A Corrective to our Belief-Only Christianity

[This post by Shane Claiborne is excerpted from the Foreword to The Awakening of Hope: Why We Practice a Common Faith, by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. Visit the Patheos Book Club for more conversation on this book.]

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove has created a gift to the church.

Over the past few decades, much of the energy of the Christian church has gone toward “evangelism” — but our evangelical fervor has come at a price. We have not spent as much energy on formation and discipleship. So we find ourselves in an age of shallow spirituality, where much of our Christianity is a mile wide and an inch deep.

We have focused on the beliefs rather than the practices of our faith. But doctrines are hard things to love. In Jesus we don’t see just a presentation of ideas, but an invitation to join a movement that embodies God’s good news. The Awakening of Hope is about that movement.

Over and over, studies have shown that belief does not equal changed lives. You can believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus and still not live differently in light of it. You can believe the Scripture is the inerrant word of God and still not do what it says.

Too often we focus on the beliefs of the Christian faith without considering how those beliefs get fleshed out in real life and practice. In the end, Jesus, as part of his great commission, sent his own followers out into the world not just to make believers — but to make disciples.

The Awakening of Hope is a corrective to our belief-only Christianity. Jonathan reminds us of the holy habits that have marked Christians for centuries. He dusts off these classic spiritual disciplines and polishes them up for a new generation.

Without trivializing the essential beliefs and doctrines of our faith, Jonathan reminds us that our real challenge today is not just right-believing — but right living. He puts belief and practice back together again. After all, some folks think themselves into right living, and other folks live themselves into right thinking.

What’s great about this project is that it doesn’t just tell you what to do but tells you why Christians do the things they do. It is not a prescription for community but a description of what healthy community can look like. Jonathan tells you why Christians do these peculiar things — like fast from food and die instead of kill. And Jonathan offers a compelling invitation to join the millions of saints and wannabe saints throughout history in these practices of the faith.

And many of these practices are peculiar. They are marks of the holy counterculture that God has been forming for centuries. They invite you not to conform to the patterns of this world but to be transformed with a new imagination. Jonathan shows us vividly the inertia of the Gospel pulls us a different direction from the compelling pulls of our culture.

It is no coincidence that the word disciple shares the same  root as the word discipline. No doubt many postmodern, post- Christian, post-evangelical, post-everything folks will cringe at the idea of discipline — but without it we end up with a pretty sloppy spirituality.

I remember reading about an interview with one of the social psychologists who pioneered the movement of “handsoff ” parenting, insisting that our children do not need discipline. These scientists insisted children needed freedom, space to make their own decisions and mistakes. At the end of his life, one of the psychologists was asked what he had learned from years of experimentation. His response was, “It all looked good on paper. But what we learned was that we were creating a generation of brats.”

In all our liberal inclusiveness and seeker-sensitivity, we must be careful not to create a generation of spiritual brats. Jonathan has helped us here — to recapture the disciplines that help us become better disciples. In this book and DVD study, Jonathan explores this question: What are the holy habits that turn ordinary people into saints?

And just like jogging or exercising at the gym, at first it is really hard to exercise our soul, but the more you do it the healthier you become. You start to feel yourself breathe better. You can feel the heart beat inside your chest and know you are alive.

So get ready to exercise. Here’s a workout guide for your soul.

Shane Claiborne is the co-founder of The Simple Way (www.thesimpleway.org), and is a bestselling author, prominent Christian activist, sought-after speaker and recovering sinner.

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