Ted Kluck and Dallas Janche. Dallas and the Spitfire: An Old Car, an Ex-Con, and an Unlikely Friendship. Grand Rapids: Bethany House, 2012. 192 pages. $14.99.
It’s easy for “discipleship” and “discipling” to be mere buzzwords, labels we slap on things to make them sound spiritual. And if our churches move beyond buzzwords and try to create a culture of one-on-one discipling, it’s easy to turn even that good intention into just one more program. Weekly meeting at Starbucks—check. Reading the Bible or a Christian book together—check. Talking about the same two or three struggles with sin every week—check.
What many churches and church leaders need, then, is a vision of discipling. They need to be gripped by what can happen when one Christian pours himself into another Christian’s life in the context of the local church. They need to see the beauty and power of discipling in all the messy, gritty details of life.
And lives don’t get much messier or grittier than Dallas Janche’s. That’s one reason why Ted Kluck and Dallas Janche’s new book Dallas and the Spitfire: An Old Car, an Ex-Con, and an Unlikely Friendship presents such a compelling vision of one-on-one discipling in the local church.
How Would You Disciple an Ex-Con?
Ted Kluck, the book’s main author, is a 34-year-old writer, church member, and suburban dad. But he has also played semi-professional football and written a book on Mike Tyson—in other words, he’s mixed with some rough characters. So he was tapped to disciple Dallas Janche, a 21-year-old former drug addict who had spent the past five years in and out of prison, and who had recently become a Christian through the efforts of the Lansing City Rescue Mission.
The book begins in a coffee shop in East Lansing, Michigan, where Ted and Dallas first meet. Pretty quickly, Ted writes, “it occurs to me that neither Dallas nor I are really the latte-sipping types,” which means they’ll need something to do together besides drink coffee, share their feelings, and read a book or two (14). So they decide to restore a vintage European sports car together, eventually settling on a 1974 Triumph Spitfire.
The rest of the book tells the story of how Ted and Dallas worked together over the next year not just to restore the car, but to help Dallas grow in conformity to the image of Christ. Ted tells the bulk of the story, while Dallas supplies occasional interludes that reflect on his past and process his present struggles to grow as a Christian.
A Story So Good It Could Tell Itself
The story that unfolds is so good it could tell itself, and that’s about what reading the book felt like. I couldn’t put it down.
Yet thankfully the story doesn’t have to tell itself: the two authors are more than up to the task, and a large part of what makes the book so gripping is the writing. Ted’s style is an unlikely mix of poignant description, relentless sarcasm, and gutsy, tender transparency. Dallas’s contributions are honest, earnest, and a little rough around the edges, just as you’d expect from a young and clearly gifted Christian.
A Compelling Vision of Discipling
But this story is so edifying, and so immediately relevant to pastors and churches, because it paints a compelling picture of the power of one-on-one discipling. Here are three prominent features of this picture.
First, this book shows that all Christians should disciple and be discipled. Ted is very aware of his failures, even to the point of being reluctant to disciple Dallas in the first place. He doesn’t think of himself as prime discipler material. But that’s just the point. Ted and Dallas’s story shows that it’s not just pastors and super-Christians who should disciple others—it’s all of us.
And when Ted is on the ropes, he seeks counsel and encouragement from fellow Christians, including his father. The takeaway? We all need people to help us grow as Christians. Disciplers need to be discipled too.
Second, Ted and Dallas’s relationship models the kind of mutual openness that enables discipling relationships to thrive. The instruction, of course, primarily flows from Ted to Dallas. But Ted leads, in part, by allowing Dallas to see how he applies the gospel to his own failures and struggles.
This mutual openness helps Ted speak biblical truth into every area of Dallas’s life, from relationships with women to conflicts with college administrators to the use and abuse of Christian freedom. Biblical discipling, as Ted and Dallas’s story shows, is about applying God’s Word to every realm of life. And to do that we have to risk being open with each other.
Third, Ted and his family wonderfully model sacrificial care for Dallas. In very short order, they open up their home to him and basically become his family.
Obviously, Dallas had more significant needs than your average 21-year-old. But the lesson still stands: biblical discipling involves caring for others’ needs in tangible ways. It requires us to back up words with actions, to model what we teach.
This kind of discipleship is costly. It cost Ted and his family time, money, and sleepless nights. Sometimes, as Ted discovered, we pay those costs from the wrong account. At one point Ted reflects, “It’s been weird this year . . . at times I’ve felt so focused on Dallas that I sometimes forget I have my own kids who love me and need me” (138). As a good discipler, Ted helps others draw lessons from reflections on his failures.
In all these ways and many more, Dallas and the Spitfire casts an inspiring, hope-giving vision of biblical discipling. Pastors, this would be a great book to work through with your elders, or to give to your small-group leaders. In my experience, a vision for personal discipling in the church is more easily caught than taught. Reading Dallas and the Spitfire is a great way to catch it, and to help others catch it too.
Hope for the Ordinary
Of course, Ted and Dallas aren’t intending to set up their relationship as some kind of one-size-fits-all model. This isn’t a handbook, it’s a story—an extraordinary story.
And because this is an extraordinary story, most discipling relationships will differ substantially from this one. They may not be so demanding. Often, they will not result in so deep a friendship. And most of them probably won’t involve restoring an old car. But again, that’s exactly the point. Discipling is about transferring truth through relationship, and each relationship will look different. Yet there will also be fundamental similarities, like biblical teaching, sacrificial love, and life lived together.
By telling an extraordinary story, Dallas and the Spitfire gives hope for the ordinary. Not every Christian will help a recovering addict get back on his feet, but every Christian should help others grow in their likeness to Christ.
Even when that work of discipling is less intense, it is no less meaningful. Whether you’re restoring an old car with an ex-con or—dare I say it—meeting over coffee and a Christian book, the same God works powerfully through his Word and Spirit to conform us to Christ.
This review originally appeared in the May-June 2012 edition of the 9Marks Journal.
Bobby Jamieson is assistant editor for 9Marks, the author of the 9Marks Healthy Church Study Guides (Crossway), an MDiv student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, and a member of Third Avenue Baptist Church.