What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus today? What unique challenges do Christians face in our present culture and how can we grow in our faith in our present moment? In this interview, Sean and Scott talk with pastor Jim Putman about his latest book The Revolutionary Disciple. They discuss unique challenges that Christians face today in the church and family and what barriers often prevent us from following Jesus today. Speaking from his own success and failures, pastor Putman offers a bold and fresh challenge for Christians.

Jim Putman is the senior pastor of Real Life Ministries in Post Falls, Idaho. He holds degrees from Boise State and Boise Bible College and is the author of multiple books including The Revolutionary Disciple (co-written with Chad Harrington).

Episode Transcript

Sean McDowell: Welcome to Think Biblically Conversations on Faith and Culture. A podcast from Talbot School of Theology, Biola University. I'm your host, Sean McDowell, Professor of Apologetics.

Scott Rae: And I'm your cohost Scott Rae, Dean of Faculty and Professor of Christian Ethics.

Sean McDowell: Oftentimes on Think Biblically podcast, we'll look at a cultural issue, we'll look at a political issue, we'll look at some ethical issue, and try to help you think biblically about it. But occasionally, we want to go back to the scriptures and just look at issues like discipleship and say, "How do we think about discipleship in our contemporary moment?" Well, we have a guest today who's written a book called The Revolutionary Disciple. And when I think of discipleship, I don't know anyone who's written better on this, but is practicing this, than our guest today. His name is Jim Putnam. He's the senior pastor of Real Life Ministries in beautiful Post Falls, Idaho, and I have been to his church many times and can just testify to the ministry and discipleship that is taken there. So, Jim, we really appreciate you joining us.

Jim Putnam: Well, it's a pleasure. I just love what you guys do.

Sean McDowell: Well, let's just jump right in. Before we get to some things in your book, can you share your personal journey to becoming a Christian?

Jim Putnam: Well, Sean, your dad actually played a big part in that. I grew up in the church, had a distaste for it, and walked away an atheist alcoholic. My dad challenged me with that there were scientists who were theists which I thought was ridiculous. That led me to investigate that issue and come to the conclusion yeah there's probably a God but which one? So, I started to study religion, but my dad sent me your dad's book, Evidence That Demands a Verdict.

Sean McDowell: Wow.

Jim Putnam: And that played a part in me deciding that Christianity was the only provable, historically provable, religion. That led to the gospel being shared and accepted, so it's been quite a journey.

Scott Rae: Jim it's, I mean, from reading your book too, there's quite a story behind the founding of Real Life Church too. Tell our listeners a little bit about that journey for Real Life Church to get where it is today.

Jim Putnam: Well, we started it 22 years ago, I believe. I was then a youth minister and was pretty disgruntled. I don't know if disgruntled, but disillusioned with the church that was pretty happy with what it was doing. Wasn't reaching lost people. Certainly wasn't ministering to kids very well, and I decided I was going to go be an adult pastor somewhere. Just a couple of families in Northern Idaho that had been meeting together to pray called me and asked me if I would consider coming and planting a church, and my first answer to that was no. But they asked me to pray about it, and God did some miraculous things along the way to show me that is exactly where He wanted me to go.

Jim Putnam: I can testify that if you heard the whole story about all the things that God did to get us here and then as we got here, you would go, "Yeah, God can use about any idiot." Anybody who is dumb enough to [crosstalk 00:03:20] I'm not kidding you. If you heard all the stories of God showing up, it's just amazing. We get to testify to the fact that we're crack pots and Jesus is the hero.

Sean McDowell: Well, I love that. I've heard some of these stories from you personally, and I just want to make sure our audience realizes how vibrant this church is if they haven't been to Coeur d'Alene or Post Falls. That you are really practicing and raising up disciples. Now, want to talk through some of the challenges you might face as a pastor today, but before we jump in, you've written a book called The Revolutionary Disciple. What is a disciple and what even is discipleship before we jump into what that can look like today?

Jim Putnam: Well, that's the question that I think is so important. What is a disciple of Jesus, and what is a mature disciple of Jesus? So, our church said, "Okay, we were called to make disciples not converts." What is that, and is there a simple, reproducible definition that embraces all of the aspects of spiritual maturity and is there a method that leads to that? Because sometimes we have the right definition, but our methodology is not leading to the results we want. And is there a biblical methodology and a biblical definition? So that led us to, we say, "In the invitation is the definition."

