Can Christians Be Depressed or Suicidal?

Depression and Suicide

Depression and suicide are taboo topics among Christians, because they are often perceived as signs of spiritual weakness. “Good Christians are never depressed,” and “True Christians never commit suicide” are common sentiments among Evangelicals. But are these even true?

This week, the suicide of the 27-year-old Matthew Warren, the son of the renowned pastor Rick Warren, rocked the Evangelical world and began a national conversation about mental illness.

It is impossible to speak with certainty on this issue since the Scriptures do not directly address it. However, I do think that Christians can be susceptible to depression, and I do not think that suicide is an unpardonable sin.

What the Bible Says…
The Biblical narratives that mention suicide (Abimelech, Jdgs. 9:52-54; Samson, Jdgs. 16:30; Saul, 1 Sm. 31:4; Saul’s armor-bearer, 1 Sm. 31:5; Ahithophel, 2 Sm. 17:23; Zimri, 1 Kings 16:15-20; Judas, Mt. 27:3-5) pass no judgment on the morality of suicide itself. They merely comment on the reason why these men took their own lives.

Furthermore, men chosen by God such as Job (7:15-16), David (Ps. 13:2-4), Jeremiah (20:14-18), and Jonah (4:9) all despaired of their lives at some point, and Samson, who kills himself along with the Philistines, is hailed as a hero of the faith in Heb. 11:32. These examples alone should dispel the idealistic notion that Christians are immune to depression and suicidal tendencies.

Mental illnesses can have complex physiological, as well as psychological, causes. Loneliness, anxiety, and depression persist in this fallen world because our bodies are still groaning for the full redemption of God (Rom. 8:22-23).

On this side of eternity, sincere Christians still struggle with serious sins (Rom. 7:7-25). Thus, a volatile Christian can succumb to suicidal temptations in the throes of severe depression. Suicide is a tragedy in which the victim often has little control.

The good news is that there is no condemnation for those who confess Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior (Rom. 8:31-34), and nothing can separate us from the love of God–not life, not death, not even death by suicide (Rom. 8:35-39). We are saved, not by living up to certain behavioral standards, but through the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is the heart of the gospel.

The fact that one cannot repent of suicide after death does not preclude God’s forgiveness. We all have unconfessed sins that are unknown even to ourselves (Ps. 19:12; cf. 1 Cor. 4:4), and confession of every sin has never been the criterion for salvation.

Some cite 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 as proof that suicide leads to eternal damnation:

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

However, this is a misinterpretation because the referent of “God’s temple” in this context is not an individual’s body (as it is in 1 Cor. 6:19-20) but the local church. We know this because (1)Paul is addressing the problem of division within the local church (1 Cor. 3:3-9), and because (2)the personal pronoun “you” in the original Greek is plural, though this is lost in translation.

The verses that immediately precede vv. 16-17 talk about how Christ will judge each one’s work in the upbuilding of the church. The enduring value of one’s labor will be tested by fire, and “if anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire” (1 Cor. 3:12-15). This “loss” speaks not of individual damnation but of the damage done to the church. His work will be lost and he will lose his reward, but “he himself wil be saved.”

Please Don’t Take Your Own Life!
Of course, God’s mercy is by no means an excuse for suicide. Suicide is never a viable option (Acts 16:25-34). It is presumptuous to take God-given life into our own hands, and selfish to spurn the care of our loved ones.

We have been bought with a price by Christ’s blood, and our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit that belong to God. (In the context of 1 Cor. 6:19-20, the “temple” does refer to the individual body, because it is dealing with sexual immorality rather than with division in the church as before). Like any sin, suicide results in a relative, albeit not necessarily absolute, rift in one’s fellowship with God.

If you struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts, please remember that God is sovereign and that there is always hope. Please seek help, both spiritual and medical. Please hang on, so that you can “teach the world to sing [your] song”…

For a more detailed treatment on this issue, please see my friend Al’s article on Christianity Today.

Well, I don’t want to die anymore
Don’t want the Lord to call me home
I’ve got this feeling he ain’t done with me yet
So, I’ll sit right right here and place my bet

So, I don’t want to die, not just yet…

Well, it’s a hard road
To get back to my home
I don’t know how much farther I can go
But if I hang on,
Though I know the road is long,
I could teach the world to sing my song.

-Excerpt from “Don’t Wanna Die Anymore” by Ivan & Alyosha

Download the song Don’t Wanna Die Anymore.

Download the full album All The Times We Had.

Grieving Infertility

An illuminated manuscript depicting Elkanah and his two wives, c.1430. Hannah, one of his wives, struggled with infertility (1 Samuel 1:1-20).

(Picture above) An illuminated manuscript depicting Elkanah and his two wives, c.1430. Hannah, one of his wives, struggled with infertility (1 Samuel 1:1-20).


March 16th, 2013.

It was a frigid, but fresh, Winter morning. Thanks to daylight saving, we were enjoying ample light on our drive down to Reading, MA. The traffic seemed to move in slow motion. The only noise I heard was the low hum of the engine punctuated by the occasional swish of passing cars. Hanna had been spotting, so she was visibly nervous. The images of her past miscarriages seemed to impose themselves on her troubled mind. “I don’t think I can handle another miscarriage… but God knows that doesn’t he?” I was silent. “I keep getting this ominous sense that it’s going to be a miscarriage again…”

I could not get myself to mouth the platitudes that I hadn’t enough faith for. So I asked her if I could pray for her. My prayers of faith were streaked with fits of worry, but I prayed nonetheless. Afterward, I suggested that we spend the rest of our ride listening to God.

About ten minutes into our listening silence, a passing car kicked up a pebble onto the windshield and startled me, prompting me to look up through my windshield into the sky to see a hawk soaring directly above me. Isaiah 40:30-31 immediately came to mind:

Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

After a few more minutes of listening and waiting, I asked Hanna if she had heard anything. “I don’t know if this is God speaking to me or not, but the line, ‘Strength will rise as we wait upon the Lord,’ keeps replaying in my head.”

