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PtWBook-Lifestyle-26

I want to recommend John Mark Comer’s Practicing the Way. Comer’s writings have become popular especially among younger Christians, and I can see why. The book is really easy to read. There are no footnotes and some paragraphs are only a sentence or two long, offering bite-size, digestible teaching about what it means to follow Jesus.

Comer rejects the idea that Christianity is all about simply adopting a certain set of beliefs or giving mental assent to the gospel. But many Christians really do stop there, as if Christianity is only about acknowledging certain things: Jesus lived, died, and rose again. On this point, he compares evangelical Christians with many Roman Catholics. It is popular among Roman Catholics to distinguish between a Catholic and a practicing Catholic. Comer suggests that, while the Bible never makes a distinction between real and practicing Christians, we may need to so that we can accurately describe the current state of the evangelical Church.

He urges people not to simply identify as Christians but to become practicing Christians by learning what Jesus meant when he called people to follow him as his disciples. The term disciple is somewhat foreign to us, so Comer suggests that the more common term apprentice gives a better sense of what Jesus meant. What does an apprentice do? An apprentice learns, not merely by growing an intellectual database, but through observation and hands-on-practice, a sort of lived or embodied way of knowing, learning from their master. Comer argues that, similarly, apprenticeship to Jesus involves three main goals: be with Jesus, become like Jesus, and do as he did.

The sections on being with Jesus and becoming like Jesus emphasize a transformative life with Christ that roots the transformation (becoming like Jesus) in relationship (being with Jesus). Throughout, Comer distills the writings of Eugene Peterson, Dallas Willard, and other writers across the Christian tradition. In these sections, he develops a theology of spiritual growth. This kind of theology is needed because, as Comer points out, many Christians keep growing until they hit a basic level of maturity, but they remain in that state for the rest of their lives. All along the way, Comer brings biblical texts, theological reflection, and relevant application together to mark out a path of spiritual formation.

Especially instructive is Comer’s emphasis on doing as he did—not as a legalistic means of earning favor with God but instead of participating in the kind of life Jesus modeled for his followers. Doing as Jesus did, Comer argues, is usually about cutting things out of our lives by doing less instead of adding a bunch of things into our lives. When Jesus called his disciples to follow him, he fundamentally reoriented their focus. But he didn’t call them to stop being people. Comer is especially sensitive to the realities of life—dirty dishes and diapers, long hours at work, etc.—that makes putting his suggestions into practice really doable.

Comer is a pastor in LA, so some of his West Coast vibes come through the book in a way that doesn’t quite fit with my Midwestern personality. And, as usual, there are a few points of minor disagreement along the way. Of special note are his comments about spiritual warfare. What he says in the book is good, but I do wonder what this looks for him. My sense is that the publisher probably had him reign in his more charismatic tendencies to serve a broader evangelical readership. But on the whole, Comer has served Christians well by offering this timely and readable book. Take up and read!

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