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Book Review: Gospel-Centered Discipleship by Jonathan K. Dodson

Brilliantly Integrating the Gospel in all of Life

In 2009 I took a core group of leaders with me from San Diego to Dallas, Texas for an Acts 29 Boot Camp. The highlight for all of us while we were there was hearing Jonathan Dodson give a Biblical Theology on the Person and Work on the Holy Spirit from the Old and New Testament. I knew great things were going to come from this man’s life upon hearing him speak.

I hope that this will be the first of many books that Dodson writes integrating the gospel with all of life. What he does in this book in a very cogent manner is demonstrate the strengths and weaknesses in “traditional” discipleship and shows how the gospel should not be bifurcated, but central to the pre-Christian and post-Christian’s understanding of discipleship. He makes a great case for the “Great Commission” becoming the “Gospel Commission” and shows how repentance and faith in the context of community are constants in the gospel-graced disciple of Christ.

Tackling discipleship biblically, theologically, and practically Dodson has given pastors, church planters, and all kinds of Christians a wonderful handbook for understanding biblical discipleship, and how to practically live out the gospel in the context of community.

The best part of this book is how it exalts the gospel of Christ by pointing to a grace based discipleship that doesn’t err toward the extremes of self-righteousness, nor of antinomianism, but simply living out one’s new identity in Christ. According to Dodson, discipleship is our identity in Christ and everything else we are is related to our distinct roles as a disciples of Christ.

Our new identity in Christ has three distinct aspects that are developed in the book: rationality, relationship, and being missional. He also demonstrates that we must not err on the side of being only vertical (pietistic), nor horizontally oriented (missional). We must seek to diagonally balance the vertical and horizontal aspects of our identity in Christ — the head, heart, and hands aspects of discipleship in the context of community.

I highly recommend this book as one that will increase your understanding of, and application of the gospel – no matter how long you’ve been a Christian. It is one of the best books on discipleship to come out in a long time.

*Jonathan K. Dodson (M. Div; Th.M, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary) serves as a pastor of Austin City Life in Austin, Texas. He has written articles in numerous blogs and journals such as The Resurgence, The Journal of Biblical Counseling, and Boundless. Dodson has discipled men and women abroad and at home for almost two decades, taking great delight in communicating the gospel and seeing Christ formed in others.

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Book Review: The Gospel Centered-Life by Bob Thune and Will Walker

A Phenomenally Christ Centered Workbook

 I think that the most important concept that Christians can formulate in their minds is how the gospel applies in our lives every day. The authors describe this workbook as “a nine-lesson small group study intended to help participants understand how the gospel shapes every aspect of life. Each lesson is self-contained, featuring clear teaching from the Scriptures and requires no extra work outside of the group setting.”

The Gospel-Centered life is designed to do the following:

1)    Deepen your grasp of the gospel as you see your need for continued renewal.

2)    Grow as you experience transformation from the inside out.

3)    Be challenged to develop authentic relationships as the gospel moves you to love and serve others.

Each lesson contains the following sections: 1) a Bible Conversation; 2) An article from a primary source that teaches some good in depth content on the topic; 3) Discussion questions related to the content and their practical ramifications in our lives; 4) An exercise to take the discussion from theory to application; 5) The wrap-up gives the leader the chance to answer any last minute questions, reinforce ideas, and spend some time in prayer.

Thune and Walker give a helpful summary of how each lesson is organized and what it is designed to accomplish (the “Big Idea” for study, discussion, and application):

Section One – three lessons answering the question: What is the gospel?

Lesson 1: The Gospel Grid – “If the gospel is constantly ‘bearing fruit and growing’ (Col. 1:6), then everything has to do with the gospel—God, humanity, salvation, worship, relationships, shopping, recreation, work, personality…everything! The objective in this lesson is to establish a framework for talking about the gospel.”

Lesson 2: Pretending & Performing – “Each of us tends to ‘shrink the cross,’ which is to say that something is lacking in our understanding, appreciation, or application of Jesus’ sacrifice for our sin. This manifests itself in two main ways: pretending and performing. Pretending minimizes sin by making ourselves out to be something we are not. Performing minimizes God’s holiness by reducing his standard to something we can meet, thereby meriting his favor. Both are rooted in an inadequate view of God’s holiness and out identity.”

Lesson 3: Believing The Gospel – “This lesson turns our attention to the positive aspects of the gospel: what remedies has God given in the gospel to keep us from shrinking the cross and depending on our own effort?”

Section Two – three lessons answering the question: What does the gospel do in us?

Lesson 4: Law & Gospel – “Continue to think about how the gospel interacts with our lives, but now we turn to consider the gospel’s relationship to law. What is the law? Does God expect me to obey it? What is the purpose of the law? How does the law help me to believe the gospel? How does the gospel help me to obey the law?”

Lesson 5: Repentance – “This lesson deals with repentance. In our culture, this usually sounds like a bad thing, but repentance is the norm for gospel-centered living. Becoming more aware of God’s holiness and our sinfulness leads us to repent and believe the gospel of Jesus. Biblical repentance frees us from our own devices and makes a way for the power of the gospel to bear fruit in our lives.”

Lesson 6: Heart Idolatry – “The Christian walk consists of two repeated steps: repentance and faith. Turning our attention to the topic of faith, we focus on how we grow through believing the gospel. The goal in this lesson is to take ‘believing the gospel’ out of the abstract and make it concrete.”

Section Three – three lessons answering the question: How does the gospel work through us?

Lesson 7: Mission – “The gospel is simultaneously at work in us and through us. Inwardly, our desires and motives are being changed as we repent and believe the gospel. As we experience Christ’s love in this way, we are compelled to engage those around us with the same kind of redemptive love. God’s grace brings renewal everywhere, in and through us.”

