Alan Hirsch – Advance the Church – How the Gospel Changes Christian Discipleship – l

Liveblog of Alan Hirsch’s talk at Advance the Church on How the Gospel Changes Christian Discipleship

The 2/3 world is doing pretty well without us, but as far as the West is concerned, if the Church in America can get it, that is where the battle will be won or lost.

But right now there is not a setting where the church is advancing. This conference is very much a part of that recovery. We’re very scripted to think in certain ways by the media. We take our doctrines lightly and have become familiar with them. We need to think differently.

What I want to wrestle with is some of the big ideas. I come very much as a friend, with some of the same concerns about Christianity in the west, the centrality of the Gospel and how we understand these things.

I want to shoot from the hip and speak from the heart. I haven’t weighed every word.

Discipleship is one of the biggest issues of our day.  It has strategic significance.  Our quality as God’s people is determined by how well we can disciple people.

Discipleship begs the question, discipleship to what, or to whom are we being discipled?  What forces in our culture are discipling us?

The obvious answer seems to be Jesus, but how we answer that question determines what it means to be a Christ follower.  If it’s not Jesus, then other forces are filling that.  I’d argue that consumerism is winning the day.

People are in search of meaning, significance, and belonging.  That’s what buying a brand is.  Marketers reach into people’s worlds.

I had a conversation with a marketing director years ago and he said where the church is stepping back, we are stepping into that void.

It’s idolatry, false worship, the most fundamental of our sins.

What are we following is a huge question, which leads to an even bigger one which gets at the heart of Biblical doctrine, the link between Christology and soteriology.  What is the nature of the connection between these two things.  Unless we understand that link, all we get is more of what we got.

The way I hear the word Gospel being used, it’s as if it’s some stand alone thing disconnected from the rest of Biblical doctrine.  We often use it to bash people around or argue against other Christians.  What I love about this conference and why I canceled other things to come is that they’re trying to put the revolution back in context with the original Revolutionary: Christ.

The most systematic theologian of the Bible doesn’t have that clear cut of separations between doctrines.

I’d argue that the problem goes even deeper.  It is elusive to us.  Partly because we live in America.  The word Gospel has been used in America for a long time.  We use it very easily.

The ancient Stoic philosopher Epictetus said it is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows.  We think we know what the Gospel means, that we’ve got it all worked out, we understand this.

And in fact that might be our biggest problem, that we think we’ve got it all figured out.  Sometiems you’ve got to take another look at something.  We’ve got to step back from it and take another loving look.  It’s like the doctrine of God, once you think you’ve got it down, it escapes from your grasp.  It can’t be boiled down into four spiritual laws, that’s a dangerous reduction of the Gospel.

Henri Matisse is to look at something as though we’ve never seen it before takes a lot of courage.

As we recalibrate the church at this critical time in history, it has radical ramifications for the Church in the future.  What we do now will have major impact in the future.

I get the sense that we think we understand the Gospel.  It’s what Paul taught, right?  Well, yes, Paul’s writings are God-given and God-inspired.  It’s canonical.  But here’s the thing, Paul was given the authority by God to explicate the Gospel.  But here’s the thing, he’s explicating something else, the Christ event.  The Christ event is the Gospel, Paul is just explaining something beyond himself.

It’s all about Jesus in the end.  It really is.  That’s got a very specific shape.  It’s not just some vague notion of God.  It’s not some ideology.  It’s a person.  We can’t just extract our soteriology from the salvation story.  They’re inseparable.

In the NT you have the religion of Jesus.  You get a sense of who Jesus is, but you also have in the NT, the religion about Jesus, led primarily by Paul.  You’ve got to have both together. The liberals have always tried to just focus on the religion of Jesus.  The conservative theologians have focused on the other piece, the religion about Jesus.

What you end up with when you focus only on the religion about Jesus is cheap grace.  You’ve made it cheap and you’ve made it too accessible.

We Evangelicals have tended to focus on the Cross, and that’s a good thing.  We’ve argued about the return piece.  We pretty much stay with the death, resurrection, and return of Jesus, and I think we’ve got it largely right.  But here’s the thing, what ever happened to the incarnation.  The eternal, immortal God enters into creation and becomes one of us.  Is that not a foundational truth.  Should that not shape our engagement of the world?

Jesus enters in doesn’t speak without.  The best we do is think about little baby Jesus at Christmas rather than lord of the world, savior, mystery.  It doesn’t even really play for us at Christmas.  Father Christmas trumps Jesus.

Whatever happened to the other piece in the equation, his historical life, his teachings, his example, the quality, how he showed us to be something.  What happened to that in his teachings?  What happened to the kingdom of God, his lordship, what it means to live under the sovereignty of god?

You can only get that by focusing on his life.  It’s the whole Jesus phenomenon that is the Gospel.

That’s where that whole discipleship piece is, in Christ’s life.

We have all kinds of influences pushing on us, and if we’re not going to allow Jesus to be the force that shapes us, what else is?

We’ve got to re-engage the Gospel as a whole event in which Jesus plays the key part.

