Who is the Audience for “Disciples”?

Jesus and Nicodemus (H. O. Tanner)

Several people have asked me who my target audience is for Disciples, or for my previous book The Lost Religion of Jesus. When I write about Christianity and vegetarianism, who is my audience? Christians? Vegetarians? Someone else?  A friend of mine writes the following question:

In order to explain that the founders [of Christianity] were vegetarian you also have to do a critical analysis which uncovers that Jesus and his followers never claimed that Jesus was god co-equal with the father. Fundamentalists do not want to listen to anything which would demote Jesus . . . non-fundamentalists and non-Christians are not particularly interested in reading anything about Jesus as vegetarian because they are just not that interested in reading about Jesus.

So what audience is left?

There are a number of people who will be interested.  People who want to know about the history of the early church, about what the church was like before (or without) Paul, and about the disputes in the early church, will want to read the book. Also, anyone who is interested in religion, ethics, and vegetarianism will be interested. This is a considerable audience. Books about Jesus are still popular, witness the Reza Aslan’s recent book Zealot. A Muslim author took an unorthodox look at Jesus, and the book hit the best-seller list. Someone wants to hear about Jesus from non-orthodox sources.

The message is broader than just veganism. It also includes the need for humans to change their lifestyle radically in other ways as well. It is “simple living and veganism in a world of limits,” and the audience is those who are open to this message, and who understand that there is an ethical or spiritual dimension here as well as a factual aspect.

So it’s not true that there is no audience for Disciples. But the problem is that these people aren’t in any church, and consequently we can’t convert this interest into a viable social movement within Christianity.

When I wrote The Lost Religion of Jesus, I specifically targeted Christian and church audiences.  I tried to figure out which denominations would be most receptive and wrote letters to these churches.  I received invitations to speak, in fact in a couple of cases I delivered the Sunday morning sermon. I sold a bunch of books and I am sure that some of their members were influenced. Some came up afterwards and thanked me for my message and my efforts.

I wrote mostly to the more liberal churches, because The Lost Religion of Jesus was theologically liberal. Anyone who is a fundamentalist, believes in the inerrancy of scripture and the virgin birth, and so forth, is not going to be pleased with a book that questions such things. In the more liberal churches, my rejection of fundamentalism was actually a plus. The churches which seemed to be most receptive were United Church of Christ, some United Methodist churches (which vary considerably from very liberal to very conservative), Quakers, and Unitarian-Universalists. However,  there does not seem to be significant ongoing interest in vegetarian or vegan diets within these churches. The “United Methodist Vegetarians & Vegans” do have a facebook page, at least. The one major exception is the UU churches  — where interest in veganism appears to be evolving in spite of, rather than because of, any Christian values. UU vegetarians have a facebook page, and there is a UU Animal Ministry web site.

Some of my most enthusiastic support also came from people totally outside of the church—people who loved the book, but weren’t in any church and didn’t consider themselves Christians, or didn’t consider the church to be relevant anymore. I am happy to speak to church groups about Disciples, but it will be a long time before we see any massive shifts in church opinion. Unless I am unusually charismatic and convert the minister and the entire church, the church is not going to go vegan overnight anyway. Regrettably, in many churches new vegans will be torn by the paradox that they are now supporting a church which rejects their ideals, while the friendly local vegan or animal rights group is actually closer to their overall spiritual direction.

I have not given up on Christianity. Disciples is provoking a lot of interest. There is an audience out there; the problem is that it is not organized. Hopefully, Disciples will help provide the groundwork for a future movement which will more closely resemble the original teachings of Jesus.

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16 Responses to Who is the Audience for “Disciples”?

  1. Drew Hensley says:

    Well said. I noticed too Disciples is considerably more academic than Lost Religion. So maybe we could add that it is directed at scholars and serious students of historical Jesus.

  2. Tuatha says:

    “a critical analysis which uncovers that Jesus and his followers never claimed that Jesus was god co-equal with the father.” – but what about gospel of John? do you reject it as not authentic?

    Thanks for a very interesting website you have here! (didn’t know where to write my thanks…I guess it’s ok if I write here)…I am highly interested in vegetarian and Christian issues as I am both myself. Studying Clementines now from your website. I am not fundamentalist but I do believe that Jesus is co-equal with Father. And Ebionites could not accept it because they were too much into Jewish tradition and religion.

    There also was Manichaeism (also heretics for orthodox Christianity) they were claiming that Christ commanded us to be a vegetarians and that Christ was against animal sacrificies. They rejected the circumcision and Moses’ Law of course, unlike Ebionites who still wanted to follow Moses’ Law in the circumcision.

    • Keith Akers says:

      Vegetarianism was very widespread in early Christianity, both among both orthodox and the “heretical” groups. Augustine comments that the orthodox Christians who are vegetarian are “without number.” Jewish Christianity did follow the Jewish law but had a highly deviant idea of what the law was; they rejected the animal sacrifices, among other things. Galatians 2:3-10 makes clear that circumcision was not made a requirement by the Jewish Christian leadership of the church.

      • Tuatha says:

        Yes there still were Christian churches who followed the circumcision and, what is more amazing, they follow it even untill this day (so called Oriental Orthodoxy – Coptic, Ephiopian churches), some even have female circumcision! Some of them even still untill today make some kind of animal sacrificies performed in the churches’ yards – this is absolutely horrible. These are “Assyrian Church of the East” and “Armenian Apostolic Church”.

