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My years working in Ligonier Ministries’ phone room were tumultuous ones for the larger evangelical community. The Promise Keeper’s movement was huge, and divisive among lay people. More importantly, two documents were released: Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT) and the subsequent Gift of Salvation (GOS). These caused division among many among evangelical leaders. Some friendships and relationships would never be the same.

“To work toward unity in the gospel is not a matter of ecclesiastical politics: it is a matter that touches the soul of tahe church itself and the souls of all its members.”

This is the old cover.

In response to ECT, R.C. Sproul wrote Faith Alone, a defense of sola fide which interacted with the document. In response to GOS (and subsequent release of The Gospel of Jesus Christ by evangelical leaders) he wrote the recently repackaged Getting the Gospel Right: The Tie that Binds Evangelicals Together.

It is important to keep this context together. In seeking greater dialogue and “unity” with Roman Catholicism, some evangelical leaders were causing conflict and division among Protestants. Here Sproul is once again focusing on the doctrine of sola fide as one that did and should unite Protestants including Evangelicals.

Sproul is clear, and generally irenic. He wants to rebuild bridges, not destroy them. He doesn’t want to forfeit the core of the gospel to gain “unity”.

Part 1 of the book focuses on the context, historically and contemporary respectively, in two chapters. Part 2 of the book is a critical analysis of GOS over the course of 3 chapters. The bulk of the book, 6 chapters, is Part 3 which explains The Gospel of Jesus Christ. The appendix of the book contains GOS and The Gospel of Jesus Christ for reference.

Sproul begins with the historical and theological context of “communion of saints”. As a matter found in the Apostles’ Creed (and for Presbyterians like Sproul and myself in the Westminster Confession) this is an important doctrine to understand. He brings us through the distinctions between the visible and invisible church, the marks of the church, and when it becomes necessary to leave a church that has lost the marks of a true church. He also lays out the shape of unity so we don’t seek the wrong kind of unity.

“When an essential truth of the gospel is condemned, the gospel itself is condemned with it, and without the gospel an institution is not a Christian church.”

He begins the contemporary context with a discussion of how words change meaning. Evangelical is one of those words whose meaning has changed greatly over time. The root of the word pertains to the gospel. Evangelicals were people concerned with believing and proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. Now it means many things, including voting blocs in American politics, which have nothing to do with the gospel. The two defining doctrines of evangelicalism were sola scriptura (including the inspiration of the Scriptures) and sola fide. In the 1970’s the inspiration and inerrancy of the Scriptures were undermined in many historically evangelical circles. In the 1980’s & 90’s it was the latter that was undermined. It became possible to self-identify as an evangelical but not hold to these core doctrines.

He also considers whether or not the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church has changed, thereby making unity possible. The bottom line is that Trent still stands and it condemns both sola scriptura and sola fide. The position of Trent is maintained in the newer catechisms of the Church of Rome. If the Catholics who signed these documents (ECT & GOS) affirm these doctrines they too are condemned by the Church of Rome.

As Sproul notes, there are some understandings of salvation shared by Protestants and Roman Catholics. Sproul has a history of being fair when handling the views of Roman Catholicism. That continues here. He gives credit where credit is due. They do, for instance, affirm grace and faith as necessary for salvation. Here is where distinctions are vastly important and R.C. does continually remind us of them. These distinctions are like the rock on the path you keep tripping over. We cannot ignore these distinctions. Sadly, the evangelicals who signed the documents think they affirm sola fide but it doesn’t. There is fide, or faith, but not the sola. It comes close but never gets there. That last yard is important, vital, necessary as a few Super Bowl teams have discovered. The disagreements over the ground of justification continue (imputation vs. infusion, Christ’s righteousness vs. our personal righteousness, faith alone vs. faith & works, grace received by faith vs. grace received from sacraments, and the list goes on). Similar terms is not to be confused with similar meaning and understanding.

“In summary we believe that imputation is essential to the gospel and that without it you don’t have the gospel or gospel unity. … Evangelicals who signed GOS could still affirm the normativity of a doctrine of justification, but not the normativity of the doctrine of sola fide, which clearly contains the essential ingredient of imputation.”

