by Jerry Trousdale Thomas Nelson, 2012 (208pp), ISBN 978-1-4185-4728-8 ($9.99)
Review by Jeff Morton
Better than cauliflower
I don’t like cauliflower. I know it’s good for me, but that doesn’t make it taste any better; however, there are things I do because they are right, not because I enjoy them. You are probably expecting me to say I didn’t want to read this book, but I did; and it was good for me, right? No, I wanted to read Jerry Trousdale’s many-storied account of how the church is growing among Muslims in Africa because the setting is Africa. I have a soft spot for the continent, having spent nine years there with SIM.
So what I’m saying is that I was prepared not to like the book; and in the end, I certainly enjoyed reading the book, but it left me with more questions than answers.
Let me provide a quick synopsis of the book and then I will work through some of the questions I have.
Trousdale primarily emphasizes the need for–hold on to your clichÃ© detector–a paradigm shift among Christians vis-Ã -vis discipleship. Summarizing the seven shifts in chapter 12, the author has nevertheless woven these ideas throughout the previous chapters punctuating each point with several illustrative narratives of Christians who are living out the principles. The seven shifts are
- Make intercessory prayer the highest priority
- Make disciples who make disciples
- Invest time in the right person
- Don’t tell people what to believe or do
- Never settle for revealing just one dimension of Jesus’ life
- Never substitute knowledge about God for an obedience-based relationship with God
- Understand that Jesus does impossible things through the most ordinary people (180-185).
The book offers principles many of us are already following; so a seasoned discipler may not glean as much from the book as a greenhorn, but Trousdale does provide at least one major improvement over some other discipleship books. The methods are not simply biblical (a point I will discuss below), they are in fact Jesus-oriented. Jesus practiced these principles and they are therefore tested by a master discipler, the incarnate God himself. One cannot ask for a better endorsement than that!
Finally, let me put your mind at ease. The book is not on a crusade to convince the reader that insider movements (IM) principles are the best way to make disciples. That is not to say Trousdale’s work does not overlap in a few areas with IM; it does, but the book is most assuredly not a primer for producing insiders. Now let’s get into a few problematic matters.
The first thing I noticed about Trousdale’s style was the apparently conscious decision to call believers from Islamic backgrounds Christ-followers; those from a non Muslim background were signified as Christians. I appreciate that the author has not shied away from using the C-word unlike so many proponents of IM. And I am not opposed to having the Christian from a Muslim background called a Christ-follower (cf. 15, 22, et al). But before you work yourself up in a tizzy, Trousdale does use, albeit sparingly, the C-word for Muslims who have converted (cf. twice on p. 25, and elsewhere). I don’t ever remember seeing the word converted applied to a believer, but transformed is used frequently. So I guess my only real complaint here is that I wish the author had also applied the term Christ-followers to Christians from non-Muslim backgrounds, too.
You may think I’m still stuck on a style issue, but I wondered why the author never documented any of the places where the miraculous events are taking place. To me this sounds very much like what the proponents of IM have done to us: ask us to believe these marvelous events are taking place without providing a means for us to study these movements for ourselves. The end result of this is that miraculous events require miraculous faith on our part, considering all the fiddling with numbers that has gone on within the IM. Now, I don’t doubt the author’s veracity, but good scholarship requires some type of documentation; otherwise it becomes a matter of “he said” and “she said.” There are very few footnotes and none of these substantiate the claims of such large movements.
There is the issue of the names and places that are mentioned in the book. I’m pretty sure the names of the disciples are pseudonyms, but the author never tells us that. There is also the story of the Yappa Muslims (cf. 50); this is a tribe that does not exist, yet we are not told it is a pseudonym. This does not lend itself to increasing the reader’s acceptance of the reality of the movements.
