Review of Dissident Discipleship by David Augsburger


Review of Dissident Discipleship by David Augsburger
Also published by

As I’m sitting here thinking about this book review, my mind is contemplating the possibility of doing some white-water rafting down the Payette River in Idaho. At this very moment, the thrill of cascading down the river, bumping, floating, being thrown to and fro, and experiencing the effervescence of the river at its dynamic best is being contrasted with some harsh realities. First of all, the water temperature is 48 degrees, which makes what would otherwise be a challenging experience into one that is fraught with danger. A few minutes in that cold of water is not something that is exhilarating but is deadly. In other words, despite the fact that embarking on a rafting or kayaking adventure is alluring, it can’t be entered into lightly. The reality is that just to attempt to navigate the river at this point in the season is something that should be approached with caution and respect.

In many respects, David Augsburger’s new book, Dissident Discipleship (Brazos Press, 2006) is not to unlike this image of an enticing river. Truth is, I am quickly and enthusiastically drawn to books that are attempting to describe what many would call, “subversive spirituality”. In fact, I “Google” that phrase frequently simply to see what is being written and contemplated in this regard. I believe that many of us in this new era of “ekklesia”, as we attempt to clarify in our minds, hearts and communities what is missional, incarnational and true to the narrative of scripture, look for definitions and courageous insights that not only challenge us but give us a vision of a new way of living. Even so, let me warn you in a manner not too unlike those warnings given to eager but inexperienced river runners at this point in the summer season…approach Augsburger’s book with caution and respect. If you dive in to this insightful, prophetic, thoroughly biblical, and exigent text, you will be bringing danger upon your heart and life. I believe that one cannot embrace this book without being caught up in the sheer vitality of a renew manner of living as a Christ-follower.

Augsburger’s book is unapologetically communal, spiritually passionate, praxis-oriented, and theologically astute. Without idealizing the past, Augsburger places his insights in the context of the flow of faith history providing the reader with a faithful framework from which to discern, engage, and ultimately embody the book’s thesis. Though it might be something that will initially cause the reader to question Augsburger’s literary wisdom, the images of “monopolar, bipolar, and tripolar spirituality” prove to be very helpful in bringing clarity to the contemporary Christian landscape as well as providing useful imagery from which wrestle with the book’s implications. Although the imagery caused me to “step back” for a moment, once I remembered that Augsburger is a professor of pastoral care and counseling at Fuller Seminary, it all made perfect sense. The imagery is something that works within his theological discipline and actually is helpful in comprehending the fact that much of what has been regarded as faithful Christian practice is, in reality, not only NOT faithful but also dysfunctional. In this instance, language usually reserved for the study of psychology works beautifully in bringing clarification and profound insight to a very complex issue.

The book is organized around the “practice” of Christianity…in other words; theology, biblical hermeneutics, and the critique of established praxis of Christendom are engaged not just theoretically but from a “lived” perspective. I found that fact exciting. Too many books grab the mind but do not give clear direction on how to move from theory to practice. It ordinarily overly simplistic to say that one sentence epitomizes an entire 250 manuscript. But in this instance, one sentence can give you a clear picture of what Augsburger is going to drive home:

“Authentic spirituality, which I am calling tripolar spirituality to clearly identify it as fully three dimensional, is self transforming, God encountering, and other embracing. It accepts no substitute for actual participation”. (p. 27)

Augsburger’s discipleship is not defined as private territory…it does not give the reader room to hide from the presence of God. Rather it extends an invitation for each person to participate in the movement of God’s life in the world. Augsburger’s discipleship is not something that can learned through imitating “successful” Christians or popular ministries that, through seminars and fill-in-the-blank three point outlines, disseminate marketable propositions. Rather if there is anything to be imitated it is the life of Jesus. Jesus defines the disciple’s existence as we share in his divine nature and lifestyle. What is often seen in the context of 6-week classes or a sermon series in much of contemporary church practice is challenged by Augsburger. He writes,

“What is discipleship? We may answer it…it is a matter of true faith…knowing and holding to right beliefs about Jesus. Or, it is actually a matter of religious experience, of taking Jesus into your heart by public confession of faith and perhaps joining a church…the secret is believing in Jesus. Or, it is a matter of practice, of following the practices of Jesus in imitation of his character, courage and compassion…the secret is believing Jesus. Or, it is a matter of radical attachment; of following Jesus as a model of service to both God and the neighbor; of taking him as a radical example of rejecting dominance, violence, or coercion; of investing your life in him by living out the reign of God on earth…the secret is seeking to believe what Jesus believed”. (p. 40)

As some might exclaim, “that pretty much sums it up”. Augburger’s book is at least challenging and at best, prophetic in a manner that I have not oft encountered. The reader will be challenged to pursue community, willing obedience, unpretentious personhood, the way of the cross, a true selfless service of others, faithful and authentic witness, and subversive spirituality. Every step of the way is an encounter with the bone-chilling but exhilarating waters of discipleship the way that Jesus communicated and lived it. It will stretch the reader beyond the search for self-fulfillment, the drive for greed, and the enjoyment of culturally defined power and dominance. It will call them rather into a life epitomized by a passion for the poor, a disdain for any system that perpetuates injustice, an avoidance cultural debates that set up dichotomies of “winner/loser” (Christian/non-Christian), and a spirituality that is not defined by personal growth or a religious experience of individual salvation and goodness. Augsburger’s spirituality is one defined by a concern for others, love for God, discovery of one’s caring vocation and calling that are all bound up in the daily practice of following Jesus and shouldering the cross when it falls in our path. As he writes near in the end of this powerfully good book,

“Christians (need to) stake their existence on the claim that Jesus Christ is the authentic model for authentic life as an authentic person in authentic relationships and authentic community” (p. 176).

If this book is like a cold, mountain river that experts are warning us, “Jump in at your own risk”, all I can say is, “I’m diving in!”

Although I don’t get a penny from this review, here is where you can pick up the book…

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