Deep Discipleship: A Book Review

It is somewhat ironic that Deep Discipleship released in 2020 during a global pandemic of the coronavirus disease. As we’re all aware, this past year resulted in lockdowns, cancellations, and zoom meetings; all of which birthed renewed desires for the local community that gathers around the Word. This past year reminded us how critical the gathered new covenant community is to one’s being conformed to the image of Christ. Thus, as this year pushed us into separation, J. T. English’s Deep Discipleship was released.

English calls his readers to see the discipleship disease that is prevailing within the church and the importance of diagnosing it correctly. Importantly, the disease persists because we’ve gotten too deep and have treated it by requiring less of our people. By contrast, self-centered discipleship and spiritual apathy are the actual diseases. The treatment? More Christ, Bible, theology, and spiritual disciplines. English says: “Our ministry aim is to ask God to bring us into his inexhaustible presence, bottomless beauty, and infinite glory. Fellowship with the Triune God is where we are going, and fellowship with the Triune God is how we are going to get there.” (p. 18) Reality must be reoriented such that true knowledge is apprehended through self-denial. That is, knowledge of God and all things in relation to God. Deep discipleship matters because of the inexhaustible richness of God.

This God-centered vision for deep discipleship fleshes itself out in five areas; space, scope, sequence, send, and strategy. These form the structure of the book going forward.

The first area, space, addresses where discipleship happens in the church. According to English, many church have a community-oriented discipleship philosophy or a learning-oriented discipleship philosophy. While we cannot be disciples outside of the community of Christ, we can be in a community that is not teaching us to be disciples of Christ. To strive toward both a community and learning oriented discipleship philosophy, English provides a discipleship space inventory and a sample description of an active learning space. Deep discipleship is holistic, placing a high value on both community and learning.

The second area, scope, addresses what disciples need. What are the absolute necessities? “A healthy disciple must be growing in the understanding of God’s Word, founded on distinctively Christian beliefs and practicing spiritual disciplines.” (p. 105) These three are necessities (Bible, beliefs, and spiritual habits) for fellowship and communion with the triune God in the local church.

The third area, sequence, addresses how disciples grow in knowledge of the triune God. English gives a few examples of trinitarian picture of salvation from the New Testament and maturing in it (1 Cor. 6:11; 1 Peter 1:2; Phil. 3:11-16). English presents three tiers of discipleship growth: discipleship for everyone, discipleship for disciple-making disciples, and discipleship for disciple-making movement disciples. While leaders will need to address the varying levels of maturity, the subject and object of Christian discipleship is the same as the subject and object of Holy Scripture: the triune God.

The fourth area, sending, addresses where disciples go. Christian maturity naturally results in multiplying other mature disciples. Thus, a church that is training mature disciples is also sending mature disciples to replicate more mature disciples. Maturation in Bible, beliefs, and habits do not hinder mission, “deep discipleship and mission, training and sending, are meant to work together and complement one another. Deep discipleship is the fuel for the mission.” (p. 181)

The final area, strategy, addresses how to adopt and incorporate this holistic discipleship in a sustainable manner. English argues that “deep discipleship” can be implemented in any ecclesial context through the principles of structure, predictability, accountability, accessibility, community, and excellence. Operating with structured rhythms and accessible content aides the disciple’s commitment to learning in community to the glory of God.

Deep Discipleship is a book on Christian discipleship that has been missing for some time now. Particularly because the project is 1) principally and eschatologically oriented unto the Triune God, and 2) asking completely different questions: Where does discipleship happen in the church? What do they need? How do disciples grow? Where do disciples go?

The importance of this book is its emphasis on reorienting disciples to true reality: God and all things in relation to God. Deep Discipleship “is about a redirection of our loves to the One who is lovely.” (p.20) In effect, the book is an excursus on Psalm 119. God, who is life, gives life through his Word, Ways, and Promises. This is how Christian disciples are made and mature: apprehension and fellowship with the Triune God.

Creative God, Colorful Us: A Book Review

God is kind

God is loving

God is fair

God is forgiving

God is truthful

God is wise

God is good

In the very first chapter of Trillia Newbell’s new book Creative God, Colorful Us, she reminds children (and any listening adults) about these very important truths about God. While the title should have given it away, within the first few sentences you quickly realize that this book truly is all about God and points children back to him time and time again. 

