Bookstore Book Reviews

Book Review: The Discipleship Gospel

There seems to me to be a creeping, flesh-eating disease killing its way through American Christianity. Every year books about church growth, church culture, empowered preaching, systematic theology, community service, and pastoral counseling come out in numbers, yet somehow none of them is the panacea.

With as much knowledge, insight, data, and as many resources as the American Evangelical Industrial Complex has, why can’t we put our finger on this mystery contagion that is causing church death one by one in small community chapels and setting entire mainline denominations on the brink of extinction?

You might have a few ideas on hand for what it is that ills the church: fractured families, secularism, the entertainment industry, public schools, the sexual revolution and the new age?

Well, those are all old news. Bill Hull and Ben Sobels would probably say that the premature aging of American churches has much less to do with outside pressure and cultural corruption, and more to do with compromise and apostasy from within.

In The Discipleship Gospel: What Jesus Preached We Must Follow, Hull and Sobels put down a hard word for pastors and lay leaders, which in essence is: you are preaching a false gospel, and it is making false disciples who are unable to share any gospel or make any disciples.

Churches are bound to age out if they are not raising up “younger” generations of believers. The apparent goal of The Discipleship Gospel is to teach pastors and lay leaders how to preach a true, complete, and biblical gospel and to teach individuals this gospel until it permeates, transforms, and radiates from them, so that those individuals can preach and teach to others who are themselves enabled to preach and teach, ad infinitum.

Such a gospel is: the discipleship gospel. It is a gospel that is active and kingdom minded, set about the work of the Father, by replicating the work of the Son. The work of the Son being namely, discipling.

Hull and Sobels deliver a cogent and relentless argument for the discipleship gospel being the only true gospel. Their logic is airtight, supported with scripture, and most importantly systematic. They give a frame-by-frame explanation of each element of the gospel and argue outward in concentric circles fitting each component into the whole.

The book takes on a lot of purposes in one tome. It refutes falsehoods, creates definitions, constructs logic models, all within a driving exhortation, and caps that exhortation with a sweeping coaching session and strategic pointers. It manages not to become unwieldy in its structure by anchoring itself to two gospel signposts. The book’s argument plays back and forth between these two gospel signposts, in my mind, as a way of surfing between the various functions that the book is servicing.

The first gospel signpost is more a “symptom.” It is open and unrepentant sin in church-going, bible-believing, Christians. This symptom is critical to diagnosing a hyper-grace, forgiveness-only gospel that fails to proclaim that following Jesus is as important as believing in Him.

The second signpost follows the logic of the first in that if you follow Jesus, you obey His commands, including to multiply the number of disciples by discipling others.

These two– following and multiplying– orbit the sun of the discipleship gospel, that is, the kingdom of God. Where the people are following Jesus’ commands and multiplying themselves, you know that there is a belief in, and urgency about, the realness of the kingdom of God and the realness of Jesus as its king– This is truly believing that Jesus is who He says He is.

That is how you know a person has heard and accepted the true gospel of Jesus; because their fruit reveals the state of their roots.

I am in very serious agreement with the authors in what they call the “need to thoroughly evangelize our church members.”

That sentence situated in the core of the book sums up the problem statement of The Discipleship Gospel. We can’t just leave each other alone in faith, or up to our own devices. We can’t assume that people are running the race to the finish, or running the race at all; maybe they are still at the starting line deciding whether to put their bib on.

A time or two in the midst of the arguments about false gospels particularly, there was reference made to Bill Hull’s previous publication, Conversion and Discipleship. It seems to me that in order to have a very clear contrast between false gospels and the true gospel, it would help to read Conversion and Discipleship as an in-depth “problem statement” introduction to The Discipleship Gospel.

The place I hit some snags in following the argument was simply because of the words “kingdom of God” and “multiplication.” For myself, I need to find more specificity on what those two phrases mean and don’t mean. Though I fully recognize the importance of both concepts covenantally, in terms of my nitty-gritty biblical understanding, I am lacking. I have seen both these terms used in a subpar manner, so they are a couple of my red flag words theologically. But, I can tell you, that those red flags didn’t go anywhere in The Discipleship Gospel, all was sound!

So now, I am just left to do some follow up reading on the kingdom and on multiplication! Actually, maybe that’d be a good place to start in a discipleship group.

If you’d like to purchase The Discipleship Gospel you can find an easy purchasing button in my Bookstore. Click Here.

The Proverbs 31 Family

“She accepted the advice of Hegai,” Esther 2:15

Esther has to be my most favorite book of the Bible. It is dramatic, full of intrigue, betrayal, conniving, and bravery. This book houses some of the most interesting relationships in biblical narrative.

If you read Esther today, you might find that Esther is not really the heroic figure in the story. She does not do all that much. She is a pretty passive character. I have thought in the past that perhaps the book should be called the book of Mordecai.

Mordecai is the actor in the story. He recognizes that Esther becoming queen is advantageous for their people. He is determined to pivot her position in favor of the Jews.

He finds his opportunity in Haman. Haman is a vain man, so Mordecai picks a fight with him by refusing to bow to him, which homage was warranted by Haman’s new assignment as the king’s right hand complete with the power of the king’s signet ring.

