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The following is a contribution from one of our students. His name has been withheld due to the sensitive nature of his future work.

Responding to: Response to Radius International’s Criticism of Disciple Making Movements (DMM) by Ken Guenther, SEND International 

http://www.brigada.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/response_to_radius.pdf

 

Original: A Brief Guide to DMM: Defining and Evaluating the Ideas Impacting Missions Today by Chad Vegas

 https://www.radiusinternational.org/a-brief-guide-to-dmm/

Guenther’s response roughly follows the outline of Vegas’ article addressing the topics of Obedience Based Discipleship (OBD), Person of Peace (POP), and Discovery Bible Study (DBS). For the sake of consistency and comparison, this response will follow the same format. For each topic Vegas’ position will be summarized followed by a summary of Guenther’s critique. Commentary and clarifications to Guenther’s critique will be given in italics. Unless otherwise footnoted, quotes will reference to the articles written by both Vegas and Guenther. Any verses quoted will be in the English Standard Version.

Obedience Based Discipleship (OBD)

Vegas’ Position

Vegas’ main contention with OBD is its promotion of teaching unbelievers to obey the Scriptures. He summarizes his own argument by saying: “We simply never see a command, nor a pattern, from our Lord, nor his apostles, where unbelievers are discipled through regular obedience until they have sufficient trust in Christ to be baptized.”

Vegas understands OBD as equating faith with obedience[1]and even “continuous acts of obedience.”[2]He expresses his concerns over the implications that equating faith with obedience has for the gospel, especially when DMM proponents write that people receive God’s grace and enter into relationship with him through obedience.[3]This redefinition of faith distorts the gospel as defended by the Protestant Reformers who, in Vegas’ words, held that “faith is confident trust in Jesus Christ as our righteousness” and that, “faith expresses love and obedience as fruit, but not as its substance or essence.” Vegas points out that OBD’s conflation of faith and works has aligned them with the Roman Catholic understanding of faith, grace, and conversion and have thereby abandoned orthodoxy.

Guenther’s Response with Commentary

Firstly, Guenther points out that, “From my reading of Scripture, it appears that there are multiple examples of Jesus doing so [teaching people to obey], often to people who were clearly not believers or disciples.”

The passages listed by Guenther[4]show Jesus calling for obedience or expanding upon the Law so as to highlight people’s sinful state before a Holy God and their inability to keep God’s law no matter how hard they try to obey. Guenther acknowledges this understanding of obedience when he writes “Was not one of the purposes of the Law to show the Israelites their own inability to do God’s will in the flesh?” Gunther is right. However, Vegas understands Watson and Watson to mean something different by obedience, that is obedience equals faith and the means by which people enter a relationship with God.[5]What these verses listed by Guenther do not show is Jesus calling people to obey him in order to receive his grace and enter a saving relationship with him.

Guenther sees OBD’s purpose in teaching obedience before identification with Christ as serving the vital role of teaching that “obedience, not just knowledge, is the appropriate response to the Word of God.” This will then form the DNA of discipleship that will continue throughout a person’s life.

It would appear that Vegas’ concerns would apply here as well. He would argue that the appropriate response to the Word of God is neither primarily knowledge nor obedience, but rather repentance and faith that then bears fruit in obedience.

Guenther says that those writers (Watson & Watson) who seemed to equate faith and obedience probably did not mean to do so. To show this, he then provides a quote from their same book that claims, “But discipleship requires faith: the faith to be a believer in and a follower of Christ, and the faith to do what Christ commands…”[6]

Vegas and Guenther both seem to share an aversion to equating faith and obedience. Perhaps Vegas is misunderstanding OBD by understanding it to define faith as obedience. Perhaps Guenther is misunderstanding OBD by understanding it to define faith as trust. If we understand this quote the way Guenther suggests then it would appear that Watson & Watson are advocating for discipleship to occur after one has trusted in and identified with Jesus. This would then put Vegas and the Watsons in agreement that obedience based discipleship should occur after conversion and not before. This would leave Guenther on his own to defend teaching obedience to people before they identity with Christ. However, a consistent application of that understanding of Watson & Watson’s quote to the entirety of their book, namely the passages referenced by Vegas, would be a difficult feat to achieve. At best the Watsons are unclear and misleading. At worst they are distorting the gospel, even if they do so unwittingly.

It appears Guenther believes that Vegas disagrees with and even holds heretical the notion that faith results in obedience to God. He therefore provides some verses to demonstrate that genuine faith will be evidenced by obedience. A quote is then provided from Trousdale that reflects adherence to this doctrine.

