Dallas Willard: Is Discipleship for “Super-Christians” Only?

The following is an excerpt from Dallas Willard‘s The Spirit of the Disciplines.  Dallas Willard has written a number of outstanding books regarding discipleship.  He teaches at the University of Southern California.  This is a candid piece on the failure of the modern church to practice discipleship:

The word "disciple" occurs 269 times in the New Testament.  "Christian" is found only three times and was first introduced to refer precisely to the disciples…. The New Testament is a book about disciples, by disciples, and for disciples of Jesus Christ.

But the point is not merely verbal.  What is more important is the kind of life we see in the earliest church is that of a special type of person.  All of the assurances and the benefits offered to humankind in the gospel evidently presuppose such a life and do not make realistic sense apart from it.  The disciple of Jesus is not the deluxe or heavy-duty model of the Christian — especially padded, textured, streamlined, and empowered for the fast lane on the straight and narrow way.  He stands on the pages of the New Testament as the first level of basic transportation in the kingdom of God.

For at least several decades the churches of the Western world have not made discipleship a condition of being a Christian.  One is not required to be, or to intend to be, a disciple in order to become a Christian, and one may remain a Christian without any signs of progress toward or in discipleship.  Contemporary American churches in particular do not require following Christ in his example, spirit, and teachings as a condition of membership — either or entering into or continuing in fellowship of a denomination or a local church…

…So far as the visible Christian institutions of our day are concerned, discipleship is clearly optional…. 


(Cited in Richard Foster’s Devotional Classics, pp. 14-15.) 


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4 thoughts on “Dallas Willard: Is Discipleship for “Super-Christians” Only?

  1. We are disciples–that seems to be a more intense word than Christian some of the time.Just a question, have you read "Mere Discipleship" (Lee Camp)?  What did you think of it? 

  2. jettybetty,I have read a large portion of the book.  I thought it was a good read.  Camp takes discipleship seriously and is willing to wrestle with some tought issues in light of following Jesus. 

  3. I think the modern Church stumbles here for a few reasons: 1) We don’t have sustained interaction with one another that could actually produce real growth and change.  We don’t know each other well enough, especially in the areas that matter the most.  Also, if I am bothered by your input in my life, I will go to another church.  We don’t know how to commit to God’s people.  2) We’re afraid of making distinctions about what is and what is not following Christ.  We don’t want to be considered legal or harsh or “over the top”.  We confuse graciousness with lack of conviction and we confuse discernment with a lack of kindness.  3) We generally have a problem with authority.  We either see it as power and abuse it, or we have a kind of “democratic” view and won’t allow others to speak into our lives or mentor us.  I’m sure there is a better way of saying all this and the cause is probably much broader than I’ve stated, but these are my quick thoughts.

  4. Adam,Good thoughts.  Your first comment, in particular, focuses on something I’ve been thinking about the last few weeks.  The loss of community and real relationship in the church.  Often there is such disconnection and lack of relationship.  Consequently we don’t really experience the embodied church living out Christ’s presence.