Jim Putnam: Jesus said in Matthew 4:19, "Come and follow Me, I'll make you fishers of men." And so a disciple is one who's following Jesus, being changed by Jesus, committed to the mission of Jesus. When Jesus said, "Come and follow Me and I'll make you fishers of men," embedded in that is also an invitation to come be with Him, so it's in relationship that we learn to follow Jesus. Where change happens in our life as He does His work in us, and as He leads us to minister with Him.

Jim Putnam: And so what we've done is said, "Okay, this is what Jesus said it is." This is the way He did it when He said go and make disciples. He didn't mean go do it any way you want. In Matthew 28 He said, "I have been with you. Go and do what you saw. Go and live out what you had lived out in front of you." And Jesus' methodology, His definitions and His methodology, change people. And so we will say often, "You can't divorce the teachings of Jesus from the methods of Jesus and get the results of Jesus." So, what does it look like to define things His way and live that out? And it, man, His method changes the world. It really does.

Scott Rae: Now, Jim, you use the term humble discipleship to describe a lot of what your emphasis is. Why do you use that particular term, and what does humble discipleship look like?

Jim Putnam: Well, the Bible says that God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. God has a problem with pride and there's a reason for that. Pride is what led us to decide we should be our own gods, reject the Lord's authority. Pride is what caused the devil, himself, to rebel against God in heaven, and pride actually kills discipleship. In Matthew 28, He says, "All authority in heaven and earth has been given to Me," and so that means He's the king. He says, "Go therefore and make disciples." Pride says, "I don't give you authority, God. I'm the authority." Pride says, "I won't go and make disciples." Matthew 28 says, "Go and baptize people and teach them to obey all that I've commanded you." So, if I won't go because I want God to make my life comfortable for me, then discipleship doesn't happen.

Jim Putnam: If I go so that I can get what I want from God, kind of like a negotiation, kind of like I'll go as long as I get what I want and You bless my life, then I'm really going not because I'm humble before the Lord and I want to serve Him and I want Him to be king. I'm going to get which is kind of like tithing so that I get more of what I want rather than tithing because of what God's already done and blessed me with and saved me from my sin and on the cross and all of that.

Jim Putnam: So, when I look at if I'm going into the world for the wrong reasons because of pride, it kills discipleship because then what happens is I just create more sons of hell as Jesus said about the Pharisees. I'm proud and I'm reproducing pride. I'm actually like... The disciples wanted to be the first in the kingdom of heaven, and so if they were to go out with that attitude, it's like, "Hey, if you follow Jesus, you get to be first." And Jesus said, "No, he who's first must be last." So if you go out in pride, you're making the wrong kind of disciples.

Jim Putnam: If a person refuses to be taught all that Jesus commands and says, "No, I want salvation, but I don't want to follow His commands, and I don't want to be taught." Then the discipleship process ends. So, pride kills us going or pride can kill our motivation for going, and pride keeps me from following, being taught, and being under authority. Pride kills both sides of the equation.

Sean McDowell: You talk a lot about pride in the book. I'm wondering if you could take this a little bit further and just give us some specifics, and obviously not mentioning individuals or people. You're wise enough not to do that, but the kind of practical scenarios that you see as a pastor where pride manifests itself in the church and prevents real discipleship from taking place.

Jim Putnam: Well, for a pastor, pride might look like, hey, my job, rather than getting in the dirt and ministering to people, is to teach people. I'm too important. My job is too important to actually get down in the muck and the dirt.

Jim Putnam: Pride might look like, in discipleship, I'm the guy with the answers and you guys need to do what I tell you to do. I don't need to share with you my stuff. I don't need you to speak into my life. I'm the one who hears from God and tells you the answers.

Jim Putnam: Pride might look like I did all of these amazing things. Therefore, I deserve to have a place in your life, and pride says it was my effort, my energy. I'm the hero of this story. I'm the one who's got my life together, so I'm not going to share that I have my struggles. Which then, what that does in a church is, those who are elevated or those who have the right information and appear to have their lives in order. Which then elevates people who appear to have things in order rather than the truth that we're all on a journey, and we're all growing in Christ, we're all making mistakes, and we're confessing our sins to one another and carrying each other's burdens. It becomes kind of a show.

