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Monday, October 31, 2011

Book Review: "The Radical Disciple"

TITLE: The Radical Disciple: Some Neglected Aspects of Our Calling
AUTHOR: John Stott
PUBLISHER: Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2011.

This is the last book published by the late Rev John Stott. After many decades of faithful ministries, teaching and guiding believers young and old toward the path of discipleship, Stott crystallizes his experience and insights into this final book of 'neglected aspects of our calling.' In this book, he lists 8 such aspects:
  1. Nonconformity
  2. Christlikeness
  3. Maturity
  4. Creation Care
  5. Simplicity
  6. Balance
  7. Dependence
  8. Death
He begins the book with a question of whether believers in Christ ought to be called 'Christians' or 'disciples.'  For Stott, it is a no-brainer. The word 'Christian' is only used three times in the New Testament, while 'disciple' is used frequently. For Stott, discipleship means three things: Wholehearted, radical, and non-selective.
  1. "Genuine discipleship is wholehearted discipleship." (15)
  2. Radical discipleship is deeply rooted, where one's opinion 'went to the roots' and is 'thoroughgoing' in commitment. (15)
  3. It is a discipleship that is non-selective, that it is God who picks and chooses, not us.
With these, Stott goes on to dedicate a chapter to each of the eight aspects of radical discipleship. On nonconformity, Stott lists 4 major secular trends that the radial disciple cannot conform to: Pluralism, materialism, ethical relativism, and narcissism. On Christlikeness, he writes about the disciple having a laserlike focus on becoming like Christ. This is done by incarnation, service, love, patient endurance, and mission. At the same time, the path to Christlikeness cannot be allowed to be derailed by suffering and any resistance to evangelism. The radical disciple cannot serve on the basis of one's own strength without the help of the Holy Spirit. On maturity, Stott lists physical, intellectual, moral, emotional maturity, and spiritual maturity as areas to look at. He pays special attention to spiritual maturity, that one's relationship with Christ needs to grow deep.

"To be mature is to have a mature relationship with Chrsit in which we worship, trust, love, and obey him." (42)

On creation care, Stott points out three fundamental relationships God has made right from the beginning.
  • Relationship with God
  • Relationship with one another
  • Relationship with creation
The earth 'belongs to God by creation,' and to mankind by 'delegation.' He adds three key points with regards to creation care. Firstly, we must avoid making nature a god. Instead of revering, we learn to respect. Secondly, we cannot exploit nature. Thirdly, we learn to cooperate with God on the overall care of creation.

On simplicity, Stott deals with the issues of money and possessions, primarily through the "Evangelical Commitment to Simple Lifestyle.' Such a lifestyle aims at becoming the new community in God, a personal lifestyle of simple living without the frills, international development to reduce world poverty, participating in positive change in justice and politics, responsible witness and evangelism, and serving the least among us till Christ returns. On balance, the radical disciple grows on the right diet, becomes living stones, and holy priests. He uses six images for growth (97-98).
  1. as newborn babes we are called to growth;
  2. as living stones, we are called to fellowship
  3. as holy priests, we are called to worship
  4. as God's own people, we are called to witness;
  5. As aliens and strangers, we are called to holiness;
  6. As servants of God, we are called to pilgrimate and citizenship.
On dependence, Stott uses the Lord's prayer to show 6 kinds of petitions that express our dependence on God. The first three expresses our dependence on God, (His Name, His Kingdom, His Will). The next three is dependence on God's grace (daily bread, forgiveness, deliverance from evil). Using his own frailty as examples, he shows us how he learns to depend on others in a very personal way.

On death, he presents to readers an interesting paradox where for the Christian, in dying to self there is life in Christ. There are six ways that demonstrate this. Firstly, in salvation, Christ died for us that we may live. Secondly, in discipleship we are called to die to self and live in Christ. In mission, suffering is a given as Stott uses martyrdom to explain the calling to die as a 'means to a life of fruitfulness.' In persecution, as we are aware of physical mortality, we are also acutely aware of spiritual immortality in Christ. The last two is martyrdom and mortality.

My comments

This book can only be written by a man who has gone through the school of tough discipleship and disciple making. Admittedly, this book may not be as theologically profound as some of Stott's earlier books. Yet, considering the frail condition that he is in during the final years before he died, this book is simply amazing. This book is a lot more personal to Stott, and also incorporates a lot of editorial assistance, contributions from others, a well as professional editing. While the book has Stott's name, the style of the book appears like it has been pieced together by others. Certainly the ideas resemble the conventional Stott. The convictions are still strong. Just the theological design is not the normal Stott.

Nevertheless, this book is a wake up call and a wise counsel from a very wise man. Let us not continue to neglect these aspects of calling when we are still young. Let us live as radical disciples, now.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


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