Christian Living

don’t know much about the Middle Ages

Photo: Devan Foster, 'pieds' 4 of 20

Photo: Devan Foster, ‘pieds’ 4 of 20

I definitely don’t know much about the Middle Ages. But I’ve spent the past couple of weeks reading up about monasticism—especially because the contemporary discipleship conversation often harks back (implicitly or explicitly) to monastic spirituality.

I’m acutely aware that a few weeks of reading far from qualifies me as a world expert or anything remotely like an ‘insider’ — notwithstanding the near-monastic rigour of waking at 4.30am all week with my congested three year-old son.

But I’ve found some interesting tensions in the way Ernst Troeltsch handles the phenomenon of monasticism in his landmark study, The Social Teaching of the Christian Churches.

If you don’t know anything about Troeltsch, fear not — neither did I. Until I Googled him.

Apparently, he was a very influential late nineteenth century/early twentieth century philosopher, historian and theologian. Barth regarded Troeltsch as the ultimate nineteenth-century liberal theologian, possibly a little like Jesus regarded John the Baptist as the ultimate Old Testament prophet — for each brought their respective tradition to its (dead) end.

But some of his ideas exercise ongoing influence. Like the important distinction he makes between church and sect — which is the assumed framework for Miroslav Volf’s famous article, ‘Soft Difference’.

And monasticism plays a particularly fascinating role here.

On the one hand, Troeltsch sees monasticism as incorporated — if not fully integrated — within the richer whole of the medieval Corpus Christianum. Indeed, he discerns what Michael Banner calls an ‘otherworldly worldliness’ in its ascetic withdrawal from the world that enables monastic spirituality to contribute positively to the unity and stability of the medieval synthesis (pages 243-5).

According to Troeltsch, monasticism founds a home on the church side of the church/sect divide during the Middle Ages.

On the other hand, when he comes to systematise his distinction between church and sect, monasticism appears on the other side of the divide — as an agent of disruption and radicalisation rather than of social cohesion.

Although Troeltsch’s description of sectarian radicalism reads like a blow by blow account of sixteenth century Anabaptism, he admits that in the Early Church it was embodied “above all in monasticism” (page 329).

But he quickly moves to contain this admission.

He labours to maintain that (as he had previously argued) the sectarian energies of monasticism had been pressed into service of the church by the Middle Ages. Except that now, far from a mutualism benefiting both church and monastery, Troeltsch says monasticism was merely “tolerated” (page 330).

All of which yields a much more negative assessment of monasticism, which overturns his best insights into the ‘worldliness’ characteristic of monastic spirituality (pages 332-3):

“The ascetic ideal of the sects is fundamentally different from that of monasticism, in so far as the latter implies emphasis on the mortification of the senses, and upon works of supererogation in poverty and obedience for their own sake. In all things the ideal of the sect is essentially not one which aims at the destruction of the sense life and of natural self-feeling, but a union in love which is not affected by the social inequalities and struggles of the world.”

The ambivalent and liminal status of monasticism as Troeltsch handles it here, crops up repeatedly whenever the contemporary discipleship conversation looks back to or attempts to retrieve the ‘otherworldly worldiness’ of monastic spirituality.

the contemporary discipleship conversation

Photo: Devan Foster, 'pieds' 3 of 20

Photo: Devan Foster, ‘pieds’ 3 of 20

I find it hard to avoid the contemporary discipleship conversion.

And I don’t think it’s just because I’m doing a PhD on discipleship. As soon as I edge towards any discussion on Christian living, mission or evangelism, I’m either taking part in it or eavesdropping on it.

It’s certainly bubbling away in the missional church movement.

Take Mike Breen’s famous article, ‘Why the missional movement will fail’, for example. (At the time I wrote this, the article had been shared 9500 times on Facebook. So it’s pretty influential.)

Breen begins by contending that discipleship is the engine of the church — and mission: “If you make disciples you will always get the church. But if you try to build the church, you will rarely get disciples.”

As a sidebar: I am 100% on board with the sentiment here. But I’m more hesitant about the precise formulation.

I totally get that ‘building the church’ particularly through pragmatic church growth techniques doesn’t always/often yield mature, proactive Christians. But I wonder if it would be different if we followed the biblical game plan for building the church — speaking the truth in love, using our gifts in love to serve and build each other up, stoking the fires of faith in Christ and joy in him, etc.