One of my concerns before picking up the book was to know how in line with Scripture the book would be. It was a concern of Trousdale as well. On page 11 of “About the Team and Author,” he asserts that disciple making “is the discovery and intentional implementation of biblical principles and values that have been hidden in plain sight in the pages of the Bible.” And a bit later in his introduction he flexes even more Bible muscle: “All the principles that we are seeing at work are clearly outlined–indeed, commanded–in the pages of Scripture” (16).
This is a high standard–and one I’m sure we all appreciate–but notice the principles are not simply stated in Scripture. They are commanded. Am I right to infer that there is simply one methodology for discipleship? This is where I have a few questions.
Jesus commanded that we go into the all the world and make obedient disciples (Mt 28:19). We are agreed on the mission to make obedient disciples, but where did Jesus tell us exactly how to do this? It’s not part of the Great Commission. Trousdale believes that first, the manner in which Jesus discipled provides the commands for how we must disciple; and second, he examines the sending out of the disciples in Matthew 10 and Luke 10 for the “person of peace” principles.
First, the counter-intuitive principles by which Jesus discipled those around him are as follows (cf. 40-45):
- Go slow at first to go fast later. I expected some scriptural support, but instead the author stated, “We know that Jesus had a timetable for His public ministry. He had just three years . . . So He chose disciple making as His strategy, the most time-consuming strategy one could imagine” (40) What does Trousdale mean by going slow? How did Jesus go slow? When did he speed things up? Is this a command for how we must make disciples or is it simply descriptive of how Jesus discipled? And if it’s a command, shouldn’t it be explicitly directed as such?
- Focus on the few to win many. “Mass communication and evangelism may have their place, but they show no signs of dramatically transforming the world” (40). I agree with the principle, but how is it biblical? Did Jesus ever practice mass communication? I believe he did (feeding of the 3,000 and 5,000; Sermon on the Mount). I still agree with the principle as stated; I just wonder if it is a command.
- Engage an entire family or group, not just the individual. “The New Testament record shows that Jesus and the early church had a strong focus on seeing whole families come to faith.” I think I agree with the latter part of the statement. Household conversion stories do seem most common in the book of Acts; however, to make such a blanket statement about Jesus when there are so many exceptions might invalidate the conclusion. Jesus had twelve disciples and just three of those were his intimates. Sure, wives traveled with them (Luke 8:1), but we are not told that Jesus was focused on discipling whole families–not even the families of his twelve disciples. I think the example of Jesus shows us something different: the importance of discipling a few in order to see a larger group discipled.
- Share only when and where people are ready to hear. “Selective exposure is a problem; people don’t listen to what they don’t want to hear. Selective perception is a problem; people reinterpret what they do hear to align with their presuppositions. And selective memory is a problem; people often forget what they know but don’t agree with” (41). The author doesn’t tie this to any example. Is it a command?
- Start with creation, not with Christ. Again, I agree this is a great principle and one I know I follow when discipling Muslims, but is it what Jesus did? If so, when and how? It is a biblical principle since the Father has revealed himself to us in this manner, but to extrapolate it into a command or as a method Jesus employed cannot be supported by any text.
- It’s about discovering and obeying, not teaching and knowledge. Jesus practiced this by teaching in parables. Agreed, but is it a command?
- Disciple people to conversion, not vice versa. I like this very much; in fact, Trousdale believes “discipleship requires a daily choice to intentionally and consistently obey God’s will” (44).
- Coach lost people from the beginning to discover and obey biblical truth.
- Prepare to spend a long time making strong disciples, but anticipate miraculous accelerations.
- Expect the hardest places to yield the greatest results. These final three principles are sound, pragmatic, spiritually wise, and proven, but are they explicitly biblical and are we commanded to practice them to the exclusion of all other principles?
Second, not only do the actions of Jesus give us our discipling orders, but Trousdale examines Matthew 10 and Luke 10 (cf. 90ff) for more explicit commands. He states people of peace are God’s pre-positioned agents to bridge the gospel to their family, their friends, or their workplace. This element of Jesus’ strategy for engaging lostness is perhaps one of the most significant principles, and also one of the most neglected principles, for entering unreached people groups. Obeying Jesus’ commands on this (and note that His words are commands, not suggestions) overcomes historic barriers (emphasis mine; 90).
