Emily Parker spoke with author Freddie Pimm about his new book The Selfish Gospel, why there is so little discipleship in church and how God wants to make us more like Jesus.

Freddie Pimm
Freddie Pimm

Emily: First of all, tell me a bit about who you are and what led you to write this book.

Freddie: I am a junior doctor and live and work in London. I've been a Christian for my whole life. I grew up in a Church of England church and I go to a Church of England church now called St Albans, Fulham. I am a husband to my wife Becky.

When I finished medical school in June 2014, I spent three months in Australia, nominally doing a medical elective. I did do some medical work out there, but I also did a bit of travelling. I travelled down the east coast of Australia. I was doing it on my own, so I had a lot of time for reading and praying in solitude and enjoying nature; obviously it's a beautiful coastline out there. A lot of what I read I was chewing over and over.

As I got to Sydney, which was towards the end of my journey, I was trying to get out and enjoy the beautiful city; see the Opera House, the Harbour Bridge and all of that amazing stuff, but all I found I wanted to do was sit and write. I wasn't sure what I was writing, but I had these words that I felt I really needed to get down on paper. As I started to write, more and more came, and the bare bones of the Selfish Gospel were pretty much written in about three days in Sydney. I didn't set out to write a book, it was more that I had words that I quite desperately wanted to get down on paper.

The Selfish Gospel sat on my hard drive for about a year and a half. I was working as a junior doctor, and had spoken to a friend who's published books for friends and he'd pointed out that I didn't have time to publish a book, or be an author, because I would be so busy being a junior doctor and that sat right with me. So I wasn't looking to publish it. I was very much of the opinion that if God wanted to publish anything, God could and would do that in His own timing.

Then my wife had this friend who started working for SPCK and IVP. They'd previously had a conversation about six months prior to her starting to work there about the book. So, she approached me and said, "I heard you've written this book and its gathering dust on your hard disk, could I have a look at it?" SPCK and later IVP were amazing. They showed faith in me and invested time and I suppose money too, taking such a rough draft that had been written, as I say, very quickly and helping me to hone it into the message that it has become today.

Emily: Let's talk about the message in the book. You mentioned that you grew up in a Church of England church, so could you share with me your experience of your first visit to church and what were the things you started to notice that eventually ended up going into this book?

Freddie: My parents became Christians when I was three years old. I think we were attending church before that at Christmas, Easter, and maybe special events. For as long as I can remember I've been attending church in a beautiful old Victorian church.

My first memory is singing quite a 90s old school song, 'The word of the Lord is a strong tower, the righteous run into it and they are saved.' All of the people in the church were doing what I look back on as quite cheesy actions. That's a happy memory for me, but I'm not sure that I would be singing that song today, given how cheesy it seems as I look back on it through the lens of history.

I suppose I went to church regularly through my youth. I wasn't one of those young people that had a rebellious phase. I spent a lot of time with youth workers and friends talking about the church. I started noticing things as I read, and as people mentored me, around the topic of discipleship and this idea of being more like Jesus. I knew it was something I was supposed to do, to be a better person as a Christian. As I read I realised that it was something that we were all called to do, but the tragedy that struck me as I was growing up, is that I realised there wasn't that culture of discipleship at church. There are a lot of people who would go to church, maybe because our parents brought us there. We did have a faith on our own as well and we were passionate about our faith, but that idea of spending our lives trying to become more like Jesus, hadn't quite sunk in. It wasn't something that had grasped our attention. Although we'd all go to church and say we were Christians and agree with certain things and disagree with other things, I'm not sure as a group we were engaged in behaviours that were designed to grow us spiritually and make us more like Christ. Behaviours like prayer and meditation, particularly on scripture reading and really reflecting on it.

As I've grown up and visited other churches, I've spoken to other young people and I think it's a story I hear over and over again in our generation. We are Christians; we are passionate about our faith, but so many of us struggle to get involved in a process of discipleship. So many young people I speak to struggle to pray for any amount of time, struggle to read the Bible and get into God's word and I think that's a tragedy.

One of the things that was particularly niggling me in Australia, is that Jesus' last instructions to us in Matthew was, 'Go and make disciples of all nations.' He's not just asking us to get bums on seats in church. Jesus is asking us to get engaged in a process of becoming more like Him; to get engaged in laying down our selfish lives and instead engaging with Him, letting His Holy Spirit transform us.

The theologians use the word 'sanctification', becoming more holy, and being able to live more like Christ and reflect God's love in the world more powerfully. I suppose that was one of the real drivers of writing the book. It was this idea that so many of us are Christians and we love our faith, but we struggle to really engage with our faith on a personal level, on a level of discipleship. That thought's been going around in my head, and I read a few interesting books while I was in Australia, about this suggestion that the gospel we understand is different today to the gospel that Jesus preached.

When Jesus started preaching the gospel He says, 'The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the good news.' He was saying the kingdom of God has arrived and that is the good news of Jesus' gospel, that God has not forgotten us. He was saying that earth through Jesus is going to be transformed so it better reflects Jesus' world.

Repentance as Jesus preached in the gospel, is a consequence of the arrival of God's kingdom. For many of us when we preach the gospel, often what we focus on is the idea that the good news is that our sins are forgiven and we can have a relationship with God. Now of course that is amazing news and it is all true, but if we seek to reflect the gospel Jesus Himself preached, we need to remember the kingdom of God and that Jesus isn't just inviting us into a relationship with Him, He is inviting us into a relationship through which we are transformed. As we are transformed we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to build the kingdom of God in the world around us.