The Gospel of Jesus Christ was written by both evangelicals who signed ECT and GOS, and evangelicals who were critical of the documents, like Sproul. It clarifies many of these issues that were obscured in ECT and GOS using a series of affirmations and denials. What follows is Sproul unpacking the historic Protestant understanding of the gospel.

The document is not perfect. For instance, in denying that the power of the gospel rests on things like the eloquence of the preacher, it does not deny that it depends on the efficacy of the sacraments. But the documents gets to most of the most important issues. Sproul covers plenty of ground in his explanation of the document. He doesn’t go very deep into those matters as a result. But he is clear and continues to make proper distinctions (a seemingly lost art).

Getting the Gospel Right is a good book. It examines important doctrines within the context of a recent theological controversy. For some this may be incredibly helpful. Others, who have not interest in historical theological controversies, may not appreciate how the book is written. R.C. is typically clear and engaging. This is a helpful volume that should not overwhelm the average reading by either its length or depth. I’d recommend it greatly for those trying to sort out the key differences between historic Protestantism and Roman Catholicism on the key matters of salvation.

[I received a promotional copy of this book for the purposes of review.]


Once again I was up early and took a walk. The storm knocked down a lot of branches. One tree fell across the sidewalk and into the street. The house had a For Sale/Under Contract sign out front. It took out part of the neighbor’s fence. I notice people tended not to clean up the debris in their yards, or on the sidewalk & street.

Back at the assembly we resumed with the Study Report and I nearly lost my mind again. About 20 minutes into the discussion the parliamentary nightmare resumed. Never have recommendations asking sessions and presbyteries to consider things taken so long to approve. Some of these things our church does already, but I planned on us considering the others even if the motions were rejected.

Many reminded us that we are a “grassroots” denomination, and overtures should arise from the sessions and presbytery (most do, but the fear of hierarchy is astounding to me, we can be so binary). Oddly we later approved a motion that all overtures then be funneled through the Committee on Overtures before being assigned to any other committees that may have expertise or interest. This, in my opinion, gives this one committee way too much power for a “grassroots” denomination. It also bogs down the process, which may be the point but I’m not sure. No one said we were consistent or logical. The primordial sins of pride and fear threaten to undo us at every turn.

I had an early lunch planned with Luke Smith so we walked to Zaxby’s while the Study Report was finally wrapped up. I had never eaten at one but we needed a place with salads and that would be quick due to a previous commitment. He told me a little bit about the book he’s working on, and it piqued my interest for our Missions’ Emphasis weekend in 2018. It had been awhile since we’ve sat down together to talk, so it was good to do so. He’s a great and gifted guy.

When we got back I saw fellow ’94 grad Randy Edwards in the lobby and stopped to catch up with him for awhile. The last few years have been challenging for his family, but God has been faithful. He wrote and read a sonnet for worship Tuesday evening.

In the afternoon the business went quickly. There was a slow down as we discussed the Review of Presbytery Records and a 2CV (2nd commandment violation) with respect to the order of worship for a Presbytery meeting. Some wanted the image removed from the report, and the minutes, but the report has been approved.

I ran into Darrin Edgington whom I had not seen since about 1995. He was the manager of the RTS Bookstore when I worked there. It was great to see him again.

For dinner I ended up at Bonefish Grill down the street with Eddie and his cousin. The worship service had a bluegrass or country feel to it. This was more out of my comfort zone than the other services. Duke Kwon had another good sermon addressing the communion with have with Jesus and one another at the table. He also discussed our tendencies toward partisan politics.

Dan can’t wait to get to Tucson!

The remaining business went quickly. Southwest Presbytery multiplied into Arizona Presbytery and Rio Grande Presbytery beginning in January. The overtures to form a new Presbytery from North Texas and Covenant had some opposition. I was too tired by the time Roy Taylor’s report came so I retreated for some socialization with Charles Garland, Richard Dolan, Dan Smith (our new RUF guy in Tucson) and other church planters. On my way out I passed the 20-30 guys outside who were smoking cigars & pipes. GA can be an interesting experience.

GA is about more than “church business”. Much encouragement happens behind the scenes. One friend has a child who has gone “prodigal” recently. He’s been dying inside, needing a friend. At GA he talked to a number of people who had similar experiences. He also spent time talking to Barbar Juliani, Jack Miller’s daughter who is the subject of Come Back, Barbara. The Father brought consolation and hope to his weary heart. And challenged him to love the man who has inflicted this upon his family. It is a time when God uses His family to encourage one another.

