The Gospel You Uphold Determines the Disciples You Make

by Chad Harrington

Learning about the story of Bill Hull, Brandon Cook, and the Bonhoeffer Project was delightful, starting when I first met them at Exponential East earlier this year through my interactions with them as I produced and published their episode on The Disciple Maker’s Podcast.

From all my interactions with them (in person and over the phone for the podcast), the primary distinctive of their calling is simply this: The gospel you uphold determines the disciples you make. That’s what I think of when I recall their ministry.

The reason they’re beating this drum and the reason it’s important for today’s spiritual landscape (at least in North America) is three-fold:

  1. The North American Church needs to learn this connection between theology and praxis, with an emphasis on right thinking
  2. Putting together “Gospel” and “disciple making” discussions is vital for a disciple making movement to take off
  3. The Bonhoeffer Project is fronting what is often slammed in evangelical circles today: intellectualism; but they are changing this

Gospel

Anti-What?

I don’t mean “intellectualism” in a bad way; in fact, I mean it in a good way–Hull and Cook are emphasizing the importance of thinking and the mind in discipleship. John Piper comes to my mind because of his ardent (and justified) focus on the Gospel and on his articulation of the tendency of most people to be either anti-intellectual or anti-emotional. Piper’s emphasis is right: We should not fall off either side of the boat with regard to the tension between heart-felt affections and cerebral fascinations. Instead, we must be balanced, making ourselves into persons who are neither anti-intellectual nor an anti-emotional in our pastor and practical leanings. Having a new variety of traditions (such as Hull and Cook’s) championing a Gospel-focused theology and praxis is refreshing to me.

Hull and Cook’s work through the Bonhoeffer Project helps those who lean toward anti-intellectualism back into the historically grounded middle passage: responsibility to accurate theology (see 2 Tim. 2:15).

Conversion & Discipleship: Theology to Tie the Knot

In Hull’s most recent book, Conversion & Discipleship: You Can’t Have One Without The Other (which I have only read a pre-released copy), he describes the various “kinds of gospels” out there that stand in opposition to the Gospel of Jesus (e.g., the “forgiveness only gospel,” the “(religious) right gospel,” and “the left gospel (liberalism)”). Instead, the gospel we need is the Gospel of Jesus, what Hull calls the “Kingdom Gospel.”

Why do we need a renewed focus on the Gospel for disciple making? Because our beliefs–that is, the inward dispositions and inclinations of the heart–will affect the kind of disciples we make. That’s what Hull and Cook propose, and I think they’re spot on. They start with theology, not practice, which is somewhat unusual today in disciple making circles. Many sermons and books are geared toward an obedience-focused paradigm (and we are all obedience focused in one way if we follow Jesus), but their training cohorts begin with theology (i.e., beliefs), because that determines what you as a disciple will act like.

The Heart of a Disciple

In other words, let’s deal with the heart, they’re saying; let’s let God form our minds and our hearts–because those are very intimately connected; let’s allow God space to form us from the inside out. It starts with understanding the Gospel of Jesus, the Kingdom Gospel–how Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection turn the ways of this world upside down to make them all right.

That’s what I gleaned from my time with The Bonhoeffer Project guys. For more information on The Bonhoeffer Project visit their website here.

Relevant links:

*The post was inspired by Bill Hull and Brandon Cook in “E01: Bill Hull’s Story w/ Brandon Cook.”

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