Wednesday, October 26, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: "Going Deep" offers a nugget without going deep

I waited with eager anticipation for my review copy of Gordon MacDonald's latest book, "Going Deep" (published by Thomas Nelson) to arrive. The content of the book was supposed to be on a subject matter I consider to be critical to today's church, so I was excited someone had written on the topic.

Unfortunately, "Going Deep" only offers a nugget on the topic of the vital need for the church to disciple Christians to maturity --- to take them "deep" --- which is a great failure of the church today.

The "nugget" is found on the first page of the book. You don't even have to read through the preface or acknowledgements to get it. It's a quote by Richard Foster, stating, "The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people."

MacDonald must have found the quote to be profound (which, I think, it is) because he wrote a book around it. Unfortunately, instead of applying the message of the quote, he didn't "go deep" on the need for "going deep." MacDonald doesn't give a "deep" reasoning for the critical need to disciple believers to a depth of real maturity, or address why the church isn't doing that, or discuss how it could be done today. Instead, he picks up from his previous book, "Who Stole My Church?" and writes a fictional story about a pastor who is moved by a question and Foster's quote to develop a discipleship group aimed at "cultivating deep people."

Perhaps MacDonald thought he could provide a deeper understanding of the need for "going deep" by telling a fictional story of a church actually doing it. I can understand the thinking behind such action, but it misses going deep on something that needs much greater depth.

While I greatly appreciate MacDonald bringing attention to Richard Foster's great insight by sharing his quote, their are some things MacDonald puts into his fictitious story that are minor distractions.

For example, he has the pastor of this fictional church react to Foster's quote as if he had never considered the need to disciple people to full maturity (depth), and suggests that's not really the job of today's church leaders. It's true too many church leaders are failing to "cultivate deep people," but being responsible for discipling believers to maturity is hardly a novel idea for a pastor.

Other distractions include an obvious preference (based on numerous references) of viewing the church as a "community" instead of a body (Christ's body) or family (God's family). If you're really going to "go deep," you'll understand that the Bible does not teach that God adopted us to be a part of His "community," but, rather, to be His own adopted children. There's a vast difference between being a part of a community and being a brother or sister in a family or being a connected part of a body. The biblical view of the church is significantly more intimate than the concept of "community."

MacDonald almost seems to see mentoring and discipling as different names for the same thing. Again, there is a marked difference between mentoring and discipling. To take people "deep" spiritually, we must disciple them (at least, if we're going to follow the biblical mandate for doing so).

MacDonald's fictional pastor is also quite comfortable going outside the church for discipleship techniques, turning to a business executive and a rabbi for ideas. Perhaps if MacDonald would have focused on a deep look at the need for "going deep" he would have noted that the church's proclivity to copy business or cultural methods is a contributing reason why the church is failing at developing spiritually "deep people."

MacDonald also flirts with the controversial by subtly suggesting women should be able to serve as elders. Many of his potential readers belong to churches or denominations that believe scripture teaches the position of pastor and elder are to be held by men. Tossing in this aspect of controversy is just a distraction to his subject matter.

Finally, MacDonald's fictional pastor views being part of the "cultivating deep people" group as something that only select people should be invited to. The approach to discipleship or mentoring in this book is offered only to potential leaders. Yet every Christian, whether a leader or a follower, needs to be discipled to maturity.

MacDonald does a helpful thing in stirring our thoughts regarding the need to cultivate deep people. The problem is, once he offers that nugget, the remainder of the book is shallow territory.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their book review bloggers 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.”

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