Big Disappointment: “Becoming a Disciple-Making Church” Book-Review

I was pleased to receive a free copy of this from Bethany House because the title makes you think it’ll be an encouraging look into helping people grow as Christians. The reason I chose it was because some people I know have done Neil Anderson’s Freedom in Christ course and enjoyed it.

The book deals with overcoming various aspects of life that could be barriers between you and God: Anxiety disorders, depression, addictions, etc, but the author comes across as lacking in compassion. He writes that we must give the gospel with compassion, yet some of his other statements contradict this. For example, he says: “Spirit-filled Christians have found their sanctuary in Christ”, implying that anyone who struggles with fear isn’t filled with the Spirit. The truth is, we all struggle with sin, otherwise John wouldn’t have needed to write: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). Neil also says confession is the first step to repentance, but doing this alone will not bring resolution – again, a contradiction of John’s words in the Bible: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). John says confession is our part in repentance; then it’s God who does the purifying.

Neil would have us believe the key to overcoming depression is commitment, but when a person’s deep into depression, they lack energy and the thought of committing to anything long-term is overwhelming. Perhaps we can learn a thing or two here from the friends who lowered a paralysed man through a hole in the roof to see Jesus. The man himself was in no position to act, but their faith and action got results. If you’re a friend of someone who’s struggling and overwhelmed, perhaps you could be the one to commit to helping them.

It really comes down to what you believe about depression – whether you regard it as a sin, or an illness. I personally believe certain sinful behaviours may cause depression (unforgiveness, anger etc), but when a person reaches the depression stage, then I believe they’re ill and need help to recover. There is certainly hope for recovery, and I’m all for including God in that. Paul writes about us being transformed by the renewing of our minds, but Neil’s pronouncements that: “A victim is only a victim by choice” or “We need to be health-oriented, not illness-oriented” seem very critical. If someone broke their arm, their brain would focus on the pain of that broken arm. That wouldn’t be the fault of the person whose arm was broken. If physical problems are accepted in this way, why should someone with a mental illness be condemned? There are, of course, strategies we can use to overcome depression and Neil highlights some of these. We do have to take thoughts captive and make them obedient to Christ, E.G. rather than focus on feelings of inadequacy, we can dwell on who God is and the strengths He’s given us. We should stay connected to the important people in our lives, and I’ve always liked what Jarrod Cooper says: “God’s Word will fix you.” Psalm 107:20 talks about God sending His Word and healing.

I realise Neil Anderson has ministered for a number of years, and this is the culmination of his life’s work, but even some of the testimonies in the book don’t sit right. He talks about an unmarried woman in a sexual relationship. At the start of his time with her, he asked: “What would you do if I said you shouldn’t see the man again?” She answered, then he heard her story and they prayed together. Afterwards she said: “I’m never going to see that man again”. Neil says that conviction came from God, but did it? Don’t get me wrong; it may well have done, but it could also be that having been confronted previously, she made the statement because she felt it was expected of her. For the sake of all those who’ve been ministered to by Neil, I hope my opinion of him is wrong.

“Becoming a Disciple-Making Church” has the potential to put people off Christianity. I’ve found books like “Give Yourself a Break”, “You’re Already Amazing”, and even the secular book I’m reading at the moment on overcoming anxiety, to be far more beneficial.

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