T.A. McMahon and James McCarthy continue their discussion on Discipleship in the church today.
Special Bonus: Scroll down to just below the transcript and you'll find a link to a downloadable pdf of Jim McCarthy's training manual "Disciplines of the Christian Life" that was mentioned by Jim in this broadcast.
In today’s program, Tom continues his discussion on “The Meaning of True Discipleship” with guest Jim McCarthy. Here’s TBC’s executive director, Tom McMahon.
Tom: Thanks Gary. Well we’re in part two of our conversation with Jim McCarthy and the topic is “discipleship.” And as I mentioned last week, this is something that for many churches not only is it nonexistent, but people don’t even understand what the term means, what it is.
And Jim—to give you more of his background—he’s Irish just like me, okay (laughing), and a former Roman Catholic. He’s written a book that I use when I teach evangelicals about Roman Catholicism and it’s The Gospel According to Rome. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
He’s also written a book that I love for young people, John Calvin goes to Berkley. And when I say young people, I’m talking about college students.
And he’s produced a video, which I also think is tremendous. It’s called Catholicism: Crisis of Faith.
But again, the topic for today, picking up where we left off last week, is “discipleship.”
Jim, you gave us a really good definition of “discipleship,” but I think it’s worth repeating especially for those maybe who’ve missed our earlier program.
Jim: Well, “discipleship,” Tom, at least in a biblical sense, is described as being a learner; of being one who wants to be with the Lord Jesus and to be like Him, to walk as He walked. So it’s really kind of a, it’s a commitment. It’s a commitment to follow Him and to put aside the things of this life to serve Him and to allow the Holy Spirit to work in our lives and to conform us to the image of the Son.
Tom: Absolutely! Absolutely. And, Jim, last week, again we talked about an emphasis, at least with me, an emphasis on young people, young adults and I mentioned that I had the privilege of interacting with your discipleship training group—which I want to expand on that a little bit, not on my part, but on your part so our listeners, maybe new listeners today will understand what you’re doing and why we’re having this conversation. So if you could reiterate a little bit of that.
But as I observe this upcoming generation, there’s certainly…I see many who, there’s no doubt as I interact with them, they love the Lord, but their understanding of Scripture, their lack of discipline in reading the Word continually, of searching out the Scriptures. Things like how to read the Scriptures—and I’d like you to talk about this in terms of your program.
Hermeneutics. Boy you throw that word out there and you get blank stares like "What’s that all about?"(chuckling) But it’s not that complex is it, Jim? Well let’s just talk about that for a minute. You teach hermeneutics in your program?
Jim: We do. We teach Bible study methods. We just make it a little simpler to understand.
Tom: (Laughing) Right. Okay, but what is it? Come on, how simple is it?
Jim: Well, I believe that studying the Bible inductively is the way to go. In other words, we don’t simply lecture or hand them commentaries and just say "Read this and learn it." But we give them the tools to understand the Word of God themselves: how to break it down, how to outline it, how to do word studies.
Jim: How to understand the grammatical structure of a verse. And we train them, Tom, in how to study the Bible. And we don’t recommend they buy a lot of reference books...
Jim: …or books on topics, but learn to get a hold of the kind of computer software and books [that] will help them dig into the scriptures themselves. And we find that when people start to see that they can understand the Word of God themselves, that they can learn it just like the commentators and famous preachers, they just get excited by the joy of discovery, and then they begin to dig and they really learn the Word of God.
Tom: Yeah. And you see outside of a discipleship program, Jim, but in my encouragement and my writings, in my interaction— whether it be at a local church, or a men’s Bible study, whatever it might be—I preach and teach familiarity. You read it and you read it and you read it. And then you read it and you read it and you read it. And then read it and you read it. The reason being is because the more you read it, scripture interprets scripture. Right?
Jim: That’s right.
Tom: And the more familiar you are with it, the more discerning that you’re gonna be. I mean there’s so many things. And what does hermeneutics mean? Well it’s really simple. It’s context. I’m stunned, you know, if I…we’re having a conversation, Jim, and how do we understand each other? Well because you have a—we both have a sense of the grammar. We know the words that we’re using. We know what the words mean. But we also, and most importantly, we know the context of what we’re talking about. That’s hermeneutics. I mean there might be more to it, you can extend it out beyond that, but basically it’s those things that are being missed by young people because they’ve moved away from the objective word of God to, “Well, this is what I feel. No, I think it means this. Oh well you know it might be this," and so on.
That undermines any ability to discern, to correct an issue with regard…for example, if we had a conversation, Jim, and you’d say, “Well, Tom, I don’t see your interpretation of the Scripture. That’s not the way I see it.”
And I say, “Well okay, Jim, correct me on this. Show me where I’m wrong.”
