In his book, Gospel-Centered Discipleship, Pastor Jonathan Dodson takes a bold new and innovative look at the issue of discipleship and the church. I really like and believe wholeheartedly what he writes in the foreword of his book, “Over the years, I have become painfully aware that people tend to drift away from the gospel soon after their conversion and begin to try their hand at sanctification. In other words, they operate as if the gospel saves them but doesn’t play a role in sanctifying them. In the end, people become exhausted and miss out on the joy of knowing and walking with the spirit of God. They miss out on intimacy with Jesus. WOW! And it is to the end of having a living and intimate relationship with Jesus Christ that we are converted and as a result it should also affect our relationships with the members of our church as well as with people in the world.
In Part 1 Pastor Donaldson first defines for us what he believes discipleship is. In the introduction he sets the stage if you will for what he is going to share in his book when he writes, “The Gospel is for Disciples, Not Just Sinners.” So from his statement we can already get a feel for the Gospel-Centered direction he is going to be taking us in with his book. In the beginning of Chapter 1 he shares a personal painful experience in his life that caused him to ask some of the hard and serious questions that people need to ask in order to truly know God and be a lover of his and Disciple of his son Jesus Christ. As a result of his experience set in motion a change in this thinking that ultimately would have a hugely transforming impact in his own life as well as that of his ministry to others. He first informs us of the importance of the word Discipleship in relation to believers because it is used so frequently used in the Word of God to refer to believers. He then identifies Biblical discipleship in the context of what he calls “The Gospel Commission” rather than “The Great Commission.” He then breaks Discipleship down into three distinct but equally important aspects the first being “Gospel Going,” the second being “Gospel Baptizing,” and the third being “Gospel Teaching.” He writes the important fact that it is the Gospel that “Makes and Matures Disciples.” The impact of the gospel in our lives is not just meant to be experienced when we are converted nor is it God’s fire escape plan… Pastor Dodson believes and writes about Discipleship from a whole new way of thinking and living it. The Gospel that saves is the Gospel that Sanctifies and it is just as important at the moment of our conversion as it is throughout the years of our living as Disciples of Christ. So it is in Chapter 1 where author Dodson asks and then answers the question, “Making Disciples: Evangelism or Discipleship?” In Chapter 2 he writes what the “Goal of Discipleship” and our fighting for image. He writes that “Christianity Is About Image.” And he writes in metaphorical language referring to a fight and being a member of the “Fight Club” as the language is clearly Biblical and he frequently refers to Scripture to back up what he writes. He summarizes Chapter 2 by writing, “In summary, Disciples of Jesus are called to fight, not in physical or virtual combat, but for the noble cause of everyday faith in Jesus.” Amen and right on my brother!
In part 2 and Chapters three through five of his book he goes right to the “heart of the matter,” as that is where true Gospel-Centered Discipleship comes from…our Gospel transformed hearts. In Chapter 3 he explores the issue of the “Twisted Motives” of people who are Disciples of Christ, (religious performance and spiritual license) and how they affect our lives personally as well as the lives of the people around us. He writes in order to make Jesus central and avoid the twisted motivations; “we need to displace what is at the center of our Discipleship. We need to remove rules, rule keeping (religion), and rule breaking, (rebellion), from the center of Discipleship and replace it with the gospel, which graciously binds us to Christ’s side.” In short as he puts it, we need to stop our love affairs with rules and develop a deep and abiding love relationship with Jesus. As he writes it, “We need to gather around Jesus.” In Chapter 4 he writes what should be the single and true motivation for our Discipleship and for Gospel Going, Baptizing and Gospel Teaching and that is pure, unadulterated affection for Jesus Christ and for others. He refers to the Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards as well as the Word of God in regards to where our affections and allegiance should be…and that is to King Jesus and to him alone. And in regards to living for Jesus he exhorts us to believe both “God’s Warnings and God’s Promises” as Disciples of Christ. The other aspect of Christian living and Discipleship he writes about is the seldom discussed or taught matter of “Repentance” among Christians today. He writes, “Repenting Christians are growing Christians.” Quoting pastor and best selling author Tim Keller, “All-of-life repentance is the best sign that we are growing deeply and rapidly into the character of Jesus.” AND the irony of it is that it is true repentance that leads us to experience the deepest level of joy in our lives…the greater the brokenness in our relationship before Jesus the greater the measure of our wholeness we will experience in our lives. It’s ironic, don’t you think” It’s ironic but it is wholly true. When was the last time you heard this preached or taught from the pulpit of your church? In Chapter 5 he writes about the source of all of our power and ability to live as Disciples of Christ and carry out the Gospel Commission in our lives and that is the person of the Holy Spirit.
So then we come to Part 3 where Pastor Dodson writes about how to make Gospel-Centered Discipleship practical and real in our lives. In Chapter 6, “Communal Discipleship: The Three Conversions” which he writes according to Martin Luther is a “conversion of the heart, conversion of the mind and conversion of the purse.” Author Dodson writes that Luther focused on “what needs to be converted in man” as well as “what man is converted to.” In Chapter 7 Pastor Dodson writes about how we are to put the Gospel into practice using the analogy of a “fight club.” He provides solidly Biblical and practical insights and tips as to what how we are to live and what we are to do as Disciples of Christ living in our fallen world today. Chapter 8 which is the final Chapter of his book is where he writes about how we are to take the message of the Gospel to the streets as an expression of the Gospel-Centered nature of our church ministries corporately and as individual Disciples for Jesus. At the end of his book he lists some thought and hopefully good discussion provoking Gospel-Centered questions we need to ask ourselves and one another as well as he provides a section of other Gospel-Centered resources for us to use to help us on our lifelong journey of Gospel-Centered Discipleship with Jesus.
Gospel-Centered Discipleship is not a new message but rather a Biblical message that has been far too little communicated to lovers of God and Disciples of Christ today. I urge you to buy a copy of this book and begin to live out a life of Gospel-Centered Discipleship and devotion to God and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ today.
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