Darrell Bock on the Purpose of A Theology of Luke and Acts: A Critical Review

Posted: July 27, 2012 in Book Reviews
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My review of Darrell Bock’s “A Theology of Luke-Acts” will focus on Chapter 15, “Discipleship and Ethics in the New Community.” The overall emphasis on this new series of reference works is to explore “a given New Testament writing, or group of writings, within the context of the theology of the New Testament, and ultimately of the entire Bible.” Bock does an admirable job in maintaining the goal of the work with his corpus on Luke-Acts within the sub-topic of discipleship and ethics.

Within this chapter Bock aggressively fleshes out what the marks of authentic discipleship look like as it is developed within the Lucan writings. His arguments and developments are easy to follow and arrive at understandable conclusions not leaving the reader surprised as to how he landed where he did. It is absolutely no surprise to learn that the author of this work is a respectable scholar who has had decades of experience digging into the texts of Luke-Acts and has published extensively on these works previously. The work now being considered is undeniably the fruit of many individual works.

Bock breaks his subject matter down into several sub-points for the purpose of making the density of the topic much easier to digest and manage. The overall umbrella deals with the whole notion of what exactly is meant by biblical discipleship as it is described in Luke-Acts. I will attempt to summarize most of the main points Bock develops from this chapter. Bock goes on to define and describe this in these particular sub-points:

The New Community’s Activities

Bock develops a key component of what marks authentic followers of Christ by illustrating them as active in living out their faith. They are ones who not only possess knowledge of what Christ has accomplished for them, they express it by how they interact and engage with others. They no longer see themselves as hoarders of material things and are merely fixated upon themselves and how they can build and maintain their own empire. Rather, they truly see themselves as a body with a wide variety of members. They recognize and are quite sensitive to the needs and struggles of other members. Not only that, but they reach out and meet those needs. They enjoy gathering together in a corporate setting to give thanks and worship the Lord who redeemed them and baptized them into the Body of Christ. They are not merely satisfied with maintaining the status quo. They are also very interested in building up the Body both numerically as well as spiritually.

Functions in the New Community

Bock lists five church functions which are organized either as offices or some other roles. The first one he mentions is that of apostle since it is the role that is mentioned most often. It is a temporary position being that one of the key requirements is that one needed to be witness to the Lord as well as to have seen Him following His resurrection. Their responsibility was to provide foundational oversight for the newly developed community of Christian assemblies. Once the original 12 have passed on, the office passes away in its most technical sense. Yet, it is also interesting as Bock points out that other individuals are called, “apostles” after this time, such as Paul and Barnabas. This looser use of the term expresses a nuanced description of those who were in the ministry of planting local churches in the area and providing leadership within these new communities.

A second function is that of witness. This describes the testimony given of Christ’s miracles, resurrection, crucifixion, and resurrection, and post-resurrection appearances.

A third function is that of prophets.

A fourth function is that of servants. This is a supportive role to the apostles in that they met the needs of a specific problem. Bock here disagrees that they were probably not deacons listed in Acts 6 since this connection is not made elsewhere. This is a point of disagreement with me personally. I believe that the Acts 6 account is where we first are introduced to the office of deacon (http://bible.org/article/deacons-and-leadership-church).

A fifth function is that of leaders/elders. These individuals were given the responsibility of oversight of a particular area. Included with that is to serve other believers. This includes proper doctrinal instruction.

Descriptions of Community Members

The most common title that Luke uses to effectively describe followers of Christ is “disciple.” This is a very descriptive term that Luke uses since it pictures one who is following, learning, and walking with Jesus.

Another term that Luke uses to describe followers of Christ is “believers.”  Followers of Christ were termed “Christians” initially by outsiders of this new sect of Judaism. The final title of these believers were called “The Way.” Pointing the way to God and to salvation.

Disciples in Luke-Acts

Bock associates “disciple” as a descriptive term here to those who follow Christ in the midst of heavy controversy. As Jesus was noted for associating with the “sinners” of the world as judged by the religious moguls of His day, those who followed Him in a very real sense fellowshipped with them as well. This was part of the mission of Christ to go to those who were sick and offer the only cure possible. Therefore, as we are looking at how Luke describes and defines what a disciple is, one way in which to properly understand it is to see what some of the components are in following Christ.

Another key element to gain a clearly understanding of what made a true biblical disciple according to Luke’s accounts was to recognize what disciples did not do. They were judged for not following the “normal” Jewish customs such as keeping the Sabbath, fasting and the daily prayers.