And you say, “Well, Tom, what’s the context of this verse?”
Jim: That’s right. That’s right.
Tom: (Laughing) What does this…?
Jim: Again, I don’t know if you would agree with this, but you should be able to take ten knowledgeable Christians who know how to study the Scriptures.
Jim: Good hermeneutics— put them in ten different rooms, give them the same passage, give them a few hours, and when they come out, ask them what did the passage say, what did it mean? You shouldn’t have ten different answers. You should have one answer. The Scriptures mean what they say, and they say what they mean. And if you have good technique, context being a large part of that….
Jim: It should produce an objective, rational meaning. It’s not subjective, just up to you what it...you think it means.
Tom: And, Jim, that is, that is so important! Because all right, let’s take those ten. And all of a sudden, one of them says, “Well, you know, I know what you other nine say, but I don’t agree with it.”
So the other nine say, “Well let’s be reasonable about this. Let’s go through this.” In other words, there is an objective basis for correcting what a you know, a misunderstanding….
Tom: …of what a person—the conclusion they’ve come to. And if they’re...unless they’re, you know, just thick-headed, or have their heels dug in, and so on, the person’s going to change.
On the other hand, if we remove that objective basis and we move into, “Well, this is what I feel. This is the way I feel. I think it means this," and so on. Well que sera, sera. It’s whatever will be, will be. It makes no sense. No common sense, no biblical sense, what?
Jim: If the rules of interpretation are objective and reasonable and sound, it’s even possible that the one person would be able to convince the nine, based on his proof and evidence, his argument….
Jim: ...That his position is right and that they would change or they would submit to, “Well, yeah, you do see something there in the context we missed,” or whatever.
Tom: Right, right.
Jim: But people aren’t being trained how to study the Bible. They are not studying the Bible, and it’s left to just intuition and how they feel about it.
Tom: And the delusion out there is that, of course this is, you know this has been pushed upon us. Jim, you wrote John Calvin Goes To Berkeley, you know, within the Calvinist movement. How many times have I been confronted with, “Well you don’t understand Greek and Hebrew, so you can’t possibly—and Calvinism is so complex, that you’re too stupid…" People think I’m making this up. I’m not! We’re just appealing to the plain sense of Scripture, understanding what it says, and then it’s one thing to have it in your head, but if you’re not doing it, where’s the reinforcement in that?
Jim: Well, again, I think it goes back to the churches. I mean, churches need to provide solid biblical teaching to their people. They need to train their people how to study the Scriptures, and then I think mature teachers need to take groups of them through it—help them apply those things. And my experience has been, Tom, people want that. People enjoy it.
Tom: I don’t have any doubt about it, but at the same time, when it’s not there and when they’ve been drawn off, as you mentioned, Jim, to a subjective realm….
I’m writing a couple of articles right now on these people who claim to hear from God. Now, there’s a whole program involved in that. It’s not just some kooks out there that say, “Oh I heard from God.” We’re talking about individuals, leadership, this is a whole approach, a whole movement, a whole methodology and it’s all based upon an individual subjectively hearing from God, dealing with literally, if it’s in their own church, or if they have a national exposure, they could be leading millions, well, maybe hundreds of thousands, into a way to view Scripture that is so incredibly subjective that the only thing the sheep (as it were) can base it on is what this person said. And then they may try and support it with either their, you know, their charismatic personality with their dynamics. I mean even with some bogus signs and wonders kinds of things. But if that’s the situation a person is in in terms of receiving this information, they’re up for grabs. These people can take them any way they want and they have no basis for refuting it.
Jim: Well, obviously, that’s why we need to be discipling people; raising them up in a true knowledge of Scripture. Grounding them. It’s not something that happens quickly. A lot of it is life transference. It takes years, Tom, and I know you spent many, many years in ministry there with Dave Hunt, and it’s his life, that’s what’s changed you. You know, seeing his convictions lived out. Seeing his knowledge of Scripture, discussing Scripture with him. But most people never have that experience. They go to church and that’s about it.
Jim: It just leaves them terribly open to all these deceptive teachers.
Tom: Jim, along that line, here’s a couple of verses from Scripture, especially the last few years for me at least; it’s been like a neon sign running across my mind.
As you know well, talking about Dave Hunt, I’ve had the privilege of working with him on a book called The Seduction of Christianity.
Jim, that was twenty-five years ago (laughing).
Tom: Wow! But these verses, 2 Timothy:4:3-4, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears and they shall turn away their ears from the truth and shall be turned unto fables.”
Wouldn’t you say if there’s a prevention program, if there’s a antidote to this, because the scripture says this is going to take place, but’s not going to touch every heart and mind out there? But nevertheless, is discipleship an antidote to this problem? And if so, in what way would you say?
