There are some Christians that have a misconception of what discipleship truly is. Some think that discipleship is a class you take, some think it is sharing your faith (that is evangelism), and some think it is older believers passing church traditions to younger believers. When studying the Bible in the area of disciple, you will see that discipleship is totally different than what some Christians believe.
Jonathan Dodson addresses the true nature of discipleship in his book, Gospel-Centered Discipleship. This book deals with defining discipleship along with talking about our motives toward discipleship and applying the Gospel in our discipleship. Dodson said, "Discipleship is not a code word for evangelism, nor is it a hierarchical system for spiritual growth, a way for professional Christians to pass on their best practices to novice Christians. Making disciples requires not only 'sharing our faith,' but also sharing our lives-failures and successes, disobedience and obedience".
Dodson writes about the role of the Holy Spirit in our discipleship, which some books, even the ones in a class setting, neglect the Holy Spirit. Dodson also writes about killing sin in our discipleship which seems to be another issue missed in a lot of material of discipleship. The book has two appendixes which contain gospel-centered questions one must ask themselves as they continue in their discipleship journey and recommendations for gospel-centered resources which is must in this rediscovery of the Gospel that has been going on in the last couple of years.
Dodson writes about his own journey of being a disciple which can leave room for criticism, but Dodson said that discipleship is about sharing our failures. This book is a must read for all disciples.
What is a disciple of Jesus? Dodson argues a disciple is “someone who learns the gospel, relates in the gospel, and communicates the gospel.” In other words, the gospel doesn’t just make disciples it matures them as well. The gospel isn’t just a stepping-stone in the life of a disciple. It is the center of our discipleship. This is the premise behind Jonathan Dodson’s new book, Gospel-Centered Discipleship.
The book itself is broken into three parts. The first part of the book defines discipleship while deconstructing the false dichotomy between discipleship and evangelism. There has been a split between the two. Dodson argues that the gospel integrates the two and gives a more holistic view of discipleship. In the second part, Dodson examines the heart of discipleship. This section alone is worth the purchase of the book. Dodson isn’t concerned with just defining discipleship; rather he looks at the heart. He points out our twisted motivations while presenting gospel motivations. He finishes the section with a powerful chapter on the Holy Spirit. In the final section of the book, Dodson shows the practical outworks of discipleship and applies the gospel to everyday life. Dodson also presents fight clubs, which are small groups in his church that are applying the principles of discipleship that he presents in his book.
The book is well written and extremely powerful. Dodson takes believers right into the heart of discipleship and gives us both a theological and practical treatment of the gospel in our hearts. Over and over again, I was confronted with my false views of discipleship and presented with a gospel-centered view. I am thankful for this.
A few things I liked about the book.
Chapters four and five are worth the purchase of the book. In these two chapters, Dodson examines gospel motivations and power as it relates to discipleship. In chapter four, Dodson presents three gospel motivations. These are religious affection, God’s promises and warnings, and repentance. He then follows these up with a chapter on the Holy Spirit. The motivations are compelling but need the power of the Holy Spirit. One of the past failures of my discipleship was to neglect the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. I wanted performance or rules. I wanted discipleship that I could control. In turn, I was really left with no discipleship at all. The Spirit is vital in our discipleship. Dodson’s presentation of the doctrine of the Spirit was extremely powerful in my life. I will be revisiting these two chapters in the future.
I really enjoyed Dodson’s work on horizontal, vertical, and integrated discipleship. Dodson argues that horizontal discipleship is discipleship that is dependent on mission. When we live this way we focus on missional aspects such as evangelism, feeding the poor, etc. Yet this discipleship falls short. It often neglects personal holiness. We become self-righteous by how much we do missionally. Vertical discipleship is just the opposite. This discipleship focuses on prayer, reading the scripture, fasting, etc. This form of discipleship often leaves us self-righteous trying to cultivate our own holiness. This form of discipleship also falls short. The third form of discipleship is integrated discipleship. Dodson argues that this is gospel-centered discipleship. In this form, a disciple lives a life of faith in Jesus while growing in personal holiness and mission. This form keeps Jesus in the center, and all things flow from a life of faith in him. This section of the book was excellent.
