Following Jesus, the Servant King

Following Jesus I’m grateful to be part of Zondervan’s Kononia blog tour on Jonathan Lunde’s new book, Following Jesus, the Servant King.  I’ve agreed to read it and comment on it, so what follows is my brief review.  As with all our review books, I am not compelled to give a positive review in exchange for the book.

Following Jesus is Lunde’s attempt at explaining discipleship from a biblical-covenantal point of view (hence the subtitle, A Biblical Theology of Covenantal Discipleship).  In 300 pages, Lunde takes the reader through detailed discussions of obedience, faith, grace, law, and other such themes that have to do with following Christ.

The book is structured around three key questions: 1) Why should I be concerned to obey all of Jesus’ commands if I have been saved by grace?  2) What is it that Jesus demands of his disciples? and 3) How can the disciple obey Jesus’ high demand, while experiencing his “yoke” as “light” and “easy?”  Thankfully there is a helpful detailed outline (with page numbers) that further explains the structure of the book – I had to use it for reference more than once since the discussions are intertwined and related.

I appreciated how Lunde rooted every part of his discussion in Scripture; this book is full of Bible texts and references.  From the Pentateuch to the Prophets to the Gospels, the reader is taken through the main parts of the Bible in the discussion of discipleship.  No one can say this book is a simplistic explanation of following Jesus!  One thing the reader will gain as he/she goes through this book is a greater knowledge of the OT and NT.

It should be pointed out that this is a detailed book – it isn’t for a new disciple.  The themes overlap to the point of confusion at times.  I was expecting an easier book to be used in (perhaps) a class to teach newer Christians, but it’s not that.  Following Jesus is somewhere on the reading scale between intermediate and advanced.

Another thing worth noting is that though the themes of this book (biblical theology melded with discipleship) may be “new” in the modern evangelical part of Christianity, they are not novel in the broader church world.  I really don’t think this book is ground breaking or covers anything that hasn’t been covered already.  I’ve read better discussions of covenant theology (dating back to Witsius around 1700) and there are better books on biblical theology (I’m thinking of Vos 100 years ago).  Furthermore, the Reformed/Presbyterian Creeds and Confessions deal nicely with the tough questions of what it means for a Christian to obey the Lord out of gratitude.

To be completely honest, instead of spending the energy reading this book, I’d suggest reading the confessions I mentioned above.  They give a much clearer and more concise discussion of the covenants and are more helpful in the areas of grace, justification, and Christian obedience (sanctification).  While I wasn’t expecting a Reformed theological book when I read this, I do think that Lunde should have gone back beyond 100 years in his secondary resources.  This book could have been much better had he interacted with at least a few earlier notable theologians on these issues.  It seems as if he was working to build a wheel that has already been built, tried, and tested.

Having said all that, I’m glad I read Following Jesus.  I love an intellectually robust discussion of these things, so the hours I spent in it were not wasted.  This book is a good conversation partner when it comes to learning more about what it means to follow Jesus.

Again, my thanks go to Zondervan for the chance to interact with Following Jesus The Servant King.

EDIT/UPDATE: Please read the comments below for the author’s helpful interaction with my review.

shane lems

3 thoughts on “Following Jesus, the Servant King”

  1. Shane, thanks for your efforts to interact with my book and to give your honest and unvarnished assessment of it.

    You have correctly identified the readership. The Biblical Theology for Life series is meant to hit the midpoint between the general layperson and the scholar. As such, our target audience consists of pastors, general seminarians, upper level undergraduates, and informed lay leaders. Our goal is to bring serious biblical theology to bear on relevant issues, but to make it accessible and useful for Christian leaders and thinkers.

    Just so you know, I intentionally steered away from the traditional discussions. One reason for this was so that I could avoid the pigeonholing that automatically happens when people from one side or the other see the traditional categories in play. Even more importantly, however, I disagree with the ways in which covenantal theology is usually structured, since it imposes onto the biblical text theological categories that struggle to engage each covenant on its own terms. Since I do not follow the traditional model, I can understand why you would be dissatisfied with the book.

    Though I have included a few things that I do believe are new, my goal was to bring the big picture of the Bible to bear on questions of discipleship. If there are similar treatments of discipleship elsewhere, I would welcome learning about them.

    But to summarize my approach to obedience as simply one of “gratitude” is to minimize the power of grace. Grace does more than create thankfulness–it moves the will, it inclines the heart. In a word, it empowers. That is not the same thing as simple gratitude. And the more people realize this, the more they will discover what it means to live in grace.

    Thanks again, Shane, for your critical engagement with my work.

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    1. Jonathan:

      I’m thankful for your response, it was helpful and charitable. I’ve inserted a note in my post to direct readers to your response so they don’t miss the info you gave.

      If we were face to face (a better way to discuss biblical truths!) I’d argue that historical covenant theology was deepy engaged in the text and did not impose a methodology on the text but developed one that arose from the text; it was also informed by the stream of Christian orthodoxy of earlier eras. I just don’t think we should avoid these great scholars, confessions, and exegesis from the past and attempt to start from scratch. I appreciate Vanhoozer’s and Horton’s model (along with others) of reading the Bible with the church.

      Also, in historical Reformation theology, gratitude has everything to do with grace: God’s saving and sovereign grace changes dead hearts, makes them live, gives them faith, repentance, and the desire to fight sin and live a godly life of gratitude while following Jesus. I was just giving the summary version of the Reformation tradition in my review.

      Even though we may disagree on the covenant point above, thanks again for your interaction and taking the time to write the book! Many blessings in your studies and life of discipleship.

      shane

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      1. Shane, I absolutely agree with your concern to work within the ecclesial discussion that has gone on throughout the centuries. While I avoid the older, more traditional approaches to Covenant Theology, I am certainly not starting from scratch. I am deeply indebted to such biblical theologians as Meredith Kline, Tom McComiskey, and Paul Williamson.

        My goal was to bring to the consideration of the covenants something beyond the traditional Covenant of Redemption, Covenant of Works, and Covenant of Grace categories. Instead, I sought to engage each covenant through a more formal lens, sensitizing readers to the distinctions in the kinds of covenants detailed in the Scriptures, all for the purpose of explaining and hopefully resolving some of the apparent tensions that exist in the biblical record–especially between Jesus and Paul. From my own perspective, the theological categories that govern traditional Covenant Theology do not resolve these tensions as well as the formal ones do.

        Thanks for your clarification regarding your comment on “gratitude.” We are in agreement on this. The reason I responded to your statement is that people oftentimes understand grace merely as the motivation for Christian living (a la gratitude). But, as you rightly point out, grace provides ongoing transformation and enablement. In my comment to you, I was in no way denying gratitude’s connection to grace–just that we must not reduce to gratitude the role that grace plays in effecting righteousness in us.

        Take care.

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