Review of ‘Do We Not Bleed?’ by Daniel Taylor


Daniel Taylor, Do We Not Bleed? (Eugene, OR: Slant, 2017).

I have a big problem with Daniel Taylor’s new “Jon Mote Mystery,” as the cover describes Do We Not Bleed? To wit: A book this good should have a sequel ready for me to take up once I’ve put this one down. Unfortunately, fans of Taylor’s (now) two novels about Jon and his sister Judy will just have to wait for (what I hope to be) a third novel in the not-too-distant future.

Do We Not Bleed? follows the events of Death Comes for the Deconstructionist, Taylor’s first book in this series. (Does a pair constitute a series?) Jon has begun to recover from the psychological wounds he was experiencing in the first book. He has become an employee at New Directions, a care facility for developmentally disabled and cognitively impaired persons at which his older sister Judy, who has Downs Syndrome, lives.

Most of the novel focuses on the ups and downs of living with the people Jon has come to call “Specials” (as opposed to “Normals”). He—that is Jon, in whose voice Daniel Taylor writes —humanizes his charges in a way that had me laughing and crying, empathizing with their plight, and gaining a new critical perspective on the way “Normals” think and talk about and act toward “Specials.” Hint: We “Normals,” who are far less normal and far more special than we often think, too often treat our fellow humans as problems to be solved rather than as “friends” to be loved and loved by. That is, in my opinion, the most critical insight of this wise, deeply humane book.

How badly we treat “Specials” becomes especially apparent when one of the New Directions residents is murdered, and one of Jon’s charges is blamed. Jon, Judy, and company know their friend is innocent, but the evidence seems stacked up against that person, at least stacked high enough to move them to a locked-facility for the criminally insane—though without trial. Resolving this case becomes Jon’s and Judy’s and friends’ mission. I’ll let you read Do We Not Bleed? to find out the result.

Daniel Taylor writes beautifully, his characters are interesting, he wears his humanity on his sleeve, and—like I said above—the only shame is that there isn’t already a sequel to this beautiful novel that I can begin reading today.

As a series reader, I encourage you to pick up Death Comes for the Deconstructionist before you read Do We Need Bleed? It’s an excellent novel on its own right, but it provides the background to this story. So, read it first!

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P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

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Review of ‘Transforming Discipleship’ by Greg Ogden


Greg Ogden, Transforming Discipleship: Making Disciples a Few at a Time, rev. ed. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2016).

How well are Christians in America carrying out the Great Commission to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19)? Not well, according to Greg Ogden. In the revised and expanded edition of Transforming Discipleship, he sets out to explain what went wrong with our discipleship efforts, why, and how to implement an effective church-based strategy for disciple-making. It’s a book pastors and other church leaders ought to read.

Ogden organizes his material into three parts. Part 1, “The Discipleship Deficit,” examines what went wrong and why. Part 2, “Doing the Lord’s Work in the Lord’s Way,” looks to the Bible as a “method book,” focusing on Jesus’ and Paul’s respective models of discipleship. Part 3, “Multiplying Reproducing Discipleship Groups,” outlines how to implement a “microgroup” strategy for growing “self-initiating, reproducing disciples of Jesus Christ.” (Microgroups are groups of three or four people, “triads” and “quads” in Ogden’s words.)

According to Ogden, the basic problem with discipleship in America today is superficiality. Or, as the late John Stott put it, “growth without depth.” Lots of people bear the name “Christian,” but it’s not clear that they produce “fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8).

Why? Ogden identifies eight “distractions” that mar our discipleship efforts:

  1. diversion of the church’s ministry from our primary calling to make disciples,
  2. discipling by means of standardized programs instead of personal relationships,
  3. reducing the Christian life to the future state instead of how we live now,
  4. promoting a two-tier understanding of the Christian life that makes discipleship for “super-Christians, not ordinary believers,”
  5. being unwilling to call people to become disciples,
  6. having a view of church as optional rather than as required,
  7. not articulating a clear pathway to spiritual maturity,
  8. and not having been discipled personally.

Ogden then contrasts the lack of discipleship in America with how both Jesus Christ and the apostle Paul made disciples. Christian leaders typically turn to the Bible to identify what end their ministries should pursue, but Ogden effectively argues that the Bible also articulates the means by which we should pursue them. The Bible, in other words, is both a “message book” and a “method book.” While both Jesus and Paul ministered to groups of varying sizes, their most intensive efforts at making disciples focused on “invest[ing] in a few.”

Here’s how Ogden summarizes the matter:

Jesus intentionally called a few to multiply himself in them. He intended his ministry to become the ministry of the Twelve and be the means by which he extended himself to the world. To prepare the Twelve, Jesus followed a situational leadership model, adjusting his leadership style to the readiness of his followers. As Jesus adjusted his leadership to match the readiness of the disciples, he also changed styles to provoke them to the next level of growth. Jesus shifted his roles from living example to provocative teacher to supportive coach and finally to ultimate delegator. Though Paul’s language and images differed, his goal and process mirrored the model of his Lord.