This book encouraged me to think of the kind of disciples I was making not just the act of making disciples. We are all making disciples. The question is, “What kind of disciples are we making?” Are we making clones of ourselves or of Jesus? I was challenged throughout the book with this question.
Overall, Gospel-Centered Discipleship is one of the rare books to which I plan to return often. It is an invaluable resource in my discipleship and ministry. I was refreshed, encouraged, trained, and rebuked all throughout the book. Do yourself a favor and read it.
That is author Jonathan Dodson’s constant reminder in his book “Gospel-Centered Discipleship” – that regardless of whether one has been a Christian for two days or two decades, the constant, everyday need for the gospel never ceases.
As the title suggest, Dodson is passionate about both the gospel and discipleship – more importantly, Dodson is passionate about how interrelated the two are. Far too often, the common perception is that the gospel is reserved exclusively for evangelism (I know I have certainly been victim to this faulty perception). However, Dodson insists – or more importantly, God’s Word insists – that the gospel is not merely a saving gospel, it is a sustaining gospel (see 1 Corinthians 15:1-4).
Over the course of eight chapters, Dodson unpacks what it means to grow as a disciple that depends on, clings to, and rests in the finished work of Christ as communicated in the gospel message. Particularly helpful is his chapter on the power of the gospel, or more specifically, the essential role of the Holy Spirit in gospel-centered discipleship.
The major takeaway from Dodson’s work is the absolute necessity to apply the gospel to discipleship practices (as if the title didn’t make that blatantly clear). But he doesn’t just introduce a concept and leave the readers hanging. Dodson goes to great lengths to explain how to apply the gospel to discipleship, primarily through what he calls “fight clubs” (which naturally bring to mind images of Brad Pitt and Edward Norton duking it out in a vacant parking lot). These fight clubs are small groups of Christ followers that are committed to Christ, to the church, and to mission, focused on using the gospel message to help further grow God’s Kingdom.
I highly recommend “Gospel-Centered Discipleship” to all, but perhaps it is most beneficial and challenging to those who, like myself, have been prone at times to reserve the gospel as a gospel that saves rather than a gospel that also sustains.
Gospel-Centered Discipleship is a small book at roughly one-hundred and fifty pages but it’s a powder-keg of gospel truth. Dodson develops a biblical theology for discipleship centered around the gospel. He exposes what should be the foundation for growing in Christ by reexamining the Great Commission and exposing common pitfalls in discipleship theology. He defines a disciple as “someone who learns the gospel, relates in the gospel, and communicates the gospel. In short, disciples are gospel-centered” (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012. 38).
In Part 1 (“Defining Discipleship”), Dodson examines the dichotomy prevalent within pop evangelicalism which separates evangelism and discipleship. He does so by examining each of these concepts from a biblical perspective and defining what discipleship means. He says,
This dichotomy surfaces a false view of the gospel, namely that the gospel has the power to save but not sanctify. It assumes that the gospel functions like a space shuttle’s external fuel tank, falling away after the shuttle has launched us into God’s orbit. The gospel, however, is more like an internal engine, always propelling us into God’s presence. The gospel is necessary for getting right and doing right with God, for salvation and sanctification (28).
He spends the bulk of the book in the first chapter developing the ideas that will be foundational for the practical advice offered later. He also offers his first admonition to fight for our faith. He quotes J.P. Moreland, “‘Grace is opposed to earning, not to effort.’ If we are to enjoy the breathtaking beauty of Jesus, we must put effort into the noble fight of faith” (57).