Next year in Atlanta!


I slept slightly later, but had plenty of time to take another walk around the park. I didn’t plan on the seminar in the interest of rest. Phil and I arrived in plenty of time for the panel discussion with the Study Committee on Women in the Ministry of the Church. They tried, and I think largely succeeded, in writing a consensus document (you can see my recent blog posts about it). A variety of opinions were found on the committee on some specifics. But all of them examined the questions before them within the context of the authority of Scripture, our confessional documents and our denominational commitment to complementarianism.

Mary Beth McGreevy summed it up well for me regarding the “slippery slope.” Many of the women of the denomination want to fully use the gifts God has given in the way God has intended. But they feel like they are driving in a 65 mph zone stuck behind a guy going 45 mph who doesn’t want her to break the law. There is no desire to break the law, simply a desire to be as fruitful as possible for the kingdom. Kathy Keller fully affirmed complementarianism and that she doesn’t know anyone who wants to ordain women as elders. This isn’t about that, and if it happens she promises to come back to haunt those who approve it. There is some disagreement as to whether the office of deacon has authority (per our BCO) or not. It is a question worth asking, and finding a biblical answer for. I was disappointed that we didn’t hear from alternate Leon Brown. But as he says, if you put a microphone in front of him he’s going to pray or preach.

Sadly some of the questions at the end revealed that some people don’t believe what was said (or written) and are still fearful of the slippery slope and that we will be just like the PC(USA). We affirm the inspiration & authority of Scripture. They don’t. This is the massive difference. The day we give that up is the day I’m gone. But I don’t know anyone arguing for that view in the PCA.

How I Felt

It was to be a largely frustrating day. Much of the afternoon, about 2 ½ hours, was taken up with the report from the Study Committee on Women in the Ministry of the Church. We became mired in the parliamentary process as some people sought to improve it, remove things they thought offensive, obstruct the process and any other number of things. “Point of order” and “Personal Privilege” were commonly cried out as we continually got lost in a rat’s nest of substitute motions and amendments to the motion. I don’t hate Roberts’ Rules of Order, but I hate what some people do with them and how they often help us avoid helpful, brotherly conversation. Some of the very people who cry out “sola scriptura” & the Regulative Principle make use of RRoO, which isn’t Scripture, to govern our meetings. How is that fundamentally different from “commissioning persons”?

I felt very bad for the women present or live streaming this. It reminded me of Chattanooga. There the debate wounded many of our African-American members quite unnecessarily. They felt unwanted by some, put off yet again as though their experiences didn’t happen or don’t matter. Some of the women I talked to felt this way. Those who are more restrictive come across as devaluing women. I’m not saying they do, just that’s how it comes across. More than 50% of PCA members are women and should feel valued and free to serve. We hear words like “lead” and assume judicial authority. Some of this is the wording of the document which is using a term some take as exercising authority.

I had lunch with Ed Eubanks, Eddie, Adam Tisdale and his wife at Darryl’s Wood Fire Grill. Interesting décor. It was time for more sweet tea. I ordered the Tennessee Black Jack Chicken. They were very busy, but I still thought it took too long for our meals to arrive. My chicken was tasty, but the lunch portion was nearly microscopic. I did have ample amounts of broccoli and mashed potatoes. It was good catching up with Ed, and we talked about the book and the delay. Doulos uses p/t editors and my manuscript is like a curse. When one gets it, the editor’s life gets crazy and they don’t have time to work on it. Now it is Ed’s turn to edit it. Hopefully this means it will be done soon. But I will go through and remove some material that is unnecessary or unhelpful.

The worship music Wednesday afternoon was similar to Tuesday. Irwyn Ince’s sermon was great. From Hosea he talked about God’s plan to redeem, restore and reunite God’s people. I’d recommend buying a copy. I’m glad they freed him from the Study Committee chair “prison” so he could preach.