Jim Putnam: Pride says, I won't be under authority of other elders, of other people in the church. I don't need accountability. I'm the one who gives accountability, and we've seen a lot of pastors and a lot of people fall.

Sean McDowell: Yeah.

Jim Putnam: And kind of have the God tells me what to do, and I sit on high and everybody else should do what I say and I don't need accountability. That kind of isolation and separation from God's people, it leads to darkness and the devil's playground, and it just turns into a mess.

Scott Rae: Jim, let me follow up a little bit on the pride and humility aspects that you've been talking about. Seems to me, one of the ways in which pride manifests itself is that when prideful people get into disagreement and conflict, it usually doesn't end well. Those end up turning out not being very pretty. You've learned a lot about how to handle disagreement and conflict. And you've got, I think, a particular compelling story at the beginning of your book about a pretty significant conflict, and how you handled it and what you learned from it. Tell us a little bit more about that.

Jim Putnam: Well, personally, I wrote this book based on reflection in my life on this issue of pride and how it's impacted me. In other words, let me say it this way, I struggle with pride. In the book, I talk about how that pride almost led to a separation between me and the guys that help lead this church, and what God taught me through that process. Over the years, I've become less and less proud. I'm growing, but man, I still, every morning I wake up and I look in the mirror and there's my flesh still there wrestling. The Holy Spirit and my flesh still wrestling.

Jim Putnam: And so, in the book, I talk about how the elders here disagreed with a plan that I had put together. They asked me to do a couple of things internally before we reached outside the walls, and they also asked me to recognize some ways in which I wasn't listening to these guys. And so, I went through this stage of all right, well, maybe it's time for me to go.

Jim Putnam: I was challenged by another believer that said, "Hey, they asked some questions. Are these guys... Do you believe in the authority, the plurality of eldership?" "Yes." "Do you believe God speaks through the team?" "Yes." "Are they all in agreement against you on this situation?" "Yes." And so, as he was asking me these questions, it was pretty apparent that he was challenging the fact that I believe in these things at the intellectual level, but these guys were not asking me to sin. In fact, that was his next question. He said, "Jim, are these guys asking you to sin?" And I said, "No." "Do you believe in being under authority?" "Yes."

Jim Putnam: And all he did was ask questions, and it led me to this place where I was being a hypocrite. I was being a... I don't know how I had gotten there. I had been blinded by exhaustion or frustration or the things that are possible for each of us. And I had to go, "Wow, okay, Lord. I don't like this. I don't necessarily agree. They're not asking me to sin. They're in agreement. You gave us a plurality of leaders." And I had to make a decision to humble myself and submit to their authority and that was hard. And they turned out to be right. Either that, or God went, "Okay, they may be wrong, but it's not sin" [crosstalk 00:14:55].

Jim Putnam: But, the work that the Lord's had to do in me, and the times where I know something to be true but I'm off course so I don't even know that I'm there, this is what discipleship enables you to do. You don't go through this relational discipleship process so that you can stand on your own and you don't need people. No, humility says, in relationship I need to be shaped, and a mature person knows that in relationship, they can actually fulfill the mission of Christ. They can actually have God speak to them through those relationships. You need relationship to become mature, and it's only when you have relationship that you are mature.

Sean McDowell: Jim, you talk about and just give a great example, as a pastor, of submission to leadership. Yet, I'm sure you know, and have fought, even hinted at it, the amount of just examples of unfaithfulness and abuse that has taken place within the church. Sometimes people using that in powerful ways that lead to harm to others. So, how do you balance that sense of biblical submission and humility with a recognition that there has been people in authority in the church that have used it, unfortunately, in abusive ways?

Jim Putnam: You know, I think you just have to come to the place where you recognize that you are susceptible. In hearing some of the podcasts that are out there and some of the stories, for me, I can look at my life and go, man, I could have been that guy. And there were times where I was being that guy, but I was blessed to have people in my life that pointed it out. Whether it was my father or the elders or close friends.