Though we hadn’t heard the song in a while, I recognized that the line was from the song “Everlasting God”:

Strength will rise as we wait upon the Lord,
We will wait upon the Lord
We will wait upon the Lord

Our God, you reign forever
Our hope, our strong deliverer

You are the everlasting God
The everlasting God
You do not faint you won’t grow weary
You’re the defender of the weak
You comfort those in need
You lift us up on wings like eagles

Amazed by this independent corroboration, I enthusiastically shared Isaiah 40:30-31 with her. The message was clear. “Strength will rise as we wait upon the Lord.” “Those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength.” We weren’t sure what this message meant for our pregnancy, but we were to set our hope on God and he would give us the strength that is necessary–we gathered as much. We were grateful to hear from God in such a personal manner.

After drawing blood at the Fertility Center, we returned home and waited anxiously for the phone call. Hanna started to bleed more heavily and pass tissues. Discouraged and afflicted, yet Hanna held out hope. A few hours later, the phone finally rang and her reproductive endocrinologist confirmed the dreaded news.

We embraced each other and wept.

Then we sang, “Strength will rise as we wait upon the Lord. We will wait upon the Lord. We will wait upon the Lord.”

Later that day, I discovered through a youtube video that the author of the song, Brenton Brown, and his wife had suffered a tragic miscarriage themselves, and that “Everlasting God” was actually based on Isaiah 40:27-31 and written during a time of adversity in their lives. Verses 27-29, which I had not memorized, struck close to home:

Why do you complain, Jacob?
Why do you say, Israel,
“My way is hidden from the LORD;
my cause is disregarded by my God?”
Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.

Though we could not fathom God’s understanding, we were reassured that our way was not hidden from the Lord, that our cause was not disregarded by him. This truth strengthened our weary hearts that day.

And we continue to wait upon the Lord…

Pressed Grapes

From South of the vineyard, leaks
three drops, pressed from precious grapes that never felt the
swaddling cloth.

From East of the garden, he bleeds
for three days, trampled in the winepress of wrath, groaning in the pangs of

The Significance of Passover for Christians

Exodus 12:1-14

“The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, ‘This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year. Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household … The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect … Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the people of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs. That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast. Do not eat the meat raw or cooked in water, but roast it over the fire … Do not leave any of it till morning … This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the LORD’S Passover. On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn—both men and animals—and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the LORD. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt. This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD—a lasting ordinance.’”

Numbers 9:11-12
“‘They are to celebrate it on the fourteenth day of the second month at twilight. They are to eat the lamb, together with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. They must not leave any of it till morning or break any of its bones. When they celebrate the Passover, they must follow all the regulations.’”

Today is the first day of Passover, one of the most important Jewish festivals. But what is its significance for a Christian?

The Exodus
The book of Exodus, which is also part of the Jewish Torah, records that the Eygptians “put slave masters over [the Jews] to oppress them with forced labor … [and] made their lives bitter with hard labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields … [and] used them ruthlessly” (Ex.1:11-14). Moreover, it says that the Pharaoh gave the order to kill every new-born Jewish boy (Ex. 1:22). One baby, however, survives. He is named Moses, and he grows up and is called by God to liberate the Jews from the grips of Egypt.

The Jews had suffered for around 200-300 years under Egyptian oppression. Given this context, and given the deadly consequences awaiting failure, the night of the Passover must have been pregnant with palpable anxiety, as the people carried out the ritual with trembling—the rapid palpitations of their hearts resounding even louder amidst the thick, hushed air filled with fear and anticipation.

The Passover Lamb
One could picture the solemnity of the scene as they carefully examine the lamb to check that it is without blemish, stab it, pour the blood out into a basin, sprinkle it across the lintel and the side door posts, then roast the meat. One could imagine the intense emotions stirring as they distribute the lamb joint by joint, painstakingly ensuring that no bone is broken, and eat it hastily with their rough hands, calloused from hard labor.

There is tension as they look into each other’s determined eyes whispering, “Soon, the God to whom we have cried out day after day will answer our prayers. Soon, our Lord will avenge our enemies. Soon, Our God will deliver us from slavery.” The significance of the Passover, for any observant Jew, could hardly be overstated.

The Second Exodus
It is possible for Christians to empathize with the Jews and celebrate the Passover because we have experienced the same deliverance from our own spiritual Egypt. The slavery in Egypt can be likened to slavery to sin, just as Apostle Paul wrote of his past as a man living according to the law apart from the grace of God, “I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do … For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out … What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? … a slave to the law of sin” (Rom. 7:13-25).

Then, he answers his own question, “Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! … Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do … God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering … [we] are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit of God” (Rom. 7:25-8:3; 8:9). Christians wearied from their slavery under the law of sin, like the Jews worn out from their slavery under the Egyptians, are freed at once, not by anything they have done, but by the sacrifice of Jesus, the Passover lamb (1 Cor. 5:7), and invited to live victoriously in the Spirit of life through grace.

The Second Passover Lamb
There are more than a few parallels between Jesus and the Passover lamb. As Charles Spurgeon points out in his sermon Christ Our Passover, delivered on December 2nd 1855, the gentle, innocent lamb without blemish aptly captures the image of Jesus Christ, the guileless and sinless man declared blameless by the Pilate (Lk. 23:4), who nevertheless accepted his death sentence without retaliating.

As the paschal lamb’s wool is shorn and the animal killed, Christ was ripped naked and crucified. Furthermore, just as the paschal lamb was to be a male of the first year, a lamb in its prime, so Christ died on the cross at the zenith of his manhood at the age of 34. Just as the lamb was not to be killed prematurely or too late, Christ was offered, not as a young boy who is not yet mature, nor as an old man whose body is growing frail, but as a full man at the height of his strength.

Moreover, just as the Passover lamb was set aside for 4 days before Passover, Jesus commenced his ministry after his baptism and continued for 4 years until his death, and upon entering Jerusalem to be set apart for his death, celebrated the Passover with his disciples 4 days later, except this time offering himself instead of the Passover lamb, saying as he broke the bread, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me,” and as he poured the wine, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you” (Lk. 22:7-20).

