for handicapped people. Blogging can indeed increase the frequency and quality of a pastor’s writing. Google is trying to get every book in the world on digital format. We are in the midst of a revolution as wide-ranging as the invention of the printing press.

 

  1. Discipleship and Political Power: The Church, Government and Civic Discourse It is time for good people to step up and speak the truth in love. Christians have always had to take a stance with respect to political authority and to grapple with citizenship, even under hostile regimes like the Soviet Union or the Roman Empire. And we do not have to be political atheists or political non-participants. But we need wisdom as to how to proceed, as there exist some real extremes emerging today. Here are some of the key authors on the subject: John Redekop, Politics Under God; Richard John Neuhaus, The Naked Public Square; and Public Catholicism; Jim Wallis God’s Politics; and The (Un)Common Good; John Stackhouse Jr., Making the Best of It; Andy Crouch, Playing God: redeeming the gift of power; James Davison Hunter, To Change the World: the irony, tragedy and possibility of Christianity in the late modern world;  David Lyon & Van Die, Rethinking Church, State and Modernity: Canada Between Europe and America; Rowan Williams, The Truce of God, plus Faith in the Public Square; Ron Dart, The North American High Tory Tradition; First Things Journal. Overall this speaks to the issues arising at the interface between discipleship and citizenship. In many respects, democracy needs the undergirding of Christian faith and values to survive and flourish. Perhaps now is the time for more Christians to take their public responsibilities seriously.

 

  1. A Discipleship Addressing Wisely the Honor-Shame Cultures

Shame is used in many societies to produce social order and harmony. It is the primary device for creating good behavior in children and entails conditional love. If a child does something wrong or untoward, the family will submit them to public shame. The shame is also owned and carried by the parents; the honor of the family has been violated. The child grows up with a great fear of expulsion from the family or group. Thereby arises a strong tendency to repress personal problems, negative emotions or actions to “save face”. This produces secrecy because admitting wrong behavior or addictions implies a total failure of oneself, and a disruption of honor within the social fabric. It creates a tremendous double bind. Honor and shame are the yin and yang of Asian cultures. Western preaching and discipleship is often insensitive to this problem, as it is mostly focused on a guilt society where the conscience is internal. See the insights of Jayson Georges’ The 3D Gospel: ministry in guilt, shame, and fear cultures; Roland Muller, Honor and Shame: unlocking the door. Brené Brown wrote a couple important books on the topic: Men and Women and Worthiness: the experience of shame and the power of being enough; Daring Greatly: How The Courage To Be Vulnerable Transforms The Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead., Here’s a Psychology Today article by Seattle therapist Sam Louie: There is a lot to grapple with in terms of healthy repentance and faith rhythmns.

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/minority-report/201406/asian-shame-and-honor

Blue Ribbon Bibliography on Formation

 Alexander, D. & P. (1982). Eerdmans Handbook on Christian Belief. Eerdmans Publishing

Alexander, P. ed. (1982). Eerdmans Handbook to the World’s Religions. Eerdmans.

Barton, R. H. (2006). Sacred Rhythms. IVP Books

Barton, R. H. (2008). Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership. IVP Books.

Belcher, J. (2009). Deep Church: a Third Way. IVP Books.

Bouma-Prediger, S. (2010). For the Beauty of the Earth: a Christian vision of creation care. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker.

Breen, M. (2011) Building a Discipling Culture: how to release a missional movement by discipling like Jesus did.

Brown, W. and Strawn, B. (2012). The Physical Nature of Christian Life: Neuroscience, Psychology and the Church. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Brown, B. (2012). Daring Greatly: how the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent and lead. New York, NY: Avery.

Brown, B. (2012). Men and Women and Worthiness: the experience of shame and the power of being enough.

Carkner, G.E. (2016). The Great Escape from Nihilism: rediscovering our passion in late modernity. Infocus Publishing.

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Crouch, A. (2008). Culture Making: recovering our creative calling. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Crouch, A. (2013). Playing God: redeeming the gift of power. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Dart, R. (2016). The North American High Tory Tradition. American Anglican Press.

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Gerhardt, E. (2014). The Cross and Gendercide: a theological response to global violence against women and girls. IVP Books.

Georges, J. (2016). The 3D Gospel: ministry in guilt, shame, and fear cultures. Time Press.

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Houston, J.M. (2011). The Mentored Life: From Individualism to Personhood. Vancouver, B.C.: Regent College Publishing.

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Taylor, C. (2007). A Secular Age. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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Volf, M. (2015). Flourishing: why we need religion in a globalized world. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

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Wright, N.T. (2011). After You Believe: why Christian character matters. Toronto, ON: Harper One.

Wright, N.T. (1996). Jesus and the Victory of God. Fortress Press.

Yancey, P. (2000). Reaching for the Invisible God. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Zagzebski, L. T. (1996). Virtues of the Mind: An Inquiry into the Nature of Virtue and the Ethical Foundations of Knowledge. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Zimmermann, J. (2012a). Incarnational Humanism: a philosophy of culture for the church in the world. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic.

Zimmermann, J. (2012b). Humanism and Religion: a call for the renewal of western culture.  Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Zimmermann, J. (2015). Hermeneutics: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press

Something to Come Soon by Gordon Carkner, Paradigms in Conflict: Gnosticism versus the Incarnation.

 

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