Saturday, January 19, 2019

Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Discomfort of Discipleship

  By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

It’s not comfortable to advocate discipleship in politics--or even in church.  Christians have become comfortable with worshiping Jesus as the alter ego of God rather than following his teachings as the word of God.  That may enable believers to avoid the cost and discomfort of discipleship, but it’s a form of cheap grace offered by churches that promote a false faith.

The teachings of Jesus are a narrow way that has never been popular, but the church provides a popular Christianity with mystical beliefs and popular values that Jesus never taught.  The teachings of Jesus in the Beatitudes comfort the afflicted, but they afflict the comfortable.  If salvation required discipleship, Christianity would no longer be the world’s most popular religion.

Discipleship has never been comfortable.  Not for John Wesley or Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  But the election of Donald Trump by most white Christians has challenged the authenticity of Christian morality.  Is it based on the teachings of Jesus or on distorted doctrines of “family values” and a prosperity gospel promoted by evangelical charlatans like Jerry Falwell, Jr.?

The 2016 election was evidence that a majority of white Christians have replaced the gospel of Jesus with the gospel of Trump.  Throwing Jesus under the bus has not only corrupted the Christian religion, but it threatens to corrupt the American civil religion since most Americans claim to be Christians, and evangelical leaders have effectively promoted radical right politics.

The problem is not so much Donald Trump as it is the voters who elected him president. Politicians come and go, and mistakes made in 2016 can be remedied in 2020 with the election of a president and Congress committed to provide for the common good.  Christians can make that happen by following the altruistic teachings of Jesus in their stewardship of democracy.

The teachings of Jesus are summarized in the greatest commandment to love God and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, including our neighbors of other races and religions.  That altruistic moral imperative is a common word of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims, but it’s opposed by evangelicals since it’s not compatible with their partisan radical right politics.

In America’s politics and in its churches, popularity and wealth beget power.  And in America’s materialistic and hedonistic culture the illusion of making America great again has blinded white Christians to the altruistic standards of discipleship.  It should be no surprise that the mystical and materialistic evangelical gospel of Trump is more popular than selfless service.

It will likely take a national crisis to change the misplaced moral priorities of Americans.  Current policies that oppose budgetary restraints on Social Security and Medicare, promote the unrestrained greed of Wall Street, hostility to immigrants, and an isolationist foreign policy that ignores traditional alliances, all portend trouble ahead unless public attitudes change.

Jesus was a prophet, not a political leader, so he never sought public support for his altruistic teachings, and he never addressed difficult issues of democracy and human rights since they were irrelevant to his ancient times.  Adapting the altruistic principles taught by Jesus to American democracy requires the discomfort of discipleship.

American politics are a continuing referendum on the word of God; and partisan preferences now take precedence over the altruism needed to provide for the common good.  Polarized partisan identity politics have produced elections that confirm that most white Christians have rejected the gospel of Jesus for the evangelical gospel of Trump.  It will take the discomfort of discipleship to save American Christianity and democracy from their demise.


On the discomfort of discipleship in the Beatitudes (comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable), see Matthew 5:1-12 and Luke 6:20-26 with commentary in The Teachings of Jesus and Muhammad on Morality and Law: The Heart of Legitimacy at pages 82-83, posted in Resources listed on home page of  For related teachings of Muhammad, see pp 83-87.      
Glenn Stanton has asserted that Christianity is not shrinking but growing stronger, citing the growth of non-denominational evangelical churches while mainline denominations are shrinking.  Stanton makes no distinction between those churches that promote discipleship as taught by Jesus and those that emphasize other more popular moral standards and doctrines that are compatible with evangelical social and political objectives.  Stanton says: There has been a growing gulf between the faithful [evangelical churches] and the dabblers [progressive churches] for quite some time, with the first group growing more numerous. Think about the church you attend, relative to its belief system. It is extremely likely that if your church teaches the Bible with seriousness, calls its people to real discipleship, and encourages daily intimacy with God, it has multiple services to handle the coming crowds.  Most decent-size American cities have a treasure trove of such churches for believers to choose from. This shows no sign of changing. If, however, your church is theologically liberal or merely lukewarm, it’s likely laying off staff and wondering how to pay this month’s light bill. People are navigating toward substantive Christianity.  See

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