Sunday, January 07, 2018

New Analysis of Building a Discipling Culture

Little did I know back in 2013, when I wrote a brief review of Building a Discipling Culture by Mike Breen, that it would spark such a response. I could describe it here, but if you don't already know what I'm talking about, just go to the link above and check out the comment section. I have been grateful that that post has served as a meeting place for so many people who have been adversely affected by their churches adopting 3DM principles.

I have written, both in a newsletter and in another post, that I haven't written anything else on the subject largely because I have little else to say. However, I have had profitable correspondences with others who do have a lot to say. One of these is Michael Irwin, who has written an excellent, detailed commentary on Building a Discipling Culture, describing the weaknesses and dangers, as he sees them, of Breen's approach. It is my honor and pleasure to make his commentary available to anyone who would like to read it. You may download it by clicking this link.

While the work is entirely Mr. Irwin's, he has kindly given me the opportunity to review earlier drafts of this work, and cited some comments I made in our correspondence. I concur wholeheartedly with his assessment. He correctly
  • refutes Breen's insistence on a new "discipling language"; 
  • points out the problematic nature of populating "huddles" with "persons of peace" who are unlikely to challenge the content of what they are receiving (and are required to commit, before they know what they are into, to participating over an extended period of time and starting their own huddles); and
  • challenges the exegesis by which Breen claims biblical basis for the principles BADC advocates, especially Breen's use of "Covenant" and "Kingdom" as the key concepts for interpreting scripture as a whole.
If you have concerns about 3DM, or even if you are a 3DM advocate and wonder what the problem is, I invite you to download this commentary.

In addition, once the comments on my brief commentary exceeded 300, the limits of my Blogger platform began to be apparent, and it is now difficult to access the more recent comments. Therefore, I invite everyone who would like to continue the conversation to migrate over here.

Once again, many thanks to Mr. Irwin for his dedicated work on this commentary.


  1. Schooley's commentary seems to cherry pick the facts about the Bible he uses to critique BACD.

    For example, while Schooley is correct that mathetes (disciple) is used a relatively handful of times and that akoloutheo (follow) is a directive by Jesus and succeeding leaders of the Jesus community mentioned many more times, one need only review the definition of akoloutheo to understand its relationship to mathetes. Strong's concordance, for example, defines akoloutheo as one who joins a master on the master's journey, one who becomes a disciple. Breen is Biblically supported in his assertion that the only number that matters to Jesus is discipleship of the believer.

    Further, Irwin's idea that the Bible does not provide a patterned instruction for discipling others is preposterous and careless. Acts 2 describes the process of evangelism and conversion of the first disciples post Jesus' ascension: they devote themselves to the Apostles teachings and then imitate the breaking of bread at the temple by breaking bread at homes. Further, the Apostle Paul implored the Corinthian, Ephesian, Thessalonian, Philippian churches to imitate either himself, his own disciples, and/or God in their daily lives. Strong's concordance defines mimétés (imitate, imitator) as "the positive imitation that arises by admiring the pattern set by someone worthy of emulation, i.e. a mentor setting a proper example".

    Because of these initial oversights in his critique, Irwin seems to miss the point in the rest of his critique that Breen is attempting to provide tools for methodology in Christian witness. Breen is not attempting to re-interpret or reject the Bible. Obedience to God, personal conversion, and individual redemption are not cut off from Breen's theology. Breen is attempting to make the point that culture embracing methods of the church growth movement no longer work. Breen's argument is that a Bible-based methodology for nurturing the faith is the best methodology. Unfortunately, Irwin's misguided assessment of Biblical discipleship makes the rest of his critique a mere rant.

    1. My apologies - I reference Schooley in the above comment when I should have referred to Irwin.

    2. Hi Mr. Johnson,

      Thank you for reading Mr. Irwin's commentary and responding. No problem about referencing me at the top of the comment, although I appreciate the correction for accuracy's sake.

      I am dubious about the word "only." Breen will say that the only number that matters to God is the number of disciples made; the traditional evangelical position would be that the only number that matters is the number of people brought to faith in the first place; John Piper would say that the only thing that matters to God (numerical or not) is His Glory. I believe that Irwin's issue (and mine) is that Breen's "only" tends to diminish activities (e.g. gift lists in Romans 12 and 1 Cor. 12) that may not appear to be overtly related to discipleship but nonetheless accomplish purposes related to discipleship and/or to other aspects of Christian community. Breen tends to denigrate what the church is already doing in his advocacy of what he thinks the church ought to be doing.

      You characterize Irwin's contention that the Bible doesn't provide a patterned instruction for discipling believers as "preposterous and careless." I am happy to affirm the principles of devoting ourselves to Scripture (the Apostles' teachings) and to breaking bread in homes, from Acts 2, and of imitating the examples of Jesus and of other, more mature believers; but that doesn't mean that Scripture gives us a detailed pattern for how to do it. If you believe that the Bible provides this patterned instruction, then by what authority does Breen attempt to substitute his own tools for methodology and his own language for conveying it?

      If Breen truly contended "that a Bible-based methodology for nurturing the faith is the best methodology," I, for one, would be in full agreement. My contention (and, if I understand him rightly, Mr. Irwin's) is that Breen's methodology has very tenuous ties to scripture. The exegesis by which he attempts to connect his lifeshapes to his proof texts would be laughable if it weren't so tragic in the way the 3DM methodology actually plays out in churches. To be blunt, Breen's lifeshapes claim to be biblically based, but aren't. Therefore, they cannot possibly accomplish what Breen claims they accomplish.

  2. 3DM and TOM alumni--
    Same game, different name . . .

  3. Network Church Sheffield has really hit rock bottom, Peter and Anne Findley have left before covid and the new Leaders Sam Evans business focused and Mike Rutter pastoral side are now in charge. The Network Church Sheffield site is rundown and looks to be in a state of disrepair. It looks,like they have rented most of their buildings out to various businesses. There is a constant smell of cannabis emanating across the site and drug dealers are regularly seen parked up.