The other main issue I have with John Ortberg’s If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat, concerns his treatment of the other disciples in the boat. Throughout the book and the development of his argument, he consistently refers to the remaining apostles as “boat potatoes” equating their behaviour to that of the stereotypical couch potato.
When the first reference is made, I was a little shocked, but the phrase is repeated throughout the book and becomes one of the key motifs. The other disciples are clearly to fulfil the role of stooges during the development of the theme. This made me cross.
It is clear that there is a need to contrast the example of Peter with that of the other disciples and if you are making the case that Peter was in the right, then surely, the other 11 must be in the wrong…?
But, here’s the thing…
As I read the passage, there appears to be nothing to criticise these people for. Whether or not Peter is right or wrong, there is no indication that the other disciples have done anything wrong. It is only Peter who is reprimanded by Jesus, not the other disciples.
The Lord gently admonishes Peter as he pulls him from the water, and I infer from the fact that this conversation was recorded, that Peter is the witness here. There is a storm, he is some way from the boat and it is words spoken by Jesus to him. I cannot see how the other disciples can hear the conversation so the implication is that Peter at some later point relates the Lord’s words to him, to his fellow disciples. This reflects well on Peter, on his humility and integrity, and but it does not reflect well on his actions and it certainly does not reflect ill on the actions of the other apostles: the boat potatoes.
Furthermore, in the boat are people who have dedicated themselves to following Jesus. They have already left their lifestyles and livelihoods, their families and friends. Apart from one notable exception, they will go on to follow Jesus faithfully and many will serve him actively after he has left them: some of them, giving up their lives in doing so. To mock these people in order to make a point, is unworthy. Boat potatoes? Matthew and Mark, Andrew and John? Really…?
As I have said before, one of the things that make me cross is that I get cross. I got cross with this book and I realise I need to be honest about why.
I am lazy and something of a genuine couch-potato. I am also currently searching for God’s will for me and have always found this difficult. This book should have been speaking directly to me. I found the approach to discipleship described by Mr Ortberg actually quite seductive and I have been worried that my concerns are simply a self-serving rationalisation that allows me to procrastinate further.
In my defence, I have looked for, and failed to find, any similar examples of this approach to discipleship. (I remain open to any pointers!)
However, while I was looking and thinking, I did find what I think is a much more appropriate passage in Matthew 4:
18As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” 20At once they left their nets and followed him.
21Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, 22and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.
As far as I am concerned, this is the passage when it comes to discipleship. It is the archetype. It also describes examples of risk-taking, trust and action. The difference being that Jesus instigates the action, he is allowed to take the lead.
As I said, I think John Ortberg’s central message is right: we do need to act, to take risks and to mobilise in order to serve Jesus. To get off our backsides, if you’ll permit me.
However, we need to work to discern God’s will with care: reading the bible, praying and thinking. Like Peter, Jesus will watch out for us whatever path we choose, but I believe we need to be patient and wait upon him, trusting him to know the best one to choose and the best time to choose it.