I was looking forward to the evening of fellowship planned downtown: food trucks, a concert, a message by Rankin Wilbourne (which wasn’t promoted). As usual, I was worn out (jet lag and large crowds) by the time dinner came around. So Eddie and I went out instead. At 7 pm the Japanese steakhouse still had a 45 minute wait, so we went to a thai place instead. He loved his red curry. My Drunken Noodle was not very spicy, and frankly I’ve had better. But it was a quiet evening. I almost called Dr. Schneeberger and Bo to see about having a beer, but decided a quiet night reading a book would serve me well.

My quiet night was very quiet as shortly after arriving at the BnB, the power went out during another thunderstorm, and would stay out until about midnight. A little light came thru those basement windows. It was like I was in an isolation chamber or remote cave. Around 11 I gave up and went to sleep.


Once again I was up way too early. I was hoping to sleep in. I didn’t have to actually do anything until my seminar at 3:15. This would be a great opportunity to sleep that my body decided to forfeit. Sometimes it doesn’t get the memo, which is why Francis called his “brother Ass”. The benefit was that I could take a walk around the park next to where I was staying. Old trees made for plenty of shade and character. Adding to the character were stone bridges over small streams. It was picturesque. It was humid. I was a soaking, smelly mess. I considered walking to the convention center (just over 2 miles) but in the sun it would get quite hot. Kibosh on that!

Eddie picked me up around 11:30 so we could check in and grab some lunch. We ended up at the Outback within walking distance (but we drove) talking about life and ministry challenges. I enjoyed some coconut shrimp and a Caesar salad with sweet tea (yes!!! It is hard to get in Tucson.). Then we went to a seminar about why old school evangelism isn’t working and what to do about it, which was sponsored by Christianity Explored and about their new series Life Explored. They look at sin and how to address it differently this time around. They have found that younger people don’t connect with the idea of law-breaking but can grasp idolatry. Both are aspects of sin that we see in Scripture. They contrasted the approaches of John the Baptist to Herod and Nathan to David. Both prophets were talking to kings who had it all but weren’t content, and killed someone to take their wife. John was blunt and clear. Nathan snuck in thru the back door with his parable so that David was enraged about this sin/crime in his land when Nathan informed him that David himself was the guilty one. Good seminar and Barry Cooper is funny. They had free books (If You Could Ask God One Question…), and shirts. I wanted to leave a few minutes early to make sure I was at my seminar early (and, selfishly, to get the right size shirt). But Eddie prevailed (he already had a shirt for answering a question). I settled for a medium for one of the kids (I was actually hoping the Life Explored on it would prompt some discussions at the gym).

I was a bit nervous about my seminar, Marriage: Design, Distortion, Restoration and You. In 2010 I did one on adoption for a men’s conference in Tucson. I had 2 guys show up. So, I was nervous about that. With the long delay in the editing process for my book, I’ve been plagued by second-guessing, doubts, fears it would connect with people. This would be a helpful gauge on that question. It wasn’t packed, but it did have a good crowd (thanks in part to Eddie, Bo, Schnee and fellow RTS grad Cullen). People seemed to be encouraged by it, and found it helpful so I breathed a big sigh of relief.

In the exhibit hall, I noticed that shirts were out and mugs were in for the give aways. Very few booths had shirts. Lots had mugs (how many mugs does a man need???). But Covenant Seminary had a nice one with a drawing of Martin Luther. And Serge had a travel mug that I can bring to NY so I have one unpolluted by coffee. I forgot to get a PCA Foundation mug for CavWife. I thought the “Refresh” would be good for her. There were some good book resources that I did not buy. I did not check a bag and therefore had limited space for anything to return. I did see that Richard Belcher has a book on Prophet, Priest and King. This may be the beginning of a run of books on the munix triplex, so I should get back to work on my series on the subject. It would help if my upcoming book actually sells more than 50 copies.

For dinner I “went out” with Charles & Julie Garland (our new church planter in mid-town) and her brother who is a ruling elder in Chattanooga. We were going out when the sky opened up so we ate at one of the restaurants in the hotel. I enjoyed the pecan encrusted trout.

The worship service was very good. I enjoy hearing the different styles of music when we travel to different cities. Tuesday had a jazz feel to it. Great to see a multi-ethnic choir and lead vocalists. But jet lag was catching up with me, as it seems to each year at the initial worship service, during the sermon. I was fighting to stay away during our outgoing moderator’s sermon, Disqualified?. He focused on a mini-genealogy about Moses’ family that included a Canaanite woman, the infamous Nadab and Abihu, and the just as infamous rebel named Korah. He addressed this in the context of Moses’ excuses, particularly his stammering tongue. God uses people with baggage, plain and simple. Just as no one gets out of here alive, no one gets thru this life unstained by sin and effects of the Fall.

