We desire to be born again as disciples of Jesus Christ

Fine, so McLaren wants to be called a “disciple”. We get it:

We might say that Christians are people who have entered a certain sedentary membership or arrived at a status validated by some group or institution, while disciples are learners (and unlearners) who have started on a rigorous and unending journey or quest in relation to Jesus Christ. It’s worth noting in this regard that the word “Christian” occurs in the New Testament exactly three times and the word “Christianity” exactly zero. The word “disciple,” however, is found 263 times.

A New Kind of Christianity, pp.28-29

I guess because Christian leaves a bad taste in his mouth. All I can say is that his entire argument falls flat. One might as well say that a disciple is one who still has a lot to learn and should keep their mouth shut until they know better, and that a Christian is one who has so imitated Christ that people started noticing the fact.

And what should we care that Christian/Christianity is in the Bible only sparingly by word count? This proves little, if anything. It certainly does not suggest that to be a Christian implies a sense of pride or deserved-ness somehow not embodied in those same disciples. I think a simple reading of the Gospels would bear that out!

I appreciate his point that we need to guard ourselves from an attitude that we have arrived doctrinally or “spiritually”, striving with humility lest we get ahead of ourselves. Rather than jettison either term, I might suggest we be both learners and imitators; constantly aware that we have distance to travel to fully become God’s new creation, but nevertheless fully aware that we are (and are becoming) imitators of the one who goes before us (Jesus Christ); and not on any “quest” beyond where he himself leads.


About George

I'm interested in theology, languages, translation and various sorts of fermentation.
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8 Responses to We desire to be born again as disciples of Jesus Christ

  1. Derek says:

    Hi George…. great to see you putting that book to good use. Nice thoughts 🙂

    • George says:

      Thanks! I really need to buckle down and get some reviews done from the other books you sent. I’ve finished all but McClaren’s book and the book “Questioning Q”. Scandalous was enjoyable, as was the biography of Wyclif. Loved “After You Believe”. Triple-loved “Imaginary Jesus” – so much so that my church’s Christmas program, which features a communion service as one of many “stations”, will make use of it. Mary’s interweaving Communion and some of the scenes from Jesus’ infancy and childhood is just too well done to pass up!

  2. liked the post–one thing McClaren should note about how often the ‘words’ are used–most of the occurences of disciple are in the gospels and Christian comes after the church has spread farther from Judea–disciples seemed to be more a Jewish term and Christian became a name that was not looked down upon–but celebrated in (1 Peter 4:16)

  3. George says:

    Drew: Thanks for reading and commenting! And you make a very good point. So, do you think the term “Christian” was originally a slur against these new believers that they simply appropriated with joy, or a name they came up with themselves?

  4. Derek says:

    That’s awesome about Imaginary Jesus at the service George! LOL.

    I happen to think – based on the wording of Acts 11:26, “the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch – first that to be a “disciple” is to be a “Christian”, and second, that the term “Christian” was given by those on the outside. I’m not sure if the term was meant to carry negative connotations or not, but I suspect not. It sounds rather like Jews in Antioch looked at the disciples of the Way who claimed to be followers of “the Christ” (i.e. Messiah) and termed them “Messiah followers” (i.e. Christians).

  5. jimbo says:

    Interesting site, George! Although first time here, and run the risk of saying something already said in a previous thread, I’d like to make a brief comment…

    Regarding the term “Christian”, I think what began as a 1st Century epithet, quickly became a badge of honour to the intended targets. This strikes me as somewhat annalogous to the term “Missionary” in present day Israel. No Christian is offended to be called a missionary, but the Charedim spit the word out like poison.

    • George says:

      Thanks for stopping by!

      Have you done evangelism/mission work in Israel? That’s an interesting thought, in any case. I think “missionary” is taken with some ambivalence here in the USA. Most in the church think well of it (often considering it good for someone else…), but I think those outside the church see it as confrontational, judgmental, while holding in contrast a view of “missionaries” as providing for needs of the destitute in foreign countries – sort of a love/hate relationship.

  6. jimbo says:

    George: No, I haven’t been to Israel (yet?), but went through a recent phase of Spirit-led fascination with Hebrew–just enough to learn the aleph-beth and some of the grammar. During that phase I couldn’t keep away from Israeli websites (in English)–Messianic, Charedi & Secular. From my cluttered office desk here in tiny New Zealand, I hoovered up as much of the present social dynamic(s) of Eretz Yisrael as one can on the internet.

    As to your kind reply, I think you’re right about “those outside the church”–no surprises there, though, seeing as they have the same kind of attitude towards everything about the church. They tolerate believers as long as we busy ourselves “helping” the people they don’t really want to be bothered with and stay away from all that “spreading the Gospel, warning the sinners malarkey” (our primary mission).

    Also, to me, the Charedim are just as you describe “those in the church”–missionaries are for those who don’t know God like they do. I imagine that, as with the orthodox Jews in Israel, if you started telling US Christians that they’ve “missed the Messiah” and/or their understanding of Him is all wrong, they’d react in exactly the same way–anger, vituperation and, eventually, violence…especially when you prove it to them!

    Thanks again, George, and may the Lord Jesus Christ bless you and yours even more in the coming New Year!

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