A New Kind of Discipleship

A New Kind of Discipleship December 5, 2012

In his new book, A Thicker Jesus: Incarnational Discipleship in a Secular Age, Fuller seminary’s Christian ethicist, Glen Stassen, proposes a new kind of discipleship — a discipleship fit for a secular age and for a public faith. He calls this model “incarnational discipleship.” Framing an ethic, or discipleship, for the public sector will lead me to questions about the church as our politic, but we need to hear Glen out.

What model do you use when you think of how the Christian engages the State? In other words, what is your politic? The Constantinian takeover, Luther’s two-realms, the Reformed theory of influence through spheres of sovereignty, or the Anabaptist ecclesial politic? Where does Stassen fit?

He wants a “thicker” Jesus — not just a vague ideal or a principle, nor an ideal so high no one could achieve it, nor one restricted to “internal church relations” [OK, Glen, now we’ve made Jesus a public square Jesus] … the thicker Jesus is one that gives concrete and specific guidance and one that rejects a two-realms dualism and one that summons us from the ideologies of our day.

So he proposes “incarnational discipleship”, and there are three dimensions defining it:

1. A holistic sovereignty of God and the Lordship of Christ through all of life.

2. A thicker Jesus who is God incarnate, historically embodied, and realistic.

3. A Holy Spirit who is independent from all powers and authorities, calling us to repent from ideological entanglements.

Stassen finds embodiments of this thicker Jesus incarnational discipleship in what can only be called the progressive Christian approach to the relationship of Christ and culture (or world). His major models are The Barmen Declaration, Bonhoeffer’s early resistance during his writing of the Sermon on the Mount, André Trocmé, the righteous Gentiles of the Holocaust, Martin Luther King Jr and Clarence Jordan, the Revolution of the Candles, and Dorothy Day and Muriel Lester.

He stews this new kind of discipleship in the work of Charles Taylor, A Secular Age, and applies this thicker Jesus/incarnational discipleship model to issues like democracy, science, individualism, sin, the cross, love and war.

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  • Tim

    Sounds exciting! Are you doing a more thorough review??? Thank you!

  • There are two more Christian approaches to politics:
    1) Subsidiarity, the Roman Catholic social teaching that holds that nothing should be done by a larger and more complex organization which can be done by a smaller and simpler organization or a more decentralized entity. This is the leading political theory leading most of the more thoughtful conservatives in American politics.

    2) What I call inductive-Bible-individualist-soteriological, which is the approach Wayne Grudem uses in his recent book on politics.

  • As you probably know, Scot, I am more in the Sphere Sovereignty camp. I’ve become convinced that God has designed a differentiation within society between different spheres of authority. Sphere Sovereignty offers a different matrix for understanding society from the American “two-sided paradigm” which reduces society to individual and state. Sphere Sovereignty believes there are several intermediary social institutions between God and the individual, such as families, churches, businesses, and schools that contribute to the social fabric… and that government is just one of these spheres – no more, no less

  • scotmcknight

    Well, Bob, when “church” is lined up next to family, education, etc, I get nervous. Not sure if I will do any more posts on Glen’s book. This post reflects the guts of the book…

  • TriciaM

    I wonder if they’ll release it in the UK and under what title. “Thick” means stupid in Britain.

  • Paul

    Bob, what do you think of Os Guinness’ critique of Kuyper’s approach? Specifically that it created a pillared society in the Netherlands in which Reformed Christians abandoned civil society and simply inhabited their own institutions.

  • Scot,
    When I say “church” here I mean the institutions of local churches, not the Church Universal. Therefore, I don’t get nervous with “church” being differentiated from “family” because I believe that the local church has a different role (institutionally) as does family. For instance, one of God’s ordained roles for the family is to trained up children. So, when Christian families turn that role primarily over to churches and schools instead of allowing these other institutions to aid in that work, we have created a problem in society.

  • Paul,
    As I wrote to Scot, according to Kuyperian Sphere Sovereignty, institutions are accountable directly to God for the roles ordained by Him to do in society. But this should not mean that institutions should pillar themselves separate from the other institutions. They have primary roles but are assisted by the other institutions to fulfill those roles. For instance, one of government’s roles is to assist the other institutions in fulfilling their roles. But this is merely assistance – the government should not seek to usurp a role that is primarily meant to be done by another institution. For instance, the state should not determine religious practice, or how families should raise their children, etc. Another role for government is to mediate between other institutions – so when one institution begins to usurp the role of another, the government is there to restrain that, like for instance, when a business overwhelms the rights of workers and their unions. Personally, I share Guinness’ critique for I think that, as with all good things, this can be, and I would think has been, undermined by the evil one and the sinfulness of human beings. I didn’t, however, know that Guinness had written a thorough critique of this – I’d love to read it. Where do I find it?