The Imperfect Disciple by Jared Wilson
The other day I came across a blog post by Concordia Seminary professor Dr. Erik Herrmann - Law and Gospel: Not Just for Lutherans Anymore. Herrmann recounted a recent gathering of Lutherans, Presbyterians, and Episcopalians who met to dialogue about the proper distinction between Law and Gospel. That sounds like an interesting discussion, and I look forward to the forthcoming summary in a book from Eerdmans.
That same week, while perusing the new titles on display at the Southern Seminary library, I randomly stumbled upon The Distinction Between Law and Gospel as the Basis and Boundary of Theological Reflection - a published doctoral thesis by (you guessed it) a non-Lutheran theologian. At this point, two thoughts came to mind. First, this is pretty heady stuff. Are there any books out there that break down the beauty of Law and Gospel for the ordinary disciple living out the pains and progresses of daily Christian life? And second, has Luther's comforting doctrine spilled out into the wider Evangelical world?
The answer to that question is yes. All of the above encounters with Luther outside of Lutheranism also coincided with me listening to Jared Wilson's book The Imperfect Disciple. Tuning in on Audible as I drove to and from communion visits and meetings, I found myself laughing out loud, nodding in agreement, and at times even loudly saying - "YES. EXACTLY!" Like a jeweler showing the contours of a brilliant diamond, Wilson exposits the beauty of the Gospel and the struggle of sanctification with honesty and humor (Any book that can quote Napoleon Dynamite and defines McDonald's as "the place where self-control goes to die" has my attention). Above all, as I listened, I found myself renewed and refreshed by how beautiful the Gospel is - a Gospel I preach on the regular, but often forget or withhold from myself (which I suspect is the case with many pastors).
Wilson's book is about discipleship. Books on discipleship can be annoying. Let me say this differently: books on discipleship are often wrought with verbal baggage. Everything is "transformational/incarnational/intentional/extreme/intense/take-it-to-the-next-level." But with biting precision Wilson excels at the art of spotting the theology of glory in all of this entrepreneurial nonsense. The story he tells is one about the Gospel - about a Christ who remains with us and for us when all the ideals of books and conferences fade and we're left with the reality that following Jesus is often more like crawling on broken glass than conquering mountains. What I love about Wilson's book is how over and over he invites his readers to see Jesus bleeding on the broken glass with us along the way - a much more refreshing read than other Christian books that make Jesus an inaccessible ideal we can never attain.
Overall, Wilson offers an accessible, humorous, and yet profound picture of the Christian life lived by grace. His writing avoids the hype, goes heavy on grace, and offers the comfort of the Gospel to struggling sinners/saints. While I can imagine that some Lutheran readers may find fault with the book's few references to baptism and communion, I'd counter their critique by challenging them to go out and write a book of equal caliber - one that expresses the beauty of Law and Gospel in such an accessible, conversational, and personal manner - but also written through the lens of sacramental theology. I still need to read Trevor Sutton's book "Being Lutheran," but from the reviews I've read, his book would be an example of Lutheran theology made accessible. Gene Veith's "The Spirituality of the Cross" comes to mind as well. We need more of this. In the LCMS, we often excel at academic publishing, but don't do as well when it comes to making theological concepts personal, accessible, and engaging to the everyday reader (especially those unfamiliar with out tradition).
I hope that in some way this book, as well as other Gospel-centered titles from our Reformed friends in the body of Christ, would serve as a point of contact and conversation with confessional Lutherans. It seems like this has been the case to some degree. My guess is that some of the push behind a recovery of confessional Lutheran theology has been a reaction to excesses in American Evangelical Christianity. Wilson's book is also a critique of the same, as well as a call back to the Gospel. That seems to me like the perfect place for Baptists, Lutherans, and anyone else who loves the Gospel to engage in conversation.
Pastor John Rasmussen - Our Savior Lutheran Church - South Windsor, CT