The picture I took of the Upper Room in Jerusalem (2007), where, reputedly, Jesus had his Last Supper with the disciples.
The picture I took of the Upper Room in Jerusalem (2007), where, reputedly, Jesus had his Last Supper with the disciples.

Likewise, his death resembled that of the Passover lamb, since his blood was poured out, and he was pierced onto a cross and endured a long painful death which is similar to the process of roasting, in which the lamb is pierced and hung over the fire. No bone of his body was broken (Jn. 19:33-36), and he was not to be left on the cross until morning (Jn. 19:31) just as the Passover lamb was not to be left until morning.

In this manner, Jesus fulfilled the Messianic role of Savior and Redeemer. Just as the Old Testament prophets predicted the Messiah would be, Jesus was from the tribe of Judah (Gen. 49:10-11), line of David (Jer. 23:5), and was born in Bethlehem (Mic. 5:2) of a virgin mother (Is. 7:14). He was a Galilean (Is. 9:1-7), the Son of Man (Dan. 7:13-14) and the Son of God (Is. 7:14).

He was sold for 30 pieces of silver (Zech. 11:12-13) and people divided and cast lots for his clothing (Ps. 22:18), and as he was dying He cried out “‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani’—which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” thus quoting Psalm 22:1 and pointing to the prophecies concerning him contained in the Psalm.

He was despised (Ps. 22:6-7; Is. 53:3), pierced in his side (Zech. 12:10) and in his hands and feet (Ps. 22:16), yet his bones were not broken (Ps. 22:17; 34:19-20). He died and resurrected after three days and thus fulfilled the Sign of Jonah (Ps.16:10; Hos. 6:2; Jon. 1:17), and was exalted to the right hand of God the Father (Ps. 110:1-4). All of these prophecies are plainly fulfilled and explained in the Gospels.

Prophet Isaiah summed it all up when he prophesied:

Isaiah 53
“He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering (cf. Mt. 27:27-31) … Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities (cf. Mt. 27:32-44); the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth (cf. Mt. 27:13-14) … And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living … He was assigned a grave with the wicked (cf. Mt. 27:38), and with the rich in his death (cf. Mt. 27:57-60), though he had done no violence (cf. Mt. 26:52), nor was any deceit in his mouth (cf. Mt. 26:55). Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer (cf. Mt. 26:42), and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering … After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied (cf. Mt. 28:6); by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many (cf. Mt. 28:19-20), and he will bear their iniquities. Therefore I will give him a portion among the great (cf. Mk. 16:19), and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors.”

This great sacrifice, amazing grace, and unconditional love demand a response. Just as Charles Spurgeon, once again, said, “If he gave his all to me, which was much, should I not give my little all to him?”

The Humble King

The sermon I preached at King of Grace Church on March 24th, 2013.

“Yield to Christ–the humble King.” LISTEN

Matthew 21:1-11
Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples,saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.”This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying,

“Say to the daughter of Zion,
‘Behold, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” 10 Andwhen he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” 11 And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus,from Nazareth of Galilee.”

Why I Changed My Mind About Baptism

Recently, two articles were posted on the Gospel Coalition blog with the title “Why I Changed My Mind About Baptism.” The first one, written by Gavin Ortlund, recounts his doctrinal shift from pedobaptism to credobaptism, and the second one, written by Sean Michael Lucas, chronicles the reverse journey.

The Pedobaptist Position (Infant Baptism)
As a former Presbyterian pedobaptist, I thought Sean Lucas’s post was representative and articulate. He argues that NT baptism is a continuation of OT circumcision (Col. 2:11-12), and emphasizes the significance of households in God’s redemptive plan, extrapolating that just as God’s covenant with Abraham was signed and sealed through household circumcision (e.g. Gen. 17), God’s covenant with believers should be signed and sealed through household baptism (e.g. Acts 16). This is why, Lucas reasons, the promise of the Holy Spirit is given not to individuals but to “you and your children” (Acts 2:38-39), and children of a believing parent is considered “holy” rather than “unclean” (1 Cor. 7:14).

The Credobaptist Position (Believer’s Baptism)
As for the credobaptist position, Gavin Ortlund makes the interesting argument that since “intergenerational descendants of Abraham” are in view in Genesis 17:9: “As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come,” pedobaptists should baptize not only the infant children of believers, but also the infant grandchildren of believers. Of course, pedobaptists do not baptize grandchildren of believers, so this is a subtle, yet pointed, way to show that the criterion for circumcision was not one’s belonging to believing parents, but one’s inclusion in the nation of Israel.

What Is Baptism?
In order to settle this debate, we need to first understand the meaning of baptism. In the Old Testament, a covenant was not “made,” but “cut,” because the “cutting” of circumcision symbolized the curse that would befall the person who breaks the covenant he has made with God. It meant that he and his progeny would be cut off from God’s people. Likewise, baptism represents the curse of the breached covenant, namely death.

However, since Christ died and bore the curse for our sake, we do not have to. Baptism, then, signifies our union with Christ in his death. We “who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death … buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:3-4).

According to this passage, baptism, not responding to an altar call and praying the sinner’s prayer, is the initial “sign” of our conversion from death to life (Acts 2:38; 8:16; 10:48; 19:5; Gal. 3:27). Baptism “saves” us–not as the actual “cleansing” from sin, but “as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Pt. 3:21). Ultimately, it is Christ’s atoning sacrifice, not baptism, that saves us. If baptism in and of itself saved us, there would be no need to proclaim the gospel. Instead, Paul writes, “Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel” (1 Cor. 1:17).

Nevertheless, in a real way, we are united with Christ, and, by extension, to the Body of Christ (i.e. the Church) through our baptism (1 Cor. 12:12-13). Just as saying the wedding vows before witnesses “seals” the marriage, baptism before witnesses “seals” one’s union with Christ through faith. It is an outward profession of an inward faith. In this sense, baptism is not unlike ceremonial circumcision, which, in the Old Testament, was the “sign” and “seal” of one’s inclusion in God’s covenant community (Rom. 4:9-12).

