To Follow Him: The Seven Marks of a Disciple. By Mark Bailey. Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publishers, 1997. 171 pp. Paper, $11.99.
Discipleship continues to be a buzzword in churches which that that Jesus Christ told them to make disciples. However, there has not been much consistency in approach. Some discipleship literature and courses emphasize the cognitive, some the disciplines of Christian practice. But I have not been able to find much of a systematic approach that could be justified biblically.
Bailey, professor of Bible Exposition at Dallas Theological Seminary, offers what I believe is the best approach to making disciples. His book identifies and explains the seven characteristics (we might also call them conditions) that Christ used to describe what a true disciple is. These characteristics are not primarily cognitive or matters of habit. They are instead issues of and commitments of the heart.
For those frustrated with the many graduates of discipleship courses who learn the lessons, memorize the verses, and do the homework, but are not motivated to continue on after the course expires, this book offers a better approach. Not that it is a study book, or a “how to” guide; though it does have good discussion questions at the end of each chapter. But it covers the essential truths that every disciple must learn and apply to his or her life. These include our love for God, obedience to the Word, attitude towards sin, identity with Christ, stewardship of possessions, and love for others. If these issues are not covered, then we are truly missing the target in making disciples.
The reader will find an easy read of profound truths. Bailey has a knack for popularizing and applying deep truth. His anecdotes, though sometimes long-winded, are always on target and often amusing. His experience at teaching these seven characteristics in his course on discipleship results in a polished presentation in the book.
I have two criticisms of the book. First, the gospel invitation is not clearly distinguished from the invitation to discipleship. I think this is an unfortunate oversight by Bailey, since I know that in his academic course he clearly distinguishes discipleship from eternal salvation. In a time when there is so much confusion on this distinction, a book about discipleship should begin by showing this. In fact, the Introduction is most confusing because it begins with an invitation from Matt 11:28-30 to find “rest” which seems to be leading to a gospel invitation. But we soon find that Bailey seems to be using it as an invitation to the “rest” available from following Jesus as a disciple. My own view of the verse is that it contains both an invitation to salvation (“Come to Me”) and an invitation to discipleship (“Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me”). So while there is clearly a close relationship between salvation and discipleship, the distinctions must also be maintained for the sake of a clear gospel. Somewhere, Bailey should have included a discussion of the gospel that clearly distinguished it from the invitation to discipleship.
Second, there is inadequate presentation of motivations to follow Christ as a disciple. If following Christ is a response to His love, grace, and salvation, then this needs to be a constant theme of any approach to discipleship. Along with this, there is also the motivation or consolation of present and eternal rewards for following Christ in a life of obedience and sacrifice. I think this omission is a weakness of discipleship programs in general. People must constantly be reminded of why they should deny themselves, take up their cross, etc.
You will be enriched by Bailey’s exposition of NT discipleship truths. Buy the book and read it for these, then teach them to others. Just be sure when you teach from it, to make up for Bailey’s omissions.
Charles C. Bing