Gospel-Centered Discipleship Interview

November 13, 2013

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As part of our BCC vision, we want to help you to get to know gifted Christian authors and their books. This week we’re highlighting Jonathan Dodson as he talks with us about his book, Gospel-Centered Discipleship.

BCC: “As a counseling organization, we’ve recommended your book to biblical counselors. Does this surprise you at all?”

JD: “Well, actually I’m honored you thought it was worthy of recommending. It doesn’t surprise me, on one hand, because I dive deep into motivational issues, where all good counseling goes. Every action is connected to an affection. We do what we desire most, and our desires flow out of an ever-flowing ‘heart pump’ (James K.A. Smith). To quote musician Andrew Belle, ‘It wants what it wants, the heart does.’ The heart persistently pumps out wants. When we want anything more than Christ, particularly for a prolonged period of time, it disturbs the peace of Christ and invites the havoc of sin right into our lives.

I’ve seen people so dedicated to working out that they can’t stop. It moves beyond fitness to faith in the attention of people who look at their bodies. Consumed with desire of attention, they neglect other things for the sake of the work out, the diet, the body. Eventually, this creates incredible insecurity. Even the paragons of beauty in our culture worry over their appearance and long for physical improvements in areas we wouldn’t even notice. When desires become fixed on anything other than the desire-fulfiller, we begin to warp, relationships get strained by the inordinate weight of divine acceptance and attention. Relational wreckage ensues—gossip, back-biting, and depression.

Counseling picks up in the havoc and tries to patiently and wisely sort through the damage done by sin, whether to us or by us, in order to get to the black box, where our misdirected wants and wrong beliefs are recorded, on the heart. The middle section of the book tries to explain how the heart works, and how the Spirit can renew our affections through the gospel for Christ-centered discipleship.”

BCC: “Jonathan, now that your book has been out a year-and-a-half, as you look back, is there anything you would want to further develop?”

JD: “I would like to smooth out the prose in some places, write more creatively, and divide chapter one into two chapters. I could devote a whole chapter to ‘integrated discipleship,’ a concept that integrates mission and holiness around the person of Christ.”

BCC: “How do you define, describe, teach, and practice ‘integrated discipleship’?”

JD: “Many disciples tend to divide their discipleship along vertical and horizontal lines. If they are more pietistic or theologically-oriented, they draw the line straight up to God. For example, some people come into our church wanting sermons and missional communities to be Bible studies. If we don’t serve up the “vertical,” they complain and eventually leave. I’ve seen this over and over, and it’s a real indication that their knowledge has eclipsed their faith in Christ.

Subtly, these kinds of disciples slip into hyper-rational Christianity, which values theological propositions over consistent love for the poor and the spiritually lost. More dangerously, faith slips into knowledge rather than into Christ. If the vertical disciple expresses faith in Christ, then the grace and humility of Jesus would come out more than complaining and demanding. It would also be balanced by concern for the mission of God. Very often, this kind of dualism creeps into the heart of the disciple from a religious background.

Alternatively, if a disciple is more evangelistic or social justice-oriented, they draw the line out horizontally toward man. I see people deride themselves for ambivalence and praise themselves for faithfulness in evangelism and social justice. Some disciples are so culturally and socially engaged, they neglect communion with God. I’ve seen disciples tire out of ministry to the poor, not because Christ isn’t enough, but because their horizontal commitment isn’t enough.

Recently, I counseled a young lady through despair in evangelism. She was so grieved by the loss of a non-Christian friend, that she felt that ‘she was more deserving of hell’ than the non-Christian for not sharing her faith with her friend. Her compassion and concern for souls is admirable and challenging; however, her faith had slipped from Christ and into evangelism. Her evangelistic performance, not Jesus, became the basis of heaven and hell. Theologically, she knew this was untrue, but when the heart isn’t set on Jesus Christ as Lord, our discipleship is distorted. Unrestrained, horizontal discipleship dead-ends in the false savior of mission.”

BCC: “This is an important issue. So, how do we deal with this dualism? Is discipleship an endless plate spinning, running back and forth from the plate of mission to the plate of holiness?”

