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.

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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.

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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.

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• 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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