Thoughts on Miraculous Movements by Jerry Trousdale
Miraculous Movements by Jerry Trousdale tells the story of how Muslims have begun to follow Jesus around the world, primarily in Africa. This isn’t intended to be a review per se, but rather some thoughts on various things that the book discussed.
A Quick Note
The majority of Miraculous Movements is narrative, the stories of Muslims from a variety of backgrounds who came to follow Jesus. There are didactic parts to the book, but those parts are actually more minimal than I would have hoped. I mention this for two reasons: (1) I loved reading the stories, as they were very interesting and compelling, but things arose in the narratives as well that I questioned. (2) The questions that arose in the narratives were rarely answered in the didactic portions because of their brevity.
Some Things to Consider
Probably the most compelling part of the book is the emphasis on very “ordinary” things to bring about the spread of the gospel among all peoples. That is, prayer and the study of God’s word form the foundation of the “strategy” that the author and others pursued. And when he talks about prayer, he is not talking about having a 15 minute prayer meeting before some key decisions. He means fasting, praying, interceding, pleading, studying, praying, reading, praying, meditating, praying, interceding, and pleading constantly. This has been an encouragement to me, but also a great challenge, because as I read stories that illustrate what happens when God’s people are committed to God’s plans to accomplish God’s purposes, I am confronted with my own need to grow in these areas.
The author expands these basic suggestions into several others, which he calls Jesus’ counterintuitive disciple-making strategies.
- Go slow at first in order to go fast later.
- Focus on a few to win many.
- Engage an entire family or group, not just an individual.
- Share only when and where people are ready to hear.
- Start with creation, not with Christ.
- It’s about discovering and obeying, not teaching and knowledge.
- Disciple people to conversion, not vice versa.
Now, I can’t say that I was convinced of all of these. The first three strike me as being generally wise advice, as evidenced by some of the stories that Jerry told. The fourth suggestion is well taken, though we perhaps have to temper that with knowing that we always called to witness to God’s grace in our lives. Sometimes we may not always know where God is at work.
Number 5 is something I have believed for a long time. Now obviously part of this depends on how much time one has, how much background a person has in biblical knowledge, and so on. But by neglecting the lay the foundation that the Bible lays, we often rip what Jesus did out of its historical and redemptive context.
The last two are the ones that I question. This is a repeated theme in the book, suggesting that you can teach people to obey Jesus’ commands before they have been changed by Jesus’ grace. I have a hard time seeing that in the New Testament. Now certainly, Jesus’ disciples seem on the surface to fit into this category (and naturally this is example that the author cites the most). But is that a fair comparison to someone today? As Paul went to Athens, is that how he approached it? As Peter preached to Cornelius even, is that how he approached it? I’m not convinced that it’s healthy to get people to obey before calling them to repent and believe. Now certainly, one could come to study the Scriptures over time and there might be some changes without a “conversion,” and we are quite likely too “decision” oriented in the West, but at the same time, is this a swing too far in the other direction?
One other aspect of the book I must note is that great emphasis is placed on signs and miracles as attestations of the truth of the gospels–and that these were necessary very often in the progress of the gospel into a region. This again goes back to the narrative vs. instruction division of the book. Those who are driven by their understanding of Scripture to question such a signs-driven approach are not likely to be convinced by what is in the book on this. It is hard to argue with experience, but it’s also hard to use it as evidence. The book would have been much improved by examination of the Scriptures on how this functioned in the life of the apostles and how that relates to the ongoing life of the church.
Despite some of the questions that this book raised in my mind, I am very grateful for some of the areas that I was spurred on to consider. Focusing on prayer and the word certainly seems to be what’s missing in many “strategies.”