Jim Putnam: Again, I know this about myself, left to myself I can do things that... And it's possible, no matter how many years I've been a Christian, to just go, "You know what? This is possible for me, so I'm going to live this kind of lifestyle out." Fighting for relationship, humbling myself before the Lord, humbling myself before others is a key to staying in the will of God, and the blessing that brings.

Jim Putnam: Now, again, that means you have to deal with conflict, and conflict comes from the way people hear things, their perspectives. But just to come to the place where you believe that you have holes in your game... I wrote a book called Church is a Team Sport. It was never supposed to be one guy up on stage. He's the entertainer. He's got all the answers, and the people come. God has always worked in a team where different gifts and abilities fill in the holes for others, and recognizing you need those people in your life. God sends those people to you to keep you from your flesh, from the enemy. In fighting for those relationships, being somebody before you do something is so key.

Scott Rae: Jim, let me think about this application of humility a little bit further. We've talked a bit about what humility looks like in the church, among church leaders, but what does humility look like in a family? What does... Help us spell that out a little bit further.

Jim Putnam: That's been so difficult for me over the years. I mean, I'll be honest with you. We write about the five spheres in that book, and what does humility look like in each sphere. In your abiding sphere, humility before the Lord. In your church sphere, in your home sphere, in your work sphere, and even how doing life in relationship with God and others helps you in the spiritual realm sphere that the book of Ephesians lays that all out.

Jim Putnam: My home sphere is... My wife is so different than me. Her way of thinking, her way of doing things. And there's been times where we are competing against each other for who's right instead of embracing that I have part of the picture but God meant for her to fill in the holes in raising our children and even how I function at church. She is a partner with me. I may be the leader, the head of the household, but a good leader facilitates using the gifts and abilities of those in the group, to bring them to the forefront.

Jim Putnam: Again, I understood that in sports. I've understood that in teams, but that has been a challenge for me in my marriage over the years. To see her as somebody who has something important to say in every sphere, not just in parenting, but even in my work and world, and being willing to admit that I don't have the answer. She has something to add. I need to facilitate that, invite that in, rather than be reluctant, and that's been a huge key. And, you know, it's why I'm still married because of the wisdom that God's word and God's people brought into my life in those areas. Left to myself, I'd have made a mess out of that too.

Scott Rae: Yeah, I think Sean and I will both attest that we're all married based on the grace of God and the fact that our wives haven't thrown us out yet.

Sean McDowell: Amen.

Scott Rae: Let me take this just one step further, if I might, because I think one of the areas where we need humility, maybe more than any others in our churches, is how we approach political differences among us. So, how does that work out at Real Life Church?

Jim Putnam: Well, this has been... I live in north Idaho, and it's as red as you can get. You know, we're not a liberal church. We are conservative. But, our biggest problem has not been with liberals because liberals... When we preach about abortion, complementarianism, homosexuality, the liberals aren't sticking around anyway. But, it's been the people that are moving to Idaho from around the country angry at where they came from, and people from here that are so independent in their thinking. A common bumper of a car will say, "My boss is a Jewish carpenter," but right next to it it'll say, "If you want my guns, you're going to have to pry it out of my cold dead fingers."

Jim Putnam: And so, what does it look like to bring Romans 13 into your life? You can't just ignore it, and so there's this tension between Acts 4 where Peter's told he can't preach about the gospel. He says, "I can't help but preach." But Romans 13, where I obey my leaders including the king, and walking through this tension of what does it look like to be kingdom of heaven first? I have people that can quote the constitution amendments, but don't know one thing about Roman 13.

Scott Rae: Wow. Nice.

Jim Putnam: And you find out their Bible, their American version of the Bible, they look at the Bible through the eyes of the constitution rather than the constitution through the eyes of the Bible. And so, what does it look like to go, "Okay, there is a time and place to fight." I'm not a pacifist, but we have to fight the right fights the right way. Being kind, being ready with an answer for the hope that we have. To be wise, and what is wisdom? It's peaceable, it's humble, James says. We have to be wise. We don't fight like the devil for the things of God. There is a time to fight, but the way we fight is important.

