Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Ramblings on Salvation and Scriptural Interpretation

I recently read and reviewed the book, Contagious Disciple Making: Leading Others on a Journey of Discovery, by David and Paul Watson.  In the book, the Watsons emphasize the importance of Christian small groups, where Christians and seekers can come together, study the Bible in order to apply it in their own lives, and fall in love with Jesus.

The Watsons in one place address a question: How can the group keep itself from falling into heresy or bizarre interpretations of the Bible?  The Watsons suggest that it do so by sticking with what is explicitly in the text.  If someone in the group comes up with an off-the-wall interpretation of the text, someone else in the group can ask, “Where does the text say that?”

That has been pulled on me a couple of times.  I can understand where the Watsons are coming from, since people can come up with a lot of bizarre interpretations of the Bible.  At the same time, I think that people are pretty choosy about when they stick with what the text explicitly says, and when they do not.

Allow me to give you some examples.  I was in a small group a while back, and we were going through Romans.  Romans 8:38-39 states: “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  The leader of the group was saying that this passage teaches once-saved-always-saved: that Christians cannot lose their salvation.  Even if they sin and do not repent of that sin, the leader was saying, they cannot lose their salvation.  Others in the group agreed with him.

That was not exactly the version of Christianity with which I was raised (see my post here for more about that).  I questioned the leader’s interpretation, and he said that the text says nothing—-NOTHING—-can separate believers from the love of God in Jesus Christ.  That means even a sin that a believer commits and does not repent of.  That falls under NOTHING!  I wondered, though, about other passages in Scripture that seemed to suggest the opposite.

A year later we were going through the Gospel of Luke.  Luke 13:23-25 states: “Then said one unto him, Lord, are there few that be saved? And he said unto them, Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.  When once the master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door, and ye begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us; and he shall answer and say unto you, I know you not whence ye are” (KJV).

The leader said that this passage was not about salvation, since we are saved by grace through faith, not our own efforts.  Rather, according to him, the passage was saying that giving up oneself and being unselfish is difficult.

I thought, “Wait a minute!”  The disciples are explicitly asking Jesus about salvation!  And some of that seems to concern eschatological judgment.  The leader, to me, seemed to be ignoring what the text was actually saying because it contradicted his understanding of what the Scriptures as a whole teach.  In a sense, I was doing the same thing on the Romans 8 passage—-or, more accurately, I thought that Romans 8 should be qualified by what other passages in the Bible say, rather than absolutized in isolation.

That is a problem that I have, therefore, with the Watsons’ approach, if I am understanding it correctly.  Nowadays, though, I can somewhat understand where the Bible study leader was coming from—-his version of Christianity had more grace than my legalistic understanding, which was a burden to me.  But there were Scriptures that one could cite to support my legalistic understanding, and they should be addressed.

As an aside, as I look right now at the Luke passage, there may be more to it than I think.  Jesus there may be talking about the Jewish religious leaders who rejected him.  At the judgment, they will be thrust out of the Kingdom.  The requirement for salvation in that case may actually be belief in Jesus, as many Protestants like to affirm about salvation, or at least it can be reconciled with that understanding.  Indeed, in those days, believing in Jesus and following him were quite difficult: they could lead to exclusion from one’s family, and even death.  That was a narrow way.  It still is, in certain countries.  Of course, I don’t want to go the route of saying that this passage does not apply to people in the Bible Belt, where it is easy to profess Christ, and actually harder not to do so on account of the social pressure by Christians.  One can make a lot of the Bible irrelevant with that approach.

I’ll stop here.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Book Write-Up: Joy in the Night, by Don West

Don West.  Joy in the Night: Stops along the Journey of an Itinerant Preacher.  TEACH Services, Inc., 2014. ISBN-10: 1479602965. ISBN-13: 978-1479602964.  See here to purchase the book.

Don West is a Seventh-Day Adventist itinerant preacher from Jamaica.  Joy in the Night is a collection of ten sermons that he delivered in various places, including Jamaica, Trinidad, the United States, and Mexico.  West provides background information for each sermon.

