Costly discipleship in the discount bin

Costly discipleship in the discount bin September 12, 2012

The latest poll from Southern Baptist-related LifeWay Research includes one self-reported response that strikes me as dubious.

The poll found that “higher levels of Bible engagement were correlated to six actions,” including:

Making a decision to obey or follow God with an awareness that choosing to do so might be costly. (63% of churchgoers say they have at least once in the last six months.)

“Costly” is, of course, a rather squishy term. It might refer to great cost, or it might be interpreted more broadly to refer to any kind of cost — any degree of inconvenience or unpleasantness. In the latter sense, this response is plausible. In the former sense it seems to me to be implausible. In the former sense this claim seems almost falsifiable.

Maybe my expectations are skewed from having read all those Charles M. Sheldon novels with this plot. That’s the story in both Sheldon’s classic In His Steps and in his lesser-known The Heart of the World.* A handful of Christians decide “to obey or follow God with an awareness that choosing to do so might be costly” and, as a result, their churches, communities, cities and businesses are transformed.

If I saw any evidence of such transformation, then I might be inclined to believe LifeWay’s poll results. As it is, not so much.

* * * * * * * * *

Robert Carter III made a decision to obey or follow God with an awareness that choosing to do so might be costly. He did it anyway because he realized that not doing it would be far more costly to the more than 400 enslaved persons whose unpaid labor had profited him for years.

Warren Throckmorton shares another quote from Andrew Levy’s book, The First Emancipator: The Forgotten Work of Robert Carter, the Founding Father Who Freed His Slaves.

It becomes difficult to argue that the founding fathers acted liberally within their own moral universe when small slave owners up and down the Virginia coast were freeing their slaves. It becomes impossible, however, to make that argument when one of their peers commits the same radical act. Similarly, the argument that there existed no practical plan for mass emancipation makes sense only if Robert Carter’s Deed of Gift is suppressed within the historical record.

John Fea also gives a big thumbs up to Levy’s book. It’s moving higher on The List.

* * * * * * * * *

Last week I linked to a post by Adam Fisher from which I gleaned some wisdom about what we Christians call “witnessing.” This week, Fisher addresses that subject directly:

I am so glad to be party to a spiritual persuasion that does not call on adherents to badger or convert others. The line between ‘witnessing’ and being a pest is historically thin-to-nonexistent and, while Buddhists have their own problems in this department, still, on the whole, the very-wise rule of thumb in Buddhism is not to badger and prod people who have enough to do in their lives … things like do their work when they are at work.

* * * * * * * * *

• Lately, James McGrath has been my go-to-guy for theological musing about Doctor Who. It turns out Amanda Marcotte is pretty good at it too. (Warning: Spoilers.)

In my Father’s house are many mansions.

Michael Pearl teaches fundamentalists how to beat the hell out of their children. These purported “child rearing” experts are all allegedly ultra-Reformed. Where in Calvin’s writings did he suggest that the cure for original sin was frequent spanking?

• How did I not realize the Reverend Ref has a blog? (It’s now included in the blogroll. What else is missing from that list?)

* Sheldon’s The Heart of the World is subtitled “A story of Christian socialism,” which could also have been the subtitle of In His Steps. I’m guessing many of the folks wearing “WWJD?” bracelets inspired by Sheldon’s novel aren’t aware he was a socialist. If they realized that, they might stop wearing those bracelets — or reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.

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  • How did I not realize the Reverend Ref has a blog? (It’s now included in the blogroll. What else is missing from that list?)



  • I can’t help but imagine that “costly” translated to: I followed God and said that gay people are dirty sinners.  Then someone called me a bigot.  So I was persecuted for being a Christian!

  • Lunch Meat

    What else is missing from that list?

    Well, I hate to brag, but I mean, if you insist…

  • Ooh, you’ve posted again! (I’d stopped checking.)

