The past decade has seen a resurgence of writing on evangelism, discipleship and missions. I remember a time in the early 2000’s when the latest fad was the Emergent conversation. Now the Emergent conversation has mostly ended and the missional conversation is taking its place. While the conversation has shifted in its focus the goal hasn’t changed (as it shouldn’t) as Jesus command to make disciples is not a suggestion but a command from God. In his helpful book Gospel-Centered Discipleship Pastor Jonathan Dodson writes to clear up the confusion between evangelism and discipleship and articulate a Gospel-centered vision for discipleship that is biblical, theological, practical and most importantly explicitly tied to and drenched in the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Reading books on discipleship, evangelism and missions has long been one of my favorite topics. Perhaps this is because I grew up in Seattle, Washington one of the least church states in the United States. Almost five years ago, my wife and I moved to Boise, Idaho which while it has many churches is heavily populated by Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses. Having moved from a city in Seattle that is mostly New Age to a city that is decidedly more religious has provided me a nice contrast between the secular mindset and the religious mindset. In his book Pastor Dodson writes to those who have been affected by the secular and religious mindset because both are ditches to avoid in making disciples for the glory of God.
Christians inundated with the secular mindset in my experience tend to be those who more likely to see the need to engage the culture without becoming like the culture. Those who are raised in areas of the country that are decidedly more religious (in my experience) are those who are likely to reject the idea of seeing the need to engage the culture and are more likely to focus only on preaching the Word with little to no cultural engagement. Regardless of the approach one takes in the context they are ministering in, both perspectives have their strengths and weaknesses, but the goal of making disciples that reproduce should override any program or system that any ministry leader or Church create. The goal of discipleship is to grow to be like Jesus.
One of the most interesting ideas in the book is that of a fight club. A fight club is basically a place for people in the Church to gather around the gospel in order to fight sin and grow in the grace of God. Recently the Church I serve at started a men’s group where we gather together to read over the Scriptures, share what we’ve learned, confess struggles, sins and pray for one another. What I just described is the basic nuts and bolts of a fight club.
The most helpful chapter in this book was chapter eight, and is one of the reasons I read the book. Chapter five on discipleship and the Holy Spirit was also helpful (as was the rest of the book), but chapter eight was especially helpful as at the time of reading this book, I was writing a paper on creating Gospel culture for seminary. While Pastor Dodson’s thoughts are very helpful in applying all that he has taught in the book, I wanted to share some of my own thoughts on creating a Gospel culture from my paper in order to help advance the conversation on creating Gospel-culture in churches.
Gospel doctrine creates a Gospel culture. “The doctrine of regeneration creates a culture of humility (Ephesians 2:1-9) The doctrine of justification creates a culture of inclusion (Galatians 2:11-16) The doctrine of reconciliation creates a culture of peace (Ephesians 2:14-16) The doctrine of sanctification creates a culture of life (Romans 6:20-23) The doctrine of glorification creates a culture of hope (Romans 5:2). If we want this culture to thrive, we can’t take doctrinal short cuts. If we want this doctrine to be credible, we can’t disregard the culture. But churches where the doctrine and culture converge bear living witness to the power of Jesus.”[i]
“Spiritual pride is the main door by which the devil comes into the hearts of those who are zealous for the advancement of Christianity. It is the chief inlet of smoke from the bottomless pit, to darken the mind and mislead the judgment. It is the main source of all the mischief the devil introduces, to clog and hinder a work of God. Spiritual pride tends to speak of other persons’ sins with bitterness or with laughter and levity and an air of contempt. But pure Christian humility rather tends either to be silent about these problems or to speak of them with grief and pity. Spiritual pride is very apt to suspect others, but a humble Christian is most guarded about himself. He is as suspicious of nothing in the world as he is of his own heart. The proud person is apt to find fault with other believers, that they are low in grace, and to be much in observing how cold and dead they are and to be quick to note their deficiencies. But the humble Christian has so much to do at home and sees so much evil in his own heart and is so concerned about it that he is not apt to be very busy with other hearts. He is apt to esteem others better than himself.”[ii]
The Gospel creates a people who were once not God’s people by transferring them from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ. When the fullness of the Gospel is preached it will look through the lens of redemptive history, as well as examine the Gospel through the lens of regeneration and justification, and the implications and application of the Gospel to the people of God. Since the Gospel is the power of God to save, sanctify and create a people out of no people it goes to reason that this Gospel creates its own culture as the message of the Gospel is preached. By creating a Gospel culture in the Church men and women will be confronted with their sin and pointed toward the work of the Lord Jesus in His death, burial, and resurrection.
As the Gospel is preached it creates its own culture as sinners are transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Gospel creates its own culture through the preaching of the Word of God. As the Word is preached the Holy Spirit applies the preached Word to the lives of its hearers calling them to repent of sin and turn in faith to Jesus. The Gospel creates a healthy culture by confronting believers with their sin and helping them to grow in the grace of God. While this isn’t everything the Gospel does it does point to some of what the Gospel does as the Word and Spirit work together to apply the Word of God to its hearers through the preached Word of God.
Creating a Gospel culture will mean emphasizing the Gospel as the source of salvation and the means God uses to bring about Christians sanctification. Keeping the Gospel central is absolutely essential to creating a Gospel culture. Emphasizing the Gospel will also fight against religious performance, spiritual license and legalism. The goal of a Gospel culture is to create a culture in the church where men and women have a safe place to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus.
I recommend every Christian read Gospel-Centered Discipleship by Pastor Jonathan Dodson. Ministry leaders who read this book will find help on creating a Gospel-culture in which disciples of Jesus can grow. Christians who read this book will learn what a disciple is and how a disciple lives out the Christian life. No matter where you are in your walk with Jesus Gospel-Centered Discipleship will help you not only learn what discipleship is but how the Gospel ought to inform our daily discipleship walk with Jesus, as the people of God endeavor to be in the world but not of the world by being salt and light to the world.
Title: Gospel-Centered Discipleship
Author: Jonathan Dodson
Publisher: Crossway (2012)
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the Crossway book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
[i] Ray Ortlund, “Gospel doctrine, Gospel Culture”, October 11 2010, accessed May 2, 2012. http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/rayortlund/2010/10/11/gospel-doctrine-gospel-culture-2/
[ii] Jonathan Edwards, Works (Edinburgh, 1979), I:398-400.