Lesson 8: Forgiveness – “The gospel that works in us always works through us. It shows its power in our relationships and actions. One key way this happens is when we forgive others biblically.”

Lesson 9: Conflict – “Conflict is something we all experience (regularly), but often handle in very fleshly ways. The gospel gives us a pattern and a means to healthy conflict resolution.”

The Gospel Centered Life is designed for:

1)    “Pastors and leaders who want to spur gospel renewal in their churches and ministries.

2)    Church planters who want to form gospel DNA in the churches they start.

3)    Students and campus ministers who are looking to live out the gospel on campus.

4)    Christians who want to be more deeply formed around the gospel.

5)    Small group leaders who are looking for content that ‘works’ with diverse groups of people.

6)    Missionaries who are looking for simple material to disciple new Christians.”

I can’t recommend this workbook highly enough. Another way I have used this material is in coaching and counseling non-believers and believers. If not the best, its one the best workbooks I know of to help others become more Christ-centered and apply the gospel in all aspects of life.

 

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Book Review: The Gospel Centered Marriage by Tim Chester

Concise and Helpful Guide For Marriage

Tim Chester is a church planter and writer in England. I appreciated the way he elevated Christ, His church, and how he applies the gospel in every facet of married life. The chapters designed for couples and small groups are concise, biblically and theologically based, Christo-centric, thorough, practical, and tailor made to promote discussion and application.

Some of the features of this book that are highlighted in each chapter are the following sections:

Consider this – “A scenario—often based on a real-life—situation which raises some kind of dilemma or frustration in marriage.”

Biblical background – “A relevant Bible passage together with some questions to help you think it through.”

Read all about it – “A discussion of the principle, both in terms of its theological underpinning and its contemporary application.”

Questions for reflection – “Questions that can be used for group discussion or personal reflection.”

Ideas for action – “Some ideas or an exercise to help people think through the application of the principle to their own situation.”

What I have done below to give you a taste of the book is to give the principle elaborated on in each chapter and the key Scriptures covered in each chapter.

Part One: Gospel-Centered Marriage – The Five Chapters in this section are on:

Chapter One – “Marriage and the passion of God” illuminates the principle: “Your marriage is an illustration of the relationship of Christ to His people.” The key passage in this chapter is a study of Hosea 1-3.

Chapter Two – “Marriage and the purposes of God” states the principle: “The purpose of your marriage is companionship and partnership in mission.” The biblical background for this principle is found in Genesis 1:26-28 and 2:18-24.

Chapter Three – “Marriage and the kingdom of God” contends the principle: “Your marriage is to demonstrate that it’s good to live under God’s reign.” The biblical basis for the thesis of this chapter is from Ephesians 5:22-33.

Chapter Four – “Marriage and the Submission of God’s people” states the principle: “As the church submits to Christ, so wives put their husband’s will before their own.” The background for the principle discussed in this chapter is from 1 Peter 3:1-7.

Chapter Five – “Marriage and the Loving authority of Christ” discusses the principle: “As Christ loves the church, husbands put their wife’s interests before their own.” The basis for discussion in this chapter is from Mark 10:40-45.

Part Two: Gospel-Centered Relationships – The Five Chapters in this section cover:

Chapter Six – “Grace” – The principle on grace is that “grace means we can always begin again.” The key passages are Titus 3:3-8; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Titus 2:11-14; and Ephesians 4:26-27.

Chapter Seven – “Love” – Enumerates the principle: “daily thoughtfulness matters more than grand gestures.” The biblical content for this chapter is based on John 13:1-17.

Chapter Eight – “Conflict” – States the principle: “Conflict begins when my selfish desires are denied by my spouse.” The passage dealing with conflict is from James 3:13-18.

Chapter Nine – “Reconciliation” – Focuses on the principle: “Reconciliation begins when my selfish desires are denied by me.” The biblical basis of discussion for this chapter comes from James 4:1-12.

Chapter Ten – “Forgiveness” – Highlights the principle: “Trust must be earned and forgiveness must be given.” The key text on forgiveness is from Matthew 18:21-35.

Part Three: Gospel-Centered Sex – The five chapters in this section are on:

Chapter 11: “Enjoying sex” on the principle: “it’s our duty to enjoy marital sex.” The featured passage in this chapter is Song of Songs 4:12-5:1.

Chapter 12: “Loving sex” elaborates on the principle: “Good sex begins long before you take your clothes off.” The primary passage for this chapter is Song of Songs 4:1-16.

Chapter 13: “Transforming sex” develops the principle: “We get sex wrong because we get God wrong.” The key biblical passage developed is Romans 1:18-25.

Chapter 14: “Gospel-centered beauty” hones in on the principle: “Love finds us beautiful and love makes beautiful.” The numerous passages developed are Song of Songs 1:5-6, 8-10; Romans 12:2; Proverbs 5:18-19; 1 Peter 3:3.

Chapter 15: The conclusion of the book “Marriage is not forever” solidifies the principle: “Find your identity and joy in God rather than in marriage.” The main biblical passages developed are John 4:4-26; Mark 12:18-25; Revelation 21:3-4.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I will be using it in the context of counseling and coaching couples who desire marriage; those who are already married; and be using it in the context of small groups in the church. I highly recommend this book because it is indeed gospel centered; it covers the major bases of a Christian marriage; and is not overwhelming for those who are not readers. I especially recommend it for guys (and gals) who don’t enjoy reading, or simply don’t have a lot of time on their hands. Each chapter is only a few pages long, and you can get a lot of substance and help in a short amount of time if you just want to read on a specific topic in the book. It gives excellent food for thought and discussion and will be very beneficial to any couple no matter how long they have been married.

 

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