In Part 2 (“Getting to the Heart”), Dodson examines the twisted motivation for discipleship (like confessional accountability, religious performance, or spiritual license) and then offers the gospel as the true center for discipleship in the following chapter. He ends this section by highlighting the absolute necessity for a constant deepening of our relationship with the Spirit as God.
In Part 3 (“Applying the Gospel”), Dodson ends by offering practical advice on how to put all this into practice. He emphasizes community and creating a culture where fighting for faith and celebrating the gospel is encouraged. His emphasis away from our western, individualistic Christianity is much needed and refreshing.
Dodson is transparent through out Gospel-Centered Discipleship about his own failures as a Christian. He looks back at his first experience with discipleship realizing that he often practiced pietism instead gospel-empowered piety. As you’ll see in the next section, he also undercuts any possibility for antinomianism. In short, he provides a balanced theology for gospel discipleship. He does this partly by reexamining the Great Commission. Dodson says,
Rightly understood, the gospel calls the evangelical to more than belief to obtain a ticket, and disciples to more than spreading an anemic gospel which must be beeded up through spiritual disciplines or social justice. Jesus’s disciples would never have made this gross error. They knew the gospel was of kingdom proportions, animating and laying claim to all of life. The gospel makes all-encompassing demands, and what the gospel demands, it supplies. The disciples knew that the gospel, not mission, was the invigorating power of Jesus’s Commission. This is why they devoted their lives to the mission of making disciples by going, baptizing, and teaching the gospel. (37)
There’s also a strong emphasis on the community. We need to community to celebrate the gospel and duplicate disciples. He also sees a corporate aspect to our redemption which necessitates we do discipleship together (p. 109 “We are not converted to a disembodied Head; we are converted to an embodied Christ, which includes Head and body”).
Fight for Faith by the Spirit
From conversations I’ve had with people in the gospel-centered movement, there’s a tendency to confuse justification with sanctification. We often celebrate the gospel and focus on our standing in Christ but we fail to understand the necessity of action. Dodson unpacks the truth of the gospel and then lights the fuse of gospel truth to explode our inactivity. He encourages us to fight for our faith (see pp. 57-60). I found the emphasis on the gospel as the power for sanctification refreshing and balanced. Dodson admonishes us living in sin,
Unfortunately, many disciples do not walk in the newness of life but in old patterns of sin. Perhaps this lackadaisical approach to sin is because we value Jesus’s atonement for our guilt and the penalty of sin, but at a heat level we fail to value and understand how his atonement has also freed us frmo the power of sin? Or perhaps our indifference to fighting sin springs from a false belief that God accepts us just as we are, not as who we will be? Why fight if we are already accepted? However, if we are accepted not as we are but as we are in Christ, we have every reason to fight--from our new identity. The truth is, persistent, unrepentant sin can disqualify us from the kingdom of God (Gal. 5:19-21; Eph. 5:5; Heb. 3:7-13). God does not accept as we are. He accepts us as we are in Christ. In him, we are a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15), and new creatures live transformed (not perfect) lives. (127)
I also found his emphasis on the Spirit encouragement. He encourages us to be in-tune with the Spirit’s work in our lives and to seek communion with the Spirit. The power of the gospel comes from the Spirit. He says,
Without the Spirit, we are powerless to believe the gospel of Jesus, but those who in Christ have the most powerful motivation for discipleship present in them--the very Spirit of God! (96)
I found his recommendation to pray to the Spirit thought-provoking. Biblically, it seems prayers are almost always offered to God the Father in the name of the Son. The Spirit intercedes for us but I’m not able to recall anyone offering prayers directly to the Spirit. Something to look into further.
Overall, Gospel-centered Discipleship is a great resource for the church. For those looking at re-centering their current discipleship efforts onto the gospel or those asking foundational question about What is discipleship? this book is a great place to start. The reading is easy and the theological ideas are well-thought out and defined for clarity. He recommends the book as a resource for people who wish to start a fight club (2-3 people devoted to fighting sin by celebrating the gospel together). I heartily recommend this resource.