Monday, December 12, 2011

"Disciple" by Bill Clem

TITLE: Disciple: Getting Your Identity from Jesus (RE: Lit)
AUTHOR: Bill Clem
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2011.

This is one of the best current books on discipleship in the Church. Written in a clear and captivating manner, Clem has managed to distill the essentials of discipleship by focusing on the person of Christ. Beginning with the original purpose of man, the author takes the time to establish the groundwork that man's calling is still to be the image of God, that man has been created to be. Clem shows us that God reveals Himself to us, through story, and enables us through listening. What is at risk is not God's story to man, but man's distortion of God's story. He writes:

"The God of the Bible does not seem as interested in us knowing about him as he desires for us to actually know him - to have experiential knowledge of him." (12)
He goes on to add that man's version of his own story is distorted and is a futile search for significance. I find it a great reminder not to make the gospel so man-friendly, that it fails to catch God's story. God's story is told through creation (evidence of God in the world), through the Bible (Inspired Word), through Jesus (Incarnation), through the Triune God (relationships). Other themes of the story include conflict and redemption, and the way back to the image of God is via worship, community, mission, and a keen awareness that man is part of something bigger. Much bigger.

The rest of the book hones on:

  • True Image vs Distorted Identity;
  • True Worship vs Distorted Worship;
  • True Community vs Distorted Community;
  • True Mission vs Distorted Mission.

Clem ends the book with a call to renew our focus on God in discipleship, demonstrated in planning, in multiplying, and in faithful living. Without the Cross of Christ, man moves toward shrinking hope. Through the Cross of Jesus, man progresses toward expanding hope and joy in God. The true hero of the story is in Jesus.

The image of God is mysterious, and for man to take wonder. Clem warns readers that there is a tendency to replace this image with 'blessings from God' like 'raises, promotions, positions, and possessions.' (69) There is a danger to replace interconnected living with individualistic lifestyles. There are three major distortions of one's sense of identity:

  1. "I am what I do." - where one's sense of identity is based on successes or failures in the world
  2. "I am What has been done to me." - where one's sense of identity is based on a reaction or retaliation of what has been done.
  3. "I am my relationships, my role, and responsibilities" - of one's sense of identity being wrapped up in temporal and undependable things.

True worship is one that is in love, in truth, in Spirit, in glory of God. Distortions of worship includes the three gateways of pride (Pleasure, Power, People).  In pride lies an idolatry of self that lives a life that is susceptible to anger, or fear.

True community learns to worship together, is devoted to truth, prayer, communion, belonging, and witnessing together. Unfortunately, community is often distorted in at least four ways:

  1. Distortion #1: community as therapy, seeing sin or a need to make an excuse to come together.
  2. Distortion #2: Some see community as a time to network and make friends or business partners.
  3. Distortion #3: Community as Program, where the community is loosely held through programming alone.
  4. Distortion #4: Community as 'exclusively Christian', that creates an unhealthy 'us-vs-them' mentality.
True mission is in two parts. The first is about unveiling the glory of God, manifested in God's people, redeemed creation. The second is about discovering and destroying the effects of sin. Again, mission is distorted through various kinds of 'onlys.'
  1. Only the message of evangelism, where mission is limited to proclaiming the gospel
  2. Only mercy is needed, where mission is limited to good works, social justice, etc
  3. Only freeing from sin, which limits the gospel to a mere unlocking of the door and nothing more
  4. Only apologetics, where one deals with trying to win arguments for the faith.
Instead, true mission has 4 components. One needs to declare the gospel of hope boldly in spite of opposition in the world. One needs to disclose the kingdom of God through Christlikeness. One needs to display Jesus and the Kingdom through tangible ways, to reconcile man to his original image of God. One needs to defend the gospel of hope, against doubts, sin, and all manner of evil. 

In Planning, Clem deals with three common reactions to mission. Firstly, to the statement "I can't do this," he uncovers the hurdles of habitual sins, debilitating mindsets, and a lack of priority management. He lists down ten friends, or 'specialists' that every disciple needs at various times of his journey to discipleship.

  • "A counselor to address your emotional sticking points."
  • "A coach to call you to accountability for the goals you set."
  • "A pastor to provide spiritual direction."
  • "An encourager to provide the inspiration to 'hang in there' and not give up."
  • "A peer to serve as an influencer."
  • "A consultant to provide information and input."
  • "An example to provide a template through their experience."
  • "A mentor who is a life stage or two ahead of you to provide wisdom."
  • "A friend with whom to walk through the journey."
  • "A partner who labors toward the same cause." (188-9)
He proposes a Shepherding compass to help leaders to grow, to feed, to lead, and to protect their flock. Finally, he urges the disciple to be fruitful and multiply through prayer, through the shaping of oneself in the Word, through forgiveness that reconcile relationships, through service with a servant heart, through a visionary mindset, and many more.

My Comments

I like the way that Clem builds his case about discipleship is all about becoming the image of God that God has called us to be, THROUGH Jesus. It is the imitation of Christ. It is to put away our distorted nature, and to let Christ redeem our fallen selves. Without God, the 'image of God' is essentially meaningless. Clem's book is very intentional about becoming like Christ, believing in Christ, belonging to Christ, and bearing the image of Christ to all, through community and hopeful living.

Clem's main idea is this:

"The point I am attempting to make is that if someone is oriented toward imaging God, then the disciple-making process will be more transformational than an informational set of verses and lessons." (65)

Well said. This is a book that deserves to be read by Church leaders and especially disciples of Christ. If you are serious about discipleship, but do not know where to start, the common wisdom is to begin with prayer and the Bible. If you still need help, you can use this book to spearhead your journey into meaningful and exciting path of discipleship.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free, courtesy of Crossway Books and NetGalley without any obligation of a positive review. The opinions expressed are freely mine.

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