What does it mean to follow Jesus?
The Radical Disciple: Some Neglected Aspects of our Calling
Author: John Stott
Publisher: IVP Books (www.ivpress.com)
“Radical” in relation to the Christian life has seemingly become more popular in recent years. I have not read the books that touch on this in one form or another but have read with interest the reviews. Some point out where the authors miss the mark even if some ideas have merit and serve as a needed corrective to Christianity here in the West.
Having read a number of John Stott books, I did not have any misgivings about reading The Radical Disciple. I trust him. I greatly appreciate the succinct Biblical wisdom that he imparts on whatever topic he examines. He is a masterful teacher that unfortunately is not as well known as those on the bestseller lists.
His work has a timeless quality because he stays close to Scripture and avoids fads. He makes the truth seem utterly reasonable and void of controversy. For instance, this has a chapter on creation care, which can be a controversial subject. Stott’s main thought is that taking care of the earth is a matter of stewardship and an expression of love for God. How can a reasonable person find fault?
Stott is not radical in a left or right sense. His way of being radical in relation to the environment or any other subject is to apply scriptural principles. He may be too basic for those wrestling with complexities, but I applaud his ability to inspire readers to do what lies before them. Our problems are more often a failure of the will than a lack of knowledge. As G. K. Chesterton has written, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.”
The subjects (nonconformity, Christlikeness and maturity) in the first part of the book may seem obvious, but lovers of the truth, and perhaps even inquirers, will appreciate the well-rounded presentation. Again, these areas are neglected not because they are unknown but not achieved.
The latter chapters, beginning with “Creation Care,” are where the material becomes more perse and more challenging. “Dependence” and “Death” towards the end are worth the price of admission. Stott is at his most profound as he reflects on his own state of dependence and nearness to the grave at age 88. These are literally the last words from his pen; he did not make the leap to computers.
As has been said, illustrations are like windows to let the light in, “through them the truth shines.” If the use of such is an art, Stott is one of the masters. He is not overindulgent but like an enlightened disciple who brings forth treasure out of the entire range of human experience. In talking about becoming more personal in “Dependence,” he quotes the late Dr. Paul Tournier, “We have given things priority over persons, we have built a civilization based on things rather than on persons. Old people are discounted because they are purely and simply persons, whose only value is as persons and not as producers any more” (108). This striking truth seems to be lost in a society filled with distractions and a disposable mentality.
The last part of the preceding leads to Stott’s point, “When we are old, … we have the time and qualifications necessary to a true ministry of personal relationships” (108-109). This is but a sample of the borrowed insights, in addition to Stott’s own, that fill every page.
At the end of “Death” Stott summarizes how life comes through death in salvation, discipleship, mission, persecution, martyrdom and mortality: “a death to sin through identification with Christ, a death to self as we follow Christ, a death to ambition in crosscultural mission, a death to security in the experience of persecution and one of martyrdom, and a death to this world as we prepare for our final destiny” (133). We must die to live. “And we will be willing to die only when we see the glories of the life to which death leads” (133).
What is a Christian classic? Does it have to be more than 50 years old? I hope not for this must come close if not in that category.
Stott died not long after this writing. His farewell is not a bad place to start if you are unfamiliar with him and/or the Christian faith.