Disciple Making Movements Part 5: some conclusions.
Posted on: 1st December 2022
David Williams is the CMS Director of Training and Development at St Andrew’s Hall. In this fifth and final article in a series exploring ‘Disciple Making Movements’ or DMMs, David offers some assessments and conclusions about how to wisely weigh and apply DMM insights, considered biblically and historically.
There is much in DMM thinking that is wonderful. There is some DMM thinking that is confusing. If we fall into black and white categories, goodies and baddies, we will not be able to navigate these tensions.
The story so far
In this series we have explored definitions of DMMs and considered their theological and missiological roots; we have reviewed the main features of DMM methodology; we have looked at some recent critiques of DMMs; and we have asked where the emphasis on speed and size comes from in our culture. We conclude our series by ‘diagonalizing DMMs’ and offering some suggestions for application.
What is ‘diagonalization’?
Clearly this needs some explanation. Christopher Watkin introduced the concept of ‘diagonalization’ in Thinking through Creation and has developed it in greater detail in his new and important book Biblical Critical Theory. Watkin uses ‘diagonalization’ as a tool to show how the Bible holds together concepts that our culture believes are incompatible. Here is his explanation:
This move of cutting across and rearranging false cultural dichotomies will return throughout these chapters, and I will call it diagonalization. It can vary from case to case, but it usually comprises four elements: (1) It begins with a complex of interrelated biblical truths. For example, that God is both just and loving, both merciful and truthful. (2a) It then shows how a cultural dichotomy splinters this rich biblical reality and offers it in fragmented form as a series of mutually exclusive choices, either loveless justice or justiceless love … (2b) or as an unsatisfying compromise—part justice and part love. (3) Drawing on the complex truth of (1), diagonalization presents a biblical picture in which the best aspirations of both options are fulfilled, but not in a way that the proponents of those options would see coming—God abounds in love and faithfulness. 
The concept of diagonalization helps us to reflect on DMMs, particularly where we can spot false cultural dichotomies. Here is one possible dichotomy: ‘if we care about the lost, we must generate as much growth as possible’ versus ‘growth is God’s responsibility, not ours.’ We can diagonalize this dichotomy by saying ‘God gives growth as weak heralds proclaim a foolish message.’
Another articulation of this dichotomy might say: ‘Success means getting bigger quickly’ versus ‘Success is not our concern.’ We might diagonalize this dichotomy by saying ‘As we are faithful to God, He will keep his promises.’ Using the language of diagonalization helps us to be alert to straw men and encourages us to tread cautiously between false dichotomies. There is much in DMM thinking that is wonderful. There is some DMM thinking that is confusing. If we fall into black and white categories, goodies and baddies, we will not be able to navigate these tensions.
Applying ‘diagonalization’ to the CMS context
Let me conclude with some concrete take-aways:
- Care and pray
DMMs are motivated by a passion to see lost people come to know the Lord Jesus Christ. This is a wonderful, biblical concern. It is very easy for mission to lose focus on primary evangelism and church planting. DMMs echo God’s voice in Ezekiel: I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. “Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?” (Ezekiel 33:11)
As one expression of this concern for the lost, all DMM methodologies place an emphasis on concerted, focused prayer. This is a vital corrective. It is easy to see billions of people without gospel witness and to feel overwhelmed. However, we trust a powerful God who is not overwhelmed in the slightest by the needs of our world. DMM methodology encourages us to pray passionately and consistently for the lost.
- Don’t instrumentalise relationships
One of the tendencies of late-modern secular culture is to turn relationships into instruments, or tools, so that they might produce an outcome. Many of us have experienced this in the area of sales and marketing. When I am in the market to buy a house, real estate agents are extremely interested in me. As soon as I have completed a purchase, they are not interested in me in the slightest. It is tempting for Christians to instrumentalise relationships. We are interested in people not because of who they are, in and of themselves (as we should be): we are interested in them because they offer us potential. It is easy to instrumentalise relationships in mission and evangelism—to see people not for who they are but as potential fillers-of-roles.
- Get ‘means’ in their right place
Many people trace the origin of the modern Protestant missionary movement to William Carey’s publication, An enquiry into the obligations of Christians to use means for the conversion of the heathens  (‘Enquiry’) (although this ‘origin story’ is somewhat unfair on John Eliot, the Moravians and other earlier expressions of European mission).
Carey’s Enquiry argues that Christians should not ignore the plight of millions of people who do not know Jesus. Rather, we should use ‘means.’ Carey was arguing against the passivity that sees a lost world and does nothing about it. This passivity was prevalent in the churches of Carey’s day. The ‘means’ that Carey was arguing for included: awareness of the size of the task; concerted prayerfulness; a willingness to send (or to go as) gospel heralds; the formation of a society or fellowship that would provide the structure to support these gospel heralds. And so the Protestant missionary society was formed.
Protestant mission has engaged with ‘means’ and their right place ever since, as we saw in the first article in this series when we reviewed the work of Roland Allen. DMM methodologies seek to articulate a specific ‘means’—that is a strategy and set of tactics—to enable us to engage in mission effectively. The early history of Protestant mission reminds us that there is absolutely a place for means – but those means must be kept in perspective. Specifically, ‘means’ in mission can never conflict with God’s means as revealed in his word.
As one of the Protestant mission societies that originated very soon after William Carey’s enquiry, CMS understood this very well. CMS exists because we believe in using ‘means’—but our historic five guiding principles keep ‘means’ in their right place. Let us, by way of conclusion, remind ourselves of these five historic principles:
- Follow God’s leading
- Put money in second place not first
- Begin in a small way
- Under God all will depend on the type of people sent out
- Look for success only from the Spirit of God.
May our great God continue to fire us to seek the salvation of the lost, in prayerful dependence upon him, and looking to him for wisdom in choosing the best means to achieve his glory.
Carey, William. An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens. Leicester, UK: Ann Ireland, 1792.
Watkin, Christopher. Biblical Critical Theory: How the Bible’s Unfolding Story Makes Sense of Modern Life and Culture. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic, 2022.
———. Thinking through Creation: Genesis 1 and 2 as Tools of Cultural Critique. Phillipsburg, NJ: P and R Publishing, 2017.
 Christopher Watkin, Thinking Through Creation: Genesis 1 and 2 as Tools of Cultural Critique (Phillipsburg, NJ: P and R Publishing, 2017); Christopher Watkin, Biblical Critical Theory: How the Bible’s Unfolding Story Makes Sense of Modern Life and Culture (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic, 2022). I barely scraped through high school Maths, but I think diagonalization is a term borrowed from Mathematics relating to the structure of matrices.
 Watkin, Biblical Critical Theory: How the Bible’s Unfolding Story Makes Sense of Modern Life and Culture, 15ff.
 William Carey, An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens (Leicester, UK: Ann Ireland, 1792).