Friday, November 25, 2011

Come of Age

Maybe you became a Christian after hearing the Good News of Jesus and choosing to respond to him.  Perhaps God powerfully grabbed a hold of you and compelled you to believe the Gospel.  Or maybe you are a Christian because you have always been one, neither remembering a time when you weren’t one or being able to imagine the possibility that you could not believe.  Maybe you came to Christ in some other manner.  Or maybe you are still on the fence, unsure what to make of Jesus.  No matter how you may have come by the label of “Christian,” nearly all who claim it would agree with the idea that it is not merely something you are, but it is also an identity that calls you to grow within it.  Growth as a Christian is the subject of Angus Buchan’s Come of Age: The Road to Spiritual Maturity. (2011: Monarch Books; 382 pp).

Buchan is from South Africa, where for over 30 years he has been both a farmer and an evangelist.  I had never heard of him before reading this book but apparently he is very well-known in his home country and he has also traveled widely through Africa, England and Australia.  He has founded a men’s ministry that started small but in 10 year’s time drew about 200,000 men to its rally in 2009.  It is the 2009 rally that serves as the jumping-off point for Come of Age. 

The typical pattern of the rally is to have worship on Friday evening and twice Saturday, with men only, and then to have wives and families join the closing session on Sunday.  In 2009 Buchan fell ill shortly before he was scheduled to preach on Saturday and was airlifted to a hospital.  While he appeared to have one, and possibly two, heart attacks, he was released from the hospital and able to preach for the final event on Sunday, with no medical evidence of any damage to his heart.  He was 61 years old at the time but this event brought to him an acute awareness of the brevity of human life and the need for him to live as a mature Christian and to call other Christians to maturity as well, hence the title, Come of Age.

In the first chapter Buchan writes of the 2009 rally and his heart attack and the way that it caused him to take a new look at his life and his ministry.  After that he writes topically, touching on many aspects in which a believer in Jesus can grow as a person of faith.  Some chapters are brief and some are longer but all are easy to read and not weighed down with sophisticated theology.  Buchan started out as a farmer and in the shift to becoming an evangelist and mentor he has remained eminently practical.  One of his strengths is that he has a deep love for both his Savior and for the Bible, something that is evident on nearly every page.  He longs for people to come to faith, for people to see God at work in their lives, and then to share that knowledge with others.

While I sincerely believe that his heart is in the right place it seems as if his passion occasionally clouds his view and subtly subverts his intended goal of spiritual maturity.  An example is the chapter addressing marriage, where he rightly points out the ways in which at its best Christian marriage points us to the joy Christians will know in heaven.  On a Saturday at one rally five men felt so convicted of the error of their lifestyle, i.e. living with women while not being married to them, that they asked Buchan to marry them at the Sunday morning worship, a request that he complied with.  It struck me that as a mature Christian it may have better to counsel the young men to change their living arrangements, and then guide them to prayerfully seek God’s will about the relationship.  As mature Christians we should learn to wait upon the Lord, rather than to shape our lifestyles to fit what we presume to be the shape that is most pleasing to God.

As I read the book I found that I increasingly liked Buchan and his passion for the Gospel but that the guidance he was offering was fairly superficial.  Spiritual maturity is something that all Christians should strive for when they come to faith and it should be the place where they live until they are called to join the Lord in heaven.  The Bible calls this process discipleship and Jesus commanded it of his followers, saying in Matthew 28:19-20, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” True maturity as a Christian benefits from several things.  One of them is intentionality and another is community, and I mean community not in the sense of those people that one worships with each week but a small group that regularly meets for the purposes of growth and accountability.

Early in my life as a Christian God led me to such a group and we used a number of things to shape our activity together.  One of these was a covenant, which we wrote together to give a meaningful shape to our group time each week.  The covenant kept us “on track,” reminding us of our purpose and reducing the likelihood that our time together would degenerate to wandering, instead of following a path to a destination.

Another thing our group regularly used were books written to guide spiritual formation.  While Buchan correctly points out that to be a Christian means to be intentional in growth, there are many books available that do a better job than his of engaging minds and hearts as they follow the Lord.  Some veteran authors of this genre that I have read and recommend are Beth Moore, Jerry Bridges, Paul Tripp and Eugene Peterson.  A visit to a Christian bookstore will provide a number of others.  One thing Come of Age has done is to whet my appetite to pick up a book by one of the authors listed that I’ve read before and see how it speaks freshly into my life today.  And also to read it with an eye to the clearest source of spiritual wisdom the God has given us, the Bible. 

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