Triperspectival Discipleship: Orthodoxy

discipleshiptitleTriperspectivalism, that’s the term I am borrowing to describe a new paradigm for thinking about discipleship. It is, of course, not totally new. I will argue later this year that the Puritans themselves lived this model, yet our contemporary context has reduced discipleship to instruction. Instruction is important, as I will argue in a moment, but we need to view discipleship from all its varied angles if we are going to recover from our discipleship deficit in the modern church. The three perspectives that make up this model are the normative, situational, and existential perspectives – first developed by Dr. John Frame. I will refer to them throughout this series as the perspectives of Orthodoxy, Orthopraxy, and Orthopathy. We will take time to look at each in some detail to help better clarify the concepts themselves and their contribution to the process of discipleship. Since this is work is part of a larger research project on discipleship there will be some things that I intentionally leave out or undeveloped, out of respect for the project and those working on it I want to wait until the project is finalized and all the contributions are made available to wider the public.

We might start with an examination of any of the three perspectives. They are all interrelated, such that to talk about one necessarily leads to discussing the others. But since we must start somewhere I will begin with Orthodoxy. By the term I do not mean merely the accepted body of doctrine, the rule of faith. I do not mean less than this, but I have in mind something bigger. That is to say, in this case orthodoxy refers to the cognitive element of discipleship, the dissemination of right doctrine for the purposes of instruction. Discipleship involves teaching, instruction, and generally use of the mind.

Most readily accept this element, for it is the dominate way in which we think of discipleship in the contemporary Western church. When the average Christians speaks of discipleship he generally has in mind Bible study, church programs/classes, or some form of intensive instruction and counsel. We recognize, easily, the Biblical nature of this perspective. After all, Jesus commissions his followers to go into all the world and make disciples by “teaching them to obey all that I have commanded” (Matt. 28:20). Jesus’ instructs his followers to make disciples by means of teaching. Paul instructs young Titus, “Teach what accords with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1). Teaching is an important, necessary, even normative component of any biblical philosophy of discipleship.

The normative perspective focuses on the rules, laws, and norms of belief and action. It emphasizes the authority of God, the objective standard of truth. Being a disciple of Jesus does not mean living however you want, making up your own ethical standard, defining the boundaries of your own faithful living. Rather, it means submitting to the authority of God’s Word and conforming your way of thinking, living, and believing to God’s standard. This requires, then, instruction in the Word of God and the pattern of living therein described. I cannot obey God’s commands about the wise use of my finances if I do not know what God says about my finances; so instruction is a vital part of growing as a disciple.

Functionally this has many applications to the process of discipleship. It means laying the epistemological foundations for belief in the inerrancy, sufficiency, and authority of Scripture. It means training people in how to use the tools of Biblical exegesis and hermeneutics. It means putting in place the framework of a Christian worldview, which enables a follower to look at all of life through the lens of the faith. It means too constructing the walls, the progressive knowledge of actual Biblical content, which provides boarders and boundaries for a disciple’s dwelling. It means too, filling this dwelling with the comforts of the gospel of grace and the promises of God, such that the believer never moves on from these things but lives among them daily. The normative process involves a great deal of construction and instruction so that the disciple’s way of thinking is progressively altered and transformed. This is how Paul tells us we are to be transformed, “by the renewing of your mind”(Rom. 12:2). So we need to spend continual time on helping people retrain their brains, think differently, and believe rightly. Orthodoxy is a vital part of our discipleship.

It is the normative component because it sets the standards. We will see that the others influence the normative perspective, help us to interpret it, and contextualize it, but what we believe will trump all the other perspectives. Once we have determined what the Biblical command, Biblical promise, Biblical threat, Biblical application is, then we are bound to it regardless of how we feel about it. The Scriptural teachings are our rule, we must know them and submit to them. Lawrence Richards has written:

In the Word of God the Spirit of God has revealed the true nature of the world we live in, the true nature of man and of God, the ultimate consummation of history, the pattern of relationships, and response to God and to life which corresponds with “the way things really are.” (quoted in Greg Ogden, Discipleship Essentials, 13)

The Bible is the voice of reality, therefore we need to learn it and listen to it. It sets the standard. If I want to know what it means to be a disciple, how to follow Christ, then I must look to Scripture to inform me.

So, throughout this series we will see that discipleship involves many components, there are two other perspectives that are vital to the process. Yet, the Orthodoxy perspective establishes the significance of God’s Word for making disciples. If we have reduced discipleship to instruction, we should not react by totally abandoning instruction. There is no way to make disciples apart from “teaching them to obey all” that Jesus has commanded. Communicating right belief is a major part of making growing disciples.

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  1. […] helps us to see more clearly the full scope of Biblical discipleship. Last week I unpacked the Orthodoxy, or normative, perspective; this week I want to examine the Orthopraxy perspective. A Biblical […]

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