JD: “Unless we have a way to integrate the two, we will become very one-sided Christians, misrepresenting Jesus and despairing of balance. James calls this double-mindedness, and it’s a serious threat to healthy, orthodox discipleship. James says we need faith to supplant our divided energies. Not any faith. Faith in Jesus Christ our Lord, but first, we have to dislodge our faith from our piety and missional performance. We have to give up on drawing lines in discipleship and give into receiving Jesus as the ravishing Savior who will lead us day to day in an integrated discipleship. When Christ is central, truly, we will express aspects of both the vertical and the horizontal. This is more personal, more decidedly gospel-centered not mission or holiness-centered. When we come face to face with Jesus, we do transform in both areas, gradually, and He has all the patience in the world for us in the process.”

BCC: “Are you working on any other books at this time, Jonathan?”

JD: “Yes, I’m finishing up two books that will come out with Zondervan in 2014. The first one I wrote with Brad Watson and is a book on the resurrection: Raised? Finding Jesus by Doubting the Resurrection. It’s an absurd claim—that Jesus came back to life from the dead in a new body—and yet it is the centerpiece of our faith. To the modern mind, it’s an implausible claim that needs honest examination. We spend time looking at three groups (Greeks, Jews, and disciples of Jesus) of first century skeptics to see how they handled the resurrection. We also consider what the world would be like without a resurrection-believing Christianity.

For the Christian, Raised? challenges them to doubt their blind faith in the resurrection of Jesus to know Him, experience sin-liberating grace, and walk in the power of the resurrection. After all, St. Paul says: ‘If Christ has not raised then we are still in our sins.’ Where’s the proof of this in our discipleship? Evangelicals have been so cross-centric and eternal security-preoccupied that we’ve missed the power of resurrection life, and how it reshapes our decisions and life.”

BCC: “What’s the second book that you’re working on?”

JD: “It’s on evangelism: The Unbelievable Gospel: Say Something Worth Believing. I’m challenging the whole modern evangelistic enterprise—our motives, methods, and even our message. It’s not unduly polemical, but it is honest about the evangelistic defeaters we encounter—preachy, impersonal, intolerant evangelism. These really good concerns keep us from sharing the gospel, and with good reason. We don’t want Jesus to be associated with these defeaters. But concern isn’t enough; we have to move beyond critique to constructive, discerning, patient, wise evangelism. That’s what the rest of the book is about. I’m really excited about it; I think it will be incredibly liberating for people, and I am hoping it will contribute to deep gospel renewal and broad evangelistic faithfulness.”

BCC: “Jonathan, we consider the Biblical Counseling Coalition and your site—Gospel-Centered Discipleship (GCD)—to be ‘sister ministries.’ So, we’re very thankful for GCD—not just the book, but also the website. Please introduce our readers to the GCD site.”

JD: exists to promote discipleship resources that help make, mature, and multiply disciples of Jesus. We started GCD to address the need for reliable resources on a whole range of discipleship issues. We’ve made every effort to make these resources electronically accessible. Your readers will notice that most of our resources are written from a gospel-centered perspective. When we use the term ‘gospel-centered,’ we aren’t trying to divide Christians into camps, but rather to promote a way of following Jesus that is centered on the gospel of grace. While all disciples of Jesus believe the gospel is central to Christianity, we often live as if religious rules or spiritual license actually form the center of discipleship. Jesus calls us to displace those things and replace them with the gospel. We’re meant to apply the benefits of the gospel to our lives every day, not to merely bank on them for a single instance of ‘being saved.’ Gospel-centered disciple returns to the gospel over and over again, to receive, apply, and spread God’s forgiveness and grace into every aspect of life. So, GCD offers eBooks and free discipleship articles. We serve a community of disciple-makers who are applying the gospel to their everyday life. Our focus is gospel-centered resources to help you make disciples. We’re committed to excellent writing that is grounded in truth. We do our best to publish material that is practitioner-tested, gospel-centered, community-shaped, and mission-focused.”

BCC: “Jonathan, thank you for writing Gospel-Centered Discipleship and thank you for your leadership of the GCD site.”

JD: “Thank you, Bob. We love what you are doing also. It’s tremendous to see the wealth of good gospel-centered resources flowing into and out of the church. Oh, and Brandon Smith, the Director of GCD, should get the real credit!”

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