Whom Shall We Baptize?
Up to this point, the pedobaptist position looks very appealing. However, there is a crucial difference between circumcision and baptism. Unlike circumcision, baptism is always preceded by confession of sins (Mt. 3:6; Mk. 1:5) and faith. The parallel between circumcision and baptism in Colossians 2:11-12 refers to circumcision of the heart (c.f. Jer. 9:25-26; Ezek. 36:26-27) rather than to circumcision of the flesh.

In the Old Testament, they circumcised infants because circumcision marked one’s inclusion in the physical covenant-community of God, Israel, but this was not the spiritual covenant-community of God, the True Israel (Rom. 9:6-8; Gal. 4:22-28). Since the Church is a continuation of this spiritual covenant-community, only confessing believers are to be baptized into the Church. This is why the early Church often delayed baptism for children until adolescence or adulthood (Everett Ferguson, Baptism in the Early Church, p. 364).

Moreover, the promise of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2:38-39 to “you and your children” is grounded in the commandment: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38). In other words, the children will receive the Holy Spirit only if they also repent and are baptized. In fact, the promise is not only for the children of believers, but also for “everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (Acts 2:39).

Contra Lucas, children cannot be baptized and regenerated on the basis of their parent’s faith any more than an unbelieving husband can be baptized and regenerated on the basis of his wife’s faith (1 Cor. 7:14). The fact that an unbelieving husband is made “holy” by his marriage to a believing spouse has nothing to do with regeneration or salvation. It simply means that the matrimony between a believer and an unbeliever is nevertheless sacred and lawful and, therefore, not to be dissolved. The verse literally says that the unbelieving husband is “made holy in the wife.” The location of holiness is in the believing partner.

Apostle Paul is not assuming here that the child of a Christian parent would be baptized (just as he is not assuming that the unbelieving spouse would be baptized), because to do so would detract from his argument by implying that the child was not “holy” until the baptism (Alfred Plummer, 1 Corinthians, ICC). The child of a Christian parent is “holy,” not in a regenerated sense, but in the sense that he is “set apart” for upbringing in the context of Christian community.

The examples of household baptisms prove that conversion was often a collective family decision in the context of a communal culture, and that the family usually owned the decision of the head of the household. This does not, however, prove that the individual conversion of the head of the household automatically warrants the baptism of his whole household.

Finally, the mode of baptism attested throughout the New Testament is always immersion (as opposed to infusion i.e. sprinkling or pouring water over the head), which precludes infant baptism. The Didache, which is a teaching of the twelve Apostles dated to the late 1st or early 2nd century, prescribes baptism in running water, and, as a last resort when the other means are unavailable, makes provision for pouring water on the head (Didache, 7:1-7). Infant baptism is not documented until the early 3rd century, when Tertullian first mentions it in order to oppose it (Everett Ferguson, Baptism in the Early Church, p. 362).

We Should Safeguard Each Other’s Conscience
I personally find the above arguments for credobaptism compelling. However, I recognize that there will be people on both sides of the debate until Jesus returns. Given this reality, we need to safeguard each other’s conscience. God will judge the secrets of our hearts and examine our consciences (Rom. 2:15-17). It is no good pretending that you’re okay with infant baptism when you’re not, and vice versa. “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23).

Both pedobaptists and credobaptists agree that baptism is an important part of the Christian life, since Jesus commanded us to baptize (Mt. 28:18-20). Bible-believing Christians on both sides of the debate agree that their baptismal practice must be governed by the witness of Scripture. There is much more that unites us than divides us.

The New Pope and Christian Hope

Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, Argentina, was declared the new pope today. He has chosen to take on the name Francis, after St. Francis of Assisi, who abandoned the vast wealth he inherited from his merchant father to take the vow of poverty and identify with the poor.

This name choice has been described as “precedent shattering” not only because it’s the first time a pope has taken the name “Francis,” but also because the choice signifies “poverty, humility, simplicity and rebuilding [of] the Catholic Church” and suggests a departure from business as usual (Michael Martinez, CNN).

This is an auspicious development because Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio has historically straddled theological conservatism and social liberalism. He is a staunch advocate for the unborn, the poor and the marginalized. In 2009, he went on the record saying that “unjust economic structures that give rise to great inequalities” violate fundamental human rights (Catholic News Agency).

Yet he also firmly resisted his fellow Latin American Jesuits’ growing penchant for liberation theology–a liberal theology that equates Christian salvation to liberation from social, economic, political injustice (John L. Allen Jr., National Catholic Reporter).

The “good news,” or the gospel, offers real hope for our present world because it affects all creation and calls for the transformation of our economic, political, social, and cultural structures. Jesus declared that he came “to proclaim good news to the poor … to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Lk. 4:18-19). The gospel is certainly no less than social justice. However, it is also much more than that.

Sin is the cause of our psychological alienation within ourselves (Gen. 3:10), our social alienation from each other (Gen. 3:7, 16), and our physical alienation from the rest of creation (Gen. 3:16-19), and the root of all these is our spiritual alienation from God. Vertical reconciliation with God through Christ precedes our horizontal reconciliation with the world (2 Cor. 5:18-21).

Therefore, we must not merely promote justice but also proclaim the good news that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (Lk. 2:10-11), who inaugurated the Kingdom of God (Mk. 1:14-15), lived to fulfill all righteousness (Mt. 3:15; 5:17-20), died as the substitutionary atonement for our sins (1 Cor. 15:1-3), and rose again to usher in the New Creation (1 Cor. 15; 2 Cor. 5:17). In so far as it is news, the gospel requires verbal communication (Rom. 10:14).

Wait, but don’t actions speak louder than words? What about the famous saying, which, incidentally, is attributed to St. Francis?

“Preach the gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.”

