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Thanks to Crossway for the review copy!
As a great tandem book to Community, Re:Lit also recently published Disciple: Getting Your Identity from Jesus. In this book, Mars Hill Pastor Bill Clem introduces readers to some of the basic truths that every Christian needs to know in order to be a disciple of Jesus.
Unlike many books, there is no introduction, and chapter one jumps right into the story of God and orients the reader to the big picture. Like every good story, this one has a hero, Jesus, and we are introduced to him next in chapter two.
From there, our role in the story is fleshed out, starting first with how we image God. This is the focus of chapter three, before chapter four turn to how our identity easily becomes distorted when it loses focus of Christ and we start imaging other people and things. This in turn leads right into chapter five’s discussion of worship and how what we truly worship shapes who we are. And just as our identity can be distorted, so can our worship, as chapter six explores.
After covering that territory, chapter seven shifts to study how all we all fit together as a community. Not surprisingly, if we can get off track at our own personal level (identity distortion) and in our daily activity (worship distortion), so too can our communities be centered around the wrong things (community distortion). The different ways this can happen is the focus of chapter eight. When a community is on track though and centered around Christ, then it is ready to embark on mission. Chapter nine details this, and not surprisingly, chapter ten explores how this corporate community activity can also be distorted.
If you haven’t noticed by now, there is a clear pattern to the first ten chapters of the book. Pastor Bill first gives a chapter covering the theological foundation of his topic from Scripture, and then spends a chapter showing how we tend to mess things up and get off track. I think this is a very helpful way to set things up and his insights into both the problems and the solutions to many of the problems a growing disciple will face are excellent.
The final two chapters shift the focus from describing what a authentic disciple will look like to how someone in a position of leadership can effectively disciple someone else (chapter 11), and then how to guide that disciple in a way that they can disciple someone else (chapter 12). In chapter 11, Pastor Bill examines what a “disciple-making disciple” might look like. He says such a person would all at once be:
- A counselor to address your emotional sticking points
- A coach to call you to accountability for the goals you set
- A pastor to provide spiritual direction
- An encourager to provide the inspiration to “hang in there” and not give up
- A peer to serve as an influencer
- A consultant to provide information and input
- An example to provide a template through their experience
- A mentor who is a life stage or two ahead of you to provide wisdom
- A friend with whom to walk through the journey
- A partner who labors toward the same cause
Realizing that this list of roles would be daunting for any one person to fill in discipling someone, Pastor Bill focuses on four domains that are essential to transformationally leading someone. Using the metaphor of a shepherd and with reference to Psalm 23, the four domains are:
- Knowing (Ps. 23:4-5)
- Feeding (Ps. 23:2, 5)
- Leading (Ps. 23: 3)
- Protecting (Ps. 23:4-5)
He then adds these activities to a quadrant with the coordinate points of word, grace, truth, and deed, leading to the following schematic:
- Grace + Word = Knowing (disclosing yourself to one another)
- Truth + Word = Feeding (being a lifelong learner)
- Grace + Deed = Leading (living out your identity in Christ)
- Truth + Deed = Protecting (repenting and avoiding temptation)
Using this basis for the goals of discipleship, Pastor Bill then goes on in chapter 12 to make the important distinction that “the litmus test of disciple making is observing Jesus’ commands, not simply being aware of Jesus’ commands,” and that therefore it involves “imparting skills from one life to another” (p. 206). Pastor Bill’s list includes the essentials:
- Being shaped by Scripture
- Practicing forgiveness
- Having a servant’s heart
- Having a visionary mindset
- Living out a loving concern for others
That in essence, is what a disciple is aiming to impart to someone they are discipling. Not only should they know what to do, but should see how to do it by example and guidance. In this way, the book culminates nicely in linking doctrine and praxis. Having spent 10 chapters detailing what a disciple is, Pastor Bill closes out the book well by explaining how to enter into and live out the process of discipleship.
Overall, I found this book to be a very good read. For me it was kind of basic, but not in a bad way. Rather, I was familiar with, and had already read many of the sources Pastor Bill uses and so wasn’t confronted with a lot of new information. His presentation, and condensation of the information, however, is exemplary. Because of that, I think this book is well suited for a new Christian, or even an old Christian who hasn’t really put much thought into growing (or who hasn’t read many books about the Christian life).
Ideally, this book would make a great resource for an older Christian to guide a newer Christian into the fundamentals of daily Christian living. To facilitate this, at the end of each chapter, Pastor Bill two sets of assignments. The first set is “designed to help you encounter some of the biblical truths discussed within the chapter,” and the second is “to help establish convictions and dislodge distortions by explaining more of what the Bible has to say about following Jesus” (p. 34). To give you an idea of some of the value he packs into these assignments, in the chapter on Jesus (chapter 2), the second set assignment (called Digging Deeper) lists three pages of references to all the different names of God associated with Jesus. The first chapter had already listed 27 references to the Trinity found throughout Scripture, so between the first two chapter’s assignments the reader is taken all over Scripture with an opportunity to see Jesus more clearly.
As I’ve done with some of the previous reviews, I thought I would close out here with some of the quotes that I particularly liked. Even though I said I wasn’t particularly confronted with a lot of new information, it doesn’t mean I didn’t like some of the ways that Pastor Bill puts things. That being the case, enjoy these:
God reveals himself through the lives of people, and when people realize they are a part of God’s story, they become one of the most profound means of revealing God to others. (p. 15)
Without a context (the story of God) for Jesus, he can become the proof-text for whatever anyone wants to do. At the point, he is no longer the hero of God’s story, but the one making a cameo appearance in someone else’s story (p. 37-38).
Jesus life illustrates for us that, by the Spirit’s indwelling, humans are empowered to love God and others with the same love existing within the intra-Trinitarian relationship and with God’s love for the whole world. Jesus models for us what it looks like to get our identity from God by living out our role in his story. (p. 43-44)
Our value in God’s eyes is not determined by what we can do above and beyond his design for us but in the inherent nature of how we function in relationship to him, others, and his creation. It is our relationships that truly bear the image of God. (p. 60)
Gospel identity for us lies in having a renewed image as imagers of God. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, God allows himself to be seen by us and through us…to try and hijack the story from God or take the lead role away from Jesus is to act less like a human and more like the things of which men make idols. (p. 72)
Worship is responding to God for who he is, what he has done, and what he is doing. For an image bearer to worship, it means mirroring back to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit who they are, in gratitude for what all three have done. (p. 92)
Even a cursory reading of the Bible shows the gospel is not a solo event. Only in a consumer culture could a privatized view of “Jesus dying just for me so that I can go to heaven” emerge as the gospel. (p. 141)
Often, our need or desire to be graced causes us to distort community. It is our wants or felt needs that tend to motivate us to join a group in the first place. (p. 141)
It is great to connect, to call one another out on sin, and to ask one another to be vulnerable. It is tragic, however, to need to be “sick” to belong to the club. When a group centers on a problem rather than on the gospel, members have to keep their problems to stay in the group. (p. 142)
Community has a different objective. Community is most profound when members are able to bring their weaknesses rather than their strengths to the table. (p. 143)
If we think that the primary motivation for God’s rescue is to keep rebels from hell, we miss the point of the rescue. (p. 154)
While I welcome eliminating enslaving, destructive habits from people’s lives, freedom from enslaving habits is not the gospel. It’s not the behavior only that needs to be cast off; rather, it’s what is in the heart. (p. 173)