  • stly92

    Maybe this is just me, but I always preferred the translation that goes “in my Father’s house are many rooms.” say mansions and it’s like everyone wants to be a millionaire in heaven or something. rooms makes it sound like a family is being reunited in a secure home. maybe that’s just me.

  • Albanaeon

    The problem seems to be that the costs of Christianity in the modern US have little to do with actual deprivations or suffering.  Since being “Christian” has been and still is a quick  way to fame and/or fortune, those are often equated with what happens when one is a “Disciple of Christ.”  However, these people often hear that being a Christian is a heavy and unpleasant burden, and they can expect to suffer for it.  Yet they don’t.  Particularly when they skip over things like getting rid of all your wealth and being a benefactor of the poor and despised, but the expectation is still there.

    So when they hear of things like SS Marriage and not forced prayer in schools and other faiths being treated as equals and all the other ways they are not exclusively privileged, they say “AH HA!  There it is!  The persecution I’ve been told to expect!” and then act oddly gleeful about it.  Probably because it validates to them the riches and prestige they get from being the top of the top because now they are “suffering” for it.

    Probably also has something to do with how disproportional their responses are.  Little can be as unpleasant as someone trying to justify things they know, on some level, are wrong.

  • Jessica_R

    Maybe this will give me an excuse to update more,

  • heckblazer

     It would have been nice if more Christian slave owners shared Mr. Carter’s moral courage, but hoping for good behavior from individuals is never a good plan for structural reform.  I suspect there’s a simple reason why more slave owners didn’t follow his example, namely that in 1805 slaves in the United States were collectively worth an estimated  $300 million.   That number is not adjusted for inflation.  For comparison, the estimated nominal GDP for the US in the same year is $560 billion.  A similar percentage of the current GDP would be $8 trillion, and the  money in slavery only went up after 1805.  

    Predictably, most slave owners took the easy approach to ending the moral dissonance of owning slaves – they started claiming it was a positive good.  Within 15 years mass manumission like Carter’s would not have been possible as most slave states, including Virginia,  required a specific legislative act allowing someone to free their slaves.  Needless to say, they would have been unlikely to approve the release of 400 human beings from bondage as it would have been a bad precedent threatening their own wealth.  

  • friendly reader

    Because I’ve been living here for over a year, I hear the word “mansion” and think “large apartment complex,” because that’s what the word manshon means in Japanese.

    (Back in Shakespeare’s day, and yes, never forget that’s how old the KJV is, “mansion” just meant “a place to live.”)

  • My blog is there, but I’ve never noticed before today that Fred has his own tagline for it, which is completely adorable.

  • If you mean ~80% of unadjusted GDP you probably mean $560 million :)

    But yes, to address a related issue, this is why “compensation” advocates are arguing a lost cause. There is just no way the federal government could have manumitted slaves by the trainload without levying prohibitive amounts of the national output of the USA, and very likely provoking exactly the kind of civil war they claim it would have avoided.

  • Carstonio

    I’ve wondered what would have happened if Lincoln had offered to recognize Southern independence in exchange for the slaveowners giving up all their slaves. Even it wasn’t offered as simply a moral ultimatum, and the South had accepted the offer, the logistical and economic issues would have likely been massive.

    I’m curious as to how much of the wealth of the slaveowners was not made up of slaves themselves, particularly for the wealthiest. If I had been in control of the transition from slavery (which, economically and legally, has never really been completed), I may have looked for legal ways to strip the wealthiest slaveowners of most of their non-slave holdings. The economy of the South was geared toward propping up a relatively small oligarchy, because that’s arguably what slavery does to any society.

  • Beroli


    I’ve wondered what would have happened if Lincoln had offered to
    recognize Southern independence in exchange for the slaveowners giving
    up all their slaves.

    The South would never have accepted the offer; Lincoln would effectively have been offering them the means to their end in exchange for them giving up their end. The only reason they wanted to secede was so they could live in a nation built on slavery.

