I’ve recently been looking into books that give guidelines and helps for discipleship and mentoring. As a pastor, I regularly meet with men to pray, read Scripture, and give encouragement, so some structure and advice is always helpful. I just finished Jonathan Dodson’s Gospel-Centered Discipleship, so I thought I’d review it here.
This little book (173 pages) has three main sections: 1) Defining Discipleship, 2) Getting to the Heart (the Gospel), and 3) Applying the Gospel. In the first part Dodson says that discipleship is always centered on the gospel, whether evangelizing or meeting with fellow Christians. In the second part, he steers the reader away from legalism and antinomianism, explains the gospel/grace briefly, and talks about the power of the Holy Spirit. In the final part, Dodson talks about the church, evangelism, and his practical idea of discipling, namely, “fight clubs” (groups of three who meet regularly to fight sin and fight for faith).
There are a few strengths in this book. I was happy that Dodson did constantly focus on the gospel, assuring us that our standing before God and identity have first and foremost to do with Christ’s work for us. Dodson also talked about the help of the Holy Spirit in fighting sin and growing closer to Jesus. Two other aspects I appreciated was how this book stressed the importance of the Trinity as well as the details of fighting sin.
There are also some weaknesses in Gospel-Centered Discipleship. First, there was a lot of repetition in the first two sections which made them sound the same. Second, there were tons of trendy evangelical phrases in the book that were ambiguous to me. For example, not to be snarky, but I do not know what the following phrases mean: “missional connections,” “deeper community,” “authenticity in Christ,” “missional holiness,” “fresh faith,” and so on. These phrases made the book tough for me to read, along with Dodson’s frequent use of the gospel as an adjective (gospel-this and gospel-that). To me, (over)using the word “gospel” as an adjective isn’t overly helpful.
A few more notes are in order. The first three-quarters of the book are very similar to other resources in the RE:LIT line and other men like Driscoll, Keller, and Piper. I really didn’t learn anything new in the first five chapters. Also, the book isn’t written from a Reformed perspective, so the doctrines of baptism, ecclesiology, and the means of grace are quite weak or non-existent. Dodson never mentioned the role of elders or the blessing of the Lord’s Supper in the life of disciples. He never mentioned the role of the Lord’s Day pulpit ministry in discipleship. A glaring weakness in the book is the discussion of the gospel without any connection to the preached word or Holy Communion (God’s primary means of grace for disciples).
If you’re looking for a solid book on how to disciple fellow Christians, or how to view discipleship, I don’t recommend this one. It isn’t horrible, and it’s not law-heavy (thankfully!), but since it does have some weaknesses (noted above), I’d say you may want to pass on this one: Jonathan Dodson, Gospel-Centered Discipleship (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012).
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