TriPerspectival Discipleship: The Interrelationship

discipleshiptitleWhat I have called Tri-perspectival discipleship the Bible just simply calls discipleship. I have intentionally highlighted three different angles that our disciple-making efforts need to zero in on. Far too often we reduce discipleship to simply a process of communicating information, but there is so much more involved in disciple-making. The distinct angles I have developed in this series, borrowed from the work of theologian John Frame, are actually, however, not nearly as distinct as they appear. To engage in one will involve, necessarily, engaging in the others. The three perspectives on discipleship are all interrelated.

Orthodoxy, orthopraxy, and orthopathy all relate to one another. Our study of the Scriptures (orthodoxy) is not complete until it is applied to our lives, nor is our lifestyle (orthopraxy) conformed to Christ until it is driven by our emotions (orthopathy). Each impacts and relates to the others. In fact, John Frame goes even further than this. Using the monikers of God’s law, the self, and our world, he highlights how each perspective is interrelated. He writes:

I have argued that the knowledge of God’s law, the world, and the self are interdependent and ultimately identical. We understand the law by studying its relation to the world and the self – its “applications” – so that its meaning and its application are ultimately identical. Thus all knowledge is a knowledge of the law. All knowledge is also a knowledge of the world, since all our knowledge (of God or the world) comes through created media. And all knowledge is of self, because we know all things by means of our own experience and thoughts. The three kinds of knowledge, then, are identical but “perspectivally” related; they represent the same knowledge, viewed from three different “angles” or “perspectives.” (The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, 89).

What Frame explores about the normative, situational, and existential perspectives applies equally to the tri-fold perspective on discipleship.

Take, for example, the relationship between orthodoxy and orthopraxy. To study the Scriptures with our minds, to gathering information, to believe the right doctrines necessarily includes the right practices. After all, there are right ways to study the Scriptures and wrong ways to study them. We may study them in submission to the authority of God’s Word or we may presume to stand in judgment over them. We may study them with honesty, wrestling with the texts sincerely, and with integrity. Or we may study the Scriptures with little effort, condemning them for not conforming to unbiblical standards of reasoning and scientific explanation. The pursuit of right doctrine and right practice are simultaneously happening, then. Vern Poythress has explored this well in his book Inerrancy and Worldview (see particularly, part eight). There he talks plainly about how our approach to Scripture can immediately undermine our ability to believe it. Right doctrine and right practice go together, they are interrelated.

We can see the same is true when we talk about application. Meaning and application are identical. It is impossible to know a meaning without knowing its application in a given situation. Frame explains this concept with helpful examples. He writes:

Let us imagine two scholars who agree on the translation “Thou shall not steal” but disagree on application-formulations. For example, one believes that stealing is wrong but thinks the text permits one to embezzled from his employer. The other disagrees. Shall we say that both understand the “meaning” equally well but differ on the “application?” Surely not. Clearly the two differ, not only concerning the “application” but also about the meaning of the text. “Steal” to the one has an entirely different meaning from that understood by the other. And surely, if both agree on a translation but one actually embezzles and the other does not, though both profess to be bound by the text, the difference in behavior manifests a difference in understanding. (83).

Meaning and application are connected. You cannot really understand the meaning of a passage without also understanding its application. The Scriptures make clear that without knowing the application of a text readers do not really understand its meaning (see Matt. 16:3; 22:29; Luke 24:25; John 5:39f; Rom. 15:4; and 2 Tim. 3:16f).

We might also see the same relationship existing between orthodoxy and orthopathy. We cannot pursue right doctrine apart from also pursuing right passion. Our reading of the text must coincide with hearts desiring to truly seek God. We must love what God loves or the Scriptures will not affect us, of course, however, in order to love what God loves we must know what God loves. You see, then, the hermeneutical circle that exists between right doctrine and right passion. We cannot have one without the other – the two are perspectives on the one discipleship process.

Part of the failure we have experienced in much of contemporary discipleship is owing to a perspectival blindness. We do not see how all three perspectives are necessary and interrelated. Seeing discipleship as an interrelationship between orthodoxy, orthopraxy, and orthopathy not only provides a more comprehensive model of discipleship but it strengthens our efforts on any one perspective. Disicpleship in the Scriptures is tri-perspectival. If we’re going to effective and Biblical then our discipleship should be tri-perspectival too.

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