My children are 9, 11, and 13 and as we read through this book together around the supper table, the conversations we had about God were filled with anything but Sunday School school answers. Our discussions were so rich! 

Newbell has written this book in a unique way. It’s not the kind of book that you would read to your children before bedtime, though you most certainly could. Nor is it one you’d want to just hand to a child to read by themselves. And I say that only because the material in the book is worth discussing as a family, especially since Newbell intentionally creates space for discussion and reflection at the end of each chapter. 

What I loved about this book is how children are shown the story of God from creation to Revelation through the lens of the imago Dei.

First, Newbell explains who God is—kind, loving, fair, forgiving, etc. (see above). This is key because any book that explains the beauty of our differences and sameness as God’s children, must first start with and be rooted in who God is, not who we are.

She camps out on this for a few chapters by showing us how we are made in his image and can be like him

God is kind—you can be kind too.

God is loving—you can be loving too.

God is fair—you can be fair too.

God is forgiving—you can be forgiving too.

God is truthful—you can be truthful too.

God is wise-—you can be truthful too.

God is good—you can be truthful too. 

She  then explains sin in such simple terms that children as young as kindergarten should be able to understand it. As Newbell tells the readers about sin and it’s devastating consequences, she shows this well by, again, pointing people back to God and his characteristics and how we fail to be like him. 

Because of sin—sometimes we’re unkind.

Because of sin—sometimes we’re hateful.

Because of sin—sometimes we’re unfair.

Because of sin—sometimes we’re unforgiving.

Because of sin—sometimes we lie.

Because of sin—sometimes we make bad choices..

Because of sin—sometimes we do bad things.

As Newbell walks readers through the rest of God’s story, she spends significant time on God’s church—both the church from generations past and future, and the global church. She talks about Paul’s hatred of Christians and how God changed his heart to help explain our own tendency towards hatred of those who are different than us. I love her explanation of the differences in the body of Christ that have always existed and always will, simply because of God’s creative design for people from all over the world. She adroitly addresses how sin can cause us to show partiality towards those who are differently than us.

We don’t always get along. Our differences aren’t sinful, but the way we treat each other because of our differences can be. Because of sin, we sometimes dislike a person simply because of the color of their skin. Because of sin, we are sometimes jealous of people who have gifts and talents that are not like ours. Because of sin, we may play favorites with people. When we play favorites with other people this is called the sin of partiality. Partiality is sinful favoritism. It means leaving others out or ignoring them because of your favoritism. Because favoritism can be a big problem in our friendships, let’s spend more time thinking about it. (page 74)

Newbell then looks at James’ reminder in James 2:1—4,  8—9 about why we should not show favoritism to those who are rich. Within the context of a book all about God’s character and our reflection of God’s image, this is such a good reminder that because of sin we are all prone towards favoritism in many ways, and that as God’s image bearers, we can ask God to help us be more like him in how we treat other image bearers. 

There is so much more I could say about this wonderful book, especially Newbell’s excellent explanation of what it means to love our neighbor, and who our neighbor actually is. (Hint: it’s not just the person with a similar street address as you.)  This is a beautiful book that I hope parents will read with their elementary age children, and even middle school students. I can also envision a small group or children’s Sunday School class going through this together. Newbell provides activities and questions at the end of each chapter which truly help bring the lessons of the chapter home. You and your children will walk away with common language to use as you talk about what it looks like to love our fellow image bearers as God does:

God is kind—you can be kind too.

God is loving—you can be loving too.

God is fair—you can be fair too.

God is forgiving—you can be forgiving too.

God is truthful—you can be truthful too.

God is wise-—you can be truthful too.

God is good—you can be truthful too. 

Editor’s Note: You can purchase Creative God, Colorful Us here.