This saying is often quoted by Christians who declaim the importance of social justice and relegate the proclamation of the gospel as secondary. However, St. Francis never said such a thing. What he did say was:

“No brother should preach contrary to the form and regulation of the holy Church nor unless he has been permitted by his minister. The minister should take care not to grant this permission to anyone indiscriminately. All the Friars, however, should preach by their deeds.” (The Rule of 1221, Chapter XII)

Far from diminishing the importance of preaching, St. Francis wanted to ensure the faithful proclamation of the gospel by restricting preaching privileges. On the other hand, all were permitted to “preach by their deeds.”

In other words, we must preach by both word and deed. The mark of a true disciple is both a creed (2 Cor. 11:4; 1 Tim. 1:3; 1 Cor. 15:1-11) and a “love for one another” (Jn. 13:35). The two cannot be separated.

I pray that the new Pope Francis, like his namesake, will uphold both orthopraxy (right living) and orthodoxy (right belief). I pray that the new pope will uphold the old Christian hope–hope for the world here and now and hope for the world to come (1 Cor. 15:19; Rom. 8:18-25).

What are your impressions of the appointment of the new pope?

Part 3 of 5: Keys to More Effective Prayer

Prayer is not an incantation that forces God’s hand. Nevertheless, God delights to answer our prayers and teaches us how to pray more effectively. Seven keys to more effective prayer can be summarized with the acronym F.A.S.T.I.N.G., which is appropriate since fasting and prayer often go hand in hand (2 Sam. 12:16; Neh. 1:4; Dan. 9:3; Lk. 2:37; 5:33; Acts 14:23). Indeed, humbling oneself in true fasting is itself a key to more effective prayer (Is. 58). In the acronym, the vowels stand for adverbs, and the consonants stand for nouns.

Pray in Faith
Without faith one cannot pray to God, for the obvious reason that one who does not believe in God cannot draw near to God (Heb. 11:6). God does sometimes answer genuine prayers of the unconverted (Acts 10:1-8), but if prayer is directed at a false god, there will be no answer (Is. 45:20-21; Hab. 2:18).

One must also pray “in faith, with no doubting” to God “who gives generously to all” (Jas. 1:5-8), because Jesus taught that “whatever [we] ask in prayer, [if we] believe that [we] have received it … it will be [ours]” (Mk. 11:24). Faith is important because doubt impugns God’s character (“Is he good and generous enough to give me this?”) and power (“Is he able to give me this?”).

So in prayer, call on God to “remember the word” (Neh. 1:8) that he has spoken. Hold on to God’s promise: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. … If you … who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him” (Mt. 7:7-11)!

Pray Alone
In Matthew 6:5-8, Jesus warns of praying ostentatiously before others for public acclaim. Instead, he tells his disciples, “go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret.” Consistent with his teaching, Jesus often prayed alone (Mk. 1:35; Lk. 5:16).

This is not to say that praying in groups is wrong (see below), but that you should not seek to impress others in prayer. If you tend to be wordy and showy in your prayers remember what Jesus said: “Do not heap up empty phrases.” What matters in prayer is not eloquence but sincerity. We must “cry out … from [our] hearts” (Hos. 7:14). We will find God if we seek him with all our hearts (Jer. 29:13).

Pray in the Spirit
We often “do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Rom. 8:26). This is comforting, because though we may pray with impure motives and inappropriate goals, “the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Rom 8:27). Be aware of this when you pray and be free! “Do not quench the Spirit” (1 Th. 5:19). Instead, incline yourself to the Spirit’s promptings so that you may pray in line with God’s will.

Pray in the Truth
In James 4:2-3, it says, “You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” So then, how do you ask rightly? You pray rightly by praying with the purpose of hallowing God’s name according to the truth of his revelation (Mt. 6:9-10). Prayer is not about manipulating God for our purposes. It’s about submitting ourselves to his purposes.

Pray Importunately
You may be familiar with the parable of the importunate widow, who pleads for justice in spite of the fact that the judge is unconcerned and unwilling. In the end, the judge acquiesces because the widow keeps bothering him and he is weary of her “beat[ing] [him] down by her continual coming” (Lk. 18:1-8).

If even an unrighteous judge responds in this manner to the persistent requests of a widow, “will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them?” This story teaches us “always to pray and not lose heart.” God cannot be bothered, so pray impertinently and importunately (Lk. 11:5-8)!

Pray in Networks
Does the fact that more people are praying for something make it more likely to be answered? Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many” (2 Cor. 1:11). The logic of this sentence suggests that blessing will be granted through the prayers of many. 

This is not because God is tallying the number of prayers as if they were votes, but because the “prayers of many” mean “many will give thanks” when God answers! The more people pray, the more glory it brings to God, and since the purpose of prayer is the glory of God (see above), praying in larger networks of people does affect the efficacy of prayer.

Moreover, Jesus said that “if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Mt. 18:19-20). There is power in the testimony of “two or three” witnesses (Mt. 18:16) that is not present in the testimony of a single witness. Though this passage deals specifically with church discipline and absolution, there is something to be said for the unified intercession of the body of believers. “When [we] are assembled, … the power of the Lord Jesus is present” (1 Cor. 5:4).

Pray in the Gospel
James writes that “the prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (Jas. 5:16b). There is ample evidence in the Scriptures that sin separates us from God “so that he does not hear” (Is. 59:2). “God does not listen to sinners” (Jn. 9:31), and the Psalmist notes, “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened” (Ps. 66:18; cf. Prov. 28:9). Sin, bitterness, resentment, and anger can hinder our prayers. Conversely, God delights to answer those who obey him because obedience is a sign of faith (1 Jn. 3:22).

Yet we are told that “none is righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10) and that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). So then, is prayer a doomed exercise?

But thanks be to God who “justifie[s] [us] by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24). Because we have a high priest in Jesus, we can “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:15-16). We need not despair, because in the gospel, or the good news, of Jesus Christ we have forgiveness and reconciliation.

This is why the exhortation to confess sins precedes James’s statement that prayer of a righteous person has great power (Jas. 5:16a). Those who pray in the gospel pray humbly and repentantly (Lk. 18:9-14). God promised, “if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Ch. 7:14). The promise still stands through Jesus Christ (Jn 14:12-14).

