The Pursuit of Uncomplicated Obedience
Author: Bill Hull
Soft Cover, 224 pages
Publisher: NavPress Publishing Group
Christlike is written to those with a knowledge of the truth of the Gospel, but inaction in their practice. Hull’s intention seems to be to kick-start dead motors, getting the process of discipleship back in motion. Hull stresses the need to be active in our faith, and provides insight into the way we have been fooled into complacency by our culture and our nature. While Hull provides good reason for a life of discipleship, a number of words came to mind as I read, and they were rarely positive: pleading, hyperbolic, non-specific, muddled, dependent, and secondary.
The book begins by describing how the Gospel has been emended or lessened, corrupted by the surrounding culture at the expense of the true Gospel. While he does a good job of presenting the failures of the church in each of its doctrinal and historical manifestations, his statements will probably alienate a lot of well-meaning Christ-followers. The social/inclusive gospel, the consumer gospel, and the prosperity gospel are all treated, as is the “salvation” gospel, in which salvation is the sole task of the Church, with discipleship forgotten. His words are riddled with historical details, and seem well grounded. But he often moves from facts to generalizations in an indefensible manner, and many of his assumptions are offered in a way that is off-putting to a reader from a different background.
For example, on pp. 23-24 Hull describes an interview for a pastoral position which touched at one point on the complentarian-egalitarian debate. His comments are in passing, leaving no time to defend his view in this book:
When they asked me about women in ministry, I presented the straightforward teaching of Paul that women should not hold authority over men and that wives were helpmates and should submit to their husband’s authority. The reaction was immediate. One young man scoffed and several protested out of turn. The chairman had to quiet members down. I was thinking. Aren’t these people Baptist? I thought Baptists believed the Bible! Obviously, these Baptists didn’t.
If one disagreed with the author at this point, it is very likely they would just put the book down because his position is taken for granted as the only way of seeing scripture. The author would have done better to find an example that would make his point more agreeable. As is he seems to shoot his argument in the foot, forcing his audience to disagree with him at the start – or maybe he truly believes his is the only valid view of these matters. Either way, he could have deftly introduced the ills of social liberalism without this poorly executed illustration.
Having dealt with these “false” gospels, he offers the Gospel of the Kingdom. Having just completed N.T. Wright’s Surprised By Hope, I was left with a distinct feeling of deja vu. While Hull is powerful in his approach, it all has a sense of being derivative; as if he is restating almost verbatim the words of others. While it is not surprising that more than one current author is speaking on the Kingdom, it could have been handled in a way that didn’t scream “cut-and-paste.”
On a number of occasions, Hull tries to speak to the origin or meaning of words, like “witness” (p.29), “”relevant” (p. 83), and “humility” (p. 86). Mostly I think these just failed to be helpful. I would question their veracity, for one, and they often didn’t have a great deal of success in progressing the point. Often, because they failed to be convincing, they actually distracted from the overall flow. When describing the fact that most Christians live with confused priorities, he offers a gripping depiction of the heart and mind of the people of God, compelling and scary. But this was closely connected with a failed definition of “uncomplicated” (p. 157) that left the whole tarnished and lacking.
On p. 102 he approaches 2 Timothy 3:16-17, but continues from there into murky waters:
The New Testament was a growing portfolio of letters and histories with the mission to explain what happened with Jesus and to correct the excesses and mistakes of those who were then following him. So when Paul said “Word of God,” he was referring to that body of written truth that at that time was recognized by the believing community as from God.
The problem here is that Paul does not say “Word of God” in this passage! If he is trying to bring to mind some other passage, he fails to properly distinguish. If he is referring to something like Hebrews, then he may run afoul of the fact that Paul is not the unequivocal author of the book. Maybe this was just an editor’s mistake, replacing one word with another for flow, trying to avoid repetition, etc. If so, it is very unfortunate.
His handling of Romans 12:2 on p.101 made me smile, though. Usually this verse is only mentioned when trying to make some point about God being the source of transformation; this is not exactly the point, nor do the usual arguments about passive Greek forms support the claim. Hull completely avoids the matter, recognizing that the point is that we experience transformation and take responsibility for seeing it happen by changing our mind. For this I have nothing but praise.
I was also impressed by his opening to the chapter “Sustained Effort”. He succeeds in describing how the gospel is grace-based, but requires our involvement. He was clear and concise, and I was glad. As this is the major theme of the book, taking an active and sustained approach to discipleship, it is only fitting that this was a strength.
I give this book ★★★☆☆. It is a decent book on promoting the spiritual disciplines, but there are better, and sometimes even shorter, books to do the job; books that provide more clarity and greater impetus to follow Christ wholeheartedly.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from NavPress Publishers as part of their Blogger Review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”