Lay It Down, Bill Tell. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2015.
Summary: Through a personal crisis, the author discovers the freedom of the gospel in terms of three miracles.
You are a successful ministry leader and suddenly experience a series of incapacitating panic attacks when facing ministry opportunities. After a season of rest you take the step of trying to find out what is going on and whether life can be different.
That is the situation Bill Tell faced as a senior leader in a prominent discipleship ministry. He discovered that deep down he struggled with issues of self-worth that went back to his childhood and that to cope, he had devoted himself to a life of achievement in ministry that had become an exhausting treadmill. He longed for freedom from such existence, and paradoxically discovered it in the message that he had proclaimed but had not really lived into for many years.
In a season of counselling and personal study, he discovered three miracles of surrounding the work of Christ that spelled freedom. The first of these was that God viewed him differently. The good news of the cross was of God’s unconditional acceptance apart from any good behavior and in spite of any bad behavior. This meant he no longer needed to “perform” to merit God’s love. He was freed from condemnation, punishment, and fear, and freed for living in peace and grace.
The second miracle was realizing that in Christ, God makes us different. The gospel transforms us from the inside out. We are freed from working on not sinning and to mature into who we are in Christ. This doesn’t preclude effort, but he observes that “the gospel of grace is never opposed to effort–it is opposed to earning” (p. 140). We are freed to obey, to love, and to bear fruit, all of which emerge out of a relationship of being loved by Christ. He contends that:
“When we have a new heart, freedom does not make us want to run wild and sin more. It makes us want to walk with Jesus” (p. 107).
The final miracle is that God relates to us differently. We are adopted children, family, with Jesus as our brother. This frees us from an identity rooted in shame to one in which we are the beloved of God.
Martin Luther reportedly urged those around him to “preach the gospel to yourself every day” (source unknown). It seems to me that this is what Bill Tell has done compellingly in this book, beginning with his story of transformation from panic attacks and burnout as a senior ministry leader to one who discovered a new freedom in the gospel. What Tell writes in his chapters around the “three miracles” is simply a very clear and personal restatement of the basic Christian message–that we are saved by grace alone through the work of Christ alone, that we are transformed by Christ’s indwelling presence that enables our loving obedience and growth in Christian character, and that we are adopted as God’s beloved children. Meditating on this book chapter by chapter can be a good way to preach the gospel to oneself.
The only thing that would have made this book better for me would be if Tell would have woven more of his narrative subsequent to his crisis through the chapters on the three miracles, particularly in how this has shaped his ministry leadership, how life is different because of this transformed perspective, and how he applies this in mentoring emerging leaders. Perhaps that is too specific or too much for this book, but I hope he will address this in the future. What Tell has given us is a vulnerable account of his own personal crisis and how even Christian leaders can have distorted understandings of gospel, often because of deep wounds in one’s own life. He points us to a kind of “second conversion” where the “truths” of the gospel become lived, and life-giving realities that are in fact the birthright of every believer.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”