How has God answered your prayers in the past? What are some other keys to effective prayer that you see in the Scriptures?

This is Part 3 of 5 posts in my series on prayer. See Part 2 of 5: Using the Lord’s Prayer as a Model for Our Prayers or Part 4 of 5: Coping with Unanswered Prayer.

How to Eradicate Racism (In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day)

As our first black president takes his second ceremonial oath of office with his hand on Dr. King’s personal Bible, let’s reflect briefly on the issue of racism in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr…

The Fight Against Racism
Did you know that Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation actually did not free a single slave? It declared slaves in the Confederate territory to be free, but this could not be enforced since the Confederate states had already seceded.

Similarly, Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement accomplished much: Brown v. Board of Education abolished segregation, and the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968 legally banned many discriminatory practices. However, none of these eradicated racism.

This is not to downplay the accomplishments of the Civil Rights Movement, since laws do affect our attitudes and redefine normativity. The election of our first black president is evidence that we have made great strides. However, racism lingers on, because in order to truly eradicate racism one must not merely change laws, but change hearts.

Racism Lingers On
Many bemoan the unfair advantage given to ethnic minorities in Affirmative Action, but the same people rarely protest the fact that minorities generally receive an inferior education because their public schools (which are generally located in poorer neighborhoods) lack resources, because they are funded largely by the relatively meager local property taxes.

Racial profiling is another issue. Many reports have confirmed that Latinos and African-Americans are stopped and frisked with disproportionate frequency, even when they are no more likely to be engaged in criminal activity than white Americans.

For a more local example, Os Gemeos’ mural in Boston of a boy with a shirt wrapped around his head sparked a heated debate, with many denouncing the mural as a depiction of a terrorist. While placing the art near the central railway station of a city from which Al-Qaeda’s hijacked jets originated may be malapropos, it is not malicious. The automatic labeling of the art as “terrorist” betrays racist assumptions.


Christ Is the Cure for Racism
But for Christians, “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). Here’s the cure for racism. As Jonathan Edwards writes, “private affection, if not subordinate to general affection, is not only liable, as the case may be, to issue in enmity to being in general, but has a tendency to it” (Jonathan Edwards, The Nature of True Virtues, pp. 20-21).

In other words, if our highest allegiance is to ourselves, then naturally, it will be to the exclusion of the interests of others. If our highest allegiance is to our family, then naturally, we will care less for other families. If our highest allegiance is to our class, race, nation, or gender, then naturally, we will be classist, racist, jingoistic, or sexist. Therefore, “only if God is our summum bonum, our ultimate good and life center, will we find our heart drawn not only to people of all families, races, and classes, but to the whole world in general” (Timothy Keller, Reason for God, p. 166).

This is why the second greatest commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” is rooted in the greatest commandment, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:35-40).

Thus the only way to uproot racism is to ground ourselves in the gospel of Jesus Christ, which tells us that all humanity is created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), and that Christ died for us to restore this image that has been marred by sin (Colossians 1:15). When we enter into this all-embracing love of Christ, our hearts are transformed to love people of all races.

Building a Discipling Culture

Breen, Mike, and Steve Cockram. Building a Discipling Culture2nd ed.  Pawleys Island: 3 Dimension Ministries, 2011.

Mike Breen and Steve Cockram’s passion to see discipleship come to the forefront of church ministry is evident from the very beginning of Building a Discipling Culture. They allege that many churches have their priorities reversed, focusing on building churches while neglecting to make disciples. They propose an alternative model that Jesus Himself espoused, claiming that “If you make disciples, you always get the church. But if you make a church, you rarely get disciples” (Kindle Location 100). They later elaborate, “If you set out to build the church, there is no guarantee you will make disciples. It is far more likely that you will create consumers who depend on the spiritual services that religious professionals provide” (KL 109).

So what is the difference between building a church and discipling people? Breen and Cockram argue that three things are necessary for building a discipling culture: 1) a discipling vehicle, 2) discipling relationships, and 3) a discipling language (KL 537).

A discipling vehicle is essentially a small group of four to ten people that you meet with regularly to disciple (at least every other week) (KL 546). Breen and Cockram call this group a “huddle,” and a huddle, diverges from traditional small groups in that it does not grow by adding new members, but by equipping and encouraging members to start their own huddles (KL 551). The reason for this is that, by definition, every disciple makes disciples (Mt. 28:18-20).

A huddle by itself, however, is inadequate for making disciples, because “the best discipling relationships always have an intentional, ‘organized’ component to them, as well as a less formal, ‘organic’ component” (KL 546). Covenantal relationships constitute the “organic” component whereby disciples have access to the discipler’s personal life. Breen and Cockram describe this dynamic in the discipleship triangle of “Information-Imitation-Innovation.”

Many churches convey “information” (classroom) very well. However, they often lack discipling relationships that facilitate “imitation” (apprenticeship and immersion), which in turn fosters “innovation” (KL 598). It would be a mistake, however, to equate discipling relationships with friendships. Friendship only requires invitation, but discipleship also entails challenge. Discipleship calls people to a greater conformity to Christ’s character and to a higher level of Christ-like competency. Breen and Cockram’s “Invitation and Challenge Quadrant” demonstrates that an ideal discipling relationship involves both high invitation and high challenge:

This kind of discipling relationship need not be inordinately burdensome. It can be as simple as inviting someone who is struggling spiritually to accompany you to the grocery store so that you can talk with him or her on the way and back (KL 580). It means inviting people to our quotidian comings and goings. This assumes, of course, that we first have a life worth imitating (KL 576), but we need not despair, because while we will never be perfect examples, we can be living examples (KL 624).

Up to this point, there is nothing radically insightful in Building a Discipling Culture that sets it apart from other books on discipleship. Almost 50 years prior, Robert Coleman delineated a similar process of discipleship in his classic The Master Plan of Evangelism, namely the Selection, Association, Consecration, Impartation, Demonstration, Delegation, Supervision, and Reproduction of disciples. Furthermore, modern books such as Colin Marshall and Tony Payne’s Trellis and the Vine (2009) also decry churches’ shortsighted tendency to rely on vocational ministers and volunteers to build churches through programs and events (the trellis), rather than training the whole church to make disciples (the vine).

