The Gospel Coalition

 

Bill Clem. Disciple: Getting Your Identity from Jesus. Re:Lit. Wheaton: Crossway, 2011. 236 pp. $15.99.



Bill Clem's Disciple: Getting Your Identity from Jesus seeks to answer the question, "What does a disciple's identity look like?" This question can't be answered apart from an understanding of who God is, so the author begins by helping us see just that. What is God's story? Who is the hero of the story? This lays a strong, God-centered foundation for the rest of the book as it unpacks the identity of a disciple.

The broad structure of the book outlines what Clem takes to be the four main aspects of a disciple's identity. These are Image, Worship, Community, and Mission. Does the disciple understand who they are? Can the disciple discern the true God from idols? What does a community of disciples look like? What are disciples to do and why? Each chapter that deals with a facet of a disciple's core identity has a corresponding chapter that deals with the distortion of that aspect of the disciple's identity. Thus the chapter on "Worship" has a corresponding chapter called "Worship Distortions." This is a helpful organizational tool that shows the positive side and its implications as well as, conversely, the negative side and its corresponding negative implications. Being able to identify the things that will challenge you as you attempt to be Jesus' disciple is certainly a key part of the process, and this consistent aspect in the book is one of its main strengths.

This book would be quite useful for one-on-one mentoring or small group study. Each chapter concludes with assignments for actualizing the content into the life of the reader. It will certainly draw one deeper into the Scriptures as disciples follow through on what is outlined at the end of each chapter.

Disciple is a simple and clear diagnostic of what a disciple is and isn't. And this led to my main quibble with the book: the aspect of formation. How do we actually pull this off? The book deals with painting a picture of what a disciple is. It is primarily descriptive in nature, so I was left yearning for something more formative and practical. Those seeking an exhaustive how-to manual with lists of tips and tricks for Christian multiplication will be left wanting.

My own impatient heart was exposed as I read this. What began as my main quibble (not enough practical how-to) quickly turned into my main conviction. In our culture we are unconsciously addicted to the quick and easy solution: whatever it takes to get the job done and get it done fast! "Give me something useful!" is a constant demand, and we want metrics and quantifiable results. Yet discipleship does not fit neatly onto a spreadsheet. Simply put, the Spirit does not submit to our agenda or impatience. Neither does this book. We need to have the right foundation upon which we make disciples, and this book helps us do that very thing. What masquerades as "practical" oftentimes veers quite far from what is realistic since human beings are far more complex and organic than a simple math equation or diagnostic formula.

Is it any wonder that Jesus doesn't provide us with a step-by-step process for discipleship? There is no manual, and there is no magic bullet. Jesus taught his disciples how to be disciples by being with him and hearing from him. We do that same thing by soaking in his Word and hearing him speak over and over again. The author does a commendable job of leading us to this Jesus.

At the end the book does give practical application as it lays out a plan for multiplication of disciples. Being a disciple does require intentionality that is consistent over time, and the author gives some prescriptive ways for how to accomplish that. Yet this is done without dictating a rigid model that fails to account for individual styles and personalities and the organic nature of authentic discipleship.


Zach Nielsen
The Vine Church
Madison, Wisconsin, USA



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