Jim: Well, I think it is, Tom, and I think if we teach people the Scriptures, take them through the books of the Bible—I think we need to study it a book at a time. That’s how it’s written. Not a verse here and a verse there, but take on the Book of Galatians and take on the Book of Romans and Exodus and the whole thing. And if you ground people in the Word of God, then when these deceptive things come, they’re prepared for them.
I think of Ephesians 4, and there it talks in verse 11 about how God—Christ, actually, the risen Christ—has given apostles and prophets, evangelists, and pastors and teachers for the equipping of the saints for the work of service to the building up of the body of Christ.
And as mature Christians invest their lives in the saints, in building them up, they attain it says, “to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God.”
As a result, they’re no longer like children who are tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine. The scripture says, “…By the trickery of men, by craftiness and deceitful scheming.”
So you take a Christian who’s well grounded in the Scripture and they can discern there. They can tell that person what’s wrong with what they’re saying, and they’re not fooled by it, not for a moment.
I mean, the Holy Spirit dwells within every believer. It’s uncanny how even a new believer can detect error. But as we grow, we need to get into the Word and really understand it and train our people to be discerning. To expose them to some of these false things so they can see truth and they can see error. But when you’ve trained a person like that, to me I just don’t see them as being vulnerable to deception on that scale. They pick it up very quickly.
Jim: And God guides them through His Word.
Tom: Right. You know the scripture also says that we’re not to be unaware of Satan’s devices and so on.
Jim: That’s right.
Tom: And, Jim, I absolutely agree with everything you said. We need to camp out on the Word. That’s why I preach read it, and read it, and read it and read it and so on.
On the other hand, you know, there comes a time where they have to minister to those who are caught up in this stuff, and part of the problem there is these people are not thinking their way through. Because the part of the program to deceive them is to wean them off the Word of God and so on.
Now one of the things that I’m crying out for, and it’s related to discipleship—this is all a part of discipleship, what we’re talking about here—but the thing that I’m concerned about is: you know you turn on TBN or some other cable religious network, and you see an individual up there. And you say, “This guy’s a kook!” You know, who would ever buy into that?” All of a sudden, the camera pulls back and you see there are three or four thousand people there. Now, for the life of me, I can’t believe there aren’t some true believers in there. Ignorant—when I say ignorant, I’m not...that’s not a put down—I just mean they’re ignorant of the Scriptures. They are ignorant of discipleship. They haven’t been trained; they haven’t been taught to be a Berean, those who search the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Well, my heart’s cry is not just that we, where the Lord provides opportunity to minister to these young people, but I don’t want ,let’s say, a mature, evangelical Christian to just blow this off, like "Oh, yeah, well they’re just a bunch of kooks," and so on.
No! How many I don’t know, but I would say many of these are our brothers and sisters in Christ. And we need to, you know, it’s like "Yeah, we’ll go out and evangelize." Well, some will. But will we go out and minister to those who, you know, may be truly Christians, but they’re clueless? They are being swept along in a deception.
Scripture says we are heading into the time—I mean, we’re...I believe we’re here—of apostasy. Drifting away from the faith.
Jim, I keep coming back to the prevention program, the antidote. It’s what you’re doing and it’s what you’re doing with these young people in your program that you’ve been doing for decades.
Jim: Well, I appreciate that, Tom, and I think it’s also the work of The Berean Call and just putting out the warning about all of these things. I’ve always felt that you and Dave Hunt have been ten or fifteen years ahead of the rest of us on the next greatest deception coming, and usually when Dave would speak up about it at first, everybody would, you know, be shocked at..."How can you say that? "And then a few years later, we’d see that what he’d said was exactly what was happening, and so I think we need both.
Tom: Yeah, right, yeah. You know, sometimes I think...I think about Dave, and I think about your really good friend and buddy, William McDonald. You know, I’ve had the privilege of being with Dave for thirty-five years, and I don’t know how long you were with Bill, but Bill is the author of a book called True Discipleship. He’s with the Lord now, but what can you tell us about Bill and what you learned from him in the area of discipleship?
Jim: You know that’s a hard question, Tom. I spent about the same amount of time with Bill, and I think the main thing that has affected me and has affected so many is just seeing the Christian life lived out. And when Bill wrote True Discipleship in the 1950s, it put every spotlight you can imagine on him. Is the author of this book going to live these things out? And as one who observed him for many years, I’d have to say he did.
Jim: He really lived the life of total commitment to Christ.
Tom: Yeah. I can amen to that, in just the years that I’ve known him—amen to that, Jim.