And I’d also question whether making disciples does in fact always yield the church. I’ve seen too many ‘sold out disciples’ who struggle with and ultimately give up on belonging to an actual flesh-and-blood church because it’s not radical/missional/whatever enough…

But according to Breen, the priority of discipleship is both true and pragmatic.

On the one hand, it’s true as a matter of simple, biblical definition. In the New Testament, disciples do mission. But mission is only “one of many things Jesus taught his disciples to do well”.

(Of course, we will need to contend at some point with whether ‘disciple’ should be our go to way of characterising those who belong to Jesus. And even if it is, we’ll need to be aware of where it has limits and needs supplementing with the other possible contenders for this crown: ‘Christian’, ‘child of God’, ‘believer’, etc)

On the other hand, as Breen shares from his own experience of the messy, challenging, protracted, spiritual war zone of mission and missional community, it doesn’t work without discipleship: “Without a plan for making disciples (and a plan that works), any missional thing you launch will be completely unsustainable”.

So when he concludes with this stirring cry, I can’t help but nod in agreement:

The missional movement will fail because, by-and-large, we are having a discussion about mission devoid of discipleship. Unless we start having more discussion about discipleship and how we make missionaries out of disciples, this movement will stall and fade. Any discussion about mission must begin with discipleship.

Maybe the discipleship conversation I can’t avoid is something I shouldn’t try to!

a storm in an Anglican teacup

Photo: 'pieds' 2 of 20, Devan Foster

Photo: ‘pieds’ 2 of 20, Devan Foster

During the week, some friends drew my attention to a debate about discipleship that’s currently troubling teacups in the Church of England.

Here’s the article I was alerted to — ‘Is “discipleship” Anglican?’ by Ian Paul.

Let me try to break down the debate as I understand it:

  • A bunch of reports on the future of the Church have recently appeared. Apparently, they and their recommendations are laced with the language of ‘discipleship’ and ‘disciple-making’. (I know. Anglicans who are on-trend! Astonishing. Although, not unprecedented.)
  • Two high profile Anglicans — Linda Woodhead and Angela Tilby — then publicly questioned this. Specifically, they questioned all the discipleship talk.
  • Since then there has been at least one round of responses — like Paul’s — all pushing discipleship front and centre in various ways.

I don’t want to jump the gun on this. And I definitely can’t claim to fully grasp the context of this debate.

But I’m fascinated by the following features:

One. There’s an obvious political dimension to address.

Woodhead’s worry that “the reason that the theologically peripheral concept of “discipleship” is made to do so much work in these reports is that “following Jesus” is being used as an analogue for leadership (Jesus and clergy), and followership (laity)” is yet to receive an adequate response.

While Ian Paul has plenty to say about the claim that discipleship is a ‘theologically peripheral concept’, he doesn’t appear to adequately tackle the suggestion that it is being used to smuggle in a particular model of church — and church leadership.

To me this is a particularly important question.

It’s important formally because my experience has been that evangelicals aren’t very good at addressing the power dimensions in any particular discourse. So while we may be all over the meaning and truth of discipleship discourse, we struggle to do justice to more political question of how it’s being used and abused (and who’s benefiting).

It’s also important substantively because one of the hunches driving my own research is that emphasising discipleship affects our doctrine of church — tending to eclipse the (solidly biblical) metaphor of the body, for example.

Two. There’s also a hermeneutical question to tackle.

Tilby raises this question when she proposes an alternative master image for the Christian life:

There’s little about disciples in the rest of the New Testament [outside the Gospels and early chapters of Acts]; certainly not in Paul’s letters, in spite of his missionary passion. Scripture might therefore suggest that discipleship is not the best description of normative Christian life. Life in the Spirit or life in Christ are obvious alternatives, bridging the Fourth Gospel and the Pauline letters, both of which are concerned with the Church’s life in present time rather than with the earthly history of Jesus (where the language of discipleship really belongs).

The final half sentence is the key. We must grapple with the relation between what the Evangelists describe in the Gospels (and Acts) and what is proscribed for us as Christians on this side of the resurrection.

As I’ve begun gently probing Calvin’s doctrine of the Christian life, I’ve been struck by how develops an account of the disciples as types of Christians. Disciples display deep continuities with post-resurrection members of the Church, to be sure. But they’re still ‘on the way’ and not quite there yet.

Three. Those advocating discipleship have a point we can’t evade.