  • Carstonio

     No disagreement there. I wasn’t suggesting a likelihood, but simply a what-if scenario. Of course the South would never have accepted the offer. The point would be to show the moral bankruptcy of its position, and also to challenge the real-life Southern apologists who deny the root cause of the Civil War. South Carolina’s statement on secession makes it clear that the goal was continuance of slavery.

  • Matthew E.

    Aaah, this post brings to mind my favorite American Revolutionary figure: Tadeusz Kosciuszko.
    Kosciuszko had grown up in partitioned Poland and, having experienced violence on account of social class distinctions, really liked the idea of a free and equal society. And for him that meant freeing slaves as well: after the war, Kosciuszko was planning to will his entire American estate to a fund freeing and educating as many slaves as possible.
    Unfortunately, his best pal Thomas Jefferson (whom he had declared the executor of the will) convinced Kosciuszko to will it all to Jefferson himself, on the condition that Jefferson was to free his own slaves using the money. Magically, when Kosciuszko died, Jefferson ended up getting the money and kept all his slaves, because he really needed all those human beings in addition to the estate, or so the court decided for unknown reasons.
    Jefferson was a fantastic writer and did some amazing things, but still, he stole from a friend and from slaves. It’s a little hard for me to ignore that sometimes.

  • AnonaMiss

    I keep thinking of setting up a blog for my little ramblings, but I’m intimidated by the quality of some of the other Slacktivites’ blogs. If you can’t do it right, don’t do it at all, and all that.

  •  That implies that blogging is a magical gift people are born with rather than a skill that is developed through time and practice.  I tend to believe the latter concept of blogging is more accurate, personally.

  • AnonaMiss

    I can see how you could take it that way, but I meant more that I am intimidated by the amount of work I’d have to do to measure up to the standard!

  • LL

    Generally, self-reported anything is not reliable. People (all people) suck at accurately reporting their own actions or recalling events. Drinking, contributing to charity, driving safely, etc. People either outright lie or just “shade” the truth or “remember it differently.” Every time I read the results of one of these surveys/polls, I am reminded of the (fairly famous) study that asked people in some suburb (can’t remember where, somewhere out west, CA or AZ) how much they drank (alcohol). Then researchers went through the trash of this same suburb and found people (on average) drank something like twice as much as they reported. 

  •  If you would like a less intimidating basis for comparison, I direct you to my own blog. (

    Some things are worth doing, even when others do it better. I generally class self-expression as among those things.

  •  If you would like a less intimidating basis for comparison, I direct you to my own blog. (

    Some things are worth doing, even when others do it better. I generally class self-expression as among those things.

  • Why ignore it?

    Jefferson did some great things.
    He also did some awful things.

    I find that keeping both of those facts in mind is difficult, but valuable.

  • heckblazer

    Thanks for the correction.  It was late :).

  • I think the most obnoxious example of inappropriate witnessing I’ve ever encountered is a Korean evangelical gentleman of late middle age and indifferent English language ability who attempts to press cheaply-photocopied evangelical tracts on people in the men’s locker room at the south Scottsdale LA Fitness.  If you’re going to harass me about your religion, for Bog’s sake put some clothes on first.

  • heckblazer

    So are you aching to be carpetbagger or a scalawag?  :)

    By 1860 about $3 billion of  the $6.3 billion of Southern wealth was in slaves.  That’d mean about half the wealth in the South was in slaves, in turn making slaves about a fifth of the wealth in the US as a whole.   The nominal GDP in 1860 was $4.3 billion; a similar proportion of modern GDP would be about $10 trillion. 

  • Turcano

    The Japanese real estate market being what it is, that’s almost the same thing.

  • On the bloglist, I’d love to be listed as well: Will Bike for Change (or Pie!)

    In other news, thanks for the great link to Amanda Marcott’s analysis of Doctor Who.  I love Doctor Who and on one hand just enjoy it on its own, but on the other hand, love to hear thoughtful critical analyses from people who love it too.