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.