This is the sixth blog in a series from Sunderland minister David Whiting, who is currently on sabbatical
‘Reimagining Discipleship – Loving the local community’ by Robert Cotton, SPCK, 2012
Robert Cotton is Rector of Holy Trinity and St Mary’s Guildford and a number of the illustrations in the book are taken from his experience in that parish.
In the opening pages of the book Robert Cotton explains why he wants to re-imagine discipleship.
Since the time of Bede this country has been described as being Christian although often the slogan ‘we are a Christian country’ has been no more the mere rhetoric. Today the claim is even more unlikely to hold truth and statistics seem to deny the claim entirely. Nevertheless some consider the claim to have a truth to it in the past and hope that the claim will be able to be made again in the future. The author writes:
‘One of the necessary tasks is to reimagine Christian discipleship. Most spiritual approaches identify discipleship as involving basic ingredients such as personal belief, Bible reading, attending worship and ethical behaviour. All of these are vital but the missing ingredient is how disciples relate to others. In particular we can imagine discipleship in fresh ways if we concentrate on how disciples do things on behalf of others’ (p. 1-2).
It is this paragraph that describes what the author is about in his book he seeks to describes what disciples can do for others, a sort of ‘contagious goodness’.
The book is divided into three parts with the following headings::
- ‘Public faith’
- ‘Being responsible’
- ‘Courageous exploration’
In the first part of the book the author explores what it mean to live the faith publicly both on behalf of oneself and also on behalf of others.
At the end of the first part Robert Cotton includes an interlude entitled ‘Five-dimensional disciples’. The description five-dimensional comes from a description given to Lucien Freud’s paintings. The author describes how the artist paints the subjects of his portraits in three dimensions, the fourth dimension is the soul which emerges from the way the artist uses gesture, tone and colour. The fifth dimension is time. ‘His portraits are sufficiently real, unglamorized and dynamic that you can hear the clock in the background’ (p56).
The link is made to discipleship. It is five dimensional because it is about ‘being specific, embodies, honest human beings (3D), who know where their truth comes from (soul), and can answer ‘What are you becoming’ (time)’ (p.56).
We then move onto the second part of the book which essentially concerns the way we live our lives morally. The point is made that our moral life benefits more from our corporate behaviour than living lives as individuals. It considers what it is to live lives that are responsible not only for ourselves but primarily for others.
The third part of the book explores the consequences of disciples living for others. When you live in such a way there is a ‘two way flow of energy, ideas and possibilities’ (p.6). The book is all about vicarious discipleship, or a vicarious way of Christian living. The church lives out the faith on behalf of the nation and the congregation lives faithfully for the local community. We can see here the background of the Church of England which many of those who belong see as being a Church for the nation.
In many ways this book shows its Anglican background but the idea of vicarious discipleship remains a useful concept. Discipleship is always more than living for oneself if we are to be followers of Jesus then our lives need to be lived on behalf of the world, with others and on behalf of others.