Some of the sermons were more comforting and grace-filled than others.  West does depict God as a comforter of those with problems and Jesus as a healer for the spiritually sick, and West says that we should not try to clean up our lives before coming to Jesus because we need Jesus to clean up our lives.  I do agree with West about the importance of spiritual solutions for the problem of depression, but I would add that people who are clinically depressed may also want to seek natural solutions, such as medication.  For a lot of people, singing hymns in the night and praying do not make them feel better.

I could identify with West’s story about the time when he was a student and he feared that he would not pass a particular course.  West’s conclusion was that God led him to be a minister, and God would see to conclusion what God started.  That sort of mindset gave me peace when I was a student, apprehensive about papers, exams, and presentations!

Some of the sermons were not particularly comforting, but they were thought-provoking.  In preaching about the Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13), West says that there are well-intentioned professing Christians who will not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, and that there will come a time when the opportunity to seek God has passed.  As I read this, I had to think about the extent to which this message reflects the teaching of Jesus and the rest of the New Testament.  While West’s sermon did appear, overall, to be a faithful and understandable interpretation of the Parable of the Ten Virgins, I wondered if the Parable could be reconciled with more hopeful teachings (i.e., universalism).  While this particular sermon by West did not make me feel spiritually secure, I did agree with his point about the importance of the Holy Spirit in a believer’s life: if someone has lots of Bible knowledge but the Holy Spirit is not moving that person to apply the Bible knowledge in a loving manner, then is that not a problem?  Believers should seek that oil of the Holy Spirit while it is still available, West was saying.

More than one sermon had the usual Adventist apocalypticism, an emphasis on Jesus Christ coming soon.  In one sermon, West says that one of the signs that Christ is coming soon is the increasing acceptance of homosexuality.  West quotes Luke 17:28-29, where Jesus likens the end times to the days of Lot, who fled Sodom.  My reaction to this point was two-fold.  First, the people of Sodom in Genesis 19 tried to gang-rape Lot’s guests, and we generally do not see that sort of thing among homosexuals today.  Second, Ezekiel 16:49 criticizes Sodom for not strengthening the hand of the poor and needy.  Should not that be mentioned when one is criticizing the sins of Sodom, or seeking to draw analogies between today and the time of Sodom?

One sermon in the book was especially intriguing and made the book a keeper, even though it annoyed me in some areas.  In this sermon, West was defending the idea that Jesus on earth had sinful flesh.  This is not to say that Jesus actually sinned, for West is clear that Jesus did not sin.  Rather, his point was that Jesus’ flesh had the same propensity towards sin as all other people’s flesh.  West is not always clear about how this practically played out: he favorably quoted someone who likened Jesus to a snake without venom (symbolizing sin), and he said that Jesus was born of the Spirit at his birth, showing that we all need to be born of the Spirit (born again) to overcome sin.  Do not these things make any propensity towards sin in Jesus’ flesh practically irrelevant?  What made most sense to me in this sermon, though, was West’s point that Jesus relied on his Father to overcome sin, and, in doing so, he was a model for our spiritual lives.

This sermon made the book a keeper because it went into Adventist history, particularly Adventist interaction with this doctrine about Jesus’ flesh.  Where the sermon got annoying (yet still intriguing) was when West was trying to argue that the Antichrist in I John 4:3 was the Roman Catholic Church.  I John 4:3 states: “And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world” (KJV).  West regards the doctrine that the Roman Catholic Church is the Antichrist as “the clear testimony of the Word of God” (page 96), but he acknowledges that Roman Catholics believe that Jesus came in the flesh.  He concludes, though, that Roman Catholicism actually denies that Jesus came in the flesh because it does not think that Jesus came in the same flesh that everyone else has, namely, sinful flesh.  West quotes the Roman Catholic teaching that Jesus was born without original sin.  Personally, I tend to interpret I John 4:3 in light of docetic beliefs that existed in John’s day, and I regard the view that the Roman Catholic Church is the Antichrist as mere interpretation and opinion, not as “the clear testimony of the Word of God.”

All of that said, I give this book four stars because it was an enjoyable and an interesting read, even if I did not agree with everything it said.

The publisher sent me a review copy of this book through Bookcrash, in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Scattered Ramblings on the Second Coming of Christ

At church this morning, during the prayer part of the service, someone in the congregation said that he heard that Christ will return in 2022.  Someone else then said that Christ can come at any time.

