An author Q & A with the Rev Ken Noakes, whose new book Christian Essentials has been published by Matthias Media.
SC: What prompted you to write this book?
KN: Ultimately I wrote Christian Essentials because I would like to help people (and churches) to enjoy being a disciple of Jesus. In essence, this book is a manual for discipleship. I love reading the Bible with others, and over the years I have had many opportunities to listen, learn and read with people – and I have noticed that, generally, I am having four different conversations:
- the conversation with the “close but not-yet Christian” person who has heard the gospel and, before accepting, wants to know more about what a Christian person looks like;
- the conversation with the new Christian who is trying to work out what they must essentially have in place as they set out in their new life;
- the conversation with the doubting Christian person who may be struggling in faith often because of their life circumstances or because of what the world is telling or asking of them;
- and, finally, the conversation with the mature Christian, who is so involved doing wonderful Christian things that they have forgotten (or need to be reminded of) what it looks like to be essentially Christian!
So now, when I meet someone new at church, or someone joining our church, I have a gift to give them to say “Welcome”. But more, a book that says if you would like help being essentially Christian, then here are nine characteristics to consider.
SC: You are urging people to do a spiritual stocktake - what do you mean by that?
KN: In business, in order to determine an accurate financial position, all stock or inventory is counted. A snapshot for the year of what the business holds. The result is that the business can then make wise decisions about what it buys or sells as it manages its profits and losses. It is called a stocktake.
I think it is helpful for Christians to do what I like to call a spiritual stocktake. To stop from time to time and consider how they are going under God in their spiritual walk. To ask themselves some hard questions about how they use their time and energy, to look at some of their spiritual disciplines (what and when they are reading the Bible, how they are praying) and to consider how they are serving the gospel. The goal is not efficiency, but effectiveness. And the aim is that we grow as disciples of Jesus who shine a light before others as we fruitfully serve him. We can be so busy being Christian, that we can forget why we are Christian – and I think a spiritual stocktake might help put the essentials back in place!
SC: What was the process of writing the book?
KN: Long! Most of what I write comes out of what I am doing in mission and ministry. So this book started as I considered what would be helpful for those I was pastoring, at the time, at Trinity Church in Adelaide. It was born out of lots of pastoral conversations, which then moved to being a sermon series with Bible studies. That developed further into a series of topical articles on each of the Christian essentials.
A move to Lower Mountains Anglican in Sydney meant that I could have another go at preaching through each essential topic with reworked Bible studies and a podcast. All the while I was meeting with folk to read the Bible, and by this stage there were others who were also using the material to read with someone they were discipling.
COVID lockdown happened, which provided some time to write the material into book form, get more feedback, and then present it to Matthias Media. From there the theological and literary edit happened – and many months later we have a book called Christian Essentials!
Why detail this long process? Well, I want to say that this book is not something written from the confines of my study. What I liked about this process was that it was road-tested over and over again by people willing to engage with the content, which has ultimately shaped it into a more useful book under God.
SC: What sections of the book have had a particular impact in your life?
KN: Jesus discipled his disciples and taught them in word and deed what it meant to live for God in a world that often rejected or ignored him. He showed them how to shine their light before others so that their good deeds would be noticed and God would be glorified (Matthew 5:16). I think it is important that Christians live attractive yet consistently principled lives in a world that may not share those same principles.
The gospel has impacted my life in ways that I would never have imagined before becoming a Christian and now, in living out that gospel, there seems to be such a clear logic to what the gospel asks of those who accept it. As such, there is a logical flow to this book. Each of the nine essential characteristics are aspects that I have had to consider as I have grown as a Christian. Foundationally, an understanding that I am saved by grace not by my works (Chapter 1) – for all that follows means nothing without that beautiful truth. Instructively being grounded in the word (Chapter 2) and faithful in prayer (Chapter 3) helps me in my growing two-way relationship with Jesus.
It is those three chapters together that help me to understand the importance of all the following characteristics in the life of a believer – to be bold in witness (Chapter 4), resilient in suffering (Chapter 5), committed in membership to a church (Chapter 6), loving in relationships even with those who may disagree (Chapter 7), godly in giving (Chapter 8) and, finally, now with those essential characteristics in place, I can understand the call to be fruitful in service (Chapter 9).
SC: So, what do you want readers to take away from Christian Essentials?
KN: My prayer is that people will read it – and that it will help people to grow as disciples who shine brightly for the gospel. And here is my tip. Don’t rush through the book. Perhaps read each chapter over a week. Monday: start with the Acts reflection as a way into the topic. Tuesday/Wednesday: do the Bible study, listening to what God is saying in his word. Thursday/Friday: work through each section of the topic as addressed. Saturday: work through the practical application. Sunday: talk about what you have been reading/thinking from the chapter with others in your church family. Or better still, read through the book with a friend or a small group over a nine-week stretch (and notice that would fit into the length of one school term!).