What sets Building a Discipling Culture apart from the other books on discipleship is its discipling language. Breen and Cockram explain that “language creates culture,” and that in order to create a discipling culture, we need a language to support it (KL 632). The discipling language that Breen and Cockram, and their ministry 3DM, use is called LifeShapes. The LifeShapes are 8 diagrams that seek to capture the essence of discipleship. Breen and Cockram note that Jesus chose parables as his preferred teaching method in an oral culture, and argue that we live in a visual culture that calls for an image-based pedagogy (KL 687-692). Since most of the book is dedicated to describing these LifeShapes, I will summarize and evaluate each of them below (I have edited some of the LifeShapes to supply missing details and enhance clarity):

1. Continuous Breakthrough: “The Kairos Learning Circle”

Kairos is a Greek word that denotes punctual, opportune, time, as opposed to chronos, which denotes linear, chronological time. According to Breen and Cockram, every Christian encounters kairos moments “when the eternal God breaks into your circumstances with an event that gathers some loose ends of our life and knots them together in his hands” (KL 772). This event can be “positive (a promotion at work) or negative (getting laid off from your job). It can be big (your wedding) or small (a date night with your spouse)” (KL 815). The “Kairos Learning Circle” is a diagram that helps believers respond appropriately to their kairos moments. The straight line stands for the believer’s linear journey, at which point a kairos moment (X) takes place. At this point, the believer needs to enter the learning circle, which consists of observing, reflecting, and discussing the kairos event in order to plan, account, and act (KL 834). This is the same process as repentance and belief (Mk. 1:15). This first LifeShape is a useful tool for promoting attentiveness and responsiveness to divine encounters in people’s everyday lives.

2. Deeper Relationships: “The Triangle of Following Jesus”

The “Triangle” seeks to illustrate the holistic life of discipleship that entails “Up, In, and Out” relationships. Breen and Cockram use Mic. 6:8 as the paradigm: “Act justly” (Out), “Love mercy” (In), and “Walk humbly with your God” (Up) (KL 1080). They challenge Christians simultaneously to leave their comfort zones to seek out the lost (Out) and establish communities characterized by intimacy and accountability (In), both, without compromising a deep, personal relationship with God (Up).

3. Rhythm of Life: “The Semicircle Pendulum of Rest and Work”

Breen and Cockram lament that “We have become human ‘doings’ rather than human ‘beings’” (KL 1300), and argue that we need a Biblical framework for rest and work. To this end, the “Semicircle Pendulum” describes seasons of fruitfulness followed by seasons of abiding (KL 1399). Breen and Cockram write that bearing fruit is supposed to be natural, just as vines don’t strain to push out grapes. The reason why we strain to produce fruit, they argue, is because we do not have proper seasons of abiding wherein we cease activity and rest (KL 1414). Specifically, Breen and Cockram advocate breaking the day down into “eight hours of sleep, eight hours of work, four hours engaging, and four hours disengaging” (KL 1468). They also highlight the need for extended times of retreat for resting in the presence of God (Mk. 1:12-13) (KL 1487), as well as daily times of quiet resting (Mk. 1:35-39) (KL 1496).

4. Multiplying Life: “The Square of Discipleship Multiplication”

Drawing from his discipling experience, Breen and Cockram observe four levels of disciples (D1, D2, D3, D4) and the appropriate leadership style for each (L1, L2, L3, L4) (KL 1547). The confidence/enthusiasm of the disciples is inversely proportionate to the leader’s consensus/explanation, and the competence/experience of the disciples is inversely proportionate to the leader’s direction/example.

D1=high confidence/enthusiasm, low competence/experience (Mk. 1:15-20).
L1=high direction/example, low consensus/explanation
“I do, you watch”
This is the first stage of discipleship where the disciples are excited about the new idea and purpose in their lives but have little competence (KL 1564-1572).

D2=low confidence/enthusiasm, low competence/experience (Lk. 12:32-34)
L2=high direction/example, high consensus/explanation
“I do, you help”
This is when the excitement begins to die down and discouragement creeps in (KL 1622-1639). Breen and Cockram add that D2 is the most important stage of development for disciples. The leaders need to be highly accessible at this point and emphasize the grace of God.

D3=low confidence/enthusiasm, high competence/experience (Jn. 15:12-17)
L3=low direction/example, high consensus/explanation
“You do, I help”
The leaders need to highlight the sovereignty of God at this point (KL 1691).

D4=high confidence/enthusiasm, high competence/experience (Mt. 28:18-20)
L4=low direction/example, low consensus/explanation
“You do, I watch”
By this stage, the disciples’ confidence and enthusiasm are no longer a fledgling bud, but a full-bloom flower rooted in the gospel. This is when the disciples are released to go and do likewise (KL 1736).

The leadership styles presented by Breen and Cockram mirror the three leadership styles first noted by psychologist Kurt Lewin in 1939: Authoritarian (Autocratic), Participative (Democratic), and Delegative (Laissez-Faire). The Scriptural references adduced in the book are only tangentially, if at all, related to these various leadership styles, and thus this LifeShape seems to be derived more from general revelation than from special revelation.

5. Personal Calling: “The Fivefold Ministries Pentagon”

The “Pentagon” is a visual mnemonic for remembering the fivefold ministries specified in Eph. 4:7, 11-13 (KL 1820). Breen and Cockram assert that every Christian is equipped to serve as at least one of the following:

Apostles – Visionary individuals who are always pioneering into new territory, initiating new churches, ministries, etc. (KL 1843)
Prophets – Perceptive individuals with the ability to foretell and forth-tell God’s revelation in specific circumstances (KL 1853).
Evangelists – Personable individuals who enjoy spending time with and sharing the gospel with non-Christians (KL 1872).
Pastors – Empathetic individuals who care for, comfort, and encourage God’s people (KL 1890).
Teachers – Analytical individuals who delight in explaining and applying the Scriptures for others (KL 1903).