I don’t put any stock in attempts to place a date on Christ’s second coming.  People have been setting dates for over a thousand years, and Christ has not come yet.  I’m reminded of the old Jewish proverb: if you are planting a tree and someone tells you that the Messiah has come, plant your tree first, then go to see if the Messiah has come!

On the whole deal about how Christ can come at any time, well, it depends on how one interprets the Scriptures.  If you believe that certain events have to take place before Christ comes—-the two witnesses, the Beast, and the Great Tribulation—-then Christ cannot come at just any time.  He can only come after those events take place.

Unless one believes in the pre-tribulational rapture.  In this scenario, Christ will come to take his saints—-living and dead—-up to heaven, and that will be followed by the Great Tribulation, which includes the Beast and the two witnesses.  After the Great Tribulation, the scenario continues, Christ will come to earth, destroy the powers of evil, and rule.  In the New Testament, there are some passages that suggest that Christ can come like a thief—-unexpectedly—-and other passages that present him coming after certain events have taken place.  Believers in the pre-tribulational rapture say that this is because these are two different comings of Christ.  Christ’s coming to rapture his saints can occur unexpectedly, whereas his coming to rule the world will proceed certain events.

I can also envision a partial preterist believing that Christ can come at any time, though I cannot support this.  It’s just that partial preterists believe that so many prophetic events were fulfilled in the past—-the Beast, the two witnesses, etc.—-and that would mean that there is nothing that necessarily must take place right now or in the future before Christ comes back.  That stuff has already occurred in the past.  If that is the case, then Christ can return at any time.

I recently read a book of sermons delivered by an itinerant Seventh-Day Adventist pastor.  I’ll be reviewing this book tomorrow on my blog.  This book reminded me of what turns me off from apocalyptic mindsets—-the us vs. them mentality, and the idea that God will wipe out most of the human race, while preserving those who believe and behave a certain way.  I was thinking: “How do I know any of this is real, anyway?”  Not sure if I do.  The thing is, does our world have much hope if it is not real—-if Christ will not return and defeat evil?  I don’t know.  On some level, things are getting better.  Poverty is declining throughout the world.  Yet, there is still a lot of wickedness and exploitation of others.

I was reading a status-update by a liberal religious thinker whom I read.  He said that we’re all Messiahs with a responsibility to make the world a better place, and that too many people look for a heroic coming Messiah to absolve themselves of their responsibility, thinking this coming Messiah will fix everything.  I can see that.  Yet, even with the apocalyptic mindset that was at my church this morning, we still read in the liturgy that we are to go out and to serve others.

Back to that Seventh-Day Adventist book.  It quoted Jesus saying in Luke 21:34: “Take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares.”  That passage tells me that Christians are to be watching for Christ’s return.  They are to keep it in mind.  They are not to be content to stay in this corrupt world, but they are to be spiritually mindful.

Luke 21, though, is partly about the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E.  Some may say that this passage and its parallels (Mark 13 and Matthew 24) were anticipating Christ’s return soon after the disaster in 70, which did not happen.  Others say that Christ “came” in the sense that he judged Jerusalem.  Still others say that these passages are talking about the historical destruction of Jerusalem but also the second coming of Christ in the future.

Let’s go with the idea that these passages relate to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E.  Jesus is telling his disciples to watch—-not to get caught up in this life and getting drunk—-because the things in their world that they take for granted are about to be destroyed.  God is about to judge Jerusalem for its sins and corruption, and their desire should be not to be swept away with the city.

That sort of message can still apply, even if I doubt that Christ will return anytime soon.  America can still fall.  The places that we have gone out of our greed and our covetousness, and the sad consequences of our lust and devaluation of people, can lead us to horrible and destructive territory.  Can we take our present prosperity for granted?  Look at the nations of the past that were prosperous and fell.  If we desire security, should we not throw ourselves at the mercy of God?  I’m not talking about a superficial national repentance designed to appeal to the religious right and get its votes.  I’m talking about individuals in a corrupt age going to God in repentance and seeking mercy.

As Jesus said: Watch.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Derek Leman on the Fig Tree and the Faith That Moves Mountains

Derek Leman is a Messianic Jewish rabbi, and I subscribe to his free Daily D’Var, in which he comments on passages in the Torah and the Gospels from a religious and a scholarly perspective.  I would like to share here his comments today on Mark 11:12-14 and 20-25.  It is phenomenal!

