This is part of The False Promise of Discipleship blog series from The Bonhoeffer Project. Read the blog that came right before this one by clicking here.
The Human Paradigm looks like this…
There you are! And you’re running! In The Human Paradigm, you’re always running. You’re trying to arrive at the X.
But how? How do you get there? No problem. There are simply steps you have to take.
So there are X’s, and then there are the steps we’re supposed to take to get to X, the rungs we’re to climb. If you just work hard, study, play nice, cheat, don’t cheat, follow the rules, don’t follow the rules, etc., you’ll get to X! This is the heart of The Human Paradigm: Do the things you’re supposed to do, work hard enough, try hard enough, and you can get to X or make X happen. This paradigm is incredibly alluring because it promises us control. It’s based on the governing narrative of the human universe that says if you try hard, you’ll be rewarded. You are the master of your fate! The size of the self-help section in your local bookstore is a testimony to just how alive and well this paradigm is.
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We were born into this way of thinking. And it’s fine and good (to an extent) to rely on this paradigm. It reflects an actual reality of how the universe works. Right now, my wife and I (Brandon) are potty-training our daughter, and you better believe we’re using just such a system. Every time our little girl uses the potty, she gets gummy bears! Her X is gummy bears, and our X is getting our daughter to put her stuff where it’s supposed to go so that (thank God!) we don’t have to change any more diapers. If we have to spend a small fortune on candy, so be it. Whatever works! We’re using The Human Paradigm, or reward system, to get something done. In this way, earning things we want works and is useful, insofar as we understand what we’re doing.
The flip side of The Human Paradigm—of earning what you get–is that if you do bad things, bad things will happen to you. Either because the universe is karmic or because God will get you. You often find this thinking in religious circles. Jesus’ disciples seem to fully depend on this sort of universe and on that sort of equation when they pass by the blind man and ask Jesus, “Who sinned that this man was born blind, him or his parents?” (It’s worth noting that Jesus doesn’t buy into this way of thinking, and thus answers, “Neither.”)
The Human Paradigm is so prevalent because, quite simply, we really like it. We resent it when our equations don’t work out, but there’s something alluring about the possibility that if we do these things, we’ll make it, we’ll earn it, we’ll arrive! And we’ll have done it all by ourselves.
Like I said earlier, this sort of thinking is very much at home in most religious settings, and it translates quite easily into Christian spirituality. In the church world, the X may be a great thing, like being a good Christian, being the Christian I should be (note: “should” is a huge word in The Human Paradigm), being more giving, being missional, being more Spirit-filled. X represents the place where we have arrived at some envisioned spiritual maturity. And X is often connoted with “being close to God.”
Can you see that picture of arrival in your own faith? The place where you’re no longer struggling with Y or Z because you’ve arrived at X? What would be complete in your personal realm of X? What struggles would you no longer have? And again, won’t it just be wonderful when you get there!
Written by Bill Hull and Brandon Cook
This is an excerpt from the free eBook written Bill Hull and Brandon Cook of The Bonhoeffer Project. You can download the full eBook on their homepage here.
*Stay tuned by coming back to our blog for the next blog in this series, which will be coming soon!
Bill Hull is a Co-Founder of The Bonhoeffer Project. Bill’s passion is to help the church return to its disciple making roots and he considers himself a discipleship evangelist. This God-given desire has manifested itself in 20 of pastoring and the authorship of many books. Two of his more important books, Jesus Christ Disciple Maker, and The Disciple Making Pastor, have both celebrated 20 years in print. Add his third in the popular trilogy, The Disciple Making Church, and you have a new paradigm for disciple making.
Brandon Cook is the lead pastor at Long Beach Christian Fellowship and a co-founder of The Bonhoeffer Project. Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, he studied at Wheaton College (IL), Jerusalem University College, Brandeis University, and The Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies. He worked as a professional storyteller before joining a transformational training organization and moving to SoCal in 2006, becoming a pastor three years later. Over the course of five years of pastoring, he became convinced that his work—and the work of the church—is to become fully committed to discipleship and making disciple-makers. The Bonhoeffer Project is for him a quest to live into the question “How are people transformed to live and love like Jesus?”
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