Breen and Cockram teach that every Christian has a “base,” or primary, ministry, but may still be called to engage in “phase,” or secondary, ministries for certain periods (KL 1920). They note that prophets, pastors, and teachers have a natural preference for stability and tend to be introverted (KL 1990), while apostles and evangelists have a predilection for flexibility and tend to be extroverted (KL 2016). This diagram is helpful, but it can be misleading because it conflates spiritual offices with spiritual gifts. First, the Apostles were those commissioned by Jesus Christ Himself to establish churches where they previously did not exist (Acts 1:21-22; 1 Cor. 9:2; 15:8). There may be people with apostolic gifts, but they are not Apostles. Second, while any Christian with the gift of prophecy can occasionally prophesy (1 Cor. 14:31), there are those who are officially designated as Prophets in local churches (Acts 13:1; 15:31; 21:9; 1 Cor. 14:32). Third, while all Christians are called to evangelize (Matthew 28:18-20), there are Evangelists (Acts 21:8; 2 Tim. 4:5) who are to devote themselves entirely to the task of doing, and equipping others for, evangelism. Similarly, every Christian is called to teach and admonish one another (Col. 3:16), but the Teaching Pastors (this designation is to be preferred since, in Eph. 4, the “Pastor” and “Teacher” are combined under a single definite article) were officially recognized as such and compensated for their work (Acts 13:1; Gal. 6:6; 1 Cor. 12:28; 1 Tim. 5:17). Therefore, not every Christian is called to fulfill one of the five ministerial offices. Rather, the emphasis in Eph. 4:11-12 is that God “gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers” themselves as gifts to the Church so that they might “equip the saints for the work of ministry.” The spiritual gifts are distributed to each Christian (Eph. 4:7; 1 Cor. 12), but spiritual offices are given only to some for the purpose of equipping all for ministry.

6. Definitive Prayer: “The Hexagon of Lord’s Prayer”

The “Hexagon” is a way to teach the Lord’s Prayer as a model for our prayers (Luke 11:1-4; Matthew 6:9-15). It is based on the Father’s Character, and pleads for the Father’s Kingdom, Provision, Forgiveness, Guidance, and Protection (KL 2142). This LifeShape is instructive, although the Father’s Guidance and Protection really belong in the same category: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13).

7. Spiritual Health: “The Heptagon: Seven Signs of Life”

Breen and Cockram suggest that the seven signs of living organisms, namely Respiration (Prayer), Sensitivity (Fivefold Ministries), Growth, Reproduction, Excretion (Repentance), Nutrition (Obedience), and Movement (Delegation/Distribution of Authority), ought to characterize a living Church (1 Peter 2:4-5). They argue that these are “a useful diagnostic tool for assessing the spiritual health of those you disciple and the ministries they lead” (KL 2219). The connection between the signs of living organisms and the signs of a living church appears promising at first, but the strained analogy disappoints. For example, the word “respiration” does not naturally suggest “prayer,” nor “nutrition” “obedience.” Here, the LifeShape begins to feel less like a mnemonic and more like a gimmick. Instead of serving as a visual aid, the “Heptagon” is a visual distraction.The 9 Marks of a Healthy Church is a superior model for assessing the vitality of a church.

8. Relational Mission: “The Octagon: Finding the Person of Peace”

The final LifeShape, the “Octagon,” is a way to teach evangelism based on the “Person of Peace” principle found in Luke 10 (KL 2424). Breen and Cockram posit that God has already prepared Persons of Peace who are receptive to the gospel, and that our job in evangelism is to identify these Persons of Peace rather than belaboring the issue with those whom God has not called (KL 2431-2499). There is a time for sowing and a time for reaping.

The eight principles for unlocking, or discovering, the Persons of Peace are:

  1. Presence: We are to model the Presence of Jesus in people’s lives by showing kindness and speaking encouragement (KL 2524).
  2. Passing Relationships: For people we come across only once or twice in our lives, our objective is to plant seeds in hopes that others will water and that God will give the harvest in the future (1 Corinthians 3:6) (KL 2533).
  3. Permanent Relationships: Evangelizing our friends and family may take a long time. It is important at this point to watch, wait, and pray, rather than trying to force the issue prematurely (KL 2540).
  4. Proclamation: In proclamation, we invite a person to faith in Christ. This is one way to identify Persons of Peace (KL 2549).
  5. Preparation: Breen and Cockram utilize the Engel Scale as an example to show that there are various stages of preparation for non-believers. Some are closer to faith than others.
  6. Power: This is a method which uses “awe as evangelism,” through miraculous healings and such (KL 2569).
  7. Perception: This is what Peter Wagner calls “testing the soil,” and calls for spiritual discernment regarding individuals and situations in evangelism (KL 2576).

This LifeShape is also less than helpful because it confuses several categorical axes. First, there is the context of evangelism (passing and permanent relationships), then there is the method of evangelism (presence, proclamation, and power), and finally there’s the measure of evangelism (preparation and perception). Lumping them all into the same diagram with unclear, even if alliterative, headings muddles the Person of Peace principle. Moreover, there’s only seven sides to this Octagon…

Notwithstanding my fuss over minutiae, Building a Discipling Culture is an excellent practical resource if you want to learn about discipleship. Breen and Cockram have a knack for presenting nuggets of insight with memorable alliterations and catchy phrases. Consequently, the discipling model proposed in their book is extraordinarily simple and reproducible. It has, and will continue to, serve the Church well. However, if you are looking for a theologically-nuanced and comprehensive book on discipleship, this is not one. For example, it does not include ways to teach Scripture study or theology, and omits other essential spiritual disciplines such as fasting and silence. It also tends to assume that the gospel is central to discipleship, rather than accentuating its importance. Discipleship that is not properly grounded in the gospel can degenerate into pragmatic legalism. One would be wise also to consult Jonathan Dodson’s Gospel-Centered Discipleship.

Buy Building a Discipling Culture HERE.