A Blueprint for Discipleship [review]

Recently I was asked by a 10 year old parishioner “What is the difference between Catholics and Methodists?” and I asked the facebookosphere for thoughts. Most of the responses focused on doctrine and tangy grape guice.

Little did I know that Kevin Watson offered the best response in his new book A Blueprint for Discipleship.

Watson, a United Methodist minister, hacks the traditional question of “What do Methodists believe?” and turns it into “How do Methodists believe?” By outlining the method of discipleship and discernment that John Wesley created, Watson offers support to the claim that it is not the “what” that defines Methodists, but the “how.”

In this way, Watson's book fits nicely into “Hacking Christianity” principles and is worthy of a review.

Full disclosure: I received a free copy of Kevin's book by being fast on the submit button. Again, yes, I can be bought.

Joys & Concerns

Watson and I both hail from Oklahoma, so I resonate with many of the examples he uses in the book: the “two by two” evangelists roaming the dorms looking for sinners to convert, off-the-beaten-path idiotic biking, and such. So I felt an immediate kinship with his examples that paralleled the books' content.

Watson articulates the "Bad News" for Christianity in this way:

  • We live in a culture where people are turned off by a church that doesn't practice what it preaches. (page 8)
  • [John] Wesley saw the main challenge not as getting people to come to a moment of conversion but as helping them live out the decision to give their lives to Christ (page 38)
These admonitions support the claim that the Sinner's prayer is not enough and that to focus on conversion as the end of a journey misses out on the lifetime of discipleship that Wesley wanted and built in the Methodist church. Read the book to read more about how the three simple rules and the church structure can help along this journey!

Finally, Watson is very pragmatic and offers pages of support organizations for "how to put faith into action," which is super-helpful and relevant...today, at least. In 10 years, maybe not as much! As well, the Appendix shows how to use the book in small-group study.

On the concerns front, most of them will appear in a forthcoming post tomorrow about the relationship between Rules, Law, and Love. It's not specific to Watson's book, so it's another post.

However, my biggest concern is Watson's condemnation of door-to-door fearmongering "if you die today will you go to heaven" while he articulates a nicer version of the same. He articulates people losing salvation here:
  • "if we accept the gift of salvation but refuse to allow God's grace to transform our lives, we put our very salvation in danger." (page 64)
The UMC is not "once saved always saved" because it negates free will. So Watson is correct. However, he seems to articulate that it is through apathy that we can lose our salvation too. If we "refuse" transformation, isn't that more intentional than "slumbering?" Is the whole of Methodism that slumbers instead of allowing transformation really in danger of losing their salvation? If we refuse to accept the means of grace through transformational discipleship...do we lose our salvation? Even Wesley when condemning the Pembrokeshire people didn't say their salvation was lost...only their discipleship.

So it's an interesting question: does "not participating" in sanctifying grace mean we lose our salvation? Watson's argument is fine by itself; there's no need to resort to fear. It doesn't take away from the book, but it does seem to be the "rough edge" of the cost of refusing discipleship that I don't see as well defined. I'll have to ponder it a bit more and perhaps the more scholarly Watson will dialogue with me here.


A Blueprint for Discipleship works in "Hacking Christianity" realm as it isn't an implementation of a rigid doctrine or even a constellation of beliefs that can transform the church: simply by re-examining how we do discipleship can transform our church. By hacking the process of discipleship back to its core Wesleyan components, I found Watson's book a pleasure to read and it gave me a challenge in my local church.

All in all, Watson sees Methodism as a slumbering giant, one without the discipleship structure implemented even though it is in our DNA. Wesley called this "the form of religion without the power." By reclaiming the general rules and intentionally living them out in accountability groups, Watson hopes to wake the church back to faith, works, and transformation of the entirety of our lives.

BTW: Watson blogs at Deeply Committed if you want to read his blog and converse with him there.



Anonymous,  March 19, 2009 at 4:49 PM  

Jeremy -

Thank you for your review of my book. I appreciate your taking time to read it and interact with it in such depth.

I also appreciate the opportunity to engage with you further about the importance of growing in grace. Time permitting, I may expand on this on my blog in the next few days. However, I will offer a tentative response here.

What seems to bother you (please correct me if I am wrong) is that my exhortation for Methodists to cooperate with God's sanctifying grace, lest they lose their salvation, is a "resort to fear."

I would first say that my intention was not to make people afraid of losing their salvation.

However, we seem to agree that it is possible for Christians to lose their salvation - as you acknowledge that you are not in the 'once saved always saved camp.'

The substantive issue then seems to be, as you put it, "does 'not participating' in sanctifying grace mean that we lose our salvation?"

First, in the sentence that you quote from the book, I do not say that we lose our salvation. I say that we put our salvation in danger.

If salvation involves a journey of growth in grace then it would seem that one endangers one's salvation at any point that one ceases to cooperate with God's grace.

An assumption that I should probably make explicit is that I do not believe that stagnation is possible in the Christian life. I agree with Harald Lindstrom's take on Wesley's understanding of sanctification, "The Christian life must either wax or wane. It is impossible for the Christian...to stand still... you must either rise or fall; rise higher or fall lower" (Wesley and Sanctification, 118).

Perhaps the issue is whether in simply being passive one can lose one's salvation. It seems to me that it would be very difficult to make an argument that one can be passive after justification and be assured of one's salvation and not hold to the idea of 'once saved always saved.'

As I understand the Wesleyan message and method, in many ways the whole thing is designed to help people grow in their love for God and neighbor, at every point in the Christian life. Standing still isn't neutral because it is missing the opportunity to grow closer to God.

To be honest, I am not exactly sure what to do about the fact that the sentence you quoted might prompt fear in people. I do not think that is the best way to motivate people, and I did not write it in order to make people afraid. And yet I really do think much is at stake. Ultimately, if someone is truly apathetic and does not care about their faith, my thought as I write this is that they probably should be afraid... if they are not being transformed by God I would bet they are being molded and shaped by other things.

Again, thank you for your willingness to interact with my work. And I look forward to the continued dialogue.



Stresspenguin March 21, 2009 at 4:05 PM  

I agree with Kevin. This past week I just read through Wesley's sermon, The Great Privilege of Those that Are Born of God and came across this paragraph:

III. 3. And hence we may, Thirdly, infer the absolute necessity of this re-action of the soul, (whatsoever it be called,) in order to the continuance of the divine life therein. For it plainly appears, God does not continue to act upon the soul, unless the soul re-acts upon God. He prevents us indeed with the blessings of his goodness. He first loves us, and manifests himself unto us. While we are yet afar off, he calls us to himself, and shines upon our hearts. But if we do not then love him who first loved us; if we will not hearken to his voice; if we turn our eye away from him, and will not attend to the light which he pours upon us; his Spirit will not always strive: He will gradually withdraw, and leave us to the darkness of our own hearts.

To be honest, the fact that God will leave us to our own devises and give us whatever it is we want is scary as all hell--literally and figuratively. But without this fearful reality, the next sentence has no hope to offer. In fact, without the fear of damnation--the fear of our slipping away from God by our own choosing--it makes no sense.

"He will not continue to breathe into our soul, unless our soul breathes toward him again; unless our love, and prayer, and thanksgiving return to him, a sacrifice wherewith he is well pleased."

Wesley is not trying to frighten his readers/listeners into continued sanctification, but he reminds us of the harsh and present reality that--we as sinful people--have the great propensity to blissfully ignore after justification.

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