Discipleship talk does a good job of fostering a concrete and serious concern with holistic holiness of life (which includes the call to mission). The more ‘societal’ approach to church/faith favoured by Woodhead and Tilby struggles to sustain this.

If we don’t want to go with discipleship as a key image for the Christian life then we’re going to have to find something else that does the job at least as well.

In other words, when it comes to our thinking about the Christian life we may have to get beyond discipleship — but we can’t go over it, we can’t go under it, we can’t go around it; we’ve got to go through it!

Four. In fleshing out what discipleship means we inevitably go beyond what the Gospels present.

In fact, as Ian Paul fleshes out discipleship in terms of “decision, learning and community”, he is forced to develop his doctrine of the Christian life beyond the bounds of merely being a disciple as it was known and practiced prior to Jesus (the Rabbis had disciples) and even in the Gospels.

At one point, he even admits this, describing discipleship as the ‘root’ from which the more widely observable language of decision, learning and community spring up.

And this is where things really start to get interesting.

Because thinking of discipleship as the root of full Christian character and living actually invites us towards the theological maturity and balance Woodhead and Tilby crave — the tree is so much more than the root (even if it’s all latent in the root).

But, as it does so, it calls us to guard against sacrificing the sharp edges of our evangelical preference for discipleship language.

does Christianity = discipleship?

Photo: 'pieds' 1 of 20, Devan Foster

Photo: ‘pieds’ 1 of 20, Devan Foster

My research on the theological significance of discipleship in the Reformed tradition has begun!

One of the big questions I’m faced with right off the bat is how to understand ‘discipleship’.

Is it coextensive with being Christian? Is it real Christianity — the genuine article (as opposed to, say, nominalism or ‘carnal’ Christianity)? Or something else?

Some are outspoken about this. Famously, Dietrich Bonhoeffer said (The Cost of Discipleship):

Christianity without the living Christ is inevitably Christianity without discipleship, and Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ. It remains an abstract idea, a myth which has a place for the Fatherhood of God, but omits Christ as the living Son. And a Christianity of that kind is nothing more nor less than the end of discipleship. In such a religion there is trust in God, but no following of Christ. Because the Son of God became Man, because he is the Mediator, for that reason alone the only true relation we can have with him is to follow him.

In saying this, Bonhoeffer is making common cause with what has been described as the ‘Anabaptist vision’. That is, the vision of faith and life expressed by the equation: Christianity = discipleship.

And there is something clearly right about this. Again and again, Jesus summoned people to discipleship — to follow him rather than merely associating themselves with him from a distance, to embrace him on his terms rather than their own (after burying their dead or saying good-bye to their families, for example), to publicly ‘own’ him rather than secretly nursing some private conviction or experience.

More, there is something deeply appealing. I love Bonhoeffer’s Christocentrism. For him (as for Barth), Jesus has to define and shape our allegiance to him — not some system, principle or idea … even an idea about Jesus.

But things are just a little more complicated… (Obviously, right? Or I’d hardly think I could get a PhD out of it!)

For one thing, Jesus seems to not just call people to follow him — as many had done before and many would do after him — but also to rework, expand and give new content to what such following means.

I’m also not 100% sure that the simple equation of Christianity with discipleship can be made without some important remainder.

In the end, what I’m seeking is a more thoroughly Jesus-shaped vision of the Christian life.

And I’m happy to look almost anywhere for it. Whether to the Anabaptists and their heirs or the Magisterial Reformers (like Calvin) and their heirs — even if it means displacing discipleship as the central organising image for being Christian.

the next chapter of the discipleship story


Last year I attended a seminar at the annual national conference for the Christian student movement I’m part of. It’s topic was discipleship — what it looks like to follow and imitate Jesus.

A key moment in the seminar came early on, where our speaker framed the question of discipleship like this:

“We can’t walk on water. We can’t cure lepers. So what does it mean to say we want to be like Jesus?”

When he said this, we all chortled along. I did too. (I even tweeted it.) Haw. Haw. Yes. Of course!

And he had a point. When Jesus talks about what it means to follow him, he always emphasises being conformed to him in his self-emptying for the sake of others.

Christian discipleship is about following the path he walked. Service. Self-denial. Suffering.

But I’ve realised that there’s another chapter in the story of discipleship. In many ways it’s the chapter of discipleship’s future — the glory following the suffering, the resurrection following the crucifixion.

