There Are Many Ways to Come to Christ: A Review of Eric Huntsman’s Becoming the Beloved Disciple

“Some disciples came to Jesus through the witness of others, while others found him independently. Some immediately recognized and followed him, while others, like Nicodemus, questioned more and took longer to come to their faith. In a time and culture that privileged men and a particular ancestral lineage, the experience of the Samaritan woman shows that in Christ there are no outsiders: all can come to him, find salvation, and share that joy with others.” (Eric Huntsman, Becoming the Beloved Disciple, p.123)

For the last few years, my observation of the Advent season has been guided by Eric Huntsman’s excellent book Good Tidings of Great Joy–a feast of art, music, scriptural interpretation, and inspiration that celebrates the miracle of Christ’s birth. This year, my Christmas gift list will also be guided by an Eric Huntsman book: Becoming the Beloved Disciple, a reading of the Fourth Gospel by one of the best Latter-day Saint scholars around. 

Becoming the Beloved Disciple is, as its title might suggest, a book about discipleship–an important gospel concept that cannot quite be reduced to followership, obedienceship, believership, or membership in any organization.True disciples both learn from and emulate their master. Christ’s disciples are the apostles who have been converted, the sheep who have been found, the prodigals who repent, and the doubters who develop faith–people with a variety of backgrounds and experiences who have been changed fundamentally by their personal relationship with a master.  

As Huntsman presents it, the two purposes of the Gospel of John are 1) to deliver a powerful and definitive testimony of the mission and divinity of Jesus Christ; and 2) to give examples of the many different paths to becoming disciples.

The powerful testimony comes in Chapter One (1:1-18) and consists of the “Hymn to Logos,” a poetic invocation of Christ’s divinity. The rest of the book consists largely of stories about people coming to the same understanding of Jesus that John gives us in the beginning.

This is an immensely powerful and satisfying way to read both the theology and the narrative of our most challenging Gospel. It connects the text by creating one great similarity out of many different pieces: the calling of the apostles; the dialogues with Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman; the story of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus; the betrayal of Peter; the doubting of Thomas.

These are very different stories about very different kinds of disciples coming to Christ in very different ways. Some of them believe immediately, while others believe only after coming through a period of doubt and disbelief. Some experience miracles, others feel the overwhelming call of divine love, and others still must find a way to assent intellectually to the reality of the Messiah. 

And, John tells us, these are all the right path because they all lead to Christ.

In August of this year, Dr. Huntsman gave a BYU devotional entitled “Hard Sayings and Safe Spaces: Making Room for Struggles as Well as Faith.” Huntsman frankly acknowledges the struggles that some people have with their paths to discipleship, including young women, LGBTQ+ Saints, and those struggling with questions and doubts. He addresses his words to the body of the Saints:

We must open our hearts wider, reach out farther, and love more fully. By so doing, we can create more space for love, testimony, mourning, and agency. We can then find not only peace but even joy in the midst of the struggle.

Those who found this address remarkable will be even more impressed to find, as Huntsman has, that its underlying theology is also a principal message of the Gospel of John: the roads to discipleship are so numerous, and the shapes so distinct, that nobody ever knows enough knowledge to judge anyone else’s path.

To become beloved disciples, we must learn to see the world as Christ sees it, which means learning to love other people as Christ loves them. Becoming the Beloved Disciple is a good starting point for the journey.

n.b. LINK FOR TODAY AND TOMORROW ONLY: While we are waiting for Amazon and Deseret Book to get copies of Becoming the Beloved Disciple in their inventories, you can order directly from Cedar For tat their site Books and Things. If you order this Wednesday or Thursday they can ship Friday, but at the end of the work day this week their warehouse is shutting down for an overhaul. I understand that an order is on its way to Deseret Book, so hopefully they will be able to start shipping Friday, too. Also, if you go to “Used” and “New” under the price on the Amazon page, you order right away from some third-party sellers who have some copies on hand. https://ldsbooksandthings.com/products/becoming-the-beloved-disciple

Comments

  1. latebloomer says:

    Eric Huntsman’s BYU devotional talk is a huge contrast IMHO to Elder Christofferson’s oct conference talk about exact obedient and only one path to Christ.

  2. I’m an Eric Huntsman fan anyway, but connecting the speech and the book is great marketing! Whether you take it as writing the book made the person who gave the speech, or as the person who gave the speech has written a book, I want more.

  3. “There is opposition in all things”- Elder Christofferson and Eric Huntsman are both correct in their way of thinking.

  4. First time I’ve ever heard the audience break out into spontaneous applause at the end of a devotional. Very moving.

  5. I have followed Eric Huntsman and appreciate his knowledge and viewpoint. He has remarkable insight.. His way of teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ in an accepting, kind,loving manner. He is needed in this church. I would add many people, because of their circumstances will find Christ in the next world…and it will be wonderful. Whether in this life or the next, the only way to come to Christ is eventually finding and accepting the covenant path. Some roads are much longer in getting there, but the beauty of the plan is that it doesn’t matter.

  6. Kevin Barney says:

    Eric is da bom.

  7. I think I’ll pass. That talk he gave really turned me off for some reason. Everything he was saying was right and made sense and he certainly said it with a refreshing sense of gusto that we rarely see from the pulpit. But something was off. I can’t put my finger on it. It didn’t feel like it genuinely came from his heart? Perhaps it was a bit contrived? I don’t know. I can’t verbalize it. But I do know that I don’t want to read a book written by this man.

  8. I’ve heard Eric is writing the BYUNT Commentary volume on John. I can’t wait to read this one too. This is a small forerunner (kind of like Search, Ponder and Pray was for Julie M. Smith’s volume on Mark (forthcoming any day now).