Discipleship and Society in the Early Churches

By Thomas O'Loughlin

Reexamining the lives of early Christians to inspire and inform discipleship today.

ISBN: 9780227177365


Discipleship – that being a Christian is about learning and discovering, acting and responding, choosing and collaborating – is both a primordial Christian theme and a re-discovery of the mid-twentieth century.

But how does one discover its meaning? For some it means programmes – like turning out a product, ignoring the individuality of each’s path. Others emphasize the group, forgetting that every community’s richness is valuing its members’ diversity. Is discipleship the way of the loner and community-ignoring? But social beings learn discipleship in communities. Community is not simply the club of like-minded individuals but should model a new way of being.

To uncover what discipleship means, we must read the New Testament with the awareness that how we see the world of the early Jesus followers is radically different from the inherited theological underpinning of many churches. This book takes our historical awareness seriously, and examines what biblical, historical, and archaeological research can tell us about discipleship today.

Additional information

Dimensions 234 × 156 mm
Pages 160
Illustrations 18 b&w

 |   |   | 

Trade Information JPOD

About the Author

Thomas O’Loughlin is an historical theologian. He seeks to pose theological questions within their historical framework, and bring all the insights that careful historical research can reveal to be a primary means for theology. He writes on early Christian communities and how they expressed themselves in their writings, and on liturgy: how Christians express themselves in ritual. He is Professor Emeritus of Historical Theology in the University of Nottingham.


List of Illustrations


1. Who were the Disciples? Conflicting Expectations
2. A Community of the Covenant: Discipleship as Choices
3. ‘The Sons (and Daughters) of the LIGHT’: At the End of History
4. Disciples, Disputes, and Factions – and Reconciliation Structures
5. Amazing Grace: Moving onwards as Wounded Pilgrims
6. Bonding as Disciples: Gathered around the Common Table
7. Called to Service: Discipleship and Ministry
8. The Shapes of Ministry: Skills for the Community
9. Discipleship in the Future: Moving in Unchartered Waters

Scriptural Index
General Index


Endorsements and Reviews

In the long-awaited fruit of a module he used to teach at Nottingham, Tom O’Loughlin challenges our comfortable assumptions with characteristic glee. Reminding us with unfailing freshness that this ‘messy universe’ is where we have to live out our discipleship and assert the presence of Jesus, he forces us to rethink what we thought we knew, even about very familiar texts. This book is warmly recommended.
Nicholas King SJ, Fellow in New Testament Studies, Campion Hall, Oxford

Thomas O’Loughlin has written a compelling probe concerning the reality of Christian discipleship in the early church and the implications it has today. Eschewing all abstractions and top-down theological thinking, he considers that the early church had to deal with divisive factionalism that made specific efforts at reconciliation indispensable. The accent O’Loughlin gives to the ‘priority of practice’ is a serious summons to the contemporary church to ‘get real’ and embrace its capacity for transformative life in the world.
Walter Brueggemann, Professor Emeritus, Columbia Theological Seminary

The prolific and perceptive Tom O’Loughlin has done it again. In this profound reflection on Christian discipleship, he combines deep erudition on earliest Christian history with insightful ecumenical advice for modern-day application. Rigorously researched yet accessibly written it will be useful and enjoyable to historians of antiquity, clergy and laypeople alike.
Sara Parks, Assistant Professor in Biblical Studies, Dublin City University

This book has been a welcome challenge to read, respecting the perspective of the writer, his depth of understanding of his subject.
Having read it once, it now requires a return in the hope of discovering further insights into the practice of the early Churches.
Chris McDonnell, La Croix International, April 2022

This book is a welcome and scholarly contribution to literature on discipleship.
A great deal has been written on the topic of discipleship and there is
more room for considered reflection on the category in the first place. I would
have liked to have seen O’Loughlin reflect on why the language of discipleship
has become so popular in recent decades and why the field of the early Church
has felt to many to be an immediately appropriate subject of interest, but that
may be the task for a broader historical study from a contemporary perspective.
Overall, this is an excellent historical recalibration with genuine value for the
life of the Church. Andrew Hayes, in Modern Believing 64.3 Summer, pp. 303-304, 2023.

Slim in size, Thomas O’Loughlin’s work on Discipleship and Society in the Early
Churches nonetheless packs a powerful punch. It is thoughtful, learned, engaging, and provocative, and some who pick it up will have their assumptions challenged and their certainties shaken; but there are few who will regret the journey with O’Loughlin as guide. Salvador Ryan in Irish Theological Quarterly, Volume 88, Issue 4, pp 375-377