Wednesday, June 6, 2018

A Book Review of The Discipleship Gospel
There have been myriad books written in the last several years on making disciples and discipleship.  Some are better than others; this is one of the better ones.  I have been greatly helped by Bill Hull in the classroom, in personal conversations and through his books; so, when I saw this new book released I had to read it.  The Discipleship Gospel by Bill Hull and Ben Sobels combines thoughtful theological reflection with practical suggestions for making disciples in the local church.  Bill Hull has a long history of writing and training pastors to make disciples in the local church.  Sobels works with Hull in The Bonhoeffer Project, the latter’s ministry venue for training pastors and leaders in making disciples.  This book is one of many resources coming out of
Hull and Sobels contend that the primary gospel preached in America is what they describe as the “forgiveness only gospel” which focuses solely on sin and atonement.  In its most common and simplest form, someone says a prayer and agrees with a few propositional truths but life change and discipleship is optional.  The authors do not believe that this is the biblical gospel and therefore those who have believed this gospel have not truly trusted Christ.  They also discuss the problems of preaching a false gospel that does not naturally lead to discipleship and disciple-making.  Hull and Sobels argue that the biblical gospel consists of seven elements, providing the framework for defining the gospel.  They desire that this discipleship gospel creates a disciple-making movement.
The book is divided into three parts.  Part 1 considers the seven elements that make up the gospel Jesus preached.  The gospel itself consists of four elements or declarative statements: the kingdom is here; Jesus is the Christ; he died for our sins; and finally, was resurrected from the dead.  The gospel call includes an additional three elements or imperatives: the need to repent of sin; believe the gospel; and follow Jesus.  The distinctiveness of the discipleship gospel is the need to follow Jesus as a necessary response to the gospel.
Part 2 develops each of these seven elements.  The authors review the nature of the kingdom, how understanding the kingdom is essential to understanding the gospel and empowers one to make disciples.  They provide biblical support for Jesus as the Christ, his death, how his resurrection leads to discipleship, and following Jesus as a necessary element of believing the gospel.  The gospel does not just lead to discipleship but discipleship is an essential element of the gospel; hence, the discipleship gospel.  The book seeks to correct the deficiency the authors see in false gospels that do not lead to discipleship. 
Part 3 suggests a process for making disciples in the local church.  This starts with proclaiming the discipleship gospel by calling individuals to both discipleship and also disciple-making.  Here, they finally define the gospel as a narrative form of the seven elements described in part 1.  Proclaiming the discipleship gospel leads to making disciples. 
There is much to commend about The Discipleship Gospel.  It defines the gospel as more than just propositional truths but includes the response Jesus demands: following him in obedience or discipleship and disciple-making.  All of this is missing in much of American Christianity.  The authors also give some helpful suggestions to pastors desiring to make disciples in the local church.  Chapter fourteen has some wonderful advice for pastors and Christian leaders on developing a satisfied soul that is worth the price of the book!  Hull gives a list of activities that will help lead to a satisfied soul that every pastor and Christian leader would benefit from reading (153). 
Yet at times the authors are not clear in their discussion of the relationship between faith and works or obedience.  For example, they state that it’s impossible to separate belief from action, and that faith and action are the same (20)!  At one point the authors mention the obedience of faith in Romans 1:5 (63) but do not clearly communicate the relationship between faith and obedience; that is, that faith brings about obedience.  This is key to the discipleship gospel lest obedience falls into the error of moralism or legalism.  Also, as I read this book as well as “Conversion and Discipleship” by Hull, I cannot help but wonder whether the problem is a deficient gospel or a deficient faith-  or both.  It seems to me that the problem can be found in a deficiency in our understanding of both the gospel and saving faith.
That being said, this is a very helpful book for pastors and Christian leaders seeking to get a better understanding of discipleship and desiring to make disciples.  I agree with their premise that there is a deficient gospel in much of western Christianity and that obedience and discipleship and disciple-making are often seen as optional to the Christian life. 
The publisher is offering a free PDF of the first few chapters for review here and free shipping and 10% off purchase price through June 17 here. Use the code TAYLOR at checkout.

I want to thank the publisher for a complimentary copy of the book for review.

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