“12  On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. 13 And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. 14 And he said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it . . .

20 As they passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. 21 And Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.” 22 And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. 23 Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. 25 And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.””  (Mark 11:12–14, 20–25 ESV)

NOTES: This whole section in vss. 14-25 is a classic example of what some have called the Markan sandwich technique. He begins to tell a story, follows with another scene which may not seem to be related, and then returns to the story. So, here, Yeshua curses a fig tree and then the story of his Temple protest action is related. But the next morning, the story comes back to the fig tree. I will save most of my comments on the Temple protest action in vss. 15-19 and focus here on vss.12-14 and 20-25 about the lesson of the fig tree. The episode raises a number of questions. Is Yeshua’s cursing a fig tree rational or irrational? Does the fig tree symbolize something specific and should we try to find the exact reference? Which mountain does Yeshua have in mind for being moved by prayer? How does the fig tree lesson relate to the Temple protest action? To begin, we need to understand the seasons for figs in Israel. By Passover there would usually be leaves, but no figs. By Shavuot, the same time as the wheat harvest, would be the early crop of figs (there are two fig crops a year in Israel’s climate). Therefore, and as Mark is careful to point out, it is irrational for Yeshua to expect figs at Passover. This means his action with the fig tree is purely symbolic. His curious action, a prophetic enactment, is meant to make the disciples curious. The next morning, after the Temple protest action, Peter remembers the fig tree as they pass it, now brown and withered. Does Yeshua now launch into a lesson about Israel being fruitless and unworthy, as we might expect? Not at all. He launches into a lesson about the power of prayer. What could it all mean? First, it is helpful to know that the fig comes up as a symbol in the prophets several times for Israel’s faith and fruitfulness. Micah speaks of God’s disappointment at finding no fig to eat in Israel (7:1). Hosea describes Israel as a withered fig tree without fruit (9:10). Yet the promise of a great age of peace is that every man will sit under his vine and fig tree (Isa 36:16; Mic 4:4). Second, we should forget about some specific symbolic meaning, since Yeshua gives no such clues. Neither should we read the mountain of vs. 23 with some specific reference (as if this is about the Mount of Olives and the Zechariah 14 imagery, as some interpreters do). Yeshua does not take the lesson in this direction. Note that Yeshua’s words about faith moving a mountain come up again in Paul in 1 Cor 13:2 (“faith so as to move mountains”). What we have here is a potent contrast between the powerful Temple state and the humble disciple group. The Temple, though holy, has become corrupt through its leadership. It is a religious institution of vast wealth and power. But it is not effective at making Israel holy and fruitful. So, Yeshua, powerless and alone, makes an ineffective protest action, an irrational act which cannot succeed (like his irrational expectation of a fig tree to have early fruit). But while Yeshua’s protest does not bring the Temple to its knees, his curse does wither a fig tree. This leads to a lesson about prayer. The humble disciple group has more power than all the Temple state. If they do God’s will and pray, nothing is beyond their ability. God will move mountains, shake empires, and change the world through them. Their power is not in wealth or position, but in prayer, forgiveness, and faith.

II Chronicles 22

II Chronicles 22 is about King Ahaziah of Judah.

II Chronicles 22:2 states (in the KJV): “Forty and two years old was Ahaziah when he began to reign, and he reigned one year in Jerusalem. His mother’s name also was Athaliah the daughter of Omri.”

Many scholars identify a problem with this verse.  For one, whereas II Chronicles 22:2 states that Ahaziah was forty-two years old when he began to reign, II Kings 8:26 says that he was twenty-two at that time.  Second, saying that Ahaziah was forty-two at the beginning of his reign does not work chronologically.  II Chronicles 21:20 says that Ahaziah’s father, Jehoshaphat, died at age forty, so Ahaziah would be older than his father if Ahaziah’s reign began when Ahaziah was forty-two.
Different solutions have been proposed for this:

1.  One solution is simply to say that a scribe made an error.  Keil-Delitzsch go this route.  One should also note that many Septuagint manuscripts have “twenty” and that the Peshitta has “twenty-two.”  Maybe they were trying to correct the Hebrew text or they possessed an earlier and more accurate reading.

