The Discipleship Gospel

The Discipleship Gospel
What Jesus Preached—We Must Follow
(HIM Publications, 2018)

WHO: Bill Hull, cofounder of The Bonhoeffer Project, and Ben Sobels, senior pastor at Cypress Community Church in Salinas, California, and a regional director for The Bonhoeffer Project.

THEY SAY: “The contemporary false gospels we’ve defined are non-discipleship gospels that have changed … the making of disciples to the making of converts and have separated evangelism from disciple making.”

THE BIG IDEA: This book identifies the problems that arise with preaching non-discipleship gospels that don’t call people to be disciples, and shows that Jesus’ gospel, which is a discipleship gospel, needs to be preached.

In Part 1, “The Gospel Jesus Preached,” the authors open up Scripture to see how clearly Jesus defined the gospel and identify seven aspects that provide the framework on which to build our understanding of the gospel.
Part 2, “The Gospel We Preach,” explores on a deep level the meaning of each of the seven elements, particularly “God’s kingdom is here” and “follow Jesus.” The authors discuss how repentance and belief are actually part of following Jesus.
“The Disciples We Make” is Part 3, which looks at how disciple making today must begin by proclaiming the gospel Jesus preached. The authors provide a definition of discipleship gospel and describe how it can bring disciple making to life in the readers’ lives and ministry contexts.

“Jesus’ discipleship gospel can incite a discipleship revolution in your life and create a disciple-making movement in your church and in your world.”

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Define what non-discipleship gospels are and how churches mistakenly have come to use them.

Non-discipleship gospels are gospels that leave people thinking that you can be a Christian without following Jesus. They make discipleship an optional add-on to the Christian life. We cite five non-discipleship gospels: the forgiveness-only gospel, the gospel of the left, the prosperity gospel, the consumer gospel and the gospel of the right. Each non-discipleship gospel sounds different, emphasizes different theological preferences and calls people to different responses. None of them includes discipleship.

How does this happen? How is it that so many churches have slipped into preaching non-discipleship gospels? An oversimplified answer is we haven’t clearly defined and rigorously held fast to Jesus’ gospel. The major problem with non-discipleship gospels is this: You can’t make Christ-like disciples from non-discipleship gospels. In stark contrast to non-discipleship gospels is Jesus’ gospel, the only true gospel, what he referred to as “the gospel of the kingdom of God” (Luke 4:43). For the purposes of our book, we call it the discipleship gospel. We’re hoping this renaming helps people hear Jesus’ gospel with fresh ears—a gospel that calls us to live a life of discipleship, not just to have a conversion experience of sorts.

How did you arrive at the “seven essential elements” of Jesus’ gospel?

Before we get to the seven elements, it’s important to grasp how squishy the gospel has become in our day. For example, gather a small group of people in your church. Ask them to write out their answer to the simple question What is the gospel? Once each person has written their answer, collect their answers, and read them. No doubt, you’ll discover alarming variation. You’d hope most of the group would include a reference to Jesus’ death and resurrection. Some will. Others will focus so much on Jesus’ death that they will forget to mention his resurrection. Some in the group will include repentance, others won’t. Most won’t mention the kingdom of God, yet it was the very first thing Jesus spoke about when he began proclaiming it (Mark 1:14).

Jesus reveals seven elements of the gospel in the four New Testament Gospels. The seven elements Jesus reveals are clearly seen in two passages: Mark 1:14-17 and Mark 8:27-31. One word summaries of the seven elements are: kingdom, Christ, death, resurrection, repent, believe, follow. That these seven elements are all essential to the gospel is strengthened when we consider the apostles preaching and writing. For instance, you will find all seven elements in the apostle Peter’s powerful proclamation of the gospel in Acts 2. They also appear in the opening verses of Romans 1, the introductory verses of the Paul’s magnum opus on the gospel. As such, we arrive at the seven elements of Jesus’ gospel in our book through a rigorous exposition of uniquely “gospel” passages in the New Testament, starting with Jesus.

With the seven elements as a framework, we are able to craft a narrative-style declaration/definition of the gospel that helps people encounter who Jesus is, what He has done (and is doing), and how he calls us to respond to him. Christ calls us in the gospel to be his disciples—to be disciples who follow him without conditions or excuses. Being a disciple involves making disciples. It’s critical for us to reclaim Jesus’ discipleship gospel in our day. As churches and denominations wrestle with why numbers are down, why people are leaving churches, and why their churches aren’t multiplying passionate disciples of Jesus, we’re suggesting the decline is sourced in the deficient, non-discipleship gospels being preached. The reason churches aren’t making disciples who are “turning the world upside down” (Acts 17:6) is because we’re not preaching Jesus’ discipleship gospel.

What are some steps local churches can take to return to a discipleship gospel?

This is a great question. We go into a lot of detail about this in Part 3 of the book. For starters, we’d recommend several steps. First, the leaders of the church should honestly evaluate the gospel being preached from the pulpit each Sunday. Is it is non-discipleship gospel? If it is, stop preaching it. Second, define Jesus’ gospel for your congregation, actually write it down. (In the book, we offer a 101-word, narrative-style gospel statement as an example.) Third, once church leaders have a written gospel statement, mass infuse the congregation with it. Handout flyers with the gospel on it, put the gospel statement on your website, share it during your new members class and be sure the pastor preaches it consistently. Fourth, disciple people in this gospel until it has been “formed” in them (Galatians 4:19). This involves having an intentional process for discipling people in the church and having each ministry of the church purposed for toward making disciples. This fourth step is a big one and something we train pastors to do in our work with The Bonhoeffer Project (