John Stott. The Radical Disciple: Some Neglected Aspects of Our Calling. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2010. 142 pages. $15.00. ISBN 978-0-8308-3847-9
For a good portion of the twentieth century John Stott has been a leader in the church and in theological academia. Here at the end of his life, he has devoted the last stroke of his pen to be about what he has always written about: devotion to the fact that Jesus is Lord. Since Jesus is Lord, what do we do about that? For Stott (and should be everyone) the answer lies in that we are to follow the Christ, be like the Christ…in essence, to be His disciple. To be, as the title of this book portrays, a radical disciple.
In the book Stott gives eight recommendations (one could call them pleas) to Christians to act in such a manner that is nonconformist to the world in which we find ourselves (that’s actually one of the pleas); but rather to be different, to be a witness to those around us in a way that is unique, a way that turns heads and makes one wonder “why?”, in the words of Stanley Hauerwas to be “peculiar people”. Although Stott only flushed out the “why” we are to act in a peculiar fashion very minimally in this small book, he still makes clear that Christians ought to act in a certain manner that is different from the depraved world around us, yet still to be able to “live, serve and witness to the world” (pg. 17).
Each of the eight pleas for the Christian carry their own amount of thought provocation, and each one is unique in its own right. One might not have thought about “creation care” as a radical discipline to Christlikeness (also a plea). Nor the powerful chapter on “dependence” as one that is convicting and rarely discussed in Christian circles. The last one, “death”, is an interesting adoption of a discipline yet for Stott it is very real, very present, and very much on the forethought of his mind (he’s in his late eighties). Really for his thoughts on death, or any other chapter for that matter, it is an explanation that while these things are difficult to muster or understand or even accept, they are completely necessary and in the chapter on death, inevitable. Christians ought not to be afraid of death or simplicity or balance (two other chapter topics) but rather we ought to embrace these things.
In the culture current in which we swim it can be easy and tempting to dismiss or neglect these realities of human existence. But for Stott and for Christianity as a philosophy, why would we? Death is not the end, but the beginning. Simplicity is not a form of torture from materialism, it is a healthy way of viewing the temporal reality of the world and the existence of harmful things to our co-habitation to the world. This is certainly not a “deep” book, or one that is analytically challenging. But it is challenging for those who might take it seriously to ponder these pronouncements of a wise and great Christian man to live apart from the sacred realm of this world and instead embrace a sacred realm that is not OF this world, yet somehow IN it. That is the balance, the fine line perhaps, in which we all must navigate through. For Stott, one way of going about this tension is to be like Jesus, to be that radical disciple.