What does Discipleship look like in real life? (The Divine Conspiracy Chapter 9)

The practical question of discipleship is this: What will the curriculum in the school of discipleship really look like?
This unfortunately, is one of the inconsistent portions of the book. Just as Willard defines the problem and prepares to map out a practical solution, he can’t seem to provide a curriculum that is consistent with the teachings with The Teacher.
Willard is right to say that transformation must take place from the inside out. He is right to say that the curriculum must be one of Christlikeness. He is right to focus on a change of mind that comes from focusing on the right things in the right way. He is right to say that we must teach:
1. Christ’s beauty, truth, and power in a way that captures our thinking.
2. Christ’s death on our behalf.
3. Christ rose again and remains with His church.
4. Christ controls all things.
After a good beginning for a discipleship curriculum, Willard seems to begin to drift. He talks of the relationship we have with our parents and says disciples “must accept their parents for who and what they are, have mercy on them, and forgive them.”
He speaks of breaking the bonds of sin by seeking to abolish being dominated by “fear, greed, impatience, egotism, bodily desires, and the like…” And this is good as far as it goes. But the curriculum has to include ways to do just that. How do I fight fear, greed, and bodily desires? How can I win this battle inside?
This is where Willard returns to the idea of bodily disciplines. Killing off the sinfulness that remains in us leads to Christlikeness. How does this happen? According to Willard, transformation comes through the disciplines. He names a few that are particularly important.
One discipline he mentions is Bible study. Not just any Bible study. It must be intense Bible study. He said, “To dribble a few verses or chapters of scripture on oneself through the week, in church or out, will not reorder one’s mind and spirit…”
I find this to be a particularly troubling idea because I have based my entire growth on a few verses or chapters a week. My growth in transformation is the result of dwelling on a few verses or chapters at a time. Though there are times I go through large amounts of scripture in a month (in the last few years I go through an entire book 12 times a year – once a month. I’ve done Psalms, the Minor Prophets, and Matthew in this way), the majority of my growth is through digesting small amounts of scripture and attempting to understand and apply those verses.
Intensity can’t be about how much scripture we take in, can it? Isn’t there a danger of taking in so much that we never really take in anything at all? Willard uses the picture of a few drops of water and says those drops will not satisfy. But can’t we take in so much water that we drown in the amount. And the book of James uses a different metaphor altogether for scripture study. He says, “Therefore, ridding yourselves of all moral filth and evil, humbly receive the implanted word, which is able to save you.” James compares Bible study to planting a seed. A few seeds in the ground is all that is needed. Then we receive those seeds and grow them.
But for Willard, not only do I have to take in large amounts of scripture in a given week, I also have to carve out lengthy periods of time, when I cannot be interrupted, in order to do this. So, now I need silence and solitude. And while I do agree that silence and solitude are valuable, needed assets to growth, is this the only way I am going to be able to grow?
I agree with Willard that the Bible has to be central. Real Bible study must take place. But we are all different. Some do not have the opportunity to have lengthy period of study away from all distractions. Some will not benefit from such Bible study methods because individual truths might get lost in the flood of information and ideas.
After all, what we really want is for people to receive God’s Word and allow it to change them. James 1:22-25 says, “But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. Because if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man looking at his own face in a mirror. For he looks at himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But the one who looks intently into the perfect law of freedom and perseveres in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but one who does good works – this person will be blessed in what he does.”


Leave a Reply