James Leo Garrett, Jr.’s Evangelism for Discipleship

ImageServerDB.aspThe best books are not always either currently on store shelves or even currently in print.  I was reminded of that fact today when I read James Leo Garrett, Jr.’s little book, Evangelism for Discipliship.  Published almost fifty years ago, the addresses that comprise this book were originally delivered to the Kentucky Baptist Evangelistic Conference meeting January 15-17, 1962, and published in 1964.  I found a copy through an online used book site.  I note that one more copy is available from www.abebooks.com.

My interest in acquiring this book was two-fold.  First of all, the subject matter:  I am interested in the idea that true evangelism aims for discipleship and not merely conversion. Second, a personal reason:  I have the utmost respect for Dr. Garrett, who I took for Systematic Theology at Southwestern Seminary, and who I am privileged to call a friend today.  Dr. Garrett has been called the last of the gentlemen theologians.  This may well be the case.  His impact on Southern Baptist life and education has been significant, and I am part of a large group of former students who realize the great treasure we had in sitting under the teaching of Dr. Garrett.  Furthermore, I interviewed him and reviewed his book, Baptist Theology, for The Founder’s Journal here, and earlier for my site here.  I have reviewed another work by Dr. Garrett here.  I turn frequently to his Systematic Theology and have taught portions of it at Central Baptist Church.  What is more, Dr. Garrett wrote the Foreword for my first book, Walking Together, and cast his shadow over my second book, On Earth as it is In Heaven, as well (through his work on church discipline and regenerate church membership).

In this book, Evangelism for Discipleship, Dr. Garrett offers careful definitions of six biblical concepts:  repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation, new life, discipleship, and sanctification.  His handling is vintage Leo Garrett and offers an early glimpse of the kind of careful, methodical approach that would later characterize his magnum opus two-volume Systematic Theology.  By that I mean he offers a thorough etymology of each word and concept, examples of how the concepts have been approached and understood throughout the church universal, examples of fallacious approaches that should be avoided, and concluding comments pointing forward to a healthy embrace of these important truths.  In particular, one can note Garrett’s careful ecumenism, his concern for Southern Baptist life, and his impressive grasp of Christian history in this treatment.

The work is, of course, dated at points, particularly when he addresses this or that current issue facing Southern Baptists.  A couple of times he approaches the need for racial justice, an idea that was certainly more controversial in the Southern Baptist Convention of 1964 than of today.  In discussing regeneration, he interestingly notes that Southern Baptists had perhaps inordinately stressed the human aspect of the new life to the neglect of the sovereign work of God and should be reminded that God is indeed at work in salvation.  I could not help but wonder if Dr Garrett could say such a thing now with the advent of neo-Calvinism in the SBC and whether or not he would perceive that particular pendulum as having swung to the other extreme in our day.

Many aspects of this work were quite helpful.  In discussing the relationship between justification and sanctification, Dr. Garrett stresses that while the former term is almost always used in Scripture to refer to a moment, the simplistic assertion that sanctification always refers to a process is a bit naive as the New Testament uses the word in other ways as well.  Thus, sanctification has a more fluid definition.  Furthermore, in discussing the ordo salutis of faith and regeneration, Dr. Garrett proposes not listing these in a chronological sequence on a linear timeline but rather as an upper and lower story singular notion, with regeneration being the work of God above and faith being the response of man below.

I suppose what I found most interesting about this work was the personal and, at times, conversational tone of the work.  This is no doubt due to two factors:  the fact that these were originally sermons at an evangelism conference and the fact that Dr. Garrett would have been only thirty-seven years old when he delivered them.  His age at the time is impressive in and of itself, given the care and scholarly acumen evidenced in this book.  Regardless, it was fascinating to hear Dr. Garrett (1) use sermonic illustrations, (2) make direct appeals to the audience concerning current issues in the SBC, (3) evidence some rhetorical flourish at points, and (4) even use humor at one point.

Dr. Garrett is not a humorless or dour man, but he is a historical and systematic theologian.  Thus, the work he has primarily done does not lend itself much to these kinds of personal touches.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading them!

Is this book still relevant?  To be sure it is.  A new generation of ministers and laypeople could really benefit from the kind of careful and meticulous approach Dr. Garrett takes here and elsewhere.  I suspect that is why I, and others, do try as we can to keep his legacy alive.

If you’re near a theological library or care to search online, this would be a helpful work for you to read and, if possible, own.