The New Testament gives us a preview of this when one disciple does in fact walk on water.

In Matthew 14, the disciples see Jesus walking on the water. Most of them freak out — not sure what they’re seeing. But Peter has faith, and asks if he can go out to be where Jesus is. And Jesus agrees.

It’s a dramatic moment. And if it’s meant to be a picture of the Christian life, then surely it’s primarily about where that life is heading — towards the glory of sharing in Christ’s perfect rule over creation.

And yet there’s also much about Peter’s faltering combination of courage and doubt (overwhelmed and distracted by his circumstances) that speaks to us of the Christian now.

Indeed, the themes that swell in this story — trust, loyalty and the need to develop a Christ-centred gaze — simply are the main themes of the Christian life. They’re as true and urgent now in our conformity with Christ’s sufferings as they will be when we join him in his unveiled glory.

For the invitation contained in Christ’s call to follow him is the invitation to take up our fullest and truest humanity. Humanity in fellowship with God. Renewed in his image. And renovated by his Spirit.

And to do so not simply after we’ve emptied ourselves but also in emptying ourselves.

That is the next chapter of the discipleship story. The chapter in which discipleship is the glorious road to our best humanity. Trusting and looking to Jesus above all. And becoming like him — even when that means falteringly setting out across the waters…

how to give grace to whoever you’re talking with

AFES Chappo Interview

How do you give grace to whoever you’re talking with?

This is the question that’s been circling inside since I preached on Ephesians 4.17-5.2 a couple of weeks back.

It’s a challenging passage. It draws a sharp line between our old identity — our old humanity, mangled as it is by our futile and corrupting desires — and the new identity we’re given in Christ — a humanity made new in the image of our Creator.

But one thing that really leapt out at me as I sat with this passage is the sheer emphasis on how we speak.

It’s there at every turn.

But it’s verse 29 that’s really got a grip on me:

Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.

So that your words may give grace to those who hear.


That is an amazing possibility. Isn’t it?

That the things that come out of our mouths could not only enrich, build up, comfort, encourage, advise — and all those other good human things.

But that we could somehow give grace to whoever you’re talking with.

Astonishing, right? It’s almost hard to picture how that could be.

Except that I’ve seen it.

At the 1 hour and 13 minute mark in this video, Australian evangelist John Chapman was asked if there was a period of his life he looked back on as the happiest.

I was in the room when this question was asked. And I remember the tremendous sense of gratitude that flooded me as it was asked: ‘That was such a kind thing to ask…’

I doubt there was a dry eye in the room by the time Chappo had finished answering.

That question gave grace to John Chapman — and to all of us who listened. Tangibly so.

It did this through it’s beautiful combination of specificity and other-centredness.

Specificity because it forced us to pay attention to particulars rather than just skate across the surface of generality.

Other-centredness because it wasn’t chiefly designed to wrest some wisdom for us from Chappo’s memories — although it did that in spades.

(In fact, this combination seems to be the key to all good questions.)

So it’s with that memory burning in my heart that I’m committing myself to learning to ask the kind of questions that give grace to those who hear.

so you want to get prophetic at Christmas, huh?

Yes. It’s that time of year again…

My newsfeed is filling up with photos of over-the-top Christmas parties, food, and presents in counterpoint to anti-Christmas jibes, rants or links to fuller rants.

I’m not talking about the Santa = Satan variety of rant (along the lines of “Oooh! Look — you can rearrange the letters … and they’re THE SAME!!!”).

I’m talking about rants that are equal parts anti-Pagan Hijacking Of A Christian Holy Day and anti-consumerist.

(OK. So given the political tilt of many of my Facebook friends, the distance between these two things is sometimes thin to vanishing.)

It seems like everyone either wants to get paralytic or prophetic at Christmas time.

Who knows? Maybe this is a throwback to the early days of biblical prophecy, when it seems like the two came as a package deal.

And hey — I can sympathise with the sentiment here.

I used to be animated by something very similar to it. I would wallow in resentful misery. And, if given the chance, I’d wax wrathful at the whole pseudospiritual-capitalist complex that obscured ’the real meaning of Christmas’.

It would have been like a annual possession, except for the fact that I used to be about as much fun to hang out with all year around!

(Oddly enough, I think the period of my Grinch-y gloom began at roughly the same point in my life at which I had to take responsibility for buying/making presents for other people.)

