Monday, July 28, 2008

Breaking the Discipleship Code – David Putnam

© 2008 B & H, Nashville

Of late I have been reading a mountain of books that give advice on how to adjust life in the church or among her members in order to make her more relevant in today’s world. Some of the books have been disturbing—not because of the content but because of the accuracy in which they point out the shortcomings of the church as I have known it. Just one challenge after another seems to be crossing my desk. David Putnam’s follow-up to his collaborative effort with Ed Stetzer (Breaking the Missional Code, B&H, 2006) is another keeper.

The difference between Putnam’s book and most of the challenging books being released is its approachable manner. Putnam doesn’t inundate us with research (although the research is out there in full force), nor does he lambaste us with berating language that often accompanies the call to church-wide repentance. What he does instead is simplify the call to return to the basics of Christ-followers’ faith. His theme which is impossible to miss because it is repeated ad infinitum throughout the book: Live like Jesus; love like Jesus; leave what Jesus left behind.

The first two commands—to live and love like Jesus—take little explanation. Live in a servant-leader style that makes more of others than of yourself, without compromise. Love everyone, even those that do not love you or are unlovely. But when Putnam calls on Christians to leave what Jesus left behind he has to explain and expound. Jesus left followers who did what He did as He moved on to make end times preparation. We as Christ followers will leave this world someday, our objective in living and loving like Jesus is to leave behind more followers of Jesus who live and love like He did. Biblical scholars will easily catch the link to Matthew’s record of the Great Commission—“teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you.”

I will admit that I liked much of what I saw in the book even before I began to read. The table of contents revealed a simple yet informative arrangement of the material. The book is arranged in three divisions that purports to (1) define for the reader what a missional follower of Christ is, (2) discuss the process through which one becomes such a follower, and (3) what such a follower looks like in everyday situations.

Putnam is adept in conveying his message concerning the life and lifestyle of a missional disciple of Jesus. He uses easy stories from his own experience in life, in church, in church planting, and in his home to draw a portrait of how one moves along the journey of becoming more like Jesus.

For the reader who likes to have his interaction with a book directed, each chapter is followed by several questions to help apply what has been discussed in the chapter to his life. Part three, in which what a missional follower of Jesus looks like is discussed, short testimonials are inserted between the chapter and the study questions which show that there are people who are actually removing religious baggage from their lives and truly following in the steps of Christ. Some will find these testimonies to be extra blessing validating the material they illustrate. For me, they were actually a bit of a distraction from the flow of the text itself.

Without exception as I read through the chapters of the book I found nugget after golden nugget of profundity that made me stop and say, “Yes, that is what it is to follow Jesus.” The stories and thoughts were well-organized and helpful. With but one hiccup as Putnam discussed living missionally in the city the reading went easy and smooth. The introductory material on the chapter about city felt a little less polished than the rest of the book.

Breaking the Discipleship Code shows evidence of Putnam’s desire to live and love as Jesus loved and to lead others to that same end (leaving behind believers who live and love as Jesus loved). In the course of the book we see Putnam’s heart for the next generation of church planters, his commitment to finding others who are taking the journey with him, and his desire to grow personally.

Was the book challenging? Yes, without being preach-y. Who should read it? Anyone who is on his way to becoming Christ-like. Those who haven’t yet said yes to Jesus, but are interested in learning more, as well as those who are part of God’s kingdom and looking for advice on how to become more like Jesus will find the book helpful. Those who are satisfied that they have all the answers would do better to leave this book alone unless they want to get angry about yet another leader who is calling the church to repentant truthfulness. I give it four and one-half reading glasses and am looking forward to more from this honest young leader.

—Benjamin Potter, July 28, 2008

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