Friday, August 09, 2013

The Legacy of Transformed Lives

In preparation for a class I'm teaching this fall, I've begun reading Greg Ogden's Transforming Discipleship. The first two chapters, diagnosing some of the problems or challenges facing the church's understanding and practice of discipleship, is solid but not very eye-opening (in the sense that it doesn't cover much I hadn't thought about before, and it limits the understanding of discipleship issues to more or less one segment of the Christian tradition).

Where the book is beginning to get lively and thought-provoking for me is in chapter 3, "Why Jesus Invested in a Few," where Ogden ruminates upon the wisdom of Jesus' practice of investing deeply in the lives of a handful of disciples. Why not build his ministry on mass appeal and following? he asks, and reflects that...

"The very nature of a crowd is the ability to be lost in it. It costs nothing to be a part of the masses. One can either be positively or negatively inclined. A member of a crowd, such as a worshiper in a congregation, can remain lost in a sea of faces, neither having to commit nor declare loyalty. A person can be anything from a curious observer to a skeptic or bored pew-sitter. Jesus ministered to the crowd in order to call people out of it. One was not on the road to discipleship unless that person came out of the crowd to identify with Jesus. There are twin prerequisites for following Christ -- cost and commitment, neither of which can occur in the anonymity of the masses." (my emphasis)

Ogden also points out that the gospels show us the fickleness of the crowds (think about the passion week narratives, where the same crowd that shouts "Hosanna!" one day shouts "Crucify him!" the next). Jesus, he reminds us, didn't stake things on the loyalty of the crowd. He quotes A.B. Bruce who wrote "But for the twelve, the doctrine, the works, the image of Jesus might have perished from human resemblance, nothing remaining but a vague mythical tradition, of historical value, of little practical importance."

It occurs to me that isn't really an overstatement. I think often about the apostolicity of the Scriptures -- that living witness that comes down to us through the written Word. And I know I have thought often about the importance of trusting the Holy Spirit in the process of inspiration; we trust the Spirit and so trust that witness is reliable and sure. I've also thought a lot about what an oral culture Jesus lived in, and how in some ways it's not surprising that he himself did not leave a written account. But isn't it amazing and wonderful to ponder that Jesus entrusted so much of his life -- and the transmission of that life -- to his disciples? As Ogden writes:

"A former president attempts to shape the perceptions of history by writing his memoirs. Why did Jesus not choose the same approach? Jesus appeared to rely on two means to carry his life and mission forward: the Holy Spirit and the Twelve. His life was transferred to their life by his Spirit and by his association with and investment in them. The irrefutable legacy Jesus wanted to leave behind was the transformed lives of ordinary men who would carry on his work after he returned to the Father."

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