Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Mere Discipleship

One of the best things about traveling is the opportunity it affords for extended periods of uninterrupted reading.

Last week's journey to Lubbock for a Workshop Director's Meeting was a prime example.

The flight to-and-(half-way)fro Lubbock allowed me to get through a book I'd had on my reading agenda for over a year: Lee Camp's Mere Discipleship: Radical Christianity in a Rebellious World. Camp's chief aim is to underscore the need for disciples of Jesus to quit talking a good game and start living it.

The book begins with a three-chapter historical reflection on the fallout due Christianity in the conversion of Constantine, which Camp refers to as the "Constantinian cataract." Camp shows how discipleship waned in the aftermath of Constantine's conversion and how power shifted; how the ethics of the Kingdom of God as described in Scripture for all of life were replaced by an emphasis on the kingdoms of this world and the politics of this world. This move, which Camp refers to as the "Christendom reflex," has impacted the history of Christianity by dichotomizing life into the "spiritual" and the "secular." This primarily Western church phenomenon is foreign to the writers of Scripture.

Camp describes the Constantinian cataract this way: "'Christianity' increasingly loses the biblical emphasis upon discipleship, and replaces it with an emphasis upon religious ritual. 'Church,' rather than connoting the New Testament concept as a community of disciples living as the 'Body of Christ,' begins to connote a hierarchy that promotes orthodoxy. 'Salvation,' instead of being construed as the gift of a transformed, abundant life in the now-present kingdom of God, begins to be equated with an otherworldly reward. More crassly put, 'salvation' is increasingly viewed as a fire-insurance policy -- rather than the gift of new life in the here and now that stands confident even in the face of death, 'salvation' becomes a 'Get Out of Hell Free Card,' guaranteeing an escape from the fires of torment and ensuring the receipt of treasures in heaven. In Christendom, the whole world may be dubbed 'Christian,' and yet it is un-Christlike" (22).

As such, Camp devotes chapters four through six to a review of the biblical witness to the Gospel, the Savior and the Church as often misunderstood, yet critical themes in recovering a biblically-based discipleship.

Finally, Camp devotes his final five chapters to the concrete application of discipleship in worship, baptism, prayer, communion and evangelism. Each of these five aspects of faith is discussed as markers of identity for the disciple. These marks of discipleship stand over and against features of modern life like war, political power, capitalism, nationalism and sectarianism that compete for the right to identify mankind.

Perhaps the most helpful section in the book, for me, was the chapter devoted to "The Savior." In that chapter, Camp shows that the coming of the Messiah was a frontal assault on the kingdoms of this world. Camp shows how the kingdoms of this world, with their emphasis on power and control, system and structure are the "principalities and powers" that Jesus died to disarm.

In the final analysis, Camp's book has much to appreciate. It is highly sourced and written on a more intellectual level than devotional level and its implications are uncomfortable. The Constantinian cataract has made following Jesus a safe, comfortable experience in middle-class, suburban America. As such, Camp's book corrects our historical vision disorder and calls us back to following and living the Way of Jesus in all of life.