        • Keith Akers says:

          You are very well informed. According to “Circumcision and the Copts,” circumcision was not originally a Coptic custom. It was picked up from the Arabs in about the ninth century. Therefore it was not due to any influence of “Jewish Christianity.”

          Circumcision probably warrants a separate discussion. Jewish Christianity did not as a whole require circumcision, though circumcision does seem to be the default cultural practice. Some groups (the Elkasaites?) may have required teachers to be circumcised.

  3. Tuatha says:

    There also were Marcionites in those times, who were Christians and vegetarians, rejecting also wine, circumcision and Moses’ law.

    • Keith Akers says:

      The Marcionites thought that the God of Jesus and the God of Moses were two different Gods. Marcion was vegetarian though he may have eaten fish on certain days.

      • Tuatha says:

        Marcion was gnostic: and they believed not in two Gods, but in God and archons. So he considered Jewish God as archon (to whom he also atributed the role of Creator). And Jesus’ God as God. He understood Old Testament very literaly, so “god” who wanted animal sacrifies, wasn’t really a God in his view.

  4. Tuatha says:

    From what I see now studying Ebionites: the religious concept of Man equality to God and of Son equal to Father – is not base in Jewish religion at all. This is coming from so called “Gentile” religions and very important for us, Christians of today, to understand it. The same as immaculate conception or birth by virgin or virgin pregnant from God – also very very “Gentile”. I am starting to think that Jesus was Gentile :)

  5. Erika says:

    I can’t wait to read it..I am going to download the first one , first to my kindle.
    Oh you definitely have an audience. My friend who, like myself, is in almost torment for the plight of the animals, is not a Christian, and she LOVED this Jesus.

    IF people whose hearts have waxed gross from eating meat won’t listen to arguments FOR compassion, maybe self interest will work, because studies are coming out showing that eating animals is as bad for you as smoking 20 cigarettes a day.

    • Tuatha says:

      Eating animals is bad for us! There is very interesting apocryphic saying of Jesus from gospel of Thomas, which I think is authentic Jesus’ words:

      Jesus saw a Samaritan going to Judea carrying a lamb and said to His disciples: “What will this man do with this lamb?” They sais: “He will kill it and eat it.” Jesus said: “He will not eat it as long as it is still alive, but only if he kills it and it becomes a corpse. You yourself, then, seek a place of rest so that you do not become corpses and are eaten!”

      So I think what He says here is that if we eat corpses will be be “eaten” as well (by some kind of evil forces of this universe, who kill us because we eat animals)

      • Erika says:

        Arch conservatives insist that Gospel of Thomas was late 2nd century. It is a pickle of a guessing game, so I listen to my heart. Thanks for the verse,i love it.

        This is going to sound WAY out there. The Archons, it has been wondered in some of the fringe communities if these aren’t the UFOs and if they aren’t preying on human kind. I have often wondered if eating animals was the deciding factor in who gets “abducted”.

        There seems to be an underlying theme to the whole bible that is consistent with Veganism.
        I think about Jesus calling the scribes and the Pharisees whitewashed tombs, and consider the story about the Israelites in the desert not satisfied with Manna but pining for the fleshpots of Egypt. God sent them quail but “became so enraged” he also sent a plague that killed the people eating the Quail.

        Then I go back to Genesis and see that in the “Garden of Eden”, when God made the coat of skins to cover Adam and Eve, it does not say HE killed anything. It kind of implies that Adam and Eve might have killed an animal. (but I am stretching here) .
        What if the Ancient Hebrews knew that eating animals causes plagues, disease, calamity?

        Yes, eating animals flesh is as dangerous as smoking 20 cigarettes a day according to recent study coming out of Perth Australia. Many of the articles try to obfuscate the truth by saying too much is bad, but they have shown it causes disease(fat and vegetable oil are also very disease causing)
        Of course Colin Campbell (China Study), John McDougall, and Dr. Esselstyn, have been saying this for decades have videos on youtube and information on the net) Here in the states the Meat and Dairy lobbies so incredibly powerful that they have even subverted our scientific institutions by buying them. (Colin Campbell’s new book “Whole” and his older book “China Study”) Many of the diseases we have here in America are reversible with a low fat vegan diet. (Forks over Knives is a fantastic intro to this)

    • Tuatha says:

      I didn’t read “Disciples” yet or Mr. Akers’ other book – but very interested to read all of them! I decided for now to start with Carl Skriver “Forgotten Beginnings” and waiting now for it to arrive to me… can’t wait to get it and start reading!

  6. Erika says:

    Sorry for posting twice, I forgot to mention, your target audience is probably the “NONES” spiritual but not religious. This is one of the fastest growing demographics out there. The evangelicals are ripping their hair out over people leaving the church. In fact I think the emergent church came about in response to this segment.

    • Drew Hensley says:

      Interesting ideas Erika and Tautha! Erika you might like Unity. Church, a Christian New Age church. All ideas are on the table there. Tim Good and John Mack make the most credible cases.

  7. Mark Aelred says:

    In reply to Erika, who wrote: “Then I go back to Genesis and see that in the “Garden of Eden”, when God made the coat of skins to cover Adam and Eve, it does not say HE killed anything. It kind of implies that Adam and Eve might have killed an animal.” An esoteric Jewish interpretation is that God clothed Adam and Eve in their OWN human skin, to replace the original body or robe of LIGHT that they had forfeited.

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