Spirits in Bondage: A Book Review

Lexham Press has done all Lewis enthusiasts a great service by publishing this new edition of Spirits in Bondage: A Cycle of Lyrics. The introduction by Karren Swallow Prior would alone be worth the price of the book, but the real prize is the window we receive into the pre-conversion heart of Lewis through these poems. Here we are introduced to a Lewis many of us have heard of, but have never met. There are certain enriching continuities—the love of words, the love of nature, the love of fantasy and adventure. But there are also stark discontinuities—cynical, hopeless, condescending. This Lewis is a house divided: enthralled by the enchanted world he insists is strictly material. This conflict of convictions is occasionally felt by Lewis, and when the materialistic disenchantment wins the battle, it is hard to grieve for the young soul-stricken Lewis—sitting in his dirty trench and suffocating from hopelessness:

False, mocking fancy! Once I too could dream,
Who now can only see with vulgar eye
That he’s no nearer to the moon than I
And she’s a stone that catches the sun’s beam.

What call have I to dream of anything?
I am a wolf. Back to the world again,
And speech of fellow-brutes that once were men
Our throats can bark of slaughter: cannot sing. (pg. 7)

This cynicism does at some places give way to throbbing conceit, as in the case of the ever-condescending poem, “In Praise of Solid People” (the delicious irony is that all the things young Lewis patronizingly praises in “solid people,” aged and converted Lewis praises in good faith). There is no mistaking the old self Lewis describes in Surprised by Joy many years later: a self who is very angry at God for not existing:

Come let us curse our Master ere we die,
For all our hopes in endless ruin lie.
The good is dead. Let us curse God most High.

O universal strength, I know it well,
It is but froth of folly to rebel,
For thou art Lord and hast the keys of Hell.

Yet I will not bow down to thee nor love thee,
For looking in my own heart I can prove thee,
And know this frail, bruised being is above thee. (pg. 27-28)

If this were all we ever had for this young poet, Spirits in Bondage would be a straightforward tragedy. But the looming and towering giant we as C.S. Lewis casts light backwards into these dark poems. And what we discover in the daylight of time passing is that the hound of heaven was at the young aspiring poet’s heels the whole time. Or rather, heaven was pulling him there irresistibly—he was always bound for Aslan’s Country. The fight between Lewis’s affections for “Northernness” and his pessimistic disenchantment was only ever going to go one way. Christ Jesus had him by the gut, and that was that. Lewis’s later conversion transforms moments of hopefulness and longing from pictures of inconsistency to pictures of destiny. These are the stabs of joy that were the beginning of the end of Lewis’s atheism:

Or is it all a folly of the wise,
Bidding us walk these ways with blinded eyes
While all around us real flowers arise?

But, by the very God, we know, we know
That somewhere still, beyond the Northern snow
Waiting for us the red-rose gardens blow. (pg. 63)

And the all of the roads is upon me, a desire in my spirit has grown
To wander forth in the highways, ‘twixt earth and sky alone,
And seek for the lands no foot has trod and the seas no sail has known:

—For the lands to the west of the evening and east of the morning’s birth,
Where the gods unseen in their valleys green are glad at the ends of the earth
And fear no morrow to bring them sorrow, nor night to quench their mirth. (pg. 81-82)

In this little collection of poems, we have the privilege of getting to know Lewis better. It is, in its way, a magnificent display of God’s saving grace. It is also a window into the aspirations of Lewis, who loved poetry more than prose, and desired to be a poet far more than an apologist. There are many references in Spirits in Bondage that I—as someone who did not receive the kind of classical education Lewis enjoyed, formal and informal—miss in ignorance. But the central and glaring truth in Spirits in Bondage is the truth Lewis himself missed in ignorance while he wrote: God is a gracious God who is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. Lewis’s story, and the story of this whole world, begins and ends in some way or another illustrating this central truth.

Family Discipleship: A Book Review

Family Discipleship is an earthy, rich, and reasonable work focused on the ministry of parents to their children. Each page drips with thoughtful and engaging recommendations on how to love your children by giving them the gospel. The authors, Matt Chandler and Adam Griffin, use the template of modeling, time, moments, and milestones for leading your family.