Jim: I think that’s what people need to see today. They need to be taught the Word, but they need to see it lived out, too, by those who are teaching it. And this is where discipleship comes in. Because discipleship is inviting another person into your life. It’s not just, you know, let’s show up at a classroom sometime, but allowing them to know you, you know, warts and all. How you live and what you stand for and then letting them observe you over a period of time. And certainly none of us are perfect, and none of us are without faults and needing to grow ourselves, but I think that’s part of discipleship as well. Being humble enough to let people see that you don’t walk on water; that you are in the trials of faith just like they are. You have challenges in your life just like they do, but as you go through those with God’s help, they see whether it’s real or not. And seeing that it’s real, that’s how it becomes part of their lives. And it was certainly that way with William McDonald, you know, just his commitment to God’s people, to the teaching of the Word of God, to living a simple life, where all of his possessions are really submitted to Christ. It had a tremendous affect on me as it has on many people.
Tom: Mm-hmm. Amen.
Jim, how about discipleship at home? I’m in a men’s Bible study, I speak to men’s retreats and so on. What would be your encouragement there?
Jim: Well, I think all of us, you know, after we’ve been Christians awhile, we have the responsibility to pass on to others what has been entrusted to us. And we find that in scripture in 2 Timothy:2:2, where Paul tells Timothy, “The things which you’ve heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”
So I think we have a responsibility to identify those people in our lives or churches that want more and need more and then offer to invest. Offer to go through a course of study or to be involved. Invite them into the ministries we’re doing, invite them into our lives—and it doesn’t have to be in a formal way. It doesn’t have to be in a classroom setting, but just to be open to share the things of God with others such that they can learn them and experience them.
I think that it’s very important in our day too, with the breakdown of the family, Tom, so many people come to Christ, but they’ve never seen a Christian family. They don’t know what a Christian marriage looks like. They don’t know how to raise children. They don’t know how to get along with people and we need to invite them into our homes and let them observe how Christians live and at least how we should live.
Jim: I remember one of our disciples came from Croatia, and he’d grown up under Communism, came from a fairly rough background, and he came out to our program. And we had him living with one of the Christian families that gave him a room he could stay in.
And after about three months, he came out one evening to this family that had two young sons, a husband and wife, and he confessed to me. He said, "You know, when I came here at first," he said, "I thought you were all a bunch of phonies. You are all so nice to each other; you don’t argue with each other. I thought it was all an act for me. But I’ve been here three months now. I see this is actually how you live!" (Chuckling) He’d never seen that before.
Tom: (Also chuckling) Yeah.
Jim: And that was life changing to him. It was probably the greatest thing he got out of our program was living with that family.
And so, as Christians, we need to be the kind of people that are willing to invest in others and to have that kind of life transference going on.
Tom: See, Jim, it’s so amazing, because here’s the progression: as a father, the spiritual leader of the household, he disciples his children. The children get involved in youth groups and so on. These become the very leaders that a youth pastor would drool over because they’re going to be part of the program that he wants to present. And it didn’t start with him, it started in the home. This is where so much has gone wrong in the church. The churches have become the spiritual babysitters or entertainers for our young people.
Now, Jim, I want to throw one other thing out here, because I just can’t underscore enough how important discipleship is in the context that we’ve been talking about.
As I mentioned, I get to minister to men. And sometimes I take them to the woodshed by saying this: “I know many men who wouldn’t think twice about protecting their family. If somebody broke into their house, they would pick up a baseball bat and they’d protect their family.” Jim, I don’t know too many men who would pick up the sword of the Spirit to protect their wives and their children. That’s where it has to be.
Jim, I want to close with this—you mentioned something earlier to me. Jim, how you can you help us out here? What can you do for our audience? What can you do for our listeners who are really excited about what you had to say? How can you help them out?
Jim: Well, Tom, I have a syllabus called Disciplines of the Christian Life that I wrote and we use in our church. It’s twenty-four lessons meant to be used in a discipling relationship, and it takes a new believer just through the basic disciplines of the Christian life that they should have— that every Christian should have as part of their lives. Things like prayer, Bible memory, personal time with God, commitment to a local church, growth in character, evangelism, and even just the concept of what is discipleship? What it means to follow Christ. I would just like to make this available free to anybody who would like it.
It’s a PDF file that’s form fillable. You can also just print it out and answers the questions with pen and ink. We’ve been using this for about twenty years and a lot of people have been through it and have been helped by it. So if possibly I could make it available on your site. People could just download it as they need it.
Tom: Great. And Gary will give them that information.
Jim, again it’s a privilege, you know. You’re a buddy and I love ya, and I’m so thankful for your input on our program. So once again, thanks and God bless you, brother.
Jim: Thank you, Tom.
Gary: You’ve been listening to Search the Scriptures 24/7 with T. A. McMahon, a radio ministry of The Berean Call.
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I’m Gary Carmichael, thanks for joining us and we encourage you to Search the Scriptures 24/7.