Book Review: Mere Discipleship

Yeah, another book review. I know, I’ll put some of my own thoughts on here at some point, but I have been really excited about reading lately. Unfortunately, it hasn’t made me read any faster (I am a chronically slow reader), but the interest has been there so I’ve been dedicated to riding it as long as I can. I’ve hit a bit of a lull in the summer’s plans. I’m dedicating the next week or two to helping our new minister get settled in. You can check his blog out here.

This book is the next step in my personal study of the powers and in Yoderan. I began with Berkhof’s book which was a study of Pauline use of “powers” and “structures.” I first became very interested in this subject from Stanley Grenz’s very short discussion in his Theology for the Community of God, still one of the most influential works in my thinking. The concept of “powers” was clear enough in Scripture, but I had never done more than simply gloss over the many occurrences in Paul’s letters.

Berkhof’s study was eye-opening. He forced me to take seriously (as we do the rest of the Bible – why have these texts always had a pass?) the many reference to powers in the Scriptures. J.H. Yoder builds off of Berkhoff’s work, expanding it beyond Paul’s references, and has provided a powder keg work that continues to spur much discussion and thought today. Though stemmed in modernity, Yoder’s work continues to find influence on many contemporary thinkers and forces us to consider what it really means to say that God is in control.

Finally, I have come to Lee Camp. Though Dr. Camp is a professor at the university I attended for several years, I never had him as a professors (one of the only ones I missed). However, his presence on campus was felt throughout the halls there. He brought a unique approach that, in my opinion, has bettered the College of Bible there. Needless to say, this personal connection added to my interest of reading this work.

In a word, this book has provided the cherry on top of my search through a renewed understanding of discipleship. I can honestly say that I am a different person now than I was before I undertook this study. I am committed to a different picture of the kingdom than I was previously. I am a pretty open-thinking guy, and the way that this study has challenged and expanded me illustrates why Dr. Camp has been met with much controversy. I want to be sure not to give Camp all the credit here as it has been my journey through each of these works and some corresponding experience that has really expanded my faith and deepened my love for God.

OK, so on with the review. Essentially, Camp adds the meat to the bones that were provided by John Howard Yoder. Yoder remained abstract and ideologically driven, while Camp attempts to bring much of his ideology and consider what it looks like in practice. Basically, he blows the contemporary institutional church out of the water. He describes what he calls a “Constantinian cataract” that has firmly been place on the eyes of Christians since Constantine made Christianity the empire of the state – since then, nothing has been the same. Now Christians seek power in order to achieve an end, an end that often is worthy and good. However, our cataract has allowed us to separate the end and means and pursue a practical theology that says, “the end justifies the means.” While Scripture presents a picture that says, “the means is just as important as the end.”

The premise Camp works from is that God is ultimately in charge of the direction of history. Drawing from Yoder’s great explication of the Slaughtered Lamb, Camp considers the world seen through the eyes of the lamb. Bigger is not always better. First is not always good – or even the objective. Instead, the world must be re-interpreted in light of the Lamb’s victory. Unfortunately, the church often moves forward as if the battle has not been decided and that the end is not assured. Rest assured, Camp would say, the kingdom of God is at hand. May we move forward in our lives with that assurance, and making all other decisions with that in mind.
Camp, writing in a post-September 11 age, addresses much of the thought of the contemporary church when it comes to politics, especially in the war of terror. How does someone in the kingdom, already fully aware that the end has already been redeemed by God, interact with those outside the kingdom who are scared for their life, their family’s lives, and their nation?

Camp, and the other authors his work builds off of, has challenged me to re-interpret my purpose, my faith, and my objectives. Suddenly, every aspect of “the American dream” is under scrutiny in my thinking. Have I been chasing a false god all along? Am I walking alongside many in my faith who are doing the same thing? Some of the major areas I wish to re-examine:

* Nationalism – that’s kind of a never-ending one, but I thought I’d start there
* My property – to what extent am I contributing to a system that needs to be fought? how can I share my property with others to ensure that no one goes without?
* Retirement – how far is the concept of retirement from anything the Bible teaches? Are we not just building bigger barns?
* Safety – is this American Christians Baal?
* Health care – this is the great American moral issue, though few see it as a moral issue. What should my objective be here?
* Ecology – why do so few Protestants care about caring for the earth? I mean, yeah, it’s the cool thing to do now, but why weren’t we leading the discussion?
* Prayer – why do I spend so little time in prayer?
* The real world – I need to re-acclimate my vision to see the world through a different world!

This serious stuff and we are working our way through it as a family. Our family needs to better illustrate the kingdom of God in our lives. Forgive us for so often taking the easy way out.

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2 thoughts on “Book Review: Mere Discipleship

  1. I stopped by your blog because I am a friend of Wade’s. I really enjoyed reading your blog and look forward to reading more post. I was a youth minister for 8 years and worked with Wade for 1 year. I am now a minister in Texas. The book sounds like a great read. Again I am looking forward to reading more of your posts and want to allow welcome you over to my blog and add to any discuss any time. I know that Wade will be a great assec to your congregation and will be a great team player.

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