Eddie decided that instead of coming to pick me up everyday, I should just borrow his car since he was staying there on site. It worked great and he was able to crash while we had the first item of business- electing a moderator. It was a year for a ruling elder and the vote was close but Alexander Jun, a 2nd generation Korean-American was elected. He is the first minority Moderator in PCA history. This was a good move, even if he has a man bun. I choose to believe it reflects his Korean heritage and not any hipster leanings. Finally it was back home and time to crash in our basement BnB.


I’m never excited when a day begins at 4 am. I’m even less excited when I have not been sleeping well. I was able to manage 6 hours of sleep before waking and getting ready to be out of the house at 4:30. The Arizona sun was already making its appearance as I pulled out of the driveway toward the airport for my 6:30 flight.

The positive? Little to no traffic on the highway made for a quick trip. I decided to splurge this year. Yes, covered parking. I hadn’t even gotten my luggage out before the shuttle pulled up behind me. I was the sole passenger on the shuttle as we made our way to the Southwest check-in.

I had my electronic boarding passes, and packed so I didn’t have to check anything, so I went straight for security. As I rounded the corner an older woman suddenly sped up to a near run to get ahead of me in the line. It didn’t last long as she then moved into the pre-screen line. None of that mattered as the line moved quickly and I was waiting at my gate.

Out came the huge binder to begin my prep work for General Assembly while I waited for my flight to Denver. The morning moved quickly as we boarded and left on time. I continued my labors in the flight.

The last 6 months have been a struggle. I very much sense like I’ve been on the hamster wheel with a steady stream of hospital visits, prep and teaching, sermons and Session meetings. This was only interrupted by the chain-reaction pile up of life caused by the entire CavFamily getting strep throat. I have had very little time to think, analyze and plan. I’ve been taking it as it comes. This actually provided time to think. To think about potential reasons visitors weren’t returning, and what if anything I could do to rectify that. To think about missions and more. While I worked thru the Commissioner’s Handbook I put little notes to myself about a variety of ministry issues.

In Denver I had about a 2 hour layover so I scoped out restaurants while getting in some steps. I picked a sandwich in a place that didn’t have crazy lines. Ham and Gouda is the brunch of champions on the travel circuit. Shortly after I finished it, I was approached by someone who noticed my huge notebook. Mark Bates was also on his way to GA with his wife and a ruling elder. He was the church planter and pastor of University Presbyterian Church in Orlando while I was in seminary. I knew of him, and maybe met him once or twice so we talked (and his wife joined us) until boarding began. A great distraction from the huge binder!

On the flight to Raleigh-Durham, it was back to the binder. I didn’t read all of the RUF summaries but chose to read the guys I know and the places I care about (Boston University, MIT, U Conn). Another uneventful flight followed by one of those horrible airport bathroom experiences you want to expunge from your memory, when it seems like you are in there after a class of first grade boys just did their business.

A few minutes later “Good Guy” Eddie Reed was at the curb to pick me up. The airport is actually on his way to Greensboro. It was good to catch up on the ride to the AirBnB I would be sharing with Phil Henry. Eddie had dinner with a cousin lined up, so I was on my own. But Dr. Schnee and Bo owed me beer and it was time to get together for dinner together. We went local with Hops Burger Bar just down the street from the AirBnB. I had a great burger. 8 oz with “beer cheese”, ‘shrooms, bourbon-marinated pickles and jalapeño bacon (added a nice flavor and kick to it). The fries serving was a bit small, but I had a better idea for carbs- a Pilsner followed by a chocolate & orange stout while we watched the Warriors take the series from the Cavaliers. Bo no be happy ‘bout that. It was strangely quiet in the place. Soon Phil and our host were joining us and then some friends of Herr Schnee. Actually we didn’t see the end of the game as the place closed at 11, we were kicked out at 11:30 and the AirBnB didn’t have cable/satellite. Instead Phil and I talked some before heading off to sleep after a very long day.


