Pastor Bill Clem of Mars Hill Church writes a work on defining a disciple of Jesus Christ, an ultimately disappointing book that is far too American and seldom convicting. While there are brilliant sections strewn throughout, the book is neither groundbreaking nor wholly biblical. A missed opportunity for a much needed discussion.
Despite my best efforts and Bill Clem’s best intentions, this is the definition of disciple that I gleaned from his work:
A disciple is someone who looks like Jesus and joins a small group community.
Of course, I doubt this is Clem’s goal. Yet the book is so American that I could never see it working in an urban or third world context. With an almost abstract, self-help style, Clem writes in largely conceptual strokes about mind-molding and relational-sharing, but hardly ever touches on the Great Commission to Go and to Make.
It might be unfair that I expected a book like Radical. David Platt’s seminal work on discipleship felt much closer to the biblical reality of carrying the cross, denying the flesh, and giving your all for Christ. When I read a book about disciples, I expect urgency and adventure, not megachurch-style small groups isolated in an upper-class neighborhood.
While Clem gives a nod to the work of Dietrich Bonhoeffer — the great anti-Nazi preacher who authored The Cost of Discipleship and was hung for plotting against Hitler — in Clem’s work there was never any sense of risk or rejoicing. He instead makes discipleship appear like a nagging grandmother’s task of checklisting spiritual progress and attending church to copy the “stoic” personality of Jesus.