The Radical Disciple
What are your thoughts when you hear or read the word “radical”? In our days, it is often associated with political extremes and in general with extremism. It’s not a surprise that J. Stott wrote a book about discipleship - but to put it in such a radical way from the very start might feel like an extreme to some people.
What does radical mean? The Latin origin, the author explains, of the word radical derives from the word “radix” meaning root. He gives a brief introduction to what it looked like to be a Christian in the first centuries of Christianity, how the label “Christian” was born and who & why it was introduced. He also explains how the term was used and what the difference is between disciple v/s Christian? Isn’t it just being a good Christian sufficient? And why is the title not just discipleship, but rather radical discipleship?
I won’t steal from you the pleasure of discovering all the answers to these questions, for yourself. The book is short with only 8 short chapters - each one explaining one characteristic of Christian discipleship that John Stott considers essential for a life long follower of Jesus. It is an easy read but at the same time a deep and transforming read - indeed, deeply radical - meaning rooted in the true Gospel, which is a strong invitation to a counter-cultural way of living.
The book starts with Non-conformity (ch.1) to four tendencies of the world in our society - which surprisingly are not very different from the days of the first believers and followers of Jesus. The author explains them using different Biblical references and gives ways of how to respond to them as Christians and how to respond positively and at the same time not adopt practices of the world.
“So we are neither to seek to preserve our holiness by escaping the world nor to sacrifice our holiness by conforming to the world. Escapism and non-conformism are thus forbidden to us.”
We are to be in the world but we are not to be from this world. After this the author takes us to next characteristic of discipleship which is “Christlikeness”. In what aspects should a disciple resemble Jesus and what are the consequences of such a life? As Christians we are to live like Christ, being like him in service, in love, in patient endurance, and in mission. The practical consequences are that we take part in His sufferings, share/teach the Gospel and all this by the power of the Holy Spirit indwelling and helping us.
Chapter 3 tackles the subject of maturity - a painful process of growth and change, often avoided by individual Christians and by communities.
“There is superficiality of discipleship everywhere, and church leaders bemoan this situation…there is a huge problem with lack of godliness and integrity.”
It is absolutely vital to mature and grow in Christlike character. This is what forms a rich a follower of Jesus, according to J. Stott in this chapter. The poorer the vision of Christ; the poorer our discipleship will be. This chapter explains the nature of maturity and the way to grow in maturity, through envisioning Christ as he is.
“… we have a double responsibility: maturity in Christ is the goal both for ourselves and our ministry to others.”
Next, Stott moves on to talk about Creation care. If we believe that our God the Father, as well as the Son and the Holy Spirit created the world and created us in their image, we are to understand and fulfil our calling in creation as God’s image bearers and as followers of Jesus. This is one of the most ignored characteristics by Christians in the world - all the while being one of the most intrinsic parts of our being and calling from the very beginning of the world. We love to emphasise God’s image and also the intrinsic value of a human but too often we leave behind the calling to take care of creation and multiply. J. Stott says precisely “The Earth belongs to God by creation and to us by delegation.”
He explains not only why and how to take care of creation but also warns against the pitfalls of society and other religious and philosophical systems related to creation. Following this; what then should be the lifestyle (chapter 5) of a Christian who follows Jesus? How should my life be styled if I am following Jesus or resembling him? How should it be different from when I wasn’t a disciple or/and from those who are not following Jesus yet? Our lifestyles have much larger repercussions in our families, as well as in our communities, the environment, on wealth creation and poverty, and in matters of justice and the advancement of the Gospel. In this chapter you’ll find information about the Convention on Christian lifestyle that was adopted by the Lausanne Global Movement, a few decades ago.
Stott moves on to talk about the need for balance in life. He explains it in the light of 6 images that Apostle Peter uses to explain how should christians live and work in this world. I want to pay more attention to this chapter in this book review as it is a crucial point - and also helped me a lot to understand how as Christians we can be rooted in Christ, and at the same time relate to this world in a way that brings glory to God and shows off his light and Kingdom in our world.
Peter uses in chapter 2 of his first letter, six different images to describe those scattered in Asia to explain who they are, what is their calling (what they are for in this world) and how they are to live among not yet—believing people. Those images complement each other in a very beautiful way, although at first glance they might look opposed to each other.
J. Stott sees that every Christian who is Jesus’ disciple needs to embody all that these six images symbolise.
- New Born babies
- Living stones.
- Priesthood (Holy and Royal)
- God’s people
As Christians we need to grow into our identity with deep roots in Christ’s redemptive work - and thus find balance in our God-given calling in this world, all the time whilst belonging to the body of Christ - the Church.
According to John Stott’s commentaries on this passages
“We are called to both individual discipleship and corporate fellowship… worship and work … pilgrimage and citizenship.”
Only a new born in the Kingdom of God can be both in the same time. This reminds me of a diamond. We are called to be versatile multi-facets in order to shine. It’s only by God’s Spirit through his word that we can understand this and act like this. It starts with our reconciliation in Jesus Christ and it is in this way that we are moulded into a holistic person that can be all this in the same time and is not conflicted. In the society and world we live in, my identity (who am I?) is determined by what I am doing, and then as a consequence by calling. In God’s Kingdom, however, it is vice-versa. As soon as we know The One whom we belong to and who we are in Him, we find our calling (why are we in this world) and thus our identity (who I am) flows out of this. We see both the big framework of our calling but also the specific calling for the specific time and stage of our life and given circumstances.
Finally, Stott tackles co-dependence and death as the last two characteristics of discipleship that the author considers essential to followers of Jesus. As practicing Christians we know and experience co-dependency in our communities but John Stott takes us further and deeper by sharing one of his personal experiences when he depended entirely on other people. He shares how humbling and transforming this was for him. These moments of total dependence on others doesn’t leave any possibility of self-reliance and lead you to understand not only total dependence on God but also surrender to His will in extremely difficult times that inevitably come in a human’s life.
In his last chapter (Chapter 8) John Stott writes about a characteristic that is, according to him indispensable to discipleship - DEATH. This was a shock to me! I had never thought of death as a characteristic but rather as an event in a person’s life. “Life through death is one of the profoundest paradoxes in both Christian faith and Christina life” - states J. Stott. In the physical realm life is heading towards death. In the spiritual realm death is the gate and also the road to life. How is this so? Well, you’ll need to read the book to find out for your self :) ! I’ll end this book review with a quote from the book:
“Basic to all discipleship is our resolve not only to address Jesus with polite titles, but to follow his teaching and obey his commands.”
Cover image: Sacre Bleu on Unsplash.com
***** Readability (5/5): a short, concise text
**** Application (5/5): wonderful examples and images to help us understand spiritual concepts and practical application
**** General Appeal (5/5): should be a most read for every christian who seriously wants to follow Jesus.
** Commitment (4/5): A short, accessible read but you might need to take some reflection time and Bible reading time.
*** Challenge (4/5): an honest read that challenges your identity values and priorities
***** Recommendation (4/5): looking for a good read that will help you advance in your spiritual journey than this is the one!