I remember sitting in the movie theater when I was 13, watching the trailer: “In space no one can hear you scream.” What a line! I had to see that movie. A legendary series that saved the movie studio was born. Ripley was the heroine, a strong woman in a world of men fighting the perfect killing machine. But she wasn’t just fighting the Alien, she was fighting “the company” who mysteriously knew about this creature and wanted to use it for military purposes.

Though the first two movies were very different (Ridley Scott’s was a suspenseful horror film that slowly turned up the tension while James Cameron directed a non-stop action movie) but both were successful. The two that followed lacked a strong hand at the helm. The third, suffering from numerous re-writes and directorial changes. Its confusing vision resulted in the worst David Fincher movie every. One thing it did reveal was that the Alien borrowed some DNA from its host during incubation. The series, like the original Jurassic Park, struggled with the tendency to separate science from ethics. The pursuit of how or if blinded humanity to whether it should be done.

There was really no where for the franchise to go after Alien Resurrection, unless you wanted Earth to become extinct. Enter Ridley Scott and the decision to go back instead of forward.

He began with Prometheus whose main characters were Dr. Elizabeth Shaw and a synthetic named David. The rather convoluted story with a proto-Alien involves an alien race first seeding (panspermia) planets and then destroying the life they produced. Scott, who is reputed to be an atheist, avoids many who resist creation with this ridiculous premise. Dan Brown’s novel Deception Point floats the same theory. The problem is, where did the aliens come from? So you may explain life on Earth, but not LIFE. The movie ends with Shaw (another strong female lead) and David flying off in our “creators'” space ship with a payload of the virus intended to destroy life on Earth.

Alien: Covenant begins with Weyland and the newly created David prior to the trip on the Prometheus. David is nearly human, reflecting his creator in a reflection of Adam’s creation by God in His image. We see glimpses of David’s arrogance after he plays Wagner’s Entry of the Gods into Valhalla. He wants to throw off his creator’s shackles.

The location shifts to the future, post-Prometheus, on the ship Covenant. It is headed to a far off planet to colonize it. During a recharging stop, an accident occurs which wakes up the ship’s crew and loss of life including the captain. Most of the 200 colonists are safe in cyro-sleep. and the 1,000+ embryos are safe as well. We are introduced to the new captain (a Christian or person of similar faith) as well as the original captain’s surviving wife. The captain is dogmatic in his orders, fearing they, like the company, won’t respect a man of faith. If there is a mistake to be made, this man will make it over the course of the movie. The grieving widow? She is the strong female lead similar to Ripley and Shaw. There is a new synthetic, named Walter, who looks like David and is also played by Michael Fassbender. Improvements have been made we learn by depriving him of David’s creativity.

While outside the ship performing repairs one of the crew is outside the communications’ buffer and receives a transmission. They soon discover it is a human being singing Country Roads by John Denver. Tracking the transmission they discover a closer planet that seems even more suitable for human life. With a crew afraid of cyro-sleep the captain decides to investigate, and so the fun begins.

There are a number of twists and turns in the film as we discover the ship that once carried Shaw and David, and a new way to “catch” the alien virus. So there is some novelty in the midst of the familiar. Now stranded on the planet, they are rescued by David and slowly discover what David has been doing since being stranded on this planet. Like man, he is a creation turned destructive seeking to destroy his creator. Apparently everyone hates humans in Scott’s universe. We discover that David has turned the virus which produced proto-aliens into the form of alien we see in the original films. We also see the Captain who fails to destroy David after his collusion with one of the proto-aliens, fall for the trap David sets for him so the alien we are all familiar with finally appears.

The movie has a shocking ending after Daniels and and Tennessee kill an alien that inexplicably shows up on the Covenant. The movie ends as it began, with Wagner’s piece playing. The gods have entered Valhalla to continue the quest to destroy humanity.

I thought is was a good movie with enough new material that it was not stale and predictable. It also had enough similarities that it felt like an Alien film rather than a generic science fiction thriller. Ridley Scott had to walk a tightrope similar to that of J.J. Abrams with the new Star Wars triology. It was not as good as the originals, but that is a high bar. It was certainly better than Alien III and Alien Resurrection (not difficult). Rather than being built around Ripley (Signorney Weaver) this series of movies is built about Michael Fassbender even though they have a different strong female lead in each film. It is not as confusing as Prometheus and more enjoyable.

