Book Notice: “Creed: Connect to the Basic Essentials of Historic Christian Faith”

In September 2011, NavPress released Winfield Bevins’ Creed: Connect to Basic Essentials of Historic Christian Faith. Winfield is an alumnus of SEBTS, a church planter in the Outer Banks, and an important voice in church planting circles. In light of the release of Creed, we asked Winfield for a brief interview about his book, which I have reproduced below:

1. Tell us a bit about yourself, your family, and your ministry.

I live in the Outer Banks of North Carolina with my wife Kay and two daughters Elizabeth and Anna Belle. My wife and I moved here six years ago from Tennessee to plant Church of the Outer Banks. We began meeting in a home with only five people in June 2005. Since that time, the church has grown to several hundred people. This is an amazing place to live because I get to do some of my favorite things; surf, write, and take long walks on the beach with my family.

The last twelve months have been pretty big for me. In December 2010, I earned a Doctor of Ministry degree from Southeastern Theological Seminary, in Wake Forest, NC. Then on September 1st, I published Creed: Connect to Basic Essentials of Historic Christian Faith (Nav Press).

2. What was the impetus for writing this book? And why did you feel the need to write it?

One of the primary reasons for writing Creed was to fill a void that I saw in a lot of current discipleship books. A lot of the stuff that is out there is either too academic, or too watered down that you don’t even get the gospel. I wanted to write a discipleship tool that helped real people connect with real doctrine in a way that was simple, yet profound. While at the same time helping readers reconnect to the historic roots of the Christian faith.

An important thing about the book is that it grew out of the context of my local church. I wrote it as a real pastor for real church people. I first wrote Creed as a small bible study several years ago for new believers and it grew from there.

3. What is the primary argument (thesis) of the book?

The primary argument of the book is that Christians need to rediscover the historic foundations of the Christian faith by revisiting the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments. The Apostles’ Creed addresses the doctrinal foundation; the Ten Commandments address the ethical foundation; and the Lord’s Prayer addresses the spiritual foundation. When the doctrinal, ethical, and spiritual dimensions are woven together, they offer us a balanced model for the Christian life. These three summarize the heart of Christianity and offer us a glimpse of the Christian faith as a whole.

4. What, above all, do you wish for readers to know and/or do because of the book?

First and foremost, I want readers to know that doctrine matters and is an essential part of Christian faith. Most books on doctrine are not accessible to the average Christian. Christian doctrine is not just for knowing, but for living. The essentials give us a foundation to build our life upon. What we believe about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit shapes and influences how we live. Doctrine helps us live out the Christian faith and message.

The Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments provide us with a doctrinal and moral compass to live by and for. Like a road map, they provide us with a clear and concise summary of what Christians should know and believe from the Bible. You can find out more about Creed at www.creedthebook.com.

Clayton King’s “Dying to Live”: Buy a Box for Your Students

Clayton King has been a good friend of mine for 16 years now, and his most recent book encapsulates many of the things that I have admired about him over the years. I met Clayton when we were both college students. I was just learning to preach the gospel, but Clayton had been preaching since he was 14, and he was one heckuva preacher already. I learned a lot from him, even thought he is only a year older.

As an itinerant evangelist and preacher, Clayton has always had a knack for standing in front of mixed audiences (composed of believers and unbelievers), able to tear down the intellectual and emotional barriers that often exist between an audience and a preacher, and deliver the gospel with power and precision. Further, he had the ability to do that even while preaching an undiluted gospel. His gospel is not disconnected from costly discipleship.

Dying to Live: Abandoning Yourself to God’s Bold Paradox gives the reader a glimpse of Clayton’s robust gospel message. In the book, he calls us to a costly discipleship, an up-front and honest presentation of the message of Jesus’ life and death and its implications- namely repentance and obedience-for followers of Christ. While his primary audience is students (both high school and college), this book is a challenge and encouragement to believers of any age.

The title and occasion for the book stem from Clayton’s ministry experience (see pp. 9-11) and his resonance with the disciple we sometimes condescendingly call “Doubting Thomas” (see pp. 23-32). The combination of biblical grounding and personal application in the author’s life pays off in the contents of the book. Its greatest strength is that it brings faith in Christ down to the most important question: what do I do? For Christ’s disciples to be known by their fruit (see John 15:16), they must die to self to live in Christ (Mark 8:34-35).

Flying in the face of individualism, which is the natural by-product of our own sin problem and the default attitude of our hearts, King calls the reader to a different manner of life. In view of the righteous life and death of Christ, he states, “I am constantly confronted with the ugly truth that my life now belongs to Another and I am no longer my own. It is now my joy and duty to serve Christ and others and in doing so, bring glory to God and joy to others. Ownership has changed hands. I am not my own anymore” (p. 30).

To explain the nature of his thought, King ably weaves clear words with apt illustrations from Scripture, church history, and his own experiences in life and ministry. His insightful look at the disciple Thomas (ch. 3) and Dietrich Bonhoeffer (ch. 8 ) stand out at examples of those who were willing to forsake themselves on behalf of Christ. They were not only willing to do it, but they did it. By aiming for the heart of the issue, which is our hearts (see, for example, p. 35), he eschews notions of easy believing and calls for genuine discipleship. He therefore calls the reader to submit to God’s authority in repentance and faith-unpopular notions in our (and any) cultural context.