To say that Mordecai had religious reasons not to bow is to add to the text. It doesn’t say that. Nor does it mention persecution of the Jews for failing to bow to Xerxes or his dignitaries being a problem at the time.

So Mordecai creates a problem by aggravating Haman. Then the persecution starts and Haman uses his authority and influence on Xerxes to set a date for genocide.

Mordecai is the ultimate gambler! He starts this trouble, creates a public display of mourning that catches Queen Esther’s attention, and then advises Esther to use her influence to save her people. This better work!

Esther does not have power. But she has influence as Xerxes wife. She does not have an agenda. But she trusts the agenda that Mordecai has.

Esther is only heroic in how she conducts her relationships. She is noted for listening to Hegai on what to wear when she first met the king…that worked out for her as we know. And she also listened to the advice of Mordecai.

Mordecai did not have position or influence, but he had a trusting, cooperative relationship with someone who did have position and influence– Esther.

And the plan worked, thank God.

Mordecai eventually takes the position that Haman had as right hand to Xerxes. This means that he ended up using Esther to attain even more power and influence than she had. The Bible doesn’t say anything about her feeling jilted by that– and why would she be, under Mordecai’s advisement the Jews became rich and powerful in the Persian empire.

Mordecai’s “for such a time as this,” was a statement about opportunity. It was like saying “this is our chance!”

As we journey together as Christians, our end game is the earth being filled with Christ’s glory. This means that every opportunity should be seized upon to advance the cause of Christ– regardless of “whose who.” We have to be willing at times, or all the time, to be like Esther. This is to have a heart that doesn’t cling to position, power, recognition, or “whose doing it.” It is a heart that is willing to yield.

A heart that is willing to yield takes advice. It shares it’s position and influence. It accepts the possibility of losing it’s position taking action on a plan it doesn’t totally understand.

A heart that yields is always ready for the right opportunity surrounded by the right relationships.

 

Shavuot and Pentecost

“He has revealed God to us.” John 1:18

Jesus is the revelation of God. He is the “‘Aha’ moment” within us concerning the substance of the invisible God.

Each of the Gospels argues a point about the nature of Jesus. That’s why there are four accounts all with only narrowly diverging details and inclusions. Matthew argues Jesus as the Jewish Messiah; Luke argues Jesus as the Savior of the whole world both Jew and Gentile; Mark argues Christ’s divinity as the Son of God; and John– John presents Jesus as the revelation of God to us.

Where Matthew and Luke tell us who Jesus is in relationship to us; Mark and John tell us who Jesus is in relationship to the other persons of the Trinity. Son of God the Father and the revelation of God: the Holy Spirit.

Jesus is the Father and He is the Holy Spirit. Jesus called God, “Father.” Romans 8:15 says that there is a spirit of adoption that allows us to cry out “Abba, Father” to God. Jesus is the Messiah, he is the Savior, and he is also the spirit of adoption. Jesus’s nature as the Spirit does something for us.

Embracing the Holy Spirit without fear, skepticism, or incredulity is not about emotional church services, manifestations, or spiritual gifts– it is about realizing that Jesus is the Holy Spirit. You can’t divide God.

And! The Holy Spirit gives us adoption! “The Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father,'” Romans 8:15.

People in the Old Testament rarely referred to God as “Father,” but the Spirit that Jesus had is the Spirit we have been given. We are not simply the Messiah-King’s grateful subjects, we are not just “freed men” saved by a Foreign Liberator, we are sons as he is Son.

“My desire is that you would be one as my Father and I are one.” Jesus desires that we as Christians would be indivisible. And what is that glue that holds together the Father and Son? It is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit united Jesus with His Father and the Holy Spirit unites the Body of Christ together.

 “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all,” Ephesians 4:4-6

I love that Ephesians points out “one baptism.” In the Gospel of John, right at the beginning, there is a story about John the Baptist’s disciples getting angry that Jesus is baptizing more people than they are.

Talk about missing the point. Here they are diligently working baptizing people to prepare them for Jesus, and then they get so caught up in the ministry that they become near-sighted to the point of blindness. They fall flat for two reasons:

  1. They view Jesus’ and John’s ministries as  divided, competing works.
  2. They view the two ministries as divided and competing because they don’t recognize the Spirit.

They didn’t recognize the Spirit in Jesus’ work and they didn’t recognize the Spirit in the person of Jesus either. They didn’t recognize that Jesus was the revelation of what they were doing by faith!

As we move away from the concluded Shavuot/Pentecost season, we will return to the Proverbs 31 Family series. In the series, we will be steering away from dysfunctional faith relationships and into highly effective faith relationships starting with Esther and Mordecai.

As we start to talk about effective faith relationships we will be talking A. L.O.T. about unity. Bear this in mind as we do: There is no unity outside of the Holy Spirit. If you desire God, you desire the Holy Spirit. If you desire Jesus, you desire the Holy Spirit. If you desire unity within the Body of Christ, you desire the Holy Spirit.

Let’s not covet the canonized ministries of remarkable biblical families without it dawning on us that we are a canonized remarkable biblical family! And we have ministries united and coordinated by the Holy Spirit of Adoption.