When the Westminster divines described progressive sanctification, they spoke of God’s grace and used words like, “enabled more and more” (Westminster Shorter Catechism 35). To say that one grows as a Christ follower “more and more” surrenders us to the plain and uncomfortable fact that Christian growth takes lots of grace and time. To admit that Christian maturity takes time fidgets us. Time taking slows us down. “More and more,” involves a “not yet, not yet.” The reality of gradual progress offers eventual hope but also forces us to face our current incompleteness at any given moment. Leaning upon grace, we must humble ourselves to acknowledge that we do not yet possess all that we hope for and no amount of speed can remedy that. Only grace and time in Jesus can do the work that growing to maturity in Jesus requires. Ironically, part of growing up is acknowledging that our growing up is itself a gradual thing.
Though Alan Fadling doesn’t use these precise terms, his excellent book offers an extended meditation on what it means that in order to grow in Jesus we have to apprentice to a slower pace, what Fadling calls, “the pace of grace.” After all, the Jesus we follow is “an unhurried savior.” Add to this that almost any aspect of maturing in Christ-like character that we seek requires a capacity for slowing, enduring and waiting (e.g., see the fruit of the Holy Spirit in Galatians 5 or the description of love in 1 Corinthians 13). “When it comes to machines and technology, faster is always better. When it comes to love, the same is not true” (p. 77). “ If hurry gets in the way of love, does hurry go or does love go?” (p. 75)
Fadling exposes the contradiction of hasty Christianity that ministry leaders and everyday Christians must navigate. Rarely do the things Jesus values call us into an apprenticeship with hurrying up in order to accomplish big things as fast as we can. Our mistaken notions about the work of God are negatively training many of us to be busy with things that God has not asked us to do or instead of what God has asked us to do. We prefer or are sucked into this kind of apprenticeship with speed. Fadling therefore gently, biblically, and persuasively seeks to recover us to an abiding and countercultural trust in an apprenticeship with Jesus’ pace.
To do this, Fadling sets Jesus and the Scriptures front and center. From these Scriptures, Fadling pastorally and personally invites us into a way of growing in Christ in which we believe that “Unhurried isn’t Lazy,” and that facing our temptations will require the grace that is “unhurried enough to resist, unhurried enough to care, and unhurried enough to pray.” Hurry works against true quality in productivity, active faithfulness in temptation, deep love for people, and the capacity for lingering with God.
But Fadling believes that Jesus bountifully provides us with rhythms of rest, a vision for suffering, and an eternal perspective for our growth in Jesus. All this provides joy, peace, endurance and true rest for the work set before us. Jesus abounds with grace to establish the pace of his working in us for the community in which he has placed us until he comes.
For some thoughtful readers, Fadling’s minor hint at his own practice of listening prayer and his attentiveness to immediate “nudging” from God’s Spirit might distract. But this ought not to detract from the broader contribution this book can make to our pace of discipleship. I’d say, don’t let it. The biblical, Christ-centered, and pastoral invitation to trust the slowness of Jesus for the growth he intends is substantial and well worth our attention.
In fact, this book is a must-read for many of us. For pastors, leaders, and professors, Fadling wants us to wrestle with how our ministry rhythm must change. The things we want to see take place in ourselves, our families, and among those we serve actually takes lots of grace and time. If God set it up this way, how does our way of life and ministry need to adjust in order to account for it?
For old and young, single or married, moms or dads or workers, Fadling wants us to know that Jesus’ call to discipleship is not to restlessly do the biggest things as fast as you can as anxiously as you can in order to please him. Instead, we are meant by his grace to do true things, no matter how small, steadily, over the whole of your life with him. True and good work that he enables results with the tasty fruit of gratitude, joy, and the quality of time given. Fadling desires that we will know the communion with Christ that we were made for, the pace of grace that Christ provided for, and the growth in Christ that we long for.
Filled with underlineable sentences, penetrating questions, and appropriately disruptive insights, this book positions itself well for personal, staff, small group, or community discussion.