Dying to Live is thus about learning to treasure what God treasures by following Jesus. In so doing, the child of God finds the joy and peace promised by God and fulfilled Jesus. Clayton writes, “The more one loses in order to follow Jesus, the more one seems to love Jesus. The more one loses, the more one gains. Christ in me, the hope of glory” (p. 67). As Jim Elliot put it, “he is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose,” rings true.

Clayton also speaks to the diluted gospels preached in many churches and Christian circles today. “It is possible you could spend your whole life participating in Christian events and activities but never hear a word from a stage or a pulpit or a preacher urging you to follow the example of our sinless martyr, Jesus Christ, by making yourself last, lowest, and least among the crowd. That doesn’t change the reality that embracing His sacrifice in repentance and faith is still the only way to life and salvation” (p. 80). Such is the calling for a disciple of Christ; it is not easy but is full of the power of God in Christ.

Dying to Live is highly recommended, especially for students and for student pastors who might want to buy several boxes to give out to their students.

I Was Never “Mentored”: A Report from the Field, Part 3

This is the third installment of blogs I penned while spending time with overseas workers during the month of January. Not all of these blogs are specifically about “missions,” but are topics raised during my time spent with these workers.

Mentorship is all the rage. Everyone wants to be “mentored” and not a few people want to be a “mentor.” And mentorship has easily found its way into forms of discipleship among evangelicals. Fundamental to mentorship in Christian discipleship is the notion that a mature believer can pass on wisdom and help to shape the life of another.

None would (or should – I’m sure we’ll find some oddball who would) quarrel with the value of such a relationship between two believers. During discussions with overseas workers I found myself, however, confirming some of my suspicions that one-on-one “mentoring” relationships may not be the best form of discipleship.

The one-on-one discipleship movement is usually cast in the context of “Paul/Timothy” relationships, and no doubt there is something to be learned from whatever we learn of that relationship in the biblical text. But I wonder about the wisdom, not to mention the accuracy, of suggesting that the “Paul/Timothy” model is the model for Christian discipleship. I think not, and let me explain why.

The relationship of Paul and Timothy is largely unknown to us. We have limited information from the text itself, and are left to infer the nature of the relationship, the time they spent together, and the nature of the discipleship that occurred between them.

As well, there simply isn’t a singular pattern in the Scriptures that is monolithic or that is prescribed as the primary means of discipleship. Jesus taught the masses and discipled a group of men. And even when we find in Scripture those indications of more personal attention given by Jesus, it isn’t strictly in a “one-on-one” relationship. We should not, therefore, read too much into the descriptions of these relationships in the text. We should not draw too little, of course, but neither should we draw too much.

While overseas I listened to our workers talk about the task of discipling, and I learned more about what I had discovered in my work here in the states. That is, that discipleship is best done in the context of the community. The one-on-one model lacks the robust opportunities for the formation of life that is found when a believer is influenced by more than one person.

Put another way, the one-on-one model often highlights the strengths of the discipler, but may also unduly reproduce the weaknesses. I became acutely aware of this some years ago when I saw a person who had met one of my “disciples” (a young man I “mentored” for about two years) and our mutual friend commented, “Oh, I wasn’t with him ten minutes before I knew he was your disciple.” As I listened to him explain why I realized that the young man had not only been positively shaped by me, but had also picked up some quirks and peculiarities from me that I could only hope he would outgrow.

Granted, this sort of thing is inevitable in human relationships, but it leads me to ask if the Paul/Timothy model (or a distortion of it) doesn’t have some weaknesses that would lead us to value more highly the prospects of something like the relationship of Priscilla and Aquilla with Apollos, or the model of a mother and father with their child. And to realize that the longer one person disciples another, we might find the greater the possibility that they will absorb weaknesses from their mentor as well as strengths.

In 1 Corinthians we gain some insight into the problems that occur when disciples identify too much with a certain figure in the church. We don’t need anyone in the church to be “of David” or “of Bruce” or “of Nathan” or “of Danny.” We need them to be “of Christ” and our discipleship models should lead us to that end.

Don’t get me wrong. There have been some individuals who have clearly influenced my life – for the good. One older couple was a key influence on me when I was a young man, just starting university. A pastor helped to breed in me a love for the Scriptures and the discipline of theology. Another older man showed me the patterns of a disciplined life. And my doctoral mentor formed in me the desire to be rigorous and relentless in the pursuit of truth and the ministry of the gospel.

I am and always will be grateful for the influence of these men and women. But note that it was a variety of members of God’s church who formed my life as a disciple of Jesus. And among those examples, some of them influenced me concurrently – the body of Christ was used by the Spirit to shape my life.

The “Paul/Timothy” model may not be a discipleship “paradigm” at all. But even if it is, it is only one description of discipleship. It is not commanded, nor does it even appear to be a primary means of forming a Christian way of life.

Rather, life in the community of faith, the cultivation of a liturgical life, and the enactment of faith as a way of life is the stuff of real discipleship. And the church should be diligent and intentional about shaping the life of the community to allow for relationships that form mature disciples.

Perhaps in a subsequent blog I’ll flesh out what that may look like, but for now I’ll leave us with this little challenge to think more thoroughly about the nature of discipleship than we may have previously. And I’ll note that this is what happened to me the past month while joined together to learn with my friends from overseas. We together, in community – studying together, arguing together, eating together, living together – helped to form one another in Christ.

So thank you to my friends – you have made me a better disciple of our Lord.