Jim Putnam: The biggest thing that I've got is I got people leaving our church because we've said the mask mandate or the vaccine mandate is... They're not asking us to sin, and you can have a different opinion on that. It's non-salvation issue. The Bible says in Romans 14, "There are some things that you have to obey your conscience on, but keep it between you and God." Who are you to judge another man's brother to keep the things that are essential, essential, and give freedom in the non-essentials and be wise enough to keep your mouth shut so that we don't divide the church on non-salvation issues.

Jim Putnam: But when there is, like if they said I had to preach that homosexuality wasn't sin, or that there are more than two genders or those things, there's a place where I'm like you're saying I have to preach that to keep our church building. Here's the keys. We'll just go house-to-house. We're ready to do that. We make disciples in relationship. We're ready to do that.

Jim Putnam: I tell people to vote. You need to vote, but we're a kingdom of heaven first, not national Americans first. And again, I want to be careful because I think there are right things to teach and believe, but you cannot ignore scripture. Like it's... Paul had to write Romans and First Corinthians, and Peter had the... I mean, these guys are underneath Rome who were wicked. How do we respond as Christ followers advancing the kingdom of heaven? Eternal things, King Jesus first, and are national identity down the line.

Sean McDowell: Jim, I have a final question for you. It's so easy for us to get discouraged today just looking at how divisive our culture is. Maybe looking at certain things going on economically, culturally. Even how divided the church is, and you look at numbers, the numbers of people going to church seems to be shrinking. But, I want to know what gives you hope today, as a pastor, in terms of seeing discipleship really take place.

Jim Putnam: Well, I would say this, as things got rough, I think people are coming to know Christ. Prosperity has never been very good for believers. We tend to worship the created things rather than the creator, and the Jews did that too. Things would get good. They started getting complacent. Started worshiping their work, their finances, all that stuff. And so, it's when people are brought to their knees, shaken off their feet, that they actually start looking up.

Jim Putnam: If God's desire is to reach people, He's willing to do whatever it takes. He's brought His Son down here to suffer. He's willing to bring all this down around our ears so that we'll actually look up, and we get upset about what we don't see God doing or what we wish He would do at the government level and all those things. We're not taking advantage of the doors that God is making open to us around us. God is always working. What is He doing? Well, He's not trying to save a country. He's trying to save mankind for a new heaven and a new earth. And again, I'm not saying we shouldn't do what we can to create an environment that's safe on planet earth, as we can, but God's trying to save people for eternity. And bringing them to their knees means that they're open to new things.

Jim Putnam: So, should we... I had to pray this for my son when he was a drug addict, "Lord, do whatever You have to do to bring him to his knees." If we're like, "Hey God, do what You have to do in America to bring people to their knees so that we can be there to show them the hope of eternity and what Jesus can do in their life, then do it." And He's always doing those kinds of things. So while He might not be helping us win an election, He is reaching lost people. And we need to open up our eyes to what He is doing, and He's always doing, and join Him in what He's doing instead of be angry at Him for what He's not and taking matters into our own hands.

Sean McDowell: Jim, I love your book that you co-wrote with Chad Harrington called The Revolutionary Disciple, and the subtitle really captures it: Walking Humbly With Jesus in Every Area of Life. This is a book not just for pastors or professors or leaders, it's really for everybody, and you model it from the opening story, ways that I think show just some significant humility. Your own failures, your own struggles, and just kind of invite people along with you to be a discipler and a follower of Jesus. So, we really appreciate you carving out the time for joining us, and I hope our viewers, if you want to get challenged, this is not a light read. This is one that's going to challenge you as it did me. My own pride, my own shortcomings, and ask, "Am I walking humbly with Jesus?" If so, pick up a copy of The Revolutionary Disciple by our guest today, Jim Putnam. Pastor Jim, thanks so much for joining us.

Jim Putnam: Hey, it's always good to talk to you guys. Thank you.

Sean McDowell: This has been an episode of the podcast Think Biblically Conversations on Faith and Culture. The Think Biblically podcast is brought to you by Talbot School of Theology at Biola University. Offering programs in Southern California and fully online, including the Institute for Spiritual Formation. Visit biola.edu/talbot to learn more. If you enjoy today's conversation, please consider giving us a rating on your podcast app. Every review helps, and please consider sharing it with a friend. Thank you so much for listening and remember, Think Biblically, about everything.