Why Calls for Discipleship Make us Feel so Guilty

The weakness of Protestantism on the subject of personal discipleship in an affluent culture has laid groundwork where the logic of the prosperity gospel rarely bumps into anything that seems to be at cross-purposes with being a disciple of Jesus.

The Christian who feels manipulated or guilt-tripped when the simple ethics of having Jesus as Lord appear anywhere near where his definition of “normal and entitled lifestyle” has taken root. Discipleship, now relegated to discussions around a class or small group, becomes about not being legalistic, pious, or pharisaical. The actual processes and content of discipleship are lost in the fog between easy-believism or a too-academic version of what Jesus commands his apostles to make: Jesus-imitating disciples.

 

In the Franco Zeffirelli film Jesus of Nazareth, there is a scene in which Peter begins the actual process of following Jesus. He has crossed the Sea of Galilee with Jesus and the other disciples. Now he is sending his boats back across the sea. He pushes the tiny vessel into the fog and watches as a lone young fisherman looks back at him, uncomprehending.

In a moment, Peter’s entire previous lifestyle fades into the early morning mist. His security and identity are now gone, to be found in an unknown future with Jesus. This scene captures the aspect of discipleship that Western Christians have struggled to find, value, and practice. Our lives are deeply invested in the ostentatious evidences of the American dream of personal prosperity, a prosperity so pervasive that to not have a flat screen television is considered real poverty.

One does not have to look among the fans of the outright prosperity gospel to see this tension. In thousands of churches, Bible studies, and small groups, there is a massive disjunction between what it means to be a disciple of Jesus and what it means to have whatever possession, experience, or fashionable indulgence that seems appealing. The weakness of Protestantism on the subject of personal discipleship in an affluent culture has laid groundwork where the logic of the prosperity gospel rarely bumps into anything that seems to be at cross-purposes with being a disciple of Jesus.

The result is the Christian who feels manipulated or guilt-tripped when the simple ethics of having Jesus as Lord appear anywhere near where his definition of “normal and entitled lifestyle” has taken root. Discipleship, now relegated to discussions around a class or small group, becomes about not being legalistic, pious, or pharisaical.

The actual processes and content of discipleship are lost in the fog between easy-believism or a too-academic version of what Jesus commands his apostles to make: Jesus-imitating disciples.

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