But then I got Christmas — or rather it got me.

These days, I find myself less in the mood for grim prophecy and more in the mood to celebrate the glory of what Christmas is all about.

Although I can still happily live without the ubiquitous reindeer antlers, I’ve even started to enjoy Christmas carols.

When else does the Australian general public verbally exult in the Incarnation?

And when else do parents and children together rehearse the earth-shattering news of God the Son becoming a flesh-and-blood human being and embarking on the road into the far country as he pours himself out and is crowned with glory and honour for us and for our salvation?

Sure — there’s plenty more thought that people could put into it. And lots of ways in which we could resist the insidious consumerisation of every aspect of Christmas (if I’d had time or been better-planned this year, I would have loved to make more of the presents I’m giving).

I’m not suggesting it’s enough simply to sing songs, give gifts, and dispense Hallmark-ised ‘Season’s Greetings’.

But I do wonder if we’d win more of a hearing if we visibly enjoyed (rather than merely endured) this culturally-sanctioned opportunity to retell and reflect on the story of our Saviour’s birth?

plagiarism and sin redux

A guest post by Natalie Swann.

I freaked out a bit after my more-provocative-than-I-had-intended post on plagiarism and sin. More people than I expected read the post and some people I respect have had some contrary things to say.

So, while I freaked out, I Googled “plagiarism is not sin”. Mostly, I got articles about plagiarism being sin. Oops. But on page 2 of the results I came across this NYT article by Stanley Fish, ‘Plagiarism is not a big moral deal’.

It’s a really good article and you should go and read it. I did. 3 years ago.

It shaped my consciousness for tutoring students about the rules of the citation and referencing game. And then life happened and I forgot the article, but remembered its lesson.

And I didn’t acknowledge it in my previous post.

So I’m on the fine edge of what my own university would call plagiarism — although I’m not sure Prof Fish would mind.

In light of the conversations I’ve had on- and off-line (I’m looking at you Hugh, Simon, Jo, Heather, Marty, Toby, and Rob), I need to make a concession: theft is always socially constructed.

In some places it is OK to help yourself to veggies on a public plot, or a deer from crown land. In other times or places it is not.

And so, because of contemporary understandings of Intellectual Property, plagiarism constitutes theft and it is probably rightly called a sin.

Prof Fish puts it like this:

“Of course every sin is learned. Very young children do not distinguish between themselves and the world; they assume that everything belongs to them; only in time and through the conditioning of experience do they learn the distinction between mine and thine and so come to acquire the concept of stealing. The concept of plagiarism, however,  is learned in more specialized contexts of practice entered into only by a  few; it’s hard to get from the notion that you shouldn’t appropriate your neighbor’s car to the notion that you should not repeat his words without citing him.”

But I want to stick to my guns for two reasons.

First, what does (and does not) count as plagiarism isn’t self-evident.

All this talk of plagiarism as a sin makes it seem like the ‘rules’ are obvious when really they are actually quite complicated:

“If you’re a professional journalist, or an academic historian, or a philosopher, or a social scientist or a scientist, the game  you play for a living is underwritten by the assumed value of originality and failure properly to credit the work of others is a big and obvious no-no. But if you’re a musician or a novelist, the boundary lines are less clear (although there certainly are some) and if you’re a politician it may not occur to you … that you’re doing anything wrong when you appropriate the speech of a revered statesman.”

My own University, the University of Melbourne, provides guidelines for students here. According to these guidelines, plagiarism included “copying ideas, concepts” (like I perhaps have done by not citing Prof Fish earlier) and “presenting as independent, work done in collaboration with other people (eg, another student, a tutor)” which seem to me about as clear as mud.

For example, I have never cited — and I have never seen anyone else cite — a tutorial conversation in an essay. And yet the purpose of a tutorial (at least, in the social sciences) is to collaborate and help students learn to think in disciplinarily acceptable ways. So shouldn’t our students be citing their tutorials?

Ultimately, if the church writ large is going to cry ‘Plagiarism!’, I think we need to be more explicit about what is and isn’t considered OK.

Is it OK to use someone else’s ideas uncredited in your sermons? It would certainly break the flow. Are preachers more like politicians or academics in Prof Fish’s example above?

Is it OK for a pastor’s partner — let alone research assistants and ghost writers (who at least get paid!) — to make significant uncredited input to sermons or written work?