2.  John Gill mentions the solution of coregency, that Ahaziah and his father Jehosphaphat may have reigned at the same time for a span.  This is often a solution that interpreters propose in seeking to deal with certain chronological difficulties, particularly the ones in Kings and Chronicles.  I am not sure if it solves anything in this case, though, for it does not seem to me to solve the problem of Ahaziah being older than his father.

3.  E.W. Bullinger says that the phrase is literally “a son of forty-two years, i.e. of the house of Omri.”  King Ahaziah was the king of Judah, but he was connected with the Northern Kingdom of Israel because his mother, Athaliah, was related to the wicked Northern king Omri, one who started the dynasty that included Ahab.  Bullinger argues that saying that Ahaziah was “a son of forty-two years” highlights Ahaziah’s connection with Omri—-that the forty-two years is not how old Ahaziah was when he began to reign, but rather the time since the kingship of Judah became intertwined with Omri’s dynasty.  I cannot disprove Bullinger’s argument, but I am not convinced by it.  Throughout II Chronicles, the sort of formula that appears in II Chronicles 22:2 is used to say how old a king was when he began to reign.  Why should II Chronicles 22:2 be any different?

4.  Bullinger’s view is similar to one found within Judaism.  According to Rashi, when King Asa of Judah took a daughter of Omri for his son Jehoshaphat, God decreed the destruction of the house of David with the house of Ahab (Omri’s son).  Seder Olam 17 and Tosefta Sotah 12 also have this sort of idea.  For Rashi, the forty-two years in II Chronicles 22:2 refer, not to Ahaziah’s age when he became king, but the time since God’s decree.  That God made a decree about Ahaziah’s death at some point may be in the chapter itself, for v 7 says that God was behind the death of Ahaziah and the cutting off of the house of Ahab.  I have difficulty saying that this relates to the forty-two years in v 2, however, for the reason that I gave in critiquing Bullinger: that the formula in v 2 usually relates to how old a king was when he began to reign.

I guess I go with saying that v 2 has a scribal error.  The other explanations are more interesting and intriguing, though.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Book Write-Up: God's Battle Plan for the Mind (Puritan Meditation)

David W. Saxton.  God’s Battle Plan for the Mind: The Puritan Practice of Biblical Meditation.  Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2015.  See here to buy the book.

God’s Battle Plan for the Mind is about meditating on the Scriptures, and it focuses on Puritan insights about the importance of doing so and ways to do it.

Meditating on the Scriptures has been a mixed experience for me.  One can easily fall into the trap of meditating on the Scriptures and falling into feelings of self-condemnation because one falls short of God’s rules, or negative thinking because there is a lot in the Bible about God’s wrath.  To be honest, there are times when I think that it is mentally healthier for me to think about nothing at all rather than the Bible!

At the same time, in reading this book, I could identify with a lot of what David Saxton and the Puritans had to say about meditation.  I do find that it is important for me to discipline my thoughts, to sit down and to deliberate about the kind of person I should be, and to seek God’s grace and strength.  Reflection, mindfulness, and contemplating the higher things in life can be very beneficial to a person, as opposed to allowing one’s mind to swim aimlessly into negative territory.

Overall, as I read Saxton’s book, I found the Puritans to be constructive in their approach to meditation.  Yes, they recommended thinking about hell, God’s judgment, and the warnings in Scripture, for they believed that this could encourage repentance.  Yes, they sometimes tossed in a spiritual threat towards those who failed to meditate.  But they also promoted relying on God’s love and grace, contemplating why sin is bad, and looking forward to heaven.  I was especially impressed when they tried to meet people where they were.  If you have a problem with covetousness and greed, focus on heaven, one Puritan recommended.  If you have difficulty having warm feelings towards God while meditating, turn to God in prayer, for we all must depend on God to meditate well, anyway.

As someone with Asperger’s who likes clear guidelines, I was impressed with how practical the Puritans were.  They offered ideas on subjects for meditation, the practical benefit of meditation, and the amount of time that one may want to spend on meditation.  They were not necessarily doing so to be legalistic, but rather were focusing on the goals of meditation and possible ways to meet those goals.  They also backed up many of their insights with Scripture, for there are passages about meditating on God’s commandments and setting one’s mind on heaven, the home of the saints.

