Book Review: Choose the Life
Author: Bill Hull
Publisher: Baker ISBN: 9780801064708
This is an outstanding book. It is unfortunate that it is not more widely embraced, especially when one considers the primary mandate of Christ is to “make disciples” (Matthew 28:19-20). What I mean by “widely embraced” is the wild popularity of some of the more recent Christian living books that might be included in the “call of discipleship” genre. Take for instance Not a Fan published in 2011 that has almost 900 reviews on Amazon.com or Radical published in 2010 that has over 1008 reviews and contrast those numbers with Choose the Life published in 2004, which has a mere 20 reviews. The question cannot help being asked, “Why such disparity in the numbers?” Might the reason be excellent writing versus poor writing? I submit that answer is a resounding “NO!” What is the reason?
The reason, in my opinion, is that discipleship—the type of discipleship modeled and taught by Jesus and his disciples—is costly…and difficult. Therefore, it is not a lifestyle that the masses will embrace and this is supported by the words and teachings of Jesus (Matthew 7:13-14). Yes, I realize this Scripture passage is referring to Jesus as the way, but the “way” of Jesus is becoming his disciple. Herein lies the problem for many people and this is exactly the path that Bill Hull outlines in Choose the Life.
I really like the summary of Bruce Demarest regarding Hull’s work in this book; he says:
“In a churchly culture of many decisions but few disciples, Bill Hull challenges us to exchange ingrained patterns of unfruitful mediocrity for the paradigm of radically following Jesus on the path of transformational discipleship. If faithfully heeded, Choose the Life will revolutionize the people of God.” –Bruce Demarest, Professor of Christian Theology and Spiritual Transformation, Denver Seminary
Mediocrity is not a high bar. It is likely the reason so many follow programs and systems built for mediocrity…this is the discipleship of the modern age. Disciples of mediocrity produce mediocre disciples. Choose the Life endeavors to raise the bar and set the course of discipleship on the life of Jesus and nothing less.
“Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.” -Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Cost of Discipleship
Hull introduces what I might refer to as a macro-model for discipleship that follows the life of Christ with these specific learning components: (1) Believing what he believed—the transformed mind (2) Living the way he lived—the transformed character (3) Loving the way he loved—transformed relationships (4)Ministering the way he ministered—transformed service (5) Leading the way he led—transformed influence. He goes on to systematize this macro-model in a process he further outlines as follows:
- A disciple submits to a teacher who teaches him or her how to follow Jesus
- A disciple learns Jesus’ words
- A disciple learns Jesus’ way of ministry
- A disciple imitates Jesus’ life and character
- A disciple finds and teaches other disciples for Jesus
The system sounds simple, and quite frankly, seems so absurdly obvious that one wonders why it is not the defacto system of the Christian church for making disciples of Jesus Christ. This observation makes the following quote by Bill Hull all the more curious; “What I’m proposing is a radical departure from the norm. Most good and godly church members will look at you with befuddlement when this concept I presented. It is so different from what we have been taught and requires a very different focus and effort. We must choose the life—the life of discipleship as practiced and taught by Jesus and lived out by his first century followers. We must courageously cast aside our nondiscipleship Christianity and submit ourselves to a life of accountability, personal transformation, and making disciples among the unbelieving. This is our primary and exclusive work. This is faith as Jesus taught it. To do anything less is failure” (p.42).
The starting point for discipleship in the model of Christ is this: self-denial. It is the first step as voiced by Jesus himself; “He [a disciple] must deny himself” (Mark 8:34). This simple truth alone is why this book and the model it promotes is not more popular than it is to date. The radical denial of self is such a departure from the norm of Western civilization that to suggest as much elicits cries of “Anathema!” and labels the one suggesting such a pariah. This is the narrow way and this is why Jesus declared there are few who would find it.
This is a most excellent book; inspired, I believe and a prophetic call to return to the model Christ taught his disciples for making followers of The Way. I believe as declared by Bruce Demarest, “If faithfully heeded, Choose the Life will revolutionize the people of God.” It is an absurdly simple format, but there is nothing easy about it. Choose the Life can revolutionize our churches for anyone bold enough to embrace it. Truly, a most excellent book.