There are some difficulties if we understand Jesus’ words as commands–not just to the disciples being sent–but to us today. If we are not following these commands, does that mean we must be disobedient disciples? Here are the commands from Matthew’s account (the author did not include all of them in his book):
- Don’t go to the Gentiles (10:5)
- Don’t go to the Samaritans (10:5)
- Go only to the Jews (10:6)
- Preach, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand” (10:7)
- Heal the sick (10:8)
- Raise the dead (10:8)
- Cleanse the lepers (10:8)
- Cast out demons (10:8)
- You have been given the gospel freely, so give it without payment 10:8)
- Don’t accept any valuable metals (10:9)
- Don’t even take along a bag, two coats, sandals or a staff (10:10)
- Inquire who is worthy in a town and stay there (10:11)
- Greet the house (10:12)
- Bless a worthy house, but take back the blessing from an unworthy one (10:13)
- Shake off the dust of your feet if you are not received (10:14)
Are we to think that each of these instructions are really commands for us? I hope this is not what Trousdale is saying. Good principles? Yes. Relevant strategies? Absolutely. Are they explicit commands given that we might practice the only real biblical disciple making? I don’t think so.
I understand it appears I am being persnickety by pointing out these minor problems. I’m willing to be considered a curmudgeon about all this, but only if I am wrong to point out that Trousdale himself demanded the reader practice these methodologies by telling us each one is biblical, even going so far as to imply that each principle is a command, not merely a possibility. Remember at the beginning of this review, I cited the author’s statement that what we would read about are biblical principles: “All the principles that we are seeing at work are clearly outlined–indeed, commanded–in the pages of Scripture” (16).
Miraculous Movements reads very quickly due to the narrative content. These are wonderful stories about men and women who have left Islam in order to follow Jesus. It doesn’t get any better than that, does it? Unless those ex-Muslims are obedient disciples; and they seem to be according to the author. But there is the issue of substantiation. And if you know absolutely nothing about the Discovery Bible Study, Trousdale provides an adequate introduction to the purpose and methodology of DBS. It is a commendable way to disciple unbelievers into believers.
But also read this book with your Bible open–not because anything Trousdale writes is unbiblical or questionable. In fact, Miraculous Movements is a book that honors the Word of God. Just the same, keep your Bible handy. Are these methods and principles strictly biblical, let alone commanded? This will be something you will have to decide for yourself.
 [All footnotes are comments from Jerry Trousdale upon reading the prepublished review. I’ve left his comments unedited.] We had 55,000 words to create a popular treatment introduction of disciple making movements aimed at the general Christian audience.
It was Cityteam’s objective to utilize this book as an introduction to the concepts of “obedience-based discipleship that transforms individuals and communities” to a Christian world where “knowledge-based discipleship” is the norm.
It is designed to be the first of several works that will explore Jesus’ modeling of discipleship and other biblical values and principles that can perhaps help the church throughout the world to be more effective at (1) engaging lostness, (2) making obedient-disciples of Christ, (3) launching simple churches, and (4) launching appropriate training and mentoring of new leaders as they arise.
We are at work now on follow-up works, some of which will be popular treatments, and some of which will be more in the biblical theology categories.
 I believe that many of the values and principles of disciple making movements can be implemented without a major paradigm shift. But I am more and more becoming convinced that “obedience-based discipleship” is very difficult to bring back into a central focus in the church which Jesus’ final words on earth require, without a significant reorientation of Christian values and practices to facilitate obedient relationships with God instead of settling for imparting just knowing about God.
 Your observation is interesting because I personally began using “Christ Follower” before 2000 when I was pastoring an American, missionary-sending church and searching for language that communicated to Westerners a higher level of commitment to Jesus than the simple word “Christian” carried in our contemporary culture.
