Jared Wilson. The Imperfect Disciple: Grace for People Who Can’t Get Their Act Together. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2017. 241 pp. $12.85.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I love to read Jared Wilson. Why? Wilson writes like somebody you know. He does not just write like somebody you know, he actually writes like somebody you like. Wilson writes like a guy you would have a cup of coffee with, talk about life with, and be honest with. Wilson does not write like a hero. He admits his frailty and weakness. And in that honesty, he lets us see a genuine picture of a real guy wrestling day-to-day with the simple stuff of the faith.
In The Imperfect Disciple, Wilson helps us to look at basic discipleship from a realistic point of view. So many discipleship texts out there are handbooks or workbooks. So many texts out there tell us to apply these few principles, in this order, and we will be disciples. But so many of those books do not work for real people. Wilson tells us, “I tend to think that a lot of the ways the evangelical church teaches discipleship seem designed for people who don’t appear to really need it” (13). He goes on to say, “I want to write a discipleship book for normal people, for people like me who know that discipleship means following Jesus—and we know that following Jesus is totally worth it, because Jesus is the end-all, be-all—but we often find that following Jesus takes us to some pretty difficult places” (14). And I think he pulls it off. He actually writes a discipleship book for honest people.
The structure of the Imperfect Disciple is not that of a textbook. Rather, it is a walk through spiritual living in a sensible order. Wilson, through the chapters will call us to see the need to constantly preach the gospel to ourselves, to recognize that rules are not the answer, and to rely on the grace of Christ even as we work. The author challenges believers with a call to deep Bible study and prayer, but he calls us to these things for the joy of the glory of God and not for the purpose of checking items off of an accountability checklist. Wilson will show us the need to participate in genuine, honest, seriously not fake Christian community. He will wrap up the book with chapters pointing us to the fruit of the Spirit, the depth of God’s grace, and hope of how we will be transformed and completed in heaven.
In this book, Wilson does a great job of reminding us that our growth is not something we work on our own. He tells us that we cannot rely on self-help advice to shrug off sin and grow into Christ’s image. Wilson declares, “Do you know why there are a thousand fresh self-help books every year? It’s because they don’t work. We keep looking for the answer within us, as if we’ll find it in the same place as the problems” (28). The author warns, “When we turn the Sermon on the Mount—or any of Jesus’s teachings, really—into a handy compendium of pick-me-ups for spiritual go-getters, it proves we don’t get it. It proves we don’t get the gospel” (51). Again, Wilson says, “Self-help doesn’t help. My self is the problem” (148).
Do not, however, confuse the grace offered in this book with a lack of challenge. The chapters on prayer, Bible reading, and Christian community are full of strong calls to take the Christian life seriously. The author calls us to genuine fellowship by declaring, “To abide in Christ necessitates embracing the body of Christ as God’s plan for the Christian life. Abiding in Christ can’t be experienced as it’s designed to be experienced apart from abiding in the community called his very body. And the further good news is that embracing kingdom rhythms becomes easier and more sustainable when it is done alongside others” (128). Wilson also calls on Christians to put to death the false wish dreams of our lives so that we can experience the genuinely better rewards that the Lord has for us. Wilson reminds us of how easy it is for us to allow our own vision to make us miss God’s best, writing, “We all have a vision for how life is supposed to go, what life is supposed to be like—what we want and how we want it and the way we want to feel about it—but then actual life happens, and when our heart is tuned to only find joy in the dream we will never find joy, because we’ve placed it in a mirage” (183).
Jared Wilson summarizes his purpose behind his book by writing, “I wrote this book for all who are tired of being tired. I wrote this book for all who read the typical discipleship manuals and wonder who they could possibly be written for, the ones that make us feel overly burdened and overly tasked and, because of all that, overly shamed” (230). He wanted to write a discipleship book for normal people, and I think he pulled it off. And I would happily recommend this book to anybody who feels like the typical discipleship manuals only have pain to offer without actual hope or help. No, this book will not relieve you of the responsibility to work toward growth. But this book will challenge you to grow in the gospel and not by your own strength. This book will give you a realistic way to look at growing from day to day. And this book will offer you comfort as you realize that you are not the only one who does not find all the disciplines of the Christian life easy.
*I received a free audio copy of this work from ChristianAudio.com as part of their reviewers program. The quality of the audio book is excellent, as are all the books I have heard from this company.
*I received a free print copy of this book from Baker Books as part of a reviewer’s program in exchange for an honest review.