According to Dr. Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Research Professor of Systematic Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, these are complex times in the life of an everyday disciple of Christ.
While the “new atheists” are declaring the end of religion, the religious “nones” still continue to pursue spirituality. The church also has to contend with the widespread ignorance about what the Bible actually teaches, and what Christianity is really about. Then, there’s the cultural impact of social media.
“The apostle Paul probably didn’t have social media in mind when he spoke of the powers and principalities with which Christians wrestle (Eph 6:12), but I think they’re indeed a part of the spiritual powers with which we have to reckon,” says Dr. Vanhoozer.
These are just some of the reasons why he believes that pastors and ministry leaders in the local church need to be more intentional about making disciples. Dr. Vanhoozer will be discussing why discipleship is important to the spiritual health of disciples and how to equip them to live for Christ in today’s culture at this year’s Ministry Leadership Day at Heritage Theological Seminary on March 26th.
Vanhoozer believes the local church needs to focus on training disciples to read and live out the truths they read in Scripture in order to engage with the efforts of today’s culture to shape the hearts and minds of disciples in the local church. He says that our present secular culture is one of the most powerful means of spiritual formation that we have ever seen and, as a result, we in the church need to ask how it is forming our spirits and hearts.
As a result, he says that pastors and ministry leaders need to be discipling their people to read Scripture theologically – to read the Bible as the word of God with and for the people of God – in order to understand who God is and who we are to be as God’s people to live out our faith in the midst of today’s cultural pressures.
“Pastors need to help their congregants understand the story of human flourishing presupposed by contemporary culture, and then confront that story with the biblical account of how salvation in Christ enables true freedom and human flourishing,” explains Dr. Vanhoozer. “I think the real purpose of reading the Bible is to acquire not background knowledge but the mind of Christ, that is, the ability to follow his way and truth here and now.”
This focus on training disciples to read Scripture theologically is important due to the ongoing need in all of our lives to have our hearts and desires rooted in the gospel. Dr. Vanhoozer says that our hearts abhor a vacuum, and if they are not worshipping God they will start worshipping something else. This is why he believes it is pivotal for the local church to train people to see their lives in the story of what God is doing through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit to reconcile the world and remake creation – not in the sea of other people’s words that surround them each and every day.
“Our individual lives ultimately make sense and become fulfilling as we participate in Jesus’ story and become citizens of the gospel. The local church is the appointed means by which Christians are to live out their faith, their citizenship,” says Dr. Vanhoozer. “If the church is to be a local embassy of God’s city or kingdom, pastors have to train disciples to be competent citizens of the gospel.”
“That’s what discipleship is all about: not simply learning new facts but learning to live in ways that correspond with our new reality in Christ.”
Looking ahead to Ministry Leadership Day at Heritage, Dr. Vanhoozer is hoping and praying that pastors and ministry leaders will have a better understanding of contemporary culture, and of the even greater power of the gospel, awakening and kindling pastors’ imaginations, and reenergizing their ministry of the word of God.
“I’m absolutely convinced that there’s nothing more important we should be doing than helping local churches display a wisdom worthy of the gospel, and I believe pastors have a crucial role to play toward that end.”