The disciples become pupils of Christ by having constant contact with Him. They observe Him in a variety of different contexts and learn He is who He claims to be.  The disciples gain a clearer understanding of what it truly means to be a disciple. It is significantly different than being a leader in the world. A disciple is one who follows. A disciple is one who suffers. A disciple is one who serves. Discipleship is a singular focus. Christ is at the very center of all things. Nothing usurps His priority.

Luke describes that being a disciple of Christ is much different than merely being a pupil of a rabbi. The pupil of the rabbi would merely learn the teachings of his teacher. He would live with his teacher. The disciple of Christ would learn to live and walk as their Teacher lived and walked.

Luke focuses on the cost of discipleship. It involves a complete trust even though from a human perspective things in this life may not make sense. A disciple is committed to trusting the Lord and holding fast to Him. Discipleship demands a stripping away of one’s personal identity and identifying oneself with Christ.

As the account in the Gospel of Luke clearly displays, the disciples had good intentions of faithfully following Christ. Yet, they lacked the power and inner enablement and desire to carry it out when it became difficult. They needed something that was glaringly missing in order to faithfully carry out what Christ desired them to do. Enter the account of Acts. Luke recalls the historical account of exactly what God provided in order for the disciples to carry out their mission: the Holy Spirit.

The Ethics of the New Community

Total Commitment

Discipleship as described in the Lucan accounts involve a total commitment to Christ. Even though one immediately becomes a disciple once he is saved, he still possesses the sin nature which must be restrained by faithful fellowship with Christ on a continuing basis throughout the rest of his life.

Love for God and for One’s Neighbor

Jesus’ charge to His disciples could be simply boiled down to loving God and loving others. This unusual love is what is to truly distinguish a disciple. Outsiders will recognize the difference.

Prayer

A key element to being a faithful disciple is prayer. Prayer reveals a disciple’s dependence upon His Lord. It reflects a humble dependence. It reveals a communication with the Lord and the ability to be able to discern God’s direction, leading, and will.

Perseverance in Suffering

Jesus taught His disciples to expect suffering and persecution as a result of being identified as His disciples. He calls on them to persevere in the face of it. It calls for a deep-seated trust in the Lord in such bitter opposition.

Watchfulness, Patience, and Boldness

Prepare to give up all for the sake of being identified with Christ. Sacrificial living. As such, disciples are reminded to remain faithful since they will indeed be held accountable to how they remained steadfast in the midst of their persecution and sufferings.

Faith and Dependence

As a result of their being delivered of their condemnation for their sins since they have been adequately removed from the believer’s list of crimes, he can now rest assured of His eternal destiny. He does not need to be anxious any longer. He is guaranteed a place with the Father for all eternity.

Wealth and Possessions

The poor have a more natural sensitivity to what it is like to be dependent for outside sources for one’s needs. Therefore, they are more naturally inclined to better understand being dependent upon God for all things. The wealthy on the other hand have difficulty distancing themselves from their assets. Many times money and the things that can be bought with money become an idol and demands top priority over all else. A disciple of Christ cannot have competing affections.

Hindrance to Discipleship

Failure to take adequate consideration regarding the cost of discipleship can lead to spiritual ruin. It takes great patience and sacrifice of self and dedication to an authority who demands all from you. If one is unwilling to humbly depend upon Christ and follow Him wherever He leads, that individual is unfit to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. He must be willing to sacrifice self and commit himself whole-heartedly to walking with Christ and being identified with Him.

Commitment to the Lost

Another key element of being a disciple of Christ is his focus on reaching out to those who are groping around this fallen world in darkness.

Luke and Empire

A steep contrast is clearly evident when one considers the ethic of the disciple with the one of the Roman Empire. What the Roman Empire considered priority such as elevating the haves, Christ’s disciples reached out and served the have-nots.

The valuable lesson we can learn from Luke’s theology of discipleship is that it is outwards-oriented. It is aggressively looking outwards; serving and ministering to those who do not yet understand and who personally do not possess a reconciled, redeemed relationship with Christ—who are still serving the god of this world, groping around in darkness.

Overall, I believe that Bock’s case for the marks of true, authentic discipleship as it is clearly laid out in the theology of Luke-Acts is a very solid one. He clearly evaluates and draws principles directly from the text in order to gain a clear, crisp, and rich understanding of what Scripture is clearly teaching regarding Luke’s understanding of what the Lord desires for us as we seek to faithfully follow Him.

My thanks to Zondervan for providing a copy of the book to critically review and share on their Blog Tour.

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