Review: Charles A. Davis’ Making Disciples Across Cultures


Davis sets the goal high:

“What I needed, and what is needed today, is a set of universal disciple-making principles by which to evaluate the cultural and theological assumptions that in turn precipitate the methods and patterns of behavior common in churches and among church leaders” (22)

To do this he has crafted ten principles with sliding cultural values. They are:

  1. Disciples Let God Lead from the Invisible World (Visible vs Invisible)
  2. Disciples Hear and Obey (Knowledge vs Behavior)
  3. Disciples Develop Relational Interdependence (Individualism vs Collectivism)
  4. Disciples Do What Love Requires (Gospel-Truth vs Works-Justice)
  5. Disciples Make Disciples (One-Way Delivery vs Group Interaction)
  6. Leaders Equip Disciples for Ministry (Equippers vs Ministers)
  7. Disciples Live an Undivided Life (Public vs Private)
  8. Disciples Engage in Personal and Public Transformation (Personal vs Cultural)
  9. Disciples Keep the End in Mind (Church vs Kingdom)
  10. Disciples Organize Flexibly and Purposefully (Organizational vs Relational)

These ten principles make up the structure of Making Disciples Across Cultures. Davis has provided the church an invaluable resource birthed out of his own experience with cross-cultural disciple making. He shares his successes and failures and invites us to understand disciple making through different cultural lenses. With all that in mind, Davis succeeds in many ways.

He starts exploring discipleship principles from a solid foundation—some core definitions for understanding the disciple-making mission:

“A disciple is one who moves closer to Jesus as a learner, follower and lover, together with other disciples” (32).

“From the first conversation about Jesus with an unbeliever to the final breath, our task is to make disciples—before salvation, after salvation, and throughout life” (36).

“Following Jesus also has a unique dimension. Jesus himself only did and said what the Father told him to say or do, and he expects his followers to do the same” (39).

One minor note at this point, Davis seems more comfortable with the charismatic gifts than I would be. However, I am aware enough to know that could be partly my own cultural assumptions. I have connections with missionaries in the Middle East, for instance, who tell me that many converts from Islam do so after having a vision of Jesus. I do appreciate how Davis always ties in the use of the charisma to the authority of Scripture (that ties in with the third principle above).

“When we carefully submit what we believe we have heard from God to other trusted members of the body of Christ, judging by the Spirit within us and by Scripture, they can help us discern whether what we have heard is indeed from God or if it is simply a product of our own imagination or, worse, if we have been deceived by the enemy” (49 also see 62 “the truth of God’s word”).

I also appreciated the community focus through out Making Disciples Across Cultures (29, 41 “With few exceptions I found the word [disciple] overwhelmingly used in the plural”; 49, 81, 104, 177, 191, 196, 216).

“God has the capacity to build one body out of millions of diverse individuals. Under his headship, that body has the capacity to accomplish infinitely more than any individual, even though he knows each individual personally, having given each one the gifts that he knows will best contribute to the whole” (81).

Chapter 11 offers a stand out section on the difference between organizational structure and organic growth of the body. The discussion gives fresh eyes to some issues we face in America. We have these old organizational structures (i.e., mainline denominations) but the body has essentially malnutritioned. These decaying organizations can go on for years and decades, but the life is in the body of Christ. I want to offer a pushback for his discussion on gathering informally in homes and small groups.

Discussing this