So, how can pastors and Christian leaders implement Jesus’ model of making disciples in their churches’ own ministries? Ogden focuses on three words: relationship, multiplication, and transformation. “The necessary elements…,” he writes, “are to establish a relational disciple-making process that is rooted in a reproducible model (triads or quads) that brings together the transformative elements of life change.” If I could summarize Ogden’s proposal in my own words, I’d put it this way: Three or four people meeting weekly for a year to grow closer to Christ and to one another, using a curriculum that each member can in turn use with a new triad or quad the next year. This process is intensive, demanding and tailored to the circumstances of the individual members, but that is how Christ himself achieved His best results with His own disciples. If you don’t believe me, look at Jesus’ interactions with His inner circle of Peter, James, and John in the Gospels.

Using this model of disciple making doesn’t require that pastors and other church leaders ditch Sunday sermons, Christian education classes, or other forms of teaching. Both Jesus and Paul spoke to large crowds and smaller groups, after all. It does mean prioritizing microgroups, however, as Jesus’ and Paul’s preferred strategy of making disciples, as well as recognizing the limitations of large-crowd and smaller-group forms of teaching, which can be more informational than transformational.

Transforming Discipleship is a challenging read, though not because it is hard to understand. Rather, it is challenging because churches are tempted to implement one-size-fits-all discipleship programs that are easy for pastors to manage. (I speak from personal experience here.) The easy way is not always the best way, however. Sometimes, the best results require intensive effort on a smaller scale over a longer timeframe to achieve.

I encourage you to read Transforming Discipleship. The book combines passion for the Great Commission, keen biblical insight and helpful practical suggestions for implementing a microgroup strategy. Even if, in the end, you don’t implement the book’s discipleship strategy, it will help you work through the relevant issues—biblically and practically—so that you can better fulfill the Great Commission in your own ministry and that of the local church.

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P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

Review of ‘How to Preach and Teach the Old Testament for All Its Worth’ by Christopher J. H. Wright


Christopher J. H. Wright, How to Preach and Teach the Old Testament for All Its Worth (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016).

The Old Testament is the Bible Jesus Christ read and preached. It is also the Bible of His first followers. When Paul writes, for example, “the Holy Scriptures…are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15), he has the Old Testament in mind. It is foundational to Christianity.

In too many American churches today, however, the Old Testament goes unread and unpreached. Why read the Old Testament, many seem to reason, when we’ve got the New Testament? Even when read and preached, however, the Old Testament is too often wrenched out of context, reduced to moralistic and legalistic applications, or mined for questionable prophetic significance.

Christopher J. H. Wright sets out to rectify this situation in How to Preach and Teach the Old Testament for All Its Worth. He organizes the book’s material into two sections. The first, comprised of chapters 1–5, asks the question, “Why should we preach and teach from the Old Testament?” The second, comprised of chapters 6–15, asks the question, “How can we preach and teach from the Old Testament?” Wright’s answers to these questions are practical, grounded in sound biblical exegesis and solid evangelical theology, and attuned to both the ancient culture of the biblical writers and the contemporary culture of its readers.

Let me highlight two things that I found helpful as I read Wright’s book:

First, as a Christian minister, I read the Old Testament with confidence that it will help me both to better understand the person and work of Jesus Christ and to better proclaim Him to others. With good reason, I might add! Christ himself says, “these are the very Scriptures that testify about me” (John 5:39). Similarly, Luke describes Christ’s conversations with two disciples on the road to Emmaus this way: “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). We’re supposed to find Christ in the Old Testament because He found himself there.

And yet, I’ve heard sermons about Christ from the Old Testament in which the preacher’s intention is good but their biblical interpretation is not. Chapter 3–5 help us find Christ in the Old Testament using sound hermeneutical principles. Chapter 3, “Understanding Jesus through the Old Testament,” examines the Old Testament to explain who Jesus thought He was and what He came to do. Chapter 4, “Don’t Just Give Me Jesus,” outlines five “dangers” to avoid when preaching Christ from the Old Testament: (1) ignoring the text’s original meaning, (2) proposing fanciful interpretations, (3) overlooking other things that God teaches in the Old Testament, (4) flattening the biblical story and removing the uniqueness of the Incarnation and (5) preaching the same message regardless of the text. (To me, this chapter alone was worth the price of the book.) Chapter 5, “Connecting with Christ,” shows how we can preach Christ from the Old Testament in a way that honors its original meaning.

A second thing I found helpful was Wright’s attention to literary genres. He organizes the book’s second section according to the literary genre of the Old Testament: narrative (chapters 6–8), law (chapter 9–10), prophecy (chapters 11–12), psalms (chapters 13–14), and wisdom literature (chapter 15). There are overlaps in these genres, of course. Law (Hebrew torah) includes stories, for example, and prophecy, psalms and proverbs all make use of poetry. Still, Wright’s discussion shows what’s distinct about these genres, why Christians should pay attention to them, and how attention to them changes the way we interpret and then preach them. (For more on the proper interpretation of the Bible’s literary genres, see Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart’s How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, the first of a series of books of which Wright’s is the most recent.)

If you preach or teach the Bible at your local church, I encourage you to do two things: First, preach and teach regularly from the Old Testament. Second, read this book. It delivers on its promise of its title and is a helpful guide for seeing Christ in the Old Testament…and so much more!

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P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

P.P.S. This review is cross-posted at InfluenceMagazine.com.

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