 

 


I’ve been reading Jared Wilson’s blog on and off since his days in TN. I’ve read some of his books and found them profitable. So when the opportunity arose to read & review his latest, The Imperfect Disciple, I took advantage.

Chapter 1 begins with a quote from John Newton which sets the tone for what is to come: “In short, I am a riddle to myself, a heap of inconsistence.” This book is a neo-Calvinist version of Yaconelli’s Messy Spirituality. As Wilson notes in his introduction, this is for the average Christian who just plain struggles and feels like a total loser when reading books on discipleship, if they ever dare to. The focus here is certainly not “try harder and get your act together”. The emphasis is that God works immeasurably beyond what you manage to do because He’s rich in grace and you are united to Christ. How’s that for a nutshell?

“A message of grace will attract people but a culture of grace will keep them.” This is at least the 2nd book he’s used this in. But it is a great quote.

Jared Wilson’s style is decidedly in the popular vein. It is conversational, and not concerned with sentence and all that jazz. Each chapter begins with “My gospel is…” followed by a story that generally doesn’t portray him in a positive light. He’s not looking down at you (us). He is not the Tony Robbins of discipleship (or the David Platt/Paul Washer intent on making you feel guilty for being an ordinary person).

He addresses many of the ordinary disciplines or means of grace from a different point of view than usual. He uses some unusual terminology at times. One of the strengths is that he focuses on the reality simul justus et peccator, at the same time we are just and sinners. We do not, and cannot get our act together this side of death or Jesus’ return. We will continue to struggle with sin (including sloth), temptation and spiritual drift. In talking about this in chapter 1, he addresses some people’s tendency to blame their spiritual problems on their church upbringing. This is particularly common among progressives who grew up in more fundamentalist or even evangelical churches. While our family and church backgrounds may have been messed up and wounded us, we were all born in Adam and are sinners. We are all messed up even with others messing us up more. We never escape Romans 7, yet we always have the hope expressed in Romans 8.

“So while the storm of Romans 7 rages inside of us, the truth of Romans 8 has us safe and sound. Within the spiritual ecosystem of God’s saving sovereignty, in fact, our struggle is like the little squall stirred up in a snow globe.”

In the second chapter he calls discipleship followship. We follow Jesus and help others follow Jesus. This is true, but we also learn and teach others and are therefore … disciples. Often we can make it difficult, he says, for others to follow Jesus by confusing wounds and sins. Both persist, but the gospel addresses them in different ways. We forgive those who wound us, and God heals us with the balm of the gospel. Sins, which sometimes flow from wounds, are forgiven and God calls us to repentance and self-denial at times.

The third chapter focuses on beholding Jesus glory as opposed to seeing Him as a life coach or self-help advisor. Jesus changes us as we behold His glory (though this is not the only way He changes us). We are on a quest to discover glory, often in the wrong places like porn, wealth accumulation etc. I look for glory in sports. Not my glory but the athletes’. So he encourages us to look to Jesus and His unchanging glory.

He then addresses time in the Scripture to hear the rhythm of the gospel. We are immersed in the rhythm of our culture and need to be renewed by the rhythm of the gospel in Scripture. It isn’t just the details, but beginning to grasp the big picture of Scripture. It took him some time to get to the point of the chapter, listening to the rhythm. This another way God transforms us as He renews our minds.

There is another rhythm he mentions next, that of spilling your guts: prayer. We live in a busy culture and often suffer from hurry sickness. We don’t have time to pray (or read, or …). Prayer is how we process His words to us, and our circumstances (hopefully in light of His Word). Even better, Jesus lives forever to intercede for us in order to save us to the uttermost (Heb. 7:25).

Then Wilson discusses a much-neglected aspect of discipleship in our culture: community. While we are personally saved, we are joined to Jesus into a community, the Body of Christ. We need one another to grow into maturity. Sanctification is not a self-help, or do-it-yourself, project. Community is also where self-denial, humility, considering the needs of others becomes necessary as we follow Jesus.

“The Christian life must be walked within the encouragement, edification, and accountability of Christian community. … To abide in Christ necessitates embracing the body of Christ as God’s plan for the Christian life.”