Second, Intellectual Property (as we know it) is a relatively new invention and not necessarily the way things must be.

Calling plagiarism a sin threatens to blind us to this — and stop us imagining other ways of doing it.

Maybe IP is a really great idea. But maybe there are alternatives that the church should be championing.

There is certainly movement in some academic circles to make research open access. Surely it’s even more important that good theology gets out there?

Beyond that, maybe we should ask ourselves: Do Christians really think knowledge belongs to individuals?

I can’t help but feel it’s a perfect example of the interdependence of the church as a body.

And I would be excited if, in light of Pastor Driscoll’s transgression, we could have a conversation about the theological imperative for something like Creative Commons licencing and Open Access.

Admittedly, both Creative Commons and Open Access still value appropriate attribution. But both movements point us towards more collaborative and interdependent models for sharing knowledge. And I find that attractive.

plagiarism is not a sin

Guest post by Natalie Swann.


In case you missed it, there’s a wee bit of controversy going on at the moment about the evangelical celebrity pastor, Mark Driscoll, engaging in plagiarism (see this or this, for example).

As someone training in academia, it makes me feel uncomfortable.

Acknowledging your sources is important. I train my students (when I have them) to reference their work.

But I also educate them that plagiarism is not a sin. Rather, referencing is a discipline; it is a unique product of modern Western academic practice.

While many students knowingly engage in plagiarism, there are also many students who live in terror of becoming culpable of it. The terror they feel is a moral one; the fear of a “scarlet P” on a student record has curiously religious overtones.

But nowhere in Scripture is there condemnation for what we understand as plagiarism. The writers of Genesis did not footnote Babylonian creation myths.

Plagiarism is a professional misdemeanour, not a sin.

Perhaps Pastor Driscoll is at fault in not submitting to the rulers and authorities of our age. Perhaps there are real sins at work, like pride or hypocrisy.

But, please, can we stop acting like plagiarism is a sin?

why I’m giving up on meeting one to one

Your standard one to one meeting

Meeting with people one to one — to chat about life, pray and read the Bible with the aim of growing as disciples of Jesus — is one of the more stable features the kind of university (aka ‘college’) student ministry I serve in.

But it’s become increasingly clear to me that I need to give it up.

Huh? Give up meeting one to one? What am I smoking?

Let me explain how I reached this conclusion.

To start with, there have been some pragmatic factors pushing me in this direction.

In particular, I’ve only been on campus two days/week for the second half of this year. But I’d already begun meeting with a bunch of students — some currently in leadership, some potential leaders, and some in particular need of pastoral care.

I didn’t want to stop meeting with any more of these people than I had to. But my time and resources were limited.

So I decided to try combining my one to ones into triplets.

After only one semester of trying it, the results are far from conclusive. But tentatively I can report that…

  1. I was able to keep regularly meeting up with almost all of the students I had been meeting with in first semester.
  2. I was forced to act on my conviction that ministry is as much caught as taught (instead of simply telling the student leaders to disciple someone else, I was able to work with them to do it).
  3. I am starting to re-examine the rationale for my pre-existing preference to do discipleship one to one.

I’ve barely even begun thinking through the third point. But I’ve been stimulated by a chapter from Transforming Discipleship by Greg Ogden, which someone recently pushed my way.

Ogden argues very strongly against our tendency to model discipling on the Paul-Timothy relationship. To his mind, this brings with it an unhelpfully asymmetrical expert-learner dynamic — something like which is perhaps encoded in the language of ‘investing in someone’ that I typically reach for to describe these meetings.

I’m not sure I’m entirely with him.

Theologically, I am drawn to the idea that we serve one another out of our shared weakness and interdependence (rather than me serving you out of my strength and independence).

The most deeply Christian way to serve is to help each other love and trust Jesus more. And anything that helps us actually live this has got to be a good thing.

But the New Testament does seem to grant the possibility that individuals will make an asymmetrical contribution to others — even if it also always recognises a degree of reciprocity. (I’m thinking here of passages like Romans 1.8-15.)

Equally, I don’t buy that switching to triplets will automatically address the more toxic aspects of this dynamic. A tendency to see yourself as God’s gift to another person (in a bad way) won’t necessarily be mitigated by adding an in extra person.

I am, however, inclined to agree that our theological rationale for privileging one to one as the context for discipleship is inadequate.

Or maybe I’ve just inadequately understood and digested it?