Interventions: Discipleship in a Permissive Culture (Pt 1)

This is my reflections on Luke 14:25-35 from September 20th, 2009 and is in two parts, both work independently from one another. Part two has been published here.

It was originally titled: Interventions: Discipleship and the Disavowal of all that Obstructs

Reversal of The Sayings: Discipleship in a Permissive Culture

What if it Luke 14 actually went something more like this:

Now large crowds were traveling with him, all there were unaware of the tragic end that awaited the one they believed to be their messiah. He was on his way to Jerusalem and very shortly he would be sentenced to capital punishment in the way they do all traitors of the Roman government, crucifixion.

Thinking about the impossible road that lay ahead and the great suffering that would await those who continued with him to his place of execution he turned and said to them, “Unless you are completely mad and hate everything and everyone around you it makes no sense to follow me. This is the end of the road for all of us. This path is not worth you losing everything you have over. It was fun while it lasted, but seriously, no faith, nor even political statement is worth this much. I’m sorry I’ve cost you this much already, return home, get back to living the life you cherish while you still can.

I am the one who will die on the cross, leave all difficult stuff, the real suffering for me. I’ll pay the price for the both of us. Don’t worry about me I planned on this, but being my disciple should cost you nothing. I never intended it any other way. So here’s you final chance, you can still be my disciple and return to your home and life and keep living they way you have been you’re whole life. It would be a madman to as you to go any you to do anything other than that.

We could go on but I think the point is clear.

This heart of this passage is about the decisive break Jesus called all those to who might consider following him, and in fact did ask them to disavow everything for the sake of the journey they were embarking upon.

Why? Because, what ever would be lost was worth what they would gain by joining God’s kingdom movement.

But this passage makes little sense in a day and age when Christianity is often subject to the whims of the market, every new mass-media innovation and book publishers out to make a dime (often my dime!) on a commodified Christian message. As we enter into the narrative of Luke 14 we are invited us back to the reality of just how drastic and how radical the breach of the call of the kingdom really is.

He was saying: You will in the end disavow everyone, everything, every belief, every practice, all allegiances religious and political to join this movement.

In a culture where we Christians look for the quick and easy, the 5 min prayer book, the 1 min devotional, where churches that allow for anonymity (such as many seeker and mega-churches) and lead people to little or no costly and personal change, Jesus’ message of a contrast society and the real cost to join his movement still rubs the wrong way.

In many ways, we don’t have to try and contextualize this message, we know what it means. The contrast with our own way of life is obvious.

We just don’t like it. I don’t like it. I struggled with this passage. We want to get out of it somehow. In the same way that Jesus’ sermon on the plain challenges our deepest allegiances, this passage makes us wonder if anyone is fit to follow Christ.

I am challenged by what DB wrote in his christian classic: The Cost of Discipleship:

“But men [and women] are frightened of solitude, and they try to protect themselves from it by merging themselves in the socity of their fellow-men and in their material environment. They become suddenly aware of their responsibilities and duties, and are loath to part with them.”

“We must face up to the truth that the call of Christ does set up a barrier between man and his natural life. But this barrier is no surly contempt for life, no legalistic piety, it is the life which is life indeed, the gospel, the person of Jesus Christ. By virtue of his incarnation he has come between man and his natural life…He wants to be the centre, through him alone all things shall come to pass.” 94

My little reversal, or re-write, might help us see that whatever Jesus is really getting at, it flies in the face of what we expect from at least some of our culture today. In a permissive and consumer driven culture we want people to be able to have any and everything they want. If you can’t eat sugar, no worries, we have sugar free candy. If you like the taste of coffee but can’t or won’t drink the caffeine, no worries, we have decaf for that. There’s alchohol-free alcohol. Chocolate laxatives, or the very thing that brings you distress also provides the relief. And there are cars that increasingly use less and less fuel, which I take to be a good thing on the one hand, but the ideaology behind it is continue to drive as much as you always have, make no lifestyle changes, just drive this particular car instead. And of course the most silly example, I hope this doesn’t pertain to you, is the venti non-fat, sugar-free vanilla, decaf latte – extra hot.

Why bother? Almost all of us joke about these people where we hear someone say this. (I hope you’re not one of them, I’m not picking on you really!).

The thing is we are used to having the pleasure of what comes from being able to consume without the actual cost or implication of the thing being consumed.

This is how we often approach Jesus in America as well. We want to be able to consumer parts of him, some of his religion, without the harmful stuff. Without those high cholesterol ingredients that are really going to show.

There is no non-fat, decaf, sugar-free Jesus.

We can’t take all the “harmful” ingredients out of Jesus’ teaching and make it as non-fat, as sugar-free, as caffeine free as possible. We want everyone to consume this message with as little after effects as possible. That’s why there has been such emphasis on belief, rather than on lifestyle, daily practice, allegiance, family, economics, politics, etc.

I guess in a way, what Jesus said in Luke 14 is more timely than it may have first appeared.

Query: The first query is a personal one and it arises from my reflection on this passage: Are there places in our lives that have been influenced by permissive consumer culture that have undercut the radical call of discipleship for us?

Published by

Wess

...is the William R. Roger Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.

4 thoughts on “Interventions: Discipleship in a Permissive Culture (Pt 1)”

  1. Wess,

    "There is no non-fat, decaf, sugar-free Jesus."

    Thanks for this! It is just right.

    This will be no surprise to you, just affirmation of what you have written:

    Years ago, over the course of a year, I lost about 30 pounds or so, and got into really good physical condition. People began to ask me how I did it. They said, "Grapefruit diet? A pill? What did you do?" My answer visibly disappointed them, and some said, "no, really, how did you do it?"

    My answer was, eat less and exercise more.

    But my associates did not want to hear that – it would mean giving up comfort food and comfortable habits, like sitting around most of the time.

  2. A "disciple" is merely a "student." In a traditional culture, that's a tight relationship–but while it must imply intense respect and gratitude, it is not personal or political "loyalty", as to a friend or a political candidate. It is neither a flag nor a badge of honor (although if it could be such, it would be the best possible flag and the greatest possible honor.) A "disciple" is someone who hopes to learn what the Teacher has to teach.

    That is, this is not "You don't measure up unless you can do blah blah!" Hero worship, even of the greatest of heroes, is not the object. There is something you need to learn from this man. There are obstacles, and you don't want to give them up; nobody wants to give them up. But if you sincerely want to learn, they will need to be wrenched away until you can feel how hard you cling to them, and realize what that is saying about you and what you really treasure! (Ow! I am, in case there is any question of it, speaking from recent personal experience. Figuratively speaking, I once fell from a great height and was saved by a manure pile. As I had been led to the manure pile, I made some compromises with my nose to remain; and now I find myself, a month late writing the Meeting newsletter, unable to finish a commentary on "Integrity and Personal Conduct.")

    One thing this is most implacably not about–is about joining up with some more ideal family! The new family you're given is the old family with all its warts; you are not entitled to disown them or any fault you find in them. You will have a chance to recognize fellow students from time to time, and this is a better intimacy than what you thought you had with your old family. But so is the freedom to give up hiding from people you'd "loved" too much to bother them with what you knew.

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