The question we don't ask about discipleship

January 1, 0001

When I’m speaking at some event, or talking with people on the phone, and I tell them about massively growing movements (thousands! hundreds of thousands! millions! in just a few years!), they always ask:

  • How do you know they know what they need to know?
  • How do you keep out heresy–“believing the wrong things”?

Why? There are no studies on why people ask one of these questions and not the other, but I have my suspicion about the reason. We ask because most Western believers, by default, understand discipleship as a course, as assimilated knowledge - “Teach them what they should know.” Moreover, we ask out of a view in which we perceive ourselves as knowing so much. We ask because we *already do know, *and we believe knowing is important. There is no way for us to feel too bad about the answer. Either:

  • they don’t know and we do, which makes us feel better about ourselves
  • they know and disagree, which makes us feel more in-the-right
  • or they know and agree, which confirms that we know what this fast-growing group knows

Unasked is:

  • “how do you know they are doing what they should?”
  • “how do you know they are being obedient followers of Christ?”

This question is far more dangerous, if for much the same reason: how would we answer it about ourselves? The statement “a mile wide and an inch deep” can refer to obedience but far more often in context refers to depth of knowledge: “many who know very little about their faith.” Given the difference between those who know a lot and do nothing vs. those who have little but work with what they have - I would prefer to be the latter. In the Parable of the Faithful Steward, Jesus would seem to be arguing much the same.