Do I plan to change anything in my life after reading this book?  On the one hand, I am fairly satisfied with my spiritual practice, in that I think about the importance of being a good person and pray for the strength to be that.  I also do not want to fall into beating a dead horse when trying to meditate on the Bible, for I sometimes feel that there is only so much that I can say about a Bible passage.  (There may be more to the passage, but only so much about it that swims around in my mind.)  On the other hand, I do agree with Saxton that some of us (and this has been me) can listen to sermon after sermon and fail to grow because we do not stop and absorb the sermon.  In addition, I do think that I should have more of an application component in my devotional reading: to contemplate, not just what the passage means and why it says things as it does, but also how it relates to my life and my relationship with God and others.

I received this book from the publisher through Cross Focused Reviews in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Book Write-Up: Contagious Disciple Making

Donald L. Watson and Paul D. Watson.  Contagious Disciple Making: Leading Others on a Journey of Discovery.  Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2014.  See here to buy the book.

Contagious Disciple Making is about how Christians can make disciples of Jesus Christ.  It is not exactly a book about how individual Christians can go out and share their faith with individual non-Christians, though it does have stories about that.  Its authors, David Watson and Paul Watson, think bigger.  Their vision is the conversion of families, communities, tribes, and even nations.  Their expectation is that people will come to Christian small groups and then be able to start their own small groups.  They support discipleship: mature Christians mentoring people on how to obey Jesus, and the mentees mentoring others and passing on what they learn.  Moreover, they share their experiences of their method actually succeeding.

In reading this book, I often felt as if I was reading about a factory producing cookie-cutter Christians.  One could understandably respond that my impression is completely off-base.  After all, do not the Watsons say that disciple-makers should respect the individuality of the communities they’re reaching and allow them to use their own ways of worship (as long as they don’t contradict the Bible)?  Do they not say that disciple-makers should mentor the group leaders and then back off from the group and let the Holy Spirit do his work, rather than being heavy-handed teachers and builders of their own personal religious empires?  Yes, they do say that.  Their critiques of traditional methods of disciple-making are insightful.

Still, as I was reading the book, the thought that went through my mind was that I was too much of an individual and a free-thinker to participate in the sorts of things that they talk about, and that people I know are too independent and free-thinking for me to drag them along into a Christian small group.  The section on discipleship had good insights, but it scared me a bit: it seemed to be suggesting that a discipler should have a say about everything in a disciplee’s life, and that both should be pursuing perfection.  I had mixed feelings about entire families and communities becoming evangelical Christians: how would this affect people in the family who do not exactly fit that paradigm, such as gay people?  And what if a person in the Christian community just does not want to go along with what his discipler or small group is saying he should do?

Some of the book’s advice was practical, but I was wondering if what we see in the Bible is always so practical.  A key point that the book makes is that disciple-makers should go into communities and look for a Person of Peace: a Christian or one who is open to the Gospel, who can then help bring others in his or her community to Christ (or, more accurately, into a Christan small group, where they can fall in love with Jesus).  In one place, the book says that the Person of Peace should have a good reputation within his or her community.  Makes sense.  But the book refers to the woman at the well in John 4 as a Person of Peace, and she did not exactly have a good reputation!  And yet, contrary to what I may imply here, the book is rather critical of business models.

The book did have lots of good parts.  Paul Watson talked about asking God’s opinion about movies and ways to use Jesus’ parables to pray for the needs of communities.  The stories and anecdotes were excellent.  On some level, the book did at least try to respect that people may be in different places spiritually, for it contrasted ways to teach non-believers in a small group to obey Christ with ways to teach believers to do so.  Its section on small groups may be helpful for those looking for specifics, whereas its section on mentorship may not be so helpful, especially for people who struggle socially and may not know how to establish a mentoring relationship.

The book may be valuable for evangelicals who want the sort of thing that the Watsons talk about: more people becoming evangelicals.  But even someone like me, who cringed a bit in reading the book, can find edifying insights in it.

I received a complimentary review copy of this book through the BookLook Bloggers (http://booklookbloggers.com/) program.  The program does not require for my review to be positive, and my review reflects my honest reaction to the book.

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