In a strange turn of events, he puts forth “Nine Irrefutable Laws of Followship”. He throws out some biblical imperatives that are part of healthy Christian living: be loving, be joyful, be peaceful, be patient, be kind, be good, be faithful, be gentle, and be self-controlled. This is a description of what Jesus is making you because it is a pretty good description of Jesus. These are also the fruit of the Spirit.

He then moves into our union with Christ. We are not who we will be, and still struggle with something of an identity crisis. There is much we don’t like about ourselves. Thankfully, our life is hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3). In the midst of this he talks about idolatry via Genesis 22. We lay down all our idols to pick up Jesus. Our idols can’t make us what we want to be, only Jesus can. Our idols can’t give us life (they steal it), only Jesus can.

“You may see yourself as worthless and faithless, but God never has to look for your righteousness, because since you have been raised with Christ and since Christ is seated at God’s right hand, your holiness is also seated at his right hand.”

He then moves into a discussion of suffering. We often feel forgotten or abandoned by God when we suffer. Jared is honest about a deep, suicidal depression he experienced. There is no pit too deep for Him to reach us, but He also lifts us higher than any idol can or than we can imagine going. There is grace in the pit, and grace lifts us to God’s presence in heaven.

“It’s true that sometimes God doesn’t become our holy hope until God becomes our only hope.”

The final chapter, Lurv Wins, is rooted in a scene from Annie Hall and reminds me of Rob Bell’s book. He never mentions Bell’s book, and the content isn’t the same as Rob’s book. He’s not advocating “Christian Universalism” but talking about heaven. The point of heaven is Jesus. He’s not an add-on, a bonus or merely a means to the end. What we experience there will be more than words can express. In Scripture, when people go to heaven they are overwhelmed, struck down as if dead and filled with dread. Our hope is not an earthly hope, but one that can only be satisfied in the unmediated presence of God. Earthly hopes keep unraveling, but that one will be greater than we can imagine.

“Grace is all-sufficient for glory. Grace doesn’t just go all the way down to our weakness and suffering; it goes all the way up to our deliverance, all the way up to the throne of God, where our Savior is seated at the right hand of the Father and where, because we have been raised with him, and seated with him in the heavenly places, we also have a place.”

While this, and the book, is generally good, at some points this casual or conversational style makes for some “sloppy” theology. One is something I noticed in Unparalleled as well regarding justification. “It’s not just that God wipes our sinful state clean (justification); he also writes onto the slate of our heart the perfect righteousness of Christ (imputation). (pp. 166)” Actually the first is “pardon” and justification includes both pardon and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.

He also hit one of my pet peeves: “He predestined this very circumstance. If I believe that, I can be patient.” (pp. 160) The word he wants is ordained. Predestination refers to salvation/damnation, not ordinary providence. Just one of those things that bugs me since technical terms exist for a reason and sloppy usage ends up changing the meaning and makes theological discourse more difficult (as Sproul notes in a book I am currently reading to review). While not an academic book, I’d hope he could communicate the proper use of technical terms.

He also makes a false distinction between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant on page 122. “The old covenant was made with God’s chosen people, and the new covenant is made with God’s called-out people.” Was not Abraham called out in Genesis 12? Was not Israel called out of Egypt? Was not Israel called out from the nations to be a people of God’s own possession? Are not we chosen (Eph. 1, 1 Peter 1 for starters)? The word ecclesia, which he might be basing this on, is used in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the OT, to refer to the assembly of the Israel. Israel was …. the church! The OT was largely written to the community of faith called Israel, which so often struggled to believe. The NT was largely written to the community of faith called the church which was grafted onto the vine of the True Israel- Jesus.

Another head scratcher was on page 40: “We are idiots when it comes to the Sermon on the Mount.” I won’t get into the nature of the beatitudes and the 3 uses of the law at this point (he could use some brushing up there too), but just the use of idiots to refer to us. It strikes me as contrary to another part of the Sermon on the Mount.

Being a Baptist, he also leaves out the sacraments as a part of the rhythm of grace God has given to us. Baptism begins our discipleship (based on the grammar of the Great Commission). But we are imperfect disciples, and that includes Jared. His book isn’t perfect but it is a very good and helpful book. It is worth reading and is accessible to those who are struggling with the fact they are quite imperfect.

[I received a copy of this book from the publisher for the purposes of review.]