The more time you spend growing in the Christian faith, learning to appreciate and understand its symbols, stories, and forms you can begin to forget how much you’re taking for granted in using those symbols, stories, and forms with people who have not shared that educational journey with you. I see the truth of this on church websites from time to time in the messages they’re making without realizing it.
For instance, have you ever noticed that when you visit a churches website that they have pull down menu tabs called discipleship. In these tabs they usually have a list of classes you can take in order “to get discipled.” Its as if discipleship is merely a form of religious certification. Take these classes, pass a comprehensive test delivered in person or online if you prefer and you’re a disciple. Of course I’m being facetious, most churches don’t view discipleship in those terms, and I absolutely believe that growing in our knowledge of Christ is a properly basic dimension to discipleship, but that exaggeration is a message we sometimes send in speaking like this on our web pages. (How can we talk about discipleship in a way that acknowledges the educational dimensions of it while not reducing it to that? A question I as well live with.)
I’ve shard this muse to bring up a point I was recently engaged by while reading a dialogue between a secular Early Christianity scholar and a believing Early Christianity scholar. The believer suggested that not only is it important to know Christianity in general, but that to be a genuine disciple of Christ also means involving oneself in the historical study of Jesus. Learning to sketch Jesus in light of his culture, his message, and his time is part and parcel of following him. Michael Bird was the scholar (BTW I think Michael is right).
Here he is in his own words;
“Since ‘Jesus’ is not a metaphor for a cache of timeless theological truths we are committed, whether we like it or not, to the task of exploring and investigating the person of Jesus in his historical context. To know Christ is more than knowing that he is divine and human, more than knowing that he died for our sins; it is a matter of knowing about his teachings and understanding how Jesus relates to Israel, to his followers and to his own contemporaries. This would suggest that historical study of Jesus is in fact a necessary task of discipleship. The nature of faith (in a historical person) and the nature of God’s revelation (in the sphere of space-time history) demand that we participate in what is known as the Quest for the Historical Jesus.”
Michael Bird quoted, How did Christianity Begin? by Michael Bird and James Crossley, pgs. 17-18
What do you think of Michael Bird’s statement, “[the] historical study of Jesus is a necessary task of discipleship“? Do you think its an overstatement (notice Bird doesn’t say its the only task of discipleship)? How have you seen churches support this dimension of discipleship in believers lives? What would it look like for churches to do this in a deep yet simple way?
(Photographic art by Hebedesign, piece entitled “Drawing Hands.”)