Nature vs. Nurture in Discipleship

Scott AtteberyDiscipleship1 Comment

brad-pitt-y-angelina-jolie

Do these names sound familiar? –OJ Simpson, Martha Stewart, Michael Jackson, Timothy McVeigh, Scott Peterson, The Menendez Brothers, Jeffrey Dahmer, Lindsay Lohan, Casey Anthony, Justin Beiber, Jay-Z, Kim Kardashian, Donald Trump, Brad Pitt, and Angelina Jolie. What is it that we so desperately want to know about them?

For some reason, we are all fascinated by the stories of their lives. We all want to know how a boy rises from humble beginnings in Springfield Missouri to become a sought-after Hollywood icon (Brad Pitt). We are curious how a timid first grader in West Allis, Wisconsin becomes a cannibalistic serial murderer (Jeffery Dahmer). We are even enthralled to learn about “normal people” who haven’t accomplished anything significant except to make the cut on a reality TV show. Why all the interest?

I have a theory: In all of these “real life” stories, we just want to know one thing: How did they become who they are today?

Ultimately, it comes back to the standing debate in the field of social science: nature vs. nurture.

The influence of nature refers to a person’s internal make-up or traits passed down from their family line. The influence of nurture refers to external factors that have shaped a person by exposure and involvement.

For instance, in a TV trial, a lawyer will usually point to either nature or nurture to explain a defendant’s actions. “He was born with a tendency toward anger” (nature) or “Her parents pushed her too hard in her academic studies” (nurture). In the same way, VH1’s Behind the Music and ESPN’s 30 For 30 documentaries interview family and friends of famous people to determine the same factors in their lives.

Both nature and nurture can have a strong impact on a person’s life. So, when it comes to factors that affect Spiritual Growth, which is it: nature or nurture?

Check out Paul’s answer in 1 Corinthians 3:6: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.”

Paul attributes both nature and nurture to the growth of the Corinthian believers. Paul and Appolos provided the influence of nurture by coming alongside the Corinthians and providing external factors that shaped their lives. In Paul’s case, he provided an evangelistic influence while Apollos provided a follow-up influence. Both, according to Paul, are legitimate factors in the Corinthian’s growth.

However, that’s not the end of the story. Paul also points to an internal influence (aka “nature”) when he states, “God gave the growth.” This is the internal influence where God alone changes hearts.

Only God can transform the inside of man (nature). However, He chooses to use the external influences of men (nurture) as part of His sanctifying work in the lives of believers. It’s a divine partnership called discipleship.

Its too bad we aren’t as interested in what makes a 43 year old woman a faithful mother as we are with what makes Angelina Jolie a compelling actress. And it’s a tragedy that we aren’t as fascinated with what makes a 54 year old cancer survivor share his faith with co-workers as we are with what makes OJ tick.

If we were more interested in God’s unique way of growing his people, we might see a grand design of nature and nurture crafted together by the master disciple-maker Himself.  And that’s more than any reality TV show could ever capture!

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