Belief or Discipleship?
Tuesday, January 22, 2019
I often say that we do not think ourselves into a new way of living, but we live ourselves into a new way of thinking. I’m not suggesting that theory and theology are unimportant; but I believe that faith is more about how we live on a daily basis than making verbal assent to this or that idea. In fact, my life’s work in many ways has been trying to move heady doctrines and dogmas to the level of actual experience and lifestyles that are an alternative to our consumer culture. In today’s reflection, Shane Claiborne—an Evangelical I deeply respect—invites us to quite literally follow Jesus:
Over the past few decades, our Christianity has become obsessed with what Christians believe rather than how Christians live. We talk a lot about doctrines but little about practice. But in Jesus we don’t just see a presentation of doctrines but an invitation to join a movement that is about demonstrating God’s goodness to the world.
This kind of doctrinal language infects our language when we say things like, “Are you a believer?” Interestingly, Jesus did not send us into the world to make believers but to make disciples [see Matthew 28:18-20]. You can worship Jesus without doing the things he says. We can believe in him and still not follow him. In fact, there’s a passage in Corinthians that says, “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3, author’s paraphrase).
At times our evangelical fervor has come at the cost of spiritual formation. For this reason, we can end up with a church full of believers, but followers of Jesus can be hard to come by.
One of the reasons that Francis of Assisi is so beloved is that he followed Jesus so closely. In Shane’s words:
Francis did something simple and wonderful. He read the Gospels where Jesus says, “Sell your possessions and give the money to the poor,” [Matthew 19:21] “Consider the lilies and the sparrows and do not worry about tomorrow,” [Luke 12:24, 27] “Love your enemies,” [Matthew 5:44] and he decided to live as if Jesus meant the stuff he said. Francis turned his back on the materialism and militarism of his world and said yes to Jesus.
Shane Claiborne and Tony Campolo, Red Letter Revolution: What If Jesus Really Meant What He Said? (Thomas Nelson: 2012), 9, 42.