Guenther is attacking a position that Vegas does not hold. In fact, it appears that Guenther would find an ally in Vegas at least as far as this issue goes. Those who hold to the doctrine that faith results in obedience will find the quote offered by Guenther encouraging. Vegas references Trousdale as understanding OBD as teaching the unbeliever to obey until he  “eventually [gives] Jesus his life allegiance”.[7]If obedience is a fruit of faith, then why does Trousdale call unbelievers to obedience? Perhaps, like the Watsons, he would define faith as obedience and the means by which the unbeliever gives Jesus his life allegiance and thereby takes hold of God’s grace. If not, then what does Trousdale mean by calling unbelievers to obey? As with the Watsons, Trousdale is at best unclear and misleading and at worst distorting the gospel, even if unwittingly. 

 

Person of Peace (POP)

Vegas’s Position

After an exegesis of relevant passages Vegas concludes that, “The phrase ‘son of peace’ is not a description of an unbeliever who has been prepared for the gospel. It is a description of someone who, upon hearing the gospel preached, receives the gospel, and thus ‘peace’ belongs to them. This POP is not someone who will slowly discover the gospel as he leads a Bible study in his home. The POP is not a spiritually interested unbeliever who is hospitable, and who will lead other unbelievers in the process of discovery. The ‘son of peace’ is someone to whom reconciliation with God through Jesus Christ belongs.”

Guenther’s Response with Commentary

Guenther looks at how the NIV and NET Bibles translate the term “son of peace” in Luke 10:6 to argue that it is difficult to say “whether this expression refers to someone who is already a committed follower of Christ or not.”

It appears that there needs to be an exegetical discussion on what the relevant terms mean. It would be of interest to hear Guenther interact with Vegas’s exposition.

Guenther does find it obvious that the POP had the following three characteristics. First, he was “receptive to the message.” Secondly, he “was in the process of learning more about and responding to the truth of the kingdom of God.” Thirdly, he “provides a platform for the gospel to be preached in his community.” Guenther then puts forward Cornelius, Lydia, and the Philippian Jailer as examples of his idea of a POP.

Guenther’s characteristics of a POP are broad enough to encompass most missiological methodologies. Given Guenther’s repeated breaks with DMM as defined by the Watsons and Trousdale we should look at his idea of a POP on its own terms. Guenther may have an ally in Vegas depending on how he would apply these characteristics.

There could be disagreement with Guenther’s first identifier of what characterizes a POP depending on what he means by receptive. Vegas also argues that a POP is someone who is receptive to the message in the sense that the POP receives the message and is converted. Vegas holds that, in the Scriptures, conversion precedes a person’s involvement in discipleship and evangelism. It seems that Guenther means receptive in the sense that the POP is interested in the message possibly to the point of conversion, but not necessarily. That interest is then enough for the POP to engage in discipleship and evangelism.

The second characteristic could encompass both evangelism and discipleship and it could define every person who has heard of the Kingdom of God, whether an unbeliever or a believer. In evangelism people are learning about the gospel and understanding that the appropriate response is repentance and faith. The same is true for believers as they continue learning about the Kingdom of God, but their repentance and faith results in obedience. However, this characteristic is also broad enough to include the DMM idea of Obedience Based Discipleship as discussed above.

The third characteristic of a POP is a significant break with DMM advocates who say that the unbeliever should engage in evangelism. Guenther limits the POP to someone who can provide a platform for the gospel to be preached in his community. This could include the customs official who approves a visa for the preacher or the local friend who, by speaking well of the preacher, gives the preacher more credibility in the community. Guenther’s idea of the gospel being preached in the community is also a significant break with DMM which holds that the gospel should be discovered by the locals and not preached by an outsider. Vegas and Guenther seem to have some common ground here.

Guenther disagrees with DMM writers, namely the Watsons, as to the necessity of finding a POP. He suggests that the missionary strategy does not depend on finding a POP but rather acknowledges the benefit to working with anyone who is receptive to the gospel and can open the door to more people studying the Bible.

This disagreement with the Watsons represents a redefinition of what a POP is and what the missionary’s task is. Vegas very well could find himself agreeing with this redefinition depending on what is meant by “receptive to the gospel” as discussed above and what is meant by “more people studying the Bible” as discussed below.

 

Discovery Bible Study (DBS)

Vegas’s Position

Vegas understands DBS to mean unbelievers leading a self-correcting Bible study, unbelievers obeying the commands of scripture, and unbelievers evangelizing other unbelievers. In the DBS framework, the missionary is not to preach or teach. In fact, his only job is to pray, find a POP, and encourage him to start a DBS.

