Matthew Dickerson is no stranger in our region, and he has just come out with a new book: Disciple Making in a Culture of Power, Comfort, and Fear. He has been a featured speaker and a featured musician before at Annual Gatherings. He has published 15 books including biography, Christian apologetics, books about C.S.Lewis and story, and books about Christianity and ecology.
We had the opportunity to ask Matthew a few questions about his connection to our region as well as about his new book.
You are no stranger to ABC-VNH over the years. Tell us a little about your connection to our Region.
My wife Deborah and I moved to Vermont 31 years ago, and soon got involved with an ABC church in Middlebury. We have raised all three of our sons in the church, and they’ve all been baptized by our pastor, and at present the two who still live close to us are actively involved in the church. In addition to serving in a wide variety of ministries, capacities, positions in our local church, I have been a featured speaker at one of the ABC-VNH annual conventions, and a musician at another. I have also given concerts at several churches in the region. For several years I helped run a conference on Christianity and the Arts at Gove Hill (before the region had to sell that property). Deborah is now serving as a trustee in the region. So, while I didn’t grow up in a Baptist church, I’ve now spent more than half my life with a deep connection to ABC-VNH.
You have written about a variety of things, both fiction and non-fiction. What drew you to write Disciple Making in a Culture of Power, Comfort, and Fear?
I’ve published more than a dozen books, but while for years I have sensed God’s college to be a communicator—a writer and speaker—this is the first book that I had a very clear sense of calling that I was supposed to write about a very particular topic. In fact, I had been working on a novel at the time, and also on some non-fiction writing about trout, fishing, and river ecology, and I didn’t particularly want to write this book. But the sense of calling was particularly strong, and it didn’t go away or become less compelling after I tried to ignore it for a couple months. So I put down my other projects and started on it.
I think one other thing that probably helped push me to write the book—or to accept the calling to write it—was the death of Eugene Peterson. Peterson had been something of a spiritual mentor to me over the previous eight years through a personal relationship that began with a group of writers of Christian faith that I am a part of (called the Chrysostom Society.) So I was both inspired by the example he had set of disciple making, and also feeling a sense of loss and a need to continue the important work he had invested in. Readers of my book will note that I quote Peterson several times.
How did the process of writing this book change how you view discipleship making?
I think the Biblical teaching is that all believers are called to be makers of disciples, but how we do that can look very different from person to person and even from time to time in the life of one individual. We go through phases in our lives where God may be moving us from one emphasis of ministry to another. Some of the avenues in which I had invested in disciple making were no longer as open to me, and I was in a bit of an in-between time, so writing the book nudged me toward a more intentional seeking of where God would have me invest next.
I’m not sure it changed my fundamental view of the Biblical call to disciple making as much as reinvigorated me or renewed my commitment, and also helped me reflect more carefully on the foundations of disciple making (which I address in the book). It also helped me to think through the great need, in our culture (so dominated by fear and by an unholy striving for power and by an addiction to comfort) for a renewed commitment in the church to deeper faith, which in terms needs deeper discipleship—to use the phrase of Eugene Peterson: a long obedience in the same direction.
I also think that writing this book helped me think through some new connections, and maybe especially the connection between discipleship and spiritual transformation, and the idea that our transformation is both something that the Holy Spirit does within us (that we cannot do to ourselves) and yet something that we must participate in. The New Testament language of spiritual transformation, especially in the writings of Paul, uses both the active and passive voice; transformation is something God does in our lives, but something we must be involved in, or open to. That is also true of the work of making disciples.
Here is a description of Dickerson's new book:
Speaking in and to a culture that worships power and comfort while cultivating fear as a manipulative tool, Matthew Dickerson offers a transformative alternative: authentic discipleship and disciple making. What does it mean to live as disciples of Christ, what would it look like to be transformed by the Holy Spirit, and how can we be open to that transformation? How can a follower of Christ live as salt and light in the midst of a power-hungry fear-mongering society? And how can we both teach and model that disciple life as we obey Christ’s command to make disciples? In the tradition of spiritual theology and formation, Disciple Making in a Culture of Power, Comfort, and Fear draws deeply from Paul’s Second Epistle to Timothy—viewed as a reflection on Jesus’ great disciple-making commission—as well as on Dickerson’s own experiences in disciple-making ministry on college campuses and his local church. Dickerson’s writing is deeply informed by Scriptures, by the works of such important Christian thinkers, theologians, and writers as Eugene Peterson, John Stott, and Richard Foster, and also by the literature of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien whose works he has been teaching and writing about for more than thirty years.
Rev. Dale Edwards had a chance to read this book, and he writes this:
“Matt Dickerson’s work brings to the forefront that disciples must be truly formed by Christ to be disciple-makers. Matt’s cultural analysis, precise exegesis, while plumbing the writings of Christian saints, coupled with his own journey, unfolds a depth of timeless orthodoxy. Matt Dickerson leads us from cultural conformity, and the solely cognitive, to the soul forming work of Word, words, and Spirit. From this well, disciples and disciple-makers are born. I cannot help recommend this work to all who desire to reach higher and deeper.”
Buy the book here!
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