Summary of Gospel-Centered Discipleship:
Once a person enters into relationship with Christ through faith, God desires the continued growth into Christlikeness and maturity and a deeper knowledge of God. Another way of saying that is that God wants a disciple.
In Gospel-Centered Discipleship (Re:Lit), Jonathan K. Dodson lays out a compelling case for what Gospel-Centered Discipleship looks like and why the Gospel is of first importance in discipleship (1 Corinthians 15:3). His aim in writing this book was to not write a book outlining the biblical theology of discipleship, or a book purely discussing the practical implications of the Gospel to life, but rather provide a mixture of both in an accessible way. He seeks for this book to be a catalyst for deeper reflection and provides many recommended resources for further study.
The first section defines discipleship, laying the theological groundwork before getting to parts 2 and 3, “Getting to the Heart” and “Applying the Gospel” respectively. “Getting to the Heart” examines true motivation for discipleship while calling out many failures in discipleship, like how accountability without the gospel can be harmful and the lure of religious performance.
Dodson comments helpfully on what really happens in many accountability relationships (pg 65):
“Instead of holding one another accountable to believe the gospel, we become accountable for exacting punishments. The unfortunate result is a kind of legalism in which peer-prescribed punishments are substitutes for repentance and faith in Jesus.”
The previous quote demonstrates what Dodson does well throughout the book: keep focused on the Gospel.
I found the chapter titled “Gospel Power: The Essential Role of the Holy Spirit” especially helpful and needed. Dodson listed a few ways to commune with the Spirit, one of which came on page 98:
“Make a point of addressing the Spirit throughout the day in ways that reflect his role in your life (understanding, discernment, decision making, power to overcome sin, desire for God, faith in the gospel, etc.)”
The third section focused on practical ways to live out the gospel. It is soaked in John Owen’s theology for applying God’s grace to mortifying sin, and offers an accessible summary of many of Owen’s writings and ideas. In the chapter “Practical Discipleship: Putting the Gospel into Practice,” Dodson encourages us to look for the lies that sin tells us and to fight them with the Gospel. He exhorts readers to:
“Get into the habit of comparing the promises of sin to the promises of the gospel. I have found it incredibly helpful to write down a sin promise next to a gospel promise in order to see the staggering difference between the two. When you identify the sin promise, it forces you to search the Scriptures for how the gospel offers a better promise. There’s something about seeing the futility of sin next to the beauty of Christ. Make a habit of doing gospel homework and looking for grace in God’s promises. Memorize the answers. Quote them to temptation. Write them on your heart. More importantly, believe gospel promises and encourage others to do so. This is how we can trust our Savior” (pg135).
The final chapter on “Maturing and Multiplying Disciples” offers strategy for implementing principles discussed earlier in a church community setting. He offers practical ways to keep the Gospel central and implement “Fight Clubs” (Dodson’s lingo for Gospel-accountability groups) and also ways for church leaders to encourage their flock to be “Gospel-Centered Disciples.”
The two short appendices, notes, and discussion guide I found very helpful as well and a valuable resource tucked away in the back of the book.
My Review of Gospel-Centered Discipleship:
I thought that Dodson achieved his goal of having an accessible theological/practical book on how the Gospel impacts the discipleship process. He was able to offer more than just surface level discussion of the gospel and discipleship, and share some rich theology that stoked my desire to read more old dead theologians like John Owen and to experience the gospel in my life in a deeper way.
One of the things I found most helpful was Dodson’s truthful diagnosis of where we can get derailed from the gospel and meander into harmful mindsets and practices. He had an especially helpful section explaining how the gospel speaks to people and churches that focus on holiness to the neglect of mission and vice versa (chapter 1), and how true motivation for holiness and mission comes from the Gospel.
The length of the book overall and the length of chapters specifically was just right for an introductory level book. His writing style is very readable and engaging peppering personal stories, vivid illustrations, and quotes from sources (did I mention he liked John Owen?) in a highly readable and effective way.
If my summary and lengthy quotes didn’t give it away, I found GCD immensely helpful and practical. It is a book that I would recommend to pastors and parishioners alike, and definitely a book that I will revisit in the future (probably several times). It is foundational in many aspects and weaves many parts of the Christian life together in a sensible way with the thread of the Gospel of Grace.
More Good Quotes:
“Under his authority, the so-called Great Commission begins with Jesus, not our great effort, and ends with Jesus–“I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).” pg31
“The gospel is for not-yet disciples and already disciples. The gospel people believe to be baptized is the same gospel people believe to be sanctified (through the work of the Spirit).” pg35
“A disciple of Jesus, then, is someone who learns the gospel, relates the gospel, and communicates the gospel.” pg38
“Every follower of Jesus needs to know, and be reminded, that the gospel that makes disciples is the very same gospel that matures disciples. We are born in grace and we breathe by grace, all bought by the blood of Jesus.” pg40
“A disciple of Jesus never stops learning the gospel, relating in the gospel, and communicating the gospel.” pg41
“What would happen if, instead of spending hours in front of the video screen or mirror, we spent hours in front of the gospel?” pg54
“A disciple of Jesus is a person who so looks at Jesus that he or she actually begins to reflect his beauty in everyday life.” pg56
“The Spirit is the motivation behind the motivation, the personal presence of God’s power inclining us to believe the gospel. As it turns out, the gospel is not enough. We desperately need the Spirit to have affection for Christ, to believe his promises, to heed his warnings, to repent from our sin, and to trust Jesus. Without the Spirit, we cannot believe the gospel.” pg101
“A disciple motivated by the spiritual license drinks from the empty cup of spiritual freedom. Gospel-centered disciples drink deeply from the cup of costly grace and fight to live lives of obedience to King Jesus. Faith in the gospel actually makes us slaves to Christ, who frees us from sin and graciously binds us to his side. At his side, we discover a better God and enjoy a more gracious Master. Spiritual license deceives us by saying: Because God has forgiven me, I am free to disobey. The truth of the gospel is Because God has forgiven me in Christ, I am bound to obey.”
“A gospel-centered disciple rejects the pursuit of perfection and embraces the gift of repentance. In short, a gospel-centered disciple is a repenting disciple.”
“We are disciples first and parents, employees, pastors, deacons, and spouses second. Disciple is an identity; everything else is a role. Our roles are temporary but our identity will last forever. Marvelous. If this is true, it is incredibly important to have a sound definition for the word disciple.”
“Jesus shared his meals, his heart, his teachings, his sufferings, and his hopes for the future with these men, all while taking road trips, mountain hikes, and moving toward his urban martyrdom. Imagine how strong and intimate these relationships were after three years! The disciples had become family. Yet, Jesus’s truth and grace was not restricted to his immediate family of disciples. It was meant to overflow. The family was intended to grow. We might say Jesus’s discipleship relationships had a grace agenda.”
Gospel-Centered Discipleship (Jonathan’s website with great articles and Gospel-Centered Resources)