In the article "Renewing the Heart of Faith" (Sojourners, February-March 1993), Jim Wallis wrote of serious decline in mainline American Protestantism, deep conflict in American Catholicism, a culture war in the evangelical movement, and a crisis of confidence in African-American churches. Without using the words "Southern Baptist," he named our experiences in the Southern Baptist Convention and the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary as well. We have seen it with our own eyes and felt it in our own hearts. We have been discussing his article and our response ever since.
Attending the quadrennial International Bonhoeffer Conference in 1992, Glen was surprised to see that one-tenth of the participants were Southern Baptists. They met to ask each other, Why is Dietrich Bonhoeffer speaking so powerfully to our emerging spirituality in this time? Soon after, Glen wrote a long letter home to colleagues and students proposing that we focus on a spirituality of incarnational discipleship, with Dietrich Bonhoeffer as the symbol.
Michael wrote back a lengthy letter arguing for a spirituality of incarnational discipleshipsymbolized by Martin Luther King Jr. as well as Bonhoeffer. And having just finished a major project on Christian rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust, David felt that what we were saying about incarnational discipleship converged in a remarkable way with what he had learned about the Christian rescuers. We thought this might be the kind of renewal that we, and many churches, need.
We propose to name it incarnational discipleship because we want to be explicit about including the teachings and deeds of the incarnate Jesus of Nazareth, and to emphasize concrete embodiment in our lives and the lives of our churches. (We thought of naming it radical discipleship, but we do not feel that we measure up.)