Eric Geiger, Michael Kelley, and Philip Nation’s Transformational Discipleship

I was asked to read this book for a LifeWay pastor’s conference I’ll be attending in a couple of weeks.  In general, I would rather choose what I would like to read than be assigned it, a shallow fault I’ve had since middle school.  However, I really did appreciate Transformational Discipleship.  The book is a careful, studied, and measured look at how genuine discipleship actually happens.  It is based on an extensive LifeWay study that was the basis for the earlier Stetzer/Rainer book, Transformational Church.

In this book, the authors describe what they call the “Transformational Framework.”  The framework is depicted as three circles representing the three realities of “Truth,” “Leaders,” and “Posture.”  The authors look at “Truth” through a consideration of the gospel, our identity in Christ, and the Christian disciplines.  They look at “Leaders” by discussing what healthy leadership is.  They consider “Posture” with a discussion of weakness, interdependence, and outward focus.  Within the framework, the “Transformational Sweet Spot” is that area where these three realities overlap, and can be defined as “the intersection of truth given by healthy leaders when someone is in a vulnerable posture.”

Now, I’m hesitant about buzzwords (i.e., “Transformational Sweet Spot,” etc.), but the authors are making a very good point:  true transformation comes about when solid leadership imparts solid truth to a person who is in a position to receive it.  The basic premise is that the appropriate convergence of truth, humility, and a godly leader is critical for growth in discipleship.  There is a great pastoral challenge here, which the authors rightly return to time and again:  the challenge for pastors not to miss these moments for great transformation in the lives of our people or in our own lives.

The book is well-written, solidly biblical, and helpfully illustrated.  I appreciated the fact that not all of the illustrations were modern.  In fact, many are taken from antiquity and church history.  There is an earnestness about this work that is engaging.  The authors seem truly convinced of the importance of what they are doing.  Their discussion of the gospel was particularly helpful, and they offered some very helpful reminders about the need to understand who we are in Christ.  Furthermore, I appreciate their take on the need for a humble posture to receive divine truth.

As a leader, I found this work appropriately challenging and full of significant content.  I look forward to discussing it in the conference to come, as well as in thinking more deeply about what is being proposed here and how it can effect my own pastorate.

Dallas Willard’s The Great Omission

Dallas Willard’s The Great Omission is vintage Willard.  By that I mean that he here explores the same topics he explores in his other books:  discipleship, the disappearance of the idea and possibility of discipleship from modern Christian practice (thus, the title of this book), the disciplines, and Lordship salvation.  It is safe to say that Willard essentially writes the same book every times he writes a book.  Now, that sounds like a real criticism and possibly a slight, so let me clarify:  I am absolutely thrilled that Willard keeps writing the same book!  Indeed, I hope he does 20 more.

Why?  Because nobody is saying what Willard is saying in the convincing and powerful way in which he is saying it.  Furthermore, Willard has his hand on the great tragedy of modern Evangelicalism:  the disappearance of discipleship.  Thirdly, while he writes the same book in terms of focus and thesis, the wonder is in the nuances and shades he brings.  So his books really do form a kind of prism of discipleship which shimmer, shine, reflect, and refract as you turn them this way and that, and, as such, they form a wonderful whole.

I was first introduced to Dallas Willard sixteen years ago when the pastor of the church I was serving as a Minister of Youth gave me The Spirit of the Disciplines.  It absolutely rocked my world.  The Divine Conspiracydid the same, though I found parts of it troubling.  And now The Great Omission has threatened to top them all.  But not really, because these books need one another and I need all of them.

This book is actually a collection of various articles, lectures, and reviews on discipleship and the disciplines that Willard has written or delivered over the years.  They are occasional pieces, but they flow very well together in this book.

Willard repeats the following a half-dozen times in this book:  Grace is opposed to earning, not to effort.

That’s a profound and simple way of putting a truth that we desperately need to get straight today.  Grace does not mean that we do not construct a deliberate, intentional, and solid plan for becoming more like Christ.  At the heart of this plan lie the disciplines that Willard summarize here but has spoken of in greater length elsewhere.

The absence of such concrete plans for conformity to Christ, as well as the absence of any apparent need to construct such a plan leads Willard to a shocking conclusion:  grace as we currently have defined it actually works against us being conformed into the image of Christ.

I agree.  It does.  This is evident and beyond dispute.

Willard is essentially seeking to strike a blow at the odd and gnosticized form of Christianity that fuels much of revivalistic Evangelicalism.  He is seeking to undermine that weird notion that one may have Christ as Savior but not Lord.  It is a blow that needs to be delivered, and Willard does so here with aplomb, clarity, and charity.

Trust me:  this is a book you will be glad you read.