Bill Hull, pastor in the Evangelical Free church, wrote a book called Choose the Life.1 In contrast to what happens in most other churches, he engaged a pastoral strategy that invoked principles of disciplemaking as found in much of the Navigator literature. Based on his experience, he wrote The Disciplemaking Pastor as well as a number of other books. Then someone challenged him to start a church from scratch, using the same principles. He did, and then he wrote The Disciplemaking Church. A number of years later, he wrote Choose the Life, in which he essentially says, “Hi, I’m Bill Hull. And I’ve wasted the last 25 years of my life.” Hull is not a quitter, by any means. Quite to the contrary. He is a realist. His drive to be like Jesus leaves most of us in the dust.
In this book, Hull seeks to encourage us to “choose the life of thinking as Jesus thought, living as he lived, loving as he loved, ministering as he ministered, and leading as he led.” The last part intrigued me because I had already read a book about how to lead like Jesus.2 Hull’s book, though, was different, paradigmatically different, and I could tell that from page one. It is no understatement to say that this book fundamentally changed the way that I look at the New Testament. First of all, the gospels were moved from the realm of interesting stories to the centerpiece of the scriptures. The epistles of Paul and Peter and others are, clearly, important, but Hull challenged me to study and take seriously the life of Jesus in a way that I had never done before.
Secondly, I had always assumed that mimicking the life of Christ was somehow inappropriate or impossible, given that he was God, and I am only a human being. How could I fashion my life after a guy who lived more than 2000 years ago, in a Jewish culture, and an ancient one at that? How could I see as a pattern someone who didn’t have a computer, a cell phone, or a shower (!). He attended synagogue, not church. He lived in a dictatorship, not a democracy. No Target or taxis. There is hardly a point where his life and mine bear any similarity. Nevertheless, Hull’s challenge brought me up short.
I had to confront an evangelical bias against the gospels. For evangelicals, the epistles represent the real guts of what it means to be a Christian. In the epistles, we find some of the deepest theology ever penned. We learn about evangelism through Paul’s adventures as he traverses the known world planting churches and nurturing them along. If you want to grow as a Christian, you have to study the epistles. Memorize them. Read books about them. Take Sunday School classes that teach them.
Where are the gospel stories taught most frequently? Flannel-board in third grade Sunday School class.
This orientation is backwards. Andrae Crouch said it succinctly in one of his most popular songs from the 70s: Jesus is the Answer. Funny how we can sing that, and yet not “get it.” Crouch reminds us that Jesus is the answer, not Jesus plus…
Plus what? …attending church …leading worship …completing a workbook …reading a book …attending a class …seeing a counselor …joining a small group …listening to a sermon …taking these three steps …going to seminary …serving on an Elder Board. Having watched Christians, including myself, over the last 30 years, I have concluded that we will do pretty much anything except believe that Jesus, and Jesus alone, is the answer. Oh, sure, we say he is the answer; we sing that he’s the answer; but few actually live it.
If we find grand Christian theology in the epistles, then in the gospels we find the answer to a very simple, but profound question: How shall we then live?
I was in a Christian bookstore about a week ago. I saw books with titles all over the map. Everything from “Finding your path to significance” to “10 prophetic clues you cannot afford to ignore” to “Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No, to Take Control of Your Life.” What I needed desperately, but didn’t see, was the book titled:
“What it means to make Jesus, and Jesus alone, the absolute focus of your life and the answer to all your problems.”
I can assure you that the book exists. It just doesn’t have that title.
1 Bill Hull. Choose the Life. Baker Books, 2004.
2 Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges. Lead like Jesus: Lessons from the Greatest Leadership Role Model of All Time. Thomas Nelson. 2008.