After tracing the themes of teaching and correction through the Bible, Vegas concludes that, “There is simply no evidence of any character in the Bible being commanded to, nor providing the example of, facilitating a self-corrected, untaught, Bible study. Further, there are no examples of the apostles, nor any other leaders, employing unbelievers in the work of evangelism.”

Guenther’s Response with Commentary

Guenther finds looking to the biblical pattern of teaching anachronistic and points out that today there are more “opportunities” available to missionaries that were unavailable in biblical times. These opportunities include the completed canon, access to scripture, and widespread literacy.

It appears that Guenther is suggesting that the various forms of teaching seen in the Bible are irrelevant because people today likely have access to the completed canon. There seems to be a major assumption at play here: as long as people have access to the completed canon they do not need the teaching prescribed in said canon.[8]Therefore Guenther and other DMM proponents seem content to dismiss the numerous examples and commands in the Bible to exhort, teach[9], rebuke[10], preach[11], command[12], proclaim[13], declare[14], etc.

If we push the DBS principles toward their logical conclusion we encounter some irony and absurdity. The obedience to scriptures that is taught by DMM would have to be a qualified obedience that passes over these commands to teach. What would happen when a DBS studies a passage with examples and commands to teach and they try to obey those commands? Would the DMM practitioner encourage the members of the DBS to obey the Bible and start teaching? In order to maintain the DNA of the group (which is the prototype for the church), the missionary would have to warn the group to not obey the Scriptures regarding teaching. If he did, he would be abandoning DMM’s value of OBD in order to teach people not to obey the Bible. If he did not intervene, he would risk having unbelievers begin teaching and leading each other astray which would also mark a departure from DMM.[15]One is left wondering what the criteria DMM uses to determine whether certain instructions in the Bible are no longer applicable.

For Guenther’s next response to Vegas’ position regarding the necessity of teachers he calls forth the epistles and their writers to demonstrate a “self-corrected, untaught Bible study.” He argues that the epistles demonstrate DBS principles because the apostles did not go or send their representatives to teach the churches but left the churches to discover for themselves what the letters meant.

This is particularly perplexing. Guenther himself acknowledges that Vegas allows for Spirit-filled local believers to do the teaching. The churches who received the apostolic letters would presumably have Spirit-filled believers and elders who would be able to teach. At least three of the apostolic letters included an apostolic representative, Timothy and Titus. The vast majority of the epistles, if not all, include correction and warning to the churches. Given the presence of Spirit-filled believers who could teach, apostolic representatives who were commanded to teach, and correction given in the letters, we must conclude that Guenther’s example works better to affirm that the Bible does not teach or model DBS.

The idea of self-correcting, untaught Bible studies presents the serious problem of error. Even with Spirit-filled believers and elders there was a constant danger of error which the apostles write to correct and warn against. Furthermore, Paul did send representative to teach certain churches, correct error, and appoint elders who would be able to teach rightly.[16]Even then error posed a threat to the Church. Not only is teaching the Bible seen all throughout its pages, the notion of self-correction is nowhere to be found. Furthermore, a glance at Church history and the proliferation of heresies and cults should remind us that we are just as prone to error as anyone else.

Guenther points out that there are many styles of teaching and discipling. He holds that facilitating a DBS is an effective way to teach and contrasts it with “preaching in a public, up-front role.” Actively equipping and coaching someone else to do the DBS is also a way to “communicate the message.” He quotes the Watsons to show how they “teach” in a DBS by introducing new passages if the DBS is getting off track.

Teaching does not have to be a monologue, nor does it have to be upfront, nor does it have to be public. There are many appropriate contexts for teaching through informal dialogue. Guenther breaks with DMM advocates by calling the facilitation of a DBS “teaching”, something the DMM writers take pains to deny.[17]It would be too far of a stretch to say that the biblical instructions to teach, preach, rebuke, etc., could be done by merely facilitating. It would be unjustifiable to say that any of the biblical exhortations and examples to teach could be fulfilled in by uncorrected unbelievers obeying the Scriptures and evangelizing other unbelievers.

Guenther argues that if people can be saved through other literature then we should be okay with people coming to faith through God’s Word.

Regarding people being saved by literature such as gospel tracts or books, it should be noted, in the best cases, these pieces of literature represent trustworthy teaching of God’s Word. Furthermore, many who do engage with with these pieces of literature also have exposure to verbal teaching from friends or a church to help them understand the gospel.

Guenther asserts that using other means, such as a missionary teaching upfront communicates that “ordinary people cannot understand the Scriptures unless an educated person from the outside explains it to them. This would fly in the face of the Protestant affirmation of the perspicuity of the Scriptures.”