And I certainly prefer it today as well, especially in any context dealing with Muslims. As you observed, my reasons for this preference are unrelated to IM question, but rather with the weighty cultural, historical, theological, and behavioral connotations that have become tragically attached to the term “Christian” throughout most of the Muslim world.
When writing the book I was aware that I frequently using “Christ Follower” in Muslim contexts, but I think that I also used “Christian” quite a bit in paragraphs describing former Muslims. Upon reflection I am sure that a preference for the “Christ Follower” term certainly relates to the above paragraph.
We typically don’t use the word “converted” very much in disciple making movements because in the 21st century that too often suggests a formula of a quick sinner’s prayer and mental assent to a proposition of faith without launching an intentional process of becoming a faithful, obedient, and transformed disciple of Christ.
 We actually noted on the bottom of page 11 and on to page 12 that security concerns and promises to protect the identity of sources is why Cityteam chose in this book to change every name, not identify any locations, and mask details of some stories.
About 130 interviews were conducted with mostly Muslim background people from six different African countries.
In almost every case, I myself, or our field staff had prior knowledge of each person interviewed prior to being invited into this process.
Each of those was recorded. Releases were signed by the people interviewed. The simultaneous translations were recorded and transcribed. In about twenty cases they were retranslated to check for accuracy.
Transcripts of each of these recorded stories along with original written permission are held securely by Cityteam and Thomas Nelson. I believe that the list of endorsers suggests what is actually a remarkable list of first person verification including mission researchers, Christian foundations’ staff and consultants, and many partner ministries.
And we are hopeful that a long sought “independent field audit” will happen later this year
While we see that the disciple making movements are now moving rapidly among scores of people groups in at least four continents, when God’s people anywhere make strong disciples and plant good churches we are happy. We have been privileged to see a remarkable move of God among more than more than 150 people groups but we would be delusional to think that our way is the only way that God honors and blesses.
Second, regarding the language of the interjected wording “indeed, commanded” I recall that was inserted by an enthusiastic editor and I thought it was a good edit.
I left it in because his change was meant to suggest that the principles we see working so dramatically in Africa and other places in the world are all mined from Scripture-examples, counsel, values-and some are even commands! All together they have been tested and found fruitful! But certainly we never intended to imply every principle carries the weight of a direct command from God’s Word.
The actions of Jesus among the Jews does not negate the principles. This even includes the “don’t go to the Gentiles and Samaritans.” Jesus established a strong base among the Jews, and then he later gave the command to move to all the nations.
I don’t understand the point regarding healing the sick, raising the dead, cleansing lepers, and casting out demons. These are pretty straight forward and the church worldwide continues to pray for all these things.
Certainly there are some situational instructions/commands that Jesus made to His team that may or may not apply to today. But the principles are still applicable.
Of course, we are beyond thrilled to see how God is using the principles, values, and practices described in the book in our ministry and many partner ministries to liberate more than 80 Muslim people groups in Africa. Other ministries are reporting even more from across other parts of the Islamic world.
But in both public and private conversations, I am always very intentional in affirming and encouraging other Great Commission ministries who use somewhat different methods to achieve faithful disciples and healthy churches.
Cityteam and I genuinely celebrate that God-honoring progress whenever and wherever it is happening. It is a wonderful time to be a Great Commission Christian!
 One final note. I believe that Christians can learn much to imitate from observing the actions and ministry strategies of Jesus as well as his words. The Great Commission tells us to teach and obey everything Jesus taught.
His actions certainly continue to be a major component of what hopefully shapes each one of us into becoming fully devoted Christ Followers
Is it possible that His disciples learned at least as much by living and walking three years with Jesus as they did from his Words? I think “yes, indeed!” And that omission in the modern church is, at the core a crippling limitation in much of today’s modern church.
Jesus’ modeling and coaching itself argues for returning to discipleship not as a curriculum in a class but as a life of being taught, mentored, and coached to be where we live, the best example we can be of our Savior.