Book Review: The Walk, by Stephen Smallman
Of all the books available on basic Christianity, evangelism, beginning discipleship, and so on, Stephen Smallman's new book, The Walk, stands out in two ways: first, it truly does start at the beginning, with the very basics, and without taking for granted any knowledge of Christianity at all; and second, it is a book designed not so much to impart basic information (although it does that too), but to motivate to a course of action. It is not so much an introduction to a religion as it is a guide for anyone willing to consider and act upon what it means to come to Christ. It takes by the hand those who have never heard the gospel, as well as those who are familiar with Christianity but have false or distorted perceptions of it based upon negative experiences or wrong personal choices, and leads them along, step by step, to the One whom to follow as a disciple is the heart of Christianity. The book is very patient and gentle, never pushy or prodding, and yet it makes very clear that to be a true Christian, a person must forsake all else and turn to follow Christ. And then it shows, in practical terms, just how this is done.
All this is summed up in the subtitle of the book: Steps for New and Renewed Followers of Jesus. This is not primarily a book of propositions, but of steps to be taken; they are the necessary steps for all who would be followers of Jesus; and they are the first steps for those who are new to Christianity, or for those who have had some experience with Christianity or the Church in the past, but have rejected or drifted away from it, and are now interested in being renewed as true followers of Jesus.
Although the approach is very basic, and does not usually employ all of the Reformed jargon, the book has very solid doctrinal foundations. Much is made from the beginning about the effectual call of Jesus (through his Spirit) as the unexceptional inception of any genuine response of submission and faith. In a day when a merely personal and private approach to religion is commonplace, the necessity of being joined to a local Church is made clear, and the purpose of Christ's redemptive work to fashion a new community, a holy and universal Church, and not just to save individuals and leave them alone, is emphasized. In the meat of the book, the glorious gifts of justification by the imputation of Christ's righteousness and sanctification by the regeneration of the Spirit are clearly spelled out in very simple language. And finally, only on the purely gospel basis preceding, it is explained what a life lived according to that gospel looks like, and the great commission we have been given to be both disciples and disciple-makers brings all to a poignant conclusion.
The Walk is loosely organized around the idea of walking the reader through the gospel of Mark and then the book of Romans; but along the way, other scripture passages come up, and Smallman encourages his readers to spend time reading in various places. He encourages the reader not to rush through the book, and at the end of each chapter gives â€œassignmentsâ€ that he strongly encourages him to have completed before pressing on â€“ assignments such as having the gospel of Mark read through twice by a certain point in the book, and writing in a journal. To facilitate discussion and help encourage an actual â€œwalkâ€ toward Jesus, and not just mental assimilation, the book is designed to be read by small groups, under the guidance of an informal advisor or instructor. In a couple of appendices, Smallman gives direction for guiding people through the book effectively, and at the end of the book he even encourages those who have gone through it once to consider walking through it again as a guide to others. Clearly, true disciple-making is near to the heart of Smallman, and the design of his book gives ample evidence to that fact.
I believe this book will have a unique niche of usefulness among laypeople in the church who have friends, neighbors or relatives whom they would love to see coming to Christ, but who feel unqualified or uncertain how to lead them that way. The book will be very useful in assisting even a young believer to help others begin the same journey of discipleship that he himself has begun, even if very recently. The book will also be valuable for those who have not yet come to Christ, but are seriously considering doing so. All such persons may use this book most profitably, according to Smallman, if they keep the following things in mind: (1) â€œBegin with Jesus. The only prerequisite for profiting from The Walk is a sincere desire to know more about Jesus...â€ (2) â€œThis is 'Discipleship for Dummies'â€ â€“ don't worry about being too ignorant or unfamiliar with Christianity or the bible! (3) â€œThis is written as a handbook, not a 'complete package'...you need to stop and read the bible for yourselfâ€. (4) â€œConsider ways to study with others. This book is written to be used in a class, in a group, or with one or two othersâ€. And (5) â€œTake your time. To be a disciple of Jesus is a lifetime commitment.â€
For anyone willing to consider making this lifetime commitment, or wishing to help others see what all is entailed in that decision, The Walk may prove to be a very helpful tool.