August 11, 2010
I’ve been casting about for a while looking for that “perfect book” or resource to use with either new Christians, people who’ve been Christians for a while but don’t seem to be growing, or people who are not Christians but are willing to consider the claims of the gospel. Obviously, there is no “perfect book” or resource out there, and no one who uses the perfect book–the Bible–perfectly. But Smallman’s The Walk is easily the best I’ve read.
There are several reasons I found Smallman’s book so helpful:
1. It’s clear. The book isn’t loaded with theological jargon or Christianese, even though it fluently uses distinctively Christian terms and ideas. Smallman describes his approach as “discipleship for dummies,” taking its cue from the popular series of introductory books on all kinds of topics. But, the book manages to be exceedingly clear without dumbing things down. That’s no easy balance; but Smallman pulls it off. It’s vital to immerse people in the language and ideas of the Bible, but sometimes we immerse them into mud rather than crystal waters. Smallman writes well and helps the reader understand.
2. It’s gospel-centered, gospel-driven, gospel-motivated–choose your favorite “gospel + adjective” combination. In other words, Smallman never leaves the gospel of our Lord. He works his way through a deeper and deeper spiral into the riches of the good news. Smallman is clear that the gospel isn’t merely something that saves sinners, it’s also the message and power that spurs growth, obedience that comes from faith, mission in the world, and eternal hope. He turns the gospel like a jewel, refracting light and colors with each angle. The reader keeps drinking in gospel light, and it’s satisfying to the soul. If you want something that not only explains the gospel but also helps people apply and live in the good of the gospel, this should be among your resources.
3. It’s clear about conversion. The middle chapters of the book prompt the reader to consider the Bible’s teaching about conversion. Smallman helps the reader understand how it is a person is converted. So much confusion exists about how God raises dead men to life that many people who are Christians doubt it and many who probably are not Christians assure themselves they are. With the skill of a seasoned pastor, Smallman explains the Bible’s teaching and helps the unconverted and the converted see the necessity of the new birth, conversion, and thinking biblically about these issues.
4. It’s focused on discipleship. The book maintains clear focus on following Jesus. It’s not about decisionism, or merely about theological knowledge. It’s about joining the Savior on mission, honoring Him with our lives as we live under His loving rule. Smallman nails the point: there is no such thing as a “Christian” who is not a disciple. And there is no “disciple” who is not a follower of Jesus in all that Jesus provides in the gospel.
5. It emphasizes the importance of the local church. Here’s a book on Christian discipleship that does not lapse into individualism and self-centered spirituality. The second chapter in the book is entitled, “Do I Have to Go to Church?” Smallman answers with an emphatic “yes.” I think Smallman makes a biblical and compelling case for why the local church is crucial for solid spiritual growth in discipleship. So, Smallman paints a picture of a disciple living in community and working to make other disciples, a picture of our dependence upon one another to live the life Christ calls us to in the word.
6. The Walk also keeps the reader in the Bible. With new believers, or persons needing renewal, it’s imperative to keep them drinking from the Scriptures. But such persons need guidance in the Scripture and a sense of the whole of the Bible. Smallman accomplishes that by placing in each chapter 2-3 places where persons have to put down his book to pick up God’s Book. The Walk takes the reader through the Gospel of Mark, the book of Romans, and parts of Acts. With the Gospel of Mark, Smallman focuses on “the beginning of the gospel”, it’s definition, and the basics of discipleship. With Romans, Smallman explores the benefits of the gospel: justification, sanctification, adoption, and glorification. Also, Smallman uses Romans to explore the “obedience of faith” the gospel requires before moving to Acts to consider our calling to be disciples who make disciples. By the time the reader or small group finishes the 12 chapters of The Walk, if they’ve been faithful with the assignments, they’ll have read through Mark and Romans several times, being helped with the discussion in the chapter.
7. The Walk introduces people to history and biography. The book includes little vignettes of Christian biography on men like Martin Luther, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Chuck Colson, and others. These biographies tend to “show up” as illustrations in subsequent sections of the book. Again, those new to Christianity or Christian history receive clear introduction to key figures and then learn how their work and lives were important for the faith. None of this is “heavy” history, just brief snippets that inform.
As I read this book, I kept thinking, “This is the perfect companion for The Trellis and the Vine. If The Trellis and the Vine is the best recent work I’ve read on the disciple-making ministry for church leaders, then The Walk is the best recent work I’ve read for making disciples and helping every church membersee this calling from the Scripture.” This book will repay careful reading.
Here are the contents for the book:
Introduction: Meet Titus
Part One: The Basics
1. What Is a Disciple?
2. Do I Have to Go to Church?
3. Learning to Read the Bible and Pray?
Part Two: Discipleship Through the Gospel
Step One: Know the Gospel Itself
4. The Gospel of God
Step Two: Know How You Came to Believe the Gospel
5. The Call to Salvation and Discipleship
Step Three: Know the Benefits of Believing the Gospel (gospel doctrines)
7. A New Record: Justification
8. A New Life: Sanctification and Adoption
9. A New Future: Glorification
Step Four: Live a Life that Flows from the Gospel (gospel obedience)
10. Faith Expressing Itself in Love
11. The Gospel Changes Everything
Part Three: Following Jesus on His Mission
12. Disciples Making Disciples
A Final Word to New and Renewed Followers of Jesus
Appendix A: Further Reading and Resources
Appendix B: “Sirs, We Would See Jesus”–A Fifteen Week Reading Plan to Introduce the Life and Teachings of Jesus Christ
Appendix C: A Word to Disciples Who Are Involved in Making Disciples