Book Review: Now That I’m a Christian, by Michael C. Patton
Michael C. Patton, Now That I’m a Christian: What It Means to Follow Jesus. Crossway, 2014. 176 pps. $11.99.
“I just became a Christian, now what?” is a wonderful question to ask. The answer, in a broad and simple sense, is quite easy: follow Jesus like the Bible tells you to. But for a new Christian that’s not going to be very helpful. There are many things to be learned, questions to be answered, sins to be crucified, and patterns of life to be altered.
In campus ministry, I have the wonderful privilege of working with brand new Christians on a regular basis and I can attest to the fact that while becoming a Christian is certainly wonderful, it can also be a bit daunting. And rightfully so. Christianity is not simply a quick fix for our salvation problem, but rather the filter through which we interpret the entire universe. There is a lot to learn!
Now That I’m a Christian by C. Michael Patton is a helpful little book written to serve our new brothers and sisters in the faith. At 164 pages, the length is far from overwhelming. There are 10 chapters, each covering a major aspect of the Christian faith. The Bible, God, man, the church, missions, Christ and other essential doctrines each occupy a chapter. Every chapter is succinct, yet helpful and thorough.
I was especially encouraged that Patton included a chapter on suffering. This would not have come to my mind as a chapter in a book for new Christians, but here, the author shows tremendous pastoral wisdom. Perhaps the biggest theological and existential problem for a new believer is that of suffering. It’s wise to be honest about the hard road the Christian pilgrim walks so as not to sugarcoat surely-coming hardships. I commend Patton in this regard.
Another positive is the book’s immediate usefulness. For example, at the end of each chapter, there are a few questions and a list of resources for further reading. This is a well-written, helpful book for a new Christian.
My one small critique was the lack of attention given to church membership. Patton clearly implies that a new Christian should be committed to a church but I have known many young believers who will “commit” to a church but avoid membership, as if a committed non-member is even possible. A few simple paragraphs outlining the biblical mandate and the practical usefulness of church membership would have gone a long way.
Perhaps more specifically, the concept of eldering can be a bit strange to a new Christian. It can even sound a bit Mormon! That said, a book like this would be the perfect place to talk of God’s gracious design of the church by providing godly men to help new Christians grow. Covenanted membership—under the glad submission of godly elders, elders who don’t “lord over” the flock—only helps that process. Put simply, membership in a church is vital to the long-term discipleship of all believers, both new and old. Overall the chapter on the church is great., yet, what Patton made implicit regarding membership, I wish had been explicit.
HOW IT SHOULD BE USED
I recommend this book to all churches as a helpful resource for those who have recently placed their faith in Christ. After all, I assume all churches want to help nurture young believers in the faith. This book is a tremendous resource, but not a magic bullet. No matter how good a book is, we cannot simply hand a new Christian a book and tell them to go, read, and grow. Patton’s chapter on the church mentions the need for relationships as a means for growth, and many churches shortcut this relational dynamic by simply handing out a new book. Don’t let that be true for your church.
Practically speaking, use this book as a resource for pairing up wise saints with new ones. Have the new believer in the freshmen dorm read it with his or her upperclassman leader. Have the high-schooler, who is just beginning to make his faith his own, study the book with a recent empty-nester dad. This book has tremendous content, but even the best content in a relational vacuum can be wasted.
Readers of this review are familiar with 9Marks, perhaps the most church-centered ministry out there. My simple plea is this: church, raise up young Christians. Don’t pass it off to a book. But then, take advantage of every possible good book out there to help make that happen, and Now That I’m a Christian is a tremendous one to use.