Disciple-Making and Cultural Transformation

Below is a video of Kevin DeYoung, Greg Gilbert, and Ryan Kelly talking about the mission of the church.  DeYoung and Gilbert have a forthcoming book coming out on this subject, and it will certainly be one worth reading.

However, I think Doug Wilson is on to something about seeing things a little differently as it relates to the mission of disciple-making.  Wilson argues:

The commission is not to “make disciples” in our modern individualistic sense. That is included, and amen to it. But the commission as the Lord worded it says that we are to disciple the nations. To say that cultural transformation is not part of this is to completely overlook the direct object of that verb. We are to disciple the ethnoi, their hearts, souls, and minds, but also their court systems, and their film industries, and their politics, and their art studios, and their publishing industries. This certainly means discipling their citizens, and we start with that. But it is just the beginning.

If the point of this video is to start with personal evangelism, then absolutely. If the point is to head off those who want to have a bunch of missional stuff that by-passes gospel declaration, then great. But when we make individual disciples, and we move on to the institutional structures of their cultures and societies, we are not changing the subject. We are not moving on to another area. We are not abandoning the Great Commission. We are just getting started.

What do you think?  Is cultural transformation included in the work of making disciples (which is at the heart of the mission of the church)?

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4 Comments on “Disciple-Making and Cultural Transformation”

  1. Jim Pemberton Says:

    I don’t think that kind of cultural transformation is at all evident in the GC text in Matthew.

    Additionally, Jesus never did it. Paul never did it. In fact Jesus and Paul both worked within the cultural systems of the time. The Jews expected the Messiah to deliver them politically and Jesus clearly had other intentions. Jesus paid his taxes without complaint. Paul taught that we are to be in submission to the governing authorities and he appealed to Caesar as a citizen of Rome.

    The cultural transformation I do see in the scriptures is the Church as it grows out of the allegiance of individuals to their adopted citizenship into the Kingdom of Heaven. And the glorification of God among the nations comes through the strong juxtaposition between Kingdom culture and the ethnic culture. We are bold precisely because we are different. But we need enough elements of the ethnic culture to be able to communicate the gospel to people steeped in it.

    When the Church follows the ethnic culture too closely, however, the distinction disappears: The Glory of God fades in the overall proclamation and Church looks too much like a mere Social Club.

    • Bryant King Says:

      I really enjoyed watching the video and hope to read the book. I think Jim Pemberton speaks well also. To put an even finer point on it, consider what the Bible says and doesn’t say about slavery. Scripture seems far more concerned about how slaves and masters interact in a Christ-like manner than the cultural and governmental abolition of slavery. If there were a point for cultural emphasis, it would seem slavery would be one, yet this doesn’t seem the most prominent point on the issue within Scripture.

      Personally, I have attempted over years to do charitable work in my capacity as a dentist and foster parent in hopes of opening avenues for proclamation of the gospel and to see people come to Christ. I have not seen any fruit from these endeavors, in fact, to the contrary in several cases as my efforts angered or enabled further ventures into sin for others. This does not negate the commands for me to love my neighbor and enemy (and I would extrapolate every one in between) and to not grow weary in doing good, but if experience can be interpreted, I am becoming more and more in line with the views expressed in the video.

      Bryant King

  2. Tim Pauley Says:

    I struggle to find a mandate for such cultural transformation in scripture. Is it not something that may or may not be a result or “by product” of the faithful proclamation of the gospel and teaching of the Word? Do we not have brothers and sisters faithfully doing so at great cost in nations where we see no evidence of “cultural transformation”?

  3. Tom Hicks Says:

    Tim,

    I think a lot of the confusion has to do with who is responsible to do what. Of course disciple making involves engaging with everything. The Bible addresses every aspect of life. But, every person and every institution is not required to engage everything in the same way. Our precise responsibilities are matter of personal and institutional callings.

    It seems to me that Greg and Kevin are approaching the question largely from the perspective of pastoral calling. When Kevin says that the Apostles didn’t address or seek to transform the world (art, literature, education, government, economics, business, etc.), he’s only highlighting the Apostolic calling. But, you can’t apply the Apostolic calling (or pastoral calling) to every Christian. When we read the whole Bible, especially the OT and NT eschatology, we find that it addresses everything.

    I agree that pastors not called to transform the world. We are called to preach the gospel and make disciples, teaching them to observe everything Christ commanded. We’ve got to center on Christ and whenever we mention anything else, it is secondary to Him. Our vocation is proclamation and making sure God’s people never forget that the kingdom is Personal. If we pastors fail to “stay in the lane” of our callings, and if we start trying to excel in the knowledge or practice of politics, art, business, etc., we’re going to do it poorly, and we’re likely going to elevate secondary issues to primary positions. On that level, I can “amen” the video.

    I think Wilson is right, however, that discipleship is much bigger than the individual. What will happen when doctors, lawyers, teachers, politicians, artists, and businessmen come to faith in Christ? They will love Christ and keep His commandments in their callings. It will change their work and the more of the church that fills up society, the more society will be transformed. We saw this in the Awakenings. Whole towns and cultures were transformed. As pastors, we need to teach that faith in Christ and conformity to His likeness touches every part of life, including our callings. My problem with Wilson is that he seems to think that’s the calling of the institutional church and of pastors. I don’t hear (read) Wilson preaching Christ, speaking warmly of the Savior, clearly calling our affections to be settled on Him, to rejoice in Him, to find comfort in Him, delight in His imputed righteousness, and in the gift of His Spirit. Wilson seems to think his chief pastoral responsibility is to call us to change the world. I think Wilson’s chief responsibility is to call us to Christ and to stay fixed on Him personally.

    So, I think a lot of this debate has to do with our respective responsibilities. We need to recover the Reformed doctrine of vocation. Institutions have callings (government, entertainment, business, education, etc.). People have callings. We need to learn to trust and love Christ, to keep His commandments in whatever God has called us to do, knowing that He is the one who multiplies our labors and brings forth fruit, even when it seems like our little piece of the pie isn’t that valuable and doesn’t have much impact. We also need to be content and not to venture beyond our callings.

    Those are my two cents. The Lord bless you and your ministry Tim!!! Thanks for the post.


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