Tag Archives | discipleship

The Good and Beautiful Life | James Bryan Smith

The cover of Smith's Good and Beautiful LifeIn the first book of his Apprentice series, The Good and Beautiful God, James Bryan Smith reveals and challenges us to work through the false narratives that misconstrue our vision of God. Once these false narratives of God have been swept away, we can examine the false narratives that we hold about ourselves. This is where The Good and Beautiful life picks up.

Using the Sermon on the Mount as a framework, James Bryan Smith looks at the various underlying factors in our predilection to sin.

Take anger, for an example. Smith describes anger as the natural result of two factors: fear and unmet expectations. These two factors are reinforced by the false narratives we hold about ourselves such as “I am alone,” and “I must be in control all of the time” (73). If we want to get rid of our anger issues, we need to start by replacing the false narratives that feed our anger. Band-aids will not do when we need surgery.

Following each chapter, Smith suggests a “Soul Training” exercise to help with the topic at hand. For anger, he recommends observing the Sabbath. It seems unrelated at first, but if you follow his argument, nothing forces us to let go of our need to control the world like Sabbath practice.

This book is a simple yet wise. It’s easy and enjoyable to read, wholly lacking in the self-help drivel that passes for spiritual reading and formation today.

—James Bryan Smith, The Good and Beautiful Life: Putting on the Character of Christ (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2009).

The Vital Holy Spirit | John R. W. Stott

Without the Holy Spirit, Christian discipleship would be inconceivable, even impossible. There can be no life without the life-giver, no understanding without the Spirit of truth, no fellowship without the unity of the Spirit, no Christlikeness of character apart from his fruit, and no effective witness without his power. As a body without breath is a corpse, so the church without the Spirit is dead.

—John R. W. Stott, The Message of Acts: The Spirit, the Church & the World, 60.

One.Life | Scot McKnight

I can’t think of a better refresher for North American Christians, on the eve of the new year, than McKnight’s latest offering: One.Life.

He begins by shooting down the sub-par version of Christianity that’s so prevalent in Western evangelicalism: that being a Christian means accepting Jesus and engaging in private acts of piety to separate yourself from the world. Being a Christian includes that, to be sure—but it’s much, much more. For McKnight, being a Christian is far more simple and engaging:

A Christian is someone who follows Jesus.

The rest of the book examines what it means to follow Jesus in every area of the one life we have to live. He tackles big issues like Justice, Peace, and Sex. No area of our one life is exempt from Jesus’ call to follow him.

His chapter on eternity is particularly interesting. After making it clear that he believes in heaven and hell (because Jesus did), he draws a sharp contrast between the Dante-styled version of hell made popular in the middle ages and the Biblical images of decay, fire, and darkness. While avoiding dogmatism in the details, he slipped in an interesting endnote about Gregory MacDonald’s work on evangelical universalism. While I found his honesty refreshing, I’m pretty sure he’ll come under fire for this!

My only qualm was his tendency to use gimmicks. The book is sprinkled with terms like “One.Life” and “Kingdom.Life”. He also regularly broke the prose up with strings of bulletless sentences to make his point. This evokes the feel of a preacher pausing after an important point. While I’m sure some will enjoy it, I found it mildly distracting.

If you’re frustrated with the lack of passion in your Christian life and are looking for a good motivational jolt, give One.Life a try.

Disclaimer: A free review copy of this book was provided for me by Zondervan.

Following Jesus | N. T. Wright

I bought this book from Amazon.com under the mistaken impression that it was published in 2009. There’s still nothing to indicate different on the website. Just to be clear, this collection of sermons which was loosely transformed into a book was first published in 1994. The Eerdmans paperback version selling on Amazon was printed in 2009.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get to the book. It’s divided into two sections. The first six sermons take one whole book of the Bible per message and speak about the main point the author is trying to get across. The messages are okay, but they’re nothing special.

The second six sermons really shine. They’re written on classic N. T. Wright themes: resurrection, mind, temptation, hell, heaven, and new life. These messages were filled with excitement and challenge. You can really tell which themes Wright was passionate about back at the genesis of his Christian Origins series.

Buy the book, but feel free to skim the first half!

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