Thursday, September 13, 2007

On Dissident Discipleship

No. 39, 14 July 2006

by Mark Hurst

David Augsburger, Dissident Discipleship: A Spirituality of Self-Surrender, Love of God, and Love of Neighbor (Brazos Press, 2006).

In the June 2005 issue of On the Road, we published an article by Palmer Becker titled “What is an Anabaptist Christian?” This new book by Mennonite author David Augsburger is in many ways a book-length expansion of Becker’s three points – Jesus is the centre of our faith, community is the centre of our life, and reconciliation is the centre of our work. Augsburger is a professor of pastoral care and counselling at Fuller Theological Seminary, and the author of over twenty books. His writing style is very readable, full of clear points and well-illustrated with stories from real life – including his own.

What he does in this book is take on the popular topic of “spirituality” and embody it in Anabaptist discipleship. William Willimon is quoted on the back cover saying, “If you thought ‘spirituality’ was mostly fluff and feathers, get this book. Building upon his cruciform Anabaptist tradition, David Augsburger gives us a substantial, faithful look at lives formed by Christ.”

The book opens with an examination of ‘spirituality.’ Augsburger talks about monopolar, bipolar and tripolar spirituality. Monopolar “is the inner, subjective encounter with one’s own inner universal self” (p. 11). Bipolar is “both an inner, subjective experience of coming to know one’s true self and an objective experience of existence before God” (p. 12). Tripolar “possesses three dimensions: it is inwardly directed, upwardly compliant, and outwardly committed” (p. 13).

Tripolar spirituality is based on “love of God and the neighbour as ourselves” (Matthew 22:37-39). “It is a radical alternative to both monopolar and bipolar spirituality. When love for God and neighbour are interdependent and inseparable, a pivotal redirection results, and an acute deviation from social norms ensues” (p. 17). This authentic spirituality is fully three dimensional. It “is self transforming, God encountering, and other embracing. It accepts no substitute for actual participation” (pp. 26-27). It “is a spirituality of the road. We know him [Jesus] by following as we make the road by walking it, discover the way in obedient imitation, and participation in his life with us” (p. 21).

The Anabaptist form of tripolar spirituality is “a communal spirituality of disciples (followers) following a cluster of practices, practices that are lived out in the relationship of community, where believers share in the rewarding struggles of faithful dialogue, discernment, and mutual discovery” (p. 20). This communal spirituality is one where “transformation is not just a word; it is the essential element. The anastatic (walking in the way of the resurrection) is the final goal. “The ‘anastatic experience’ is an embracing of a holiness, a sanctification that joins in an indictment of evil in all its forms – personal, social, communal, political, and results in a living out of the new covenant in community (p. 68). Augsburger explores the following seven practices in the rest of the book: radical attachment, stubborn loyalty, tenacious serenity, habitual humility, resolute nonviolence, concrete service, and authentic witness.

The book draws on sixteenth-century sources as well as modern authors like John Howard Yoder, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Walter Brueggemann, J├╝rgen Moltmann, and others. Augsburger always finds great stories for his books to illustrate his points. He comes up with some good quotes too, such as this Quaker proverb: “True community exists when the person you dislike most dies or moves away and someone worse takes that place” (p. 57).

In good Anabaptist style, Augsburger is not only concerned with the individual life of the believer, the goal of much current Christian spirituality, but with the life of the church. He quotes Mennonite theologian Harry Huebner in describing the church as a community of people with a shared identity and common virtues woven into a coherent story.

Augsburger also makes a distinction between “values” and “virtues.” Community is where one learns virtues, not where one chooses values. He describes virtues as “practices formed by community, modelled in community, and taught by community, that express what is good, right and worthy. Virtues are habits, and what we do habitually, naturally, without pretence reveals our character” (p. 73).

“To call the church a community of virtues is to identify the habits of the church. The church is that body which out of habit tells the truth; which out of habit loves enemies, feeds the hungry, forgives sinners; which out of habit praises God for what we have received, …prays and worships” (p. 74). He quotes Yoder in saying “nothing is real until it is embodied. The community of faith must be a community of deeds” (p. 75).

And from John Milbank he gets this: “For one to belong to the church means one has become part of those practices of perfection that make us capable of becoming friends with one another, friends with ourselves, and friends with God” (p. 76).

The book closes with helpful appendices and a good bibliography. This is a book for group study, discussion, and practice. If we take tripolar spirituality seriously, “will we not inevitably be heard giving voice to subversive protest against the status quo, be seen in stubborn service that is not motivated by personal gain, be known for dissident discipleship that constantly points to another reign, that of our Lord?” (p. 210).

I’m all for that!

Mark Hurst is a Mennonite missionary based in Sydney. This review was published in On the Road No. 31, June 2006, the quarterly newsletter of the Anabaptist Association of Australia and New Zealand. Used by permission.

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