By Ajith Fernando. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2019. ISBN 978-1-4335-6285-3. 288 pp.
Reviewed by Nathan Keller
Mission Round Table 18:3 (Oct-Dec 2023): 40
To read articles in this edition, visit this post on Mission Round Table 18:3.
The only imperative in the Greek of the Great Commission is “make disciples.” For this reason, and rightly so, a vast number of books have been written about disciple making. Ajith Fernando’s Discipling in a Multicultural World is a unique contribution to this field. It sparkles like a brilliant gem on a bookshelf among many other good books and thus stands out, calling out to be read, ingested, and lived out.
Fernando uses the metaphor of “spiritual parenthood” to describe the process of making disciples. Just as parenthood is filled with joys and sorrows, times of excitement and times of exhaustion, so too is helping others become disciples of Jesus Christ. Fernando summarizes the heart of discipleship: “Disciplers are servants of disciplees, doing all we can to help them grow and be fruitful” (258).
This attitude echoes the Apostle Paul, who wrote of his own work of discipleship: “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me” (Col 1:28–29 ESV).
Many books on discipleship focus on either what it means to be a disciple of Jesus or provide step-by-step methods of how to make disciples of Jesus. This book is different.
In the first half, six chapters introduce the nature and importance of spiritual parenthood. Here, Fernando addresses why it’s needed, objections to it, as well as the importance of the Christian community in helping people grow as disciples. He then addresses the distinction between earthly and heavenly families, the reality of suffering as a Chrisitan, and how the spiritual parent can intentionally perform certain actions to grow a disciple.
In the second half of the book, Fernando takes readers on a unique, yet comprehensive, exploration of the different ways in which disciples of Jesus change and transform, and thus grow as life-long disciples.
In this half, Fernando writes about what is included in the process of change, how learning God’s truth through various ways leads to change, and how praying for those whom we disciple helps them to change. He then has three insightful chapters on how understanding the biblical teachings regarding guilt/forgiveness, honor/shame, and fear/liberation can lead to a Christian growing as a mature disciple of Jesus Christ. He finishes with a chapter on the importance that experiencing Christ’s healing of wounds can have in a disciple’s life and maturity. These later four chapters are what makes this book truly unique.
Having received his formal theological education in the United States, Fernando writes in the style of a Western pastor-theologian. Yet, as a Sri Lankan man who lives, understands, and ministers in Asia, he deeply understands the challenges of being a disciple of Jesus in a non-Christian environment. As a result, this book is filled with insights and illustrations of what it means to make disciples in the non-Western world. Included are the themes of honoring parents, being part of a collective society, and being surrounded by a culture of animistic worship. These are the cultural and religious realities that are experienced in the ministry fields where many missionaries live and serve.
As the world is becoming more global, and once Chrisitan-majority societies are experiencing drastic change, the discipleship principles in this book are needed in the West as well. Its teaching is thus truly global in scope.
I strongly encourage anyone who would like to be a reflective practitioner of Christian mission to read Discipling in a Multicultural World and to put what you learn into practice. May this book be a great aid as you spiritually parent others to be disciples of Jesus.