Before the authors jump into the practical content of their work, they lay a biblically-literate foundation on which to build practices of family discipleship. The authors affirm what Albert Mohler calls the principle of subsidiarity: the smallest unit of influence is the most important.[1] For family discipleship, this means that parents cannot hand off the responsibility of discipling their children to the church, although the church is called to supplement and strengthen discipleship already occurring in the home (55). While family discipleship is of utmost importance, the authors also remind their readers that salvation is from the Lord and that you are not responsible to save your children.

Why would you assume that you can disciple your children if you are not a disciple yourself? The parent who does not love and follow Jesus cannot lead a child to love and follow Jesus. So while active discipleship of your children is integral, modeling a life of discipleship is foundational. This section is valuable for singles or married couples without children, as it reminds us that our children’s observation of our lives will be a facet of discipling them. The authors also realistically observe that repentance of your personal sin in front of your children can be a great place to model what it looks like to give and receive forgiveness.

The second way to actively disciple children is to carve out intentional time into your family’s rhythm to think about, talk about, and live out the gospel (87). Many of us picture family discipleship as one of the parents reading the Bible to their children and explaining the passage to them. While family discipleship should include this, time in the home should also include prayer, memorization of Scripture, and activities such as taking a meal to a family in need together. A simple template for regular and intentional time together is: Scripture, Share, Song, and Prayer (101).

The third way is through moments of discipleship. This just means taking advantage of what would normally be a mundane moment and savoring its eternal significance. Rather than ignoring the flowers in the field on your walk, it means considering the flowers and how God cares for them; and if God cares for them, how much more does he care for us (Matt 6:25-34)! Notice when someone shows exceptional kindness to a stranger and then bend down on one knee to explain to your child, “That is how we reflect the kindness of God to others.” Infuse regular moments with teaching on God’s character and godly characteristics (117-121).

Fourth, disciple your children through milestones. This means “Marking or making occasions to celebrate and commemorate significant milestones of God’s work in the life of the family and child” (135). This means more than simply celebrating a child’s birthday every year; this means highlighting the ways your child has developed godly character over the past year and encouraging them to continue in it. We don’t always plan milestones either. For example, the Chandler family remembers “scan day,” which is the yearly scan to check if cancer has returned to Matt’s brain (137). Spiritually dark moments are worth remembering in your family’s life if they are significant. The important aspect of milestones is to choose important moments from your family history to celebrate on a regular basis.

The best part of this work is the practical suggestions and activities given in every chapter on how to disciple children. I have sprinkled in a few of the author’s ideas throughout this review, but each chapter is filled with a treasure chest of resources for parents. For example, the chapter on moments has an addendum that is filled with verses you can use to disciple your children in moments of fear, joy, or anxiety and a short dictionary of important terms in the Christian faith in language appropriate for children. The chapters always end with questions and plans of action that you can mull over, which my wife and I found helpful in thinking through our own family discipleship.

One concerning aspect of the book is its uncareful use of some Scripture. The authors assume that the “elect lady” in 2 John is an actual parent teaching their children (58). Most modern commentators recognize that the phrase “elect lady” is a figure of speech used to refer to a local body of believers that John is writing to.[2] While this is a matter of interpretation up for debate, one should not be quick to use this Scripture to argue that parents should teach their children as the elect lady taught her children in 2 John. There is not a one to one correlation in these situations. The authors could have developed a more nuanced approach to this text and still applied it to family discipleship. The New Testament does use family language to refer to the church, and the church is charged to pass down the faith to the next generation. In a similar manner, parents are called to pass down the faith to their children. While this hermeneutic takes more effort, it teaches readers to honor figurative language in the Bible and appropriate it correctly.

Despite this concern, I would highly recommend this work for every parent. This book will serve as a gospel-centered resource for every parent wishing to raise up their child in the “discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4). It can be an intimidating thing to think about the eternally significant task of proclaiming the gospel to the next generation. Chandler and Griffin teach us how to take advantage of the rhythms your family already has and leveraging them for the sake of the gospel. You don’t have to add thirty different events to your calendar to disciple your children, you just need to take advantage of time, moments, and milestones that you already have. Let us be diligent to teach our children God’s commandments so that “the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God” (Psalm 78:6-7).

[1] Albert Mohler, The Briefing, January 19th, 2018,

[2]  John R. W. Stott, The Letters of John: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 19, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 203.