Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2010
The Radical Disciple by the late John Stott, well known 20th century Anglican clergyman, is brief (137 pages), but well worth reading. It is his farewell address to the worldwide church. In it he “offers wisdom gained from a lifetime of consistent Christian commitment. In addition, he poignantly reflects on his last years of life and ministry. The message is simple, classic and personal: Jesus is Lord. He calls. We follow.”
Stott prefers the term “disciple” to “Christian” as the former is used much more in the New Testament than the latter. Christian is actually only used three times in the New Testament, but disciple numerous times. Also, he believes it is a stronger term for it inevitably implies the relationship of pupil to master.
He chose the term “radical” in the title because it is derived from the Latin word “radix”, a root, which has come to be a term that is applied to anyone whose opinion goes to the roots and is thoroughgoing in their commitment. A reviewer wrote, “What is a life of radical discipleship? At the root, it means we let Jesus set the agenda of our lives. We aren’t selective. We don’t pick and choose what is congenial and stay away from what is costly. No. He is Lord of all of life. In the last book by the leading evangelical churchman of the twentieth century, John Stott opens up what it means to truly be a follower of Jesus.”
What makes this work refreshingly different than most on discipleship is that Stott treats some aspects of the Christian life that most conservative evangelicals neglect. In his very readable style he explores eight aspects of Christian discipleship:
- Non-conformity – We live, serve, and witness in the world, but we are to avoid being contaminated by the world. Escapism and conformism are both to be avoided. In this chapter he treats several contemporary trends which can “swallow us up”: pluralism, materialism, ethical relativism, and narcissism.
- Christ-likeness – We are to be like Christ in his incarnation, in his service, in his love, in his patient endurance, and in his mission. He concludes this chapter with three practical implications of being Christ-like. (1) Suffering is part of God’s process to make us like Christ. (2) One of the main reasons we are not more successful in evangelism is that we don’t look like Christ. (3) God has given us the Holy Spirit to enable us to fulfill his purpose.
- Maturity – Stott would summarize Christianity in the world today by saying it has “growth without depth.” There is a superficiality of discipleship everywhere. He quotes J. I. Packer in his book Knowing God: “We are pygmy Christians because we have a pygmy God.” Stott writes, “To be mature we must have a mature relationship with Christ whom we worship, trust, love, and obey. … Nothing is more important for mature Christian discipleship than a fresh, clear, true vision of the authentic Jesus.”
- Creation-care – What should be our attitude to the earth? The Bible points the way by making two fundamental affirmations: “The earth is the LORD’S” (Psalm 24:1) and “the earth he has given to humankind” (Psalm 115:16). We must avoid deification of nature, as well as exploitation of nature. Instead we should cooperate with God in caring for nature. “God intends our work to be an expression of our worship, and our care of the creation to reflect our love for the Creator. He highlights what he considers the four major ecological problems Christ followers should be concerned about today: (1) the accelerating world population growth, (2) the depletion of the world’s resources, (3) waste disposal, and (4) climate change.
- Simplicity – What Stott suggests in relation to the whole question of money and possessions is simplicity. He gives the example of Dan Lam, an engineer from Hong Kong who led a number of major construction projects in the world and became wealthy, but used his resources to establish several very significant charities and foundations in Asia. In this chapter the author gives some of the key points in the Evangelical Commitment to Simple Lifestyle, which emerged out of a consultation in 1980: the new community, personal lifestyle, international development, justice and politics, and the Lord’s return. “The reality of saving faith is exhibited in serving love.
- Balance – Stott believes that the New Testament text which gives the most varied and balanced account of what it means to be a disciple is 1 Peter 2:1-17. Here in a series of metaphors Peter illustrates who we are as Christ-followers. We must be them all to be balanced: (1) new born babes (2:2), i.e. born again believers, who crave pure spiritual milk. (2) living stones (2:4-8); (3) holy priests (2:5 and 9); (4) God’s people (2:9-10); (5) foreigners and exiles in the world (2:11); (6) conscientious servants of God (2:12-17.) The key word in this chapter is “balance”. As new born babes we are called to growth, as living stones to fellowship, as holy priests to worship, as God’s own people to witness, and as servants of God to citizenship.
- Dependence –In this chapter Stott illustrates from his own life how we need God and one another. In times of sickness and old age we especially come to realize this. He links humility with dependence and reminds us to thank God often for our continuing privileges. Take care to confess your sins, and be ready to accept humiliation. Do not worry about status, and use your sense of humor. As we grow older we must accept our dependence on others. In John 21:18, Jesus told Peter, “When you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted, but when you are old you will stretch our hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”
- Death – Christianity offers eternal life, life to the full, but it makes it plain that the road to life is death. We see it in salvation – Christ died that we might live. We see it in discipleship – if we put to death the misdeeds of the body we will live. We see it in mission – the seed must die to multiply. We see it in persecution and ultimately in persecution – dying that we might live. At the time of writing this book Stott was eighty-eight years old and was naturally reflecting on many things. As the end was in sight he was encouraged by the paradox of life through death.
He concludes this way: “Death is unnatural and unpleasant. In one sense it presents us with a terrible finality. Death is the end. Yet in every situation death is the way to life. So if we want to live we must die. And we will be willing to die only when we see the glories of the life to which death leads. This is the radical, paradoxical Christian perspective. Truly Christian people are accurately described as “those who are alive from the dead.”