It’s a heresy to split the person from his work.  We believe in both things.  We have no right to separate the two, to extract one from the other.  You end up with a Jesusless Gospel.  If you take Jesus out you end up looking like something other than Jesus.

There are books out right now by non-Christians that say the Church doesn’t look like Jesus.  They don’t always know what Jesus looks like, but they’ve got a handle on that.  Jesus isn’t always Mr. Nice Guy, but there is something alluring about Jesus.

This is what Gnostics do.  They believe you’re saved by certain ideas, certain codes.  We are not Gnostics.  We don’t believe you are saved by a piece of information.  Christians have always fought this idea with everything.  Our Gospel has a face, and his name is Jesus.

There is a difference between a disciple and an idealogue. The Pharisees separated Doctrine from the whole God piece of the equation, so much so that they missed Jesus.  They were idealogues.  So was Stalin. So was Hitler. So are the Tea Partiers and their opposites.  And it’s ugly.  Ideology can’t save us.

Of all of God’s people, the Reformed have the most tendency to be ideological, to be Pharisees.  It’s our covenants, that we don’t believe in a separation of law and Gospel.  We’re the guardians of truth and morality.  The problem is that you extract these from Jesus and they’re ideologies.

Jesus changes everything, absolutely everything, the way we understand God, and not just that Jesus is God-like, although that is true.  The greater truth is God is like Jesus.  There is nothing unChrist-like in God.  Jesus says this: If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.  It is Jesus who introduces us to trinitarian dynamics.

Jesus changes what it is to be God’s people.  It’s now the body of Christ.  We’re distinctly Jesus-people.  We should be shaped by him, representing him.  It changes everything, how we do mission, how we see people.

This has everything to do with discipleship.  Discipleship is based on Jesus Christ.  Jesus is Lord and savior.

John Stott says Jesus is the curriculum. He is the classroom, and He is the teacher.  We are to become more and more and more and more and more like Jesus every day, and this is what the Spirit does to us.

The doctrine of Jesus is taht God has been manifest in our humanity, so we understand God because all way have to do is look at Jesus.

Isn’t it funny that Jesus looks like a liberal in liberal churches, a fundamentalist in fundamentalist churches, a teeteetotaler in teetotaling churches.  Jesus breaks all of those categories.

How about this?  What kind of holiness is it that hookers loved to be around this guy?  The sinners loved him.   The religious people hated him.  They put him on the cross.

I often ask people what would happen if Jesus showed up at their church.  One guy said after pondering it, “I think we’d probably kill him again.”  We all sat they’re silently for two minutes.  He was probably right.  Who is this Jesus who shows up at a wedding and provides wine at a party where people are already two sheets to the wind.

Jesus has them bring over the holy water.  That’s what those barrels were used for.  They bring them over and he turns them into wine.  Put that into your teetotaling pipe and smoke it.  I’m not saying you should go grogg it up, but perhaps you could stand to relax a bit.

We put Jesus in a box.  Voltaire said God made us in his image, and we return the favor.

How does Jesus treat sexual sinners?  He is very gracious with them.  He reserves his harshest words for religious people.  We should become like him.  Hang around with some hookers, for the right reasons.

That’s what we must become like.  Discipleship is the process of becoming more like Him.

Once you put discipleship in the context of Christology, it must culminate in a life of following him, a life of obedience.  Obedience to what, to whom? You become a slave to what you obey.

Again, I take us back to Jesus.  The Gospel teaches us how to become like Jesus.

The Great Commission is not an evangelistic text. It is a discipling one.

What does it mean that the truth will set us free?  Look at the context: John 8:31-32.  Jesus says: If you hold to my teaching, you really are my disciples, then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.  If you hold to his words and follow him, only then will you know the truth and be set free by it. You’ve got to hold to the Word.

Discipleship is not an impersonal idea.  It initiates us into a journey of what it means to follow Jesus.  That’s the kind of truth that sets us free.  If you take discipleship out you can’t get there.  Obedience is the respect we pay to God to enter in to relationship.  Obedience plays a major role in entering in to discipleship.

The tropoligical interpretation of discipleship has a long history.  The only way you can truly understand the Bible is to obey it.  If you refuse to obey it’s commands, you cannot possibly understand it.  By eliminating simple obedience on principle, we drift into an unevangelical interpretation of the Bible.  You can’t understand it unless you obey it.  Only he who believes it can understand, and only he who understands can believe.  This is Luther’s understanding, trusting ourselves to God.

Have you ever thought about this? Jesus never commands us to worship Him, but he does command us to obey him.  That’s the worship we give to Jesus, obedience.

Folks, if you’re using the Gospel as ideology, seriously, I call you from the bottom of my heart to repent.  If you’re not becoming more and more and more like Jesus every day and are committed to doing that, just step aside because you’re just making it harder for the rest of us.

We’re not supposed to be nice, but we’re meant to outlive everyone else, outparty, outserve, outlive, outdie.  We’re to do it all more fully.

This is our Lord.  This is the one we obey, and it’s good news.  It’s not heavy.  It’s good news.

Posted at 10:43 AM on May 4th, 2011
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