Disciple Making in the 21st Century: An Interview with Author Trevin Wax (Part One)

Trevin-Wax-199x300While gospel truth never changes, the way we live it out can change depending on our cultural context.

I don’t know anyone better to discuss this topic with than author Trevin Wax (@TrevinWax). In addition to serving as the Managing Editor of The Gospel Project, Trevin blogs at Kingdom People (hosted by the Gospel Coalition), has written several books including Gospel-Centered Teaching: Showing Christ in All of Scripture, and was named to Christianity Today’s “33 Under 33″ list of millennials who are impacting the next generation of evangelicalism.

I recently had a conversation with Trevin discussing discipleship in the 21st century in which he shared about current obstacles to discipleship, the dangers of moralism, and why we need to place ourselves in Scripture’s storyline.

Kevin Halloran of Leadership Resources: The title of your workshop at The Gospel Coalition Conference in April is “Discipleship in the Age of Richard Dawkins, Lady Gaga, and Amazon.com: Grounding Believers in the Scriptural Storyline that Counters Rival Eschatologies.”  Can you unpack the title of your workshop for the layperson?

Trevin Wax: As Christians, we are all called to make disciples. Pastors, I think, sense this more acutely because they recognize that they are to make disciples and they are also called to equip people who make disciples. It almost feels like a double burden at times.

When I use the term discipleship, I’m already tapping into what a church is about. We don’t make disciples in a vacuum; we are to make disciples here and now in the context God has put us in. What is this particular context that we live in here in North America?

Charles Taylor, the philosopher, would say we live in a secular age. In the secular age we can see certain trajectories, certain narratives, or stories that people in our world live by, which is what I mean by, “rival eschatologies.” When I say “Discipleship in the Age of Richard Dawkins, Lady Gaga, and Amazon.com,” I’m not going to be focused on those two individuals and one website–I am focusing on the broader worldview narrative that they represent:

  • Richard Dawkins is almost the extreme version of the secularist or atheist type of person. I choose him as a representative. He might be on the fringes, but he’s a representative.
  • Lady Gaga, too, is on the fringes, yet I think she’s a good representation of where the sexual revolution will go and take us.
  • Amazon.com is synonymous with a consumeristic society, where everything we need we can have very quickly and for good prices. In a consumeristic society, a lot of our identity comes from the brands we have and the labels we wear. Amazon really fuels that because they make it so easy.

I’m really saying, “How do we make disciples in an age when there’s an Enlightenment narrative, a sexual revolution narrative, and a consumeristic narrative that is all taking place at the same time?” What does discipleship look like in that age?

Kevin Halloran: What false hopes do the major rival eschatologies give, and how do they hurt discipleship?

Trevin Wax: The Enlightenment’s false eschatology is the idea that we are progressing into a better and better future in which we are casting off the chains of superstitions of the past. In this view, religion is something fine if it helps you–but to really determine where the world goes, we need facts, science, and what we can observe with our eyes and ears and senses.

To put your hope in the Enlightenment view is somewhat futile, because it is demonstrably false that the world is becoming less religious. It was not long ago that I linked to and interacted with some statistics from Rodney Stark at Baylor about how the world is actually more religious now than it was fifty years ago [book summary | interaction]. In fact, the number of religious adherents and attendants of religious services in the United States is at about the same place as it was in the 1940s. We had an increase in the 50s and 60s and have gone back. So there is decline. We are not in a new place in that regard.

We can see this in the rise of ISIS and the allure they have for people surrounded by secularism who are leaving here and going to over there. The president likes to talk about how if these people just had better jobs or if they weren’t in poverty, then they wouldn’t be leaving and going to join these terrorist organizations. There is some truth to that, but that’s actually saying that the problem is a material problem, rather than some sort of spiritual longing–however distorted and wrong–that makes terrorism attractive for western people surrounded by secularism.

I think the Enlightenment is a myth. I think the myth of progress, whether it’s moral, scientific, or technological, needs to be exposed. Part of what discipleship looks like in our context is not falling for that myth of what the Enlightenment says progress is, but actually judging all “progress” in light of Jesus Christ.

As Christians, we don’t believe that the light came on in the 17th Century with the onset of reason after the Reformation. We believe the culminating point of human history was when Jesus walked out of his tomb on Easter morning. We have a whole different narrative that will counter the Enlightenment’s understanding of progress.

Read Part Two for the rest of the interview discussing dangers of moralism and why we need grounding in Scripture’s grand storyline.

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Kevin Halloran

Servant of the Word. Husband. Blogs weekly at Anchored in Christ. Content Strategist/Trainer in Latin America with Leadership Resources International.