Regarding the perspicuity of Scripture, the Westminster Confession of Faith says that “in a due use of the ordinary means” even “the unlearned” may “attain unto a sufficient understanding” of those things in Scripture “which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation.”[18]These ordinary means include, among other things, listening to teachers of God’s Word.[19]The use of Spirit-filled believers who are able to teach the church does not fly in the face of the doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture, rather it is an essential component of it.[20]It would be blasphemous to deny that God could use whatever extraordinary means he fancies to save people, including donkeys[21]or unbelievers reading the Bible.[22]Missionaries should look to what ordinary means has God commanded us in Scripture to make the Bible clear and not base their methods on extraordinary means, be it donkeys or DBS.

Guenther argues that insisting on using “human teachers” poses a theological problem. Roman Catholic’s use the clergy, the saints, and the sacraments to mediate God’s grace. We fall into the same problem when we think we must “mediate the message [through teaching] to people before Jesus can do his mediating work.”[23]

The problem here is that word “mediate” has multiple senses and they are being equated with each other. The Roman Catholics mediate in the sense that they are acting between parties so as to dispense the grace of God. Teaching mediates in the sense that it is the medium that conveys the message of the grace of God. The quote implies that because there is one mediator between God and man[24]any other mediator gets in the way and corrupts, even that which conveys the message of the grace of God. Using this understanding of mediator would compel us to rid ourselves of any medium that might bring us God’s Word, printed, spoken or otherwise. However, in the next verses we see that it is precisely because there is one mediator between God and man that Paul was appointed to mediate the message of the grace of God through preaching and teaching.[25]This responsibility to convey the message of the grace of God is not just limited to the apostles but to all those who who are reconciled to God through Jesus Christ.[26]

Guenther states that, “[DBS] conveys the message can and must be communicated by local people, rather than relying on the ‘professional’.”

When there are no local people who know the message, they must be taught the message. A good church planting strategy would have the missionary looking for ways to encourage and equip the local believers to embrace their role in leading their church and proclaiming the gospel until the missionary is no longer needed.

 

Conclusion

The biblical support given for DMM was unconvincing and often undercut DMM’s own position. The critiques to Vegas’ article served to expose more weaknesses to the DMM position. Vegas’ concerns still stand and we have yet to see a convincing biblical basis for DMM. Pending that, it would be unwise and dangerous to recommend DMM to the Church.

[1]    David Watson and Paul Watson. Contagious Disciple Making: Leading Others on a Journey of Discovery. (Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition). 15.

[2]    Ibid, 37.

[3]    Ibid, 156.

[4]    The rich young ruler (Matthew 19:16-22), The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), The expert in the law who asked who was his neighbor (Luke 10:36-37), The Pharisees (Luke 11:39-41, 14:12-14)

[5]    See Vegas’ position above.

[6]    Ibid, 49.

[7]    Trousdale, Jerry. Miraculous Movements: How Hundreds of Thousands of Muslims Are Falling in Love with Jesus (Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition). 180.

[8]    2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”

[9]    Romans 12:6-8 “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation…”

[10]  1 Timothy 5:20 “As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.”

[11]  2 Timothy 4:2 “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.”

[12]  1 Timothy 4:10-11 “For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe. Command and teach these things.”

[13]  1 Peter 2:9 “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

[14]  Titus 2:15 “Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.”

[15]  This is based on the idea within DMM that fidelity to the Bible is assured by having just the Bible and no teachers.

[16]  1 Timothy 1:3; 3:11; 2 Timothy 4:2-5; Titus 1:5

[17]  Trousdale, 106.

[18]  WCF, 1.7

[19]  1 Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 4:11-13

[20]  For more on the perspicuity of Scripture see: Grudem, Wayne. The Perspicuity of Scripture. July 2009. http://waynegrudem.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Perspicuity-of-Scripture-for-Themelios-Word-97-3.pdf

[21]  Numbers 22-24 give evidence of God using a donkey to change the course of someone’s life.

[22]  Acts 8:26-40 gives evidence of an unbeliever reading God’s word and still needing teaching to understand it

[23]  Trousdale, Jerry; Sunshine, Glenn. The Kingdom Unleashed: How Jesus’ 1st-Century Kingdom Values Are

      Transforming Thousands of Cultures and Awakening His Church (Kindle Locations 4077-4082). DMM Library. Kindle

[24]  1 Timothy 2:5 “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus”

[25]  1 Timothy 2:7 “For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.”

[26]  2 Corinthians 5:28-19 “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.”