Many of the book's illustrations of discipleship are from places like the Middle East where following Christ is illegal or dangerous. Why choose so many examples from places of persecution and rather than America?
We have a lot to learn from our brothers and sisters around the world. By God's grace, in America we can worship Christ freely. We are not imprisoned for trusting in Christ, and there's no threat of losing our land, our family, or our life.
At the same time, in the midst of the comforts that we enjoy, we can find ourselves pretty distanced from the picture of following Christ that we see in the New Testament, where it was costly. So, in the process of trying to understand what New Testament Christianity is, I think it's helpful to learn from brothers and sisters around the world who are experiencing the cost of following Jesus.
We're not excused from abandonment and sacrifice. Now it will look different in our lives and in this culture since we're not in danger of losing our life. At the same time, the gospel calls us to look at our possessions very differently. Sure, we don't have somebody taking them away from us for following Christ, but we do find ourselves compelled by the gospel to give them away for the glory of Christ. We give our lives to make this gospel known among people who have never heard it before. And that involves sacrifice.
In the last couple of weeks, my church has sent people out into dangerous contexts in the world. I think the Lord is calling many people in the church in comfortable places to do that. Not everybody, though. I want to be clear. There are ways to carry out the commands of Christ and live out the life of Christ right here in this context, and I try to use different examples of that. I love to see how God, in his glorious creativity, takes his Word and his Spirit and leads us into all kinds of different places. Some people stay here, and some people move to the other side of the world, but all with the same purpose. We want to make disciples of Jesus.
You reference persecuted Christians frequently as models of discipleship. Should Western Christians seek this kind of persecution?
No, I don't think Western Christians—I don't think any Christians—should seek persecution. Instead, Christians should seek Christ, knowing that persecution will come.
It'll look different in different parts of the world. 2 Timothy 3:12 says everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ will be persecuted. Like Jesus says, "They persecuted me, and they will persecute you also." The reality is, in a very real sense, the danger of our lives increases in proportion to the depth of our relationship with Jesus.
So, it would be foolish to seek after persecution for persecution's sake. That is not the point at all. But we are actively proclaiming the gospel in all nations. And there will be challenges. There will be hardships. There will be trials. There will be persecution that comes along the way. That should be expected, but not sought after. We proclaim the gospel, and as we do that, persecution will come.