The Radical Disciple
Some Neglected Aspects of Our Calling
IVP Books, 2010, 142 pp. ISBN 978-0-8308-3847-9
John Stott was an international leader among evangelicals. At the time of this writing in 2009, he was 88 years old and this is his last book. Disciple implies the relationship between teacher and pupil and radical means thoroughgoing commitment all the way to the roots. We tend to be selective, committing to the areas that suit us and avoiding the more costly ones. Stott considers eight Christian characteristics that he believes are commonly neglected.
"We are neither to seek to preserve our holiness by escaping from the world nor to sacrifice our holiness by conforming to the world. Escapism and conformism are thus both forbidden to us." (17) We are called to be different. (Rom 12:2).
Pluralism affirms every belief and rejects Christian claims to finality and uniqueness, and condemns as arrogant the attempt to convert anyone. We should respond with great humility but affirm the uniqueness and finality of Jesus. Materialism is a preoccupation with things. Moral standards are slipping because of ethical relativism. Narcissism is an excessive love for oneself.
"The New Age Movement calls us to look inside ourselves … for the solution to our problems is within. … Unfortunately, some of this teaching has permeated the church, with some Christians urging that we must not only love God and our neighbor, but we must also love ourselves. But no, this is surely a mistake for three reasons. First, Jesus spoke of 'the first and great commandment' and of 'the second,' but did not mention a third. Second, self-love is one of the signs of the last days (2 Timothy 3:2). Third, the meaning of agape love is the sacrifice of oneself in the service of others. Sacrificing oneself in the service of oneself is clearly nonsense! What then should our attitude be to ourselves? It is a combination of self-affirmation and self-denial--affirming everything in us that comes to us from our creation and redemption, and denying everything that can be traced to the Fall." (25)
Against these trends, Jesus calls his disciples to conform to his standards, to be a community of truth, of simplicity, of obedience, and of love. We are to be like Christ, "conformed to the image of God's Son" (Romans 8:29).
Christlikeness is the will of God for the people of God. In the past we were predestined to be conformed to his image (Rom 8:29). In the present we are being transformed into his image (2 Cor 3:18). And in the future we shall be like him (1 John 3:2). So this is God's eternal purpose, his historical purpose and his eschatological purpose - that we be like him.
We are to be like him in his mission. We are sent into the world as he was (John 17:18 and 20:21). As he entered our world, so we are to enter other people's worlds. This is incarnational mission. Why are our evangelism efforts ineffective? One reason is that we don't look like the Christ we proclaim. The most effective teaching comes from those who are what they teach.
The Christian world is characterized by growth without depth, superficiality everywhere. We need a fresh and true vision of Jesus Christ. "Nothing is more important for mature Christian discipleship than a fresh, clear, true vision of the authentic Jesus." (45) Maturity in Christ is the goal both for ourselves and our ministry to others.
4. Creation Care
God intends for man to have good relationships with himself, with each other, and with the earth and its creatures. All three were skewed by the Fall. His plan for restoration includes the groaning creation. "Just as our understanding of the final destiny of our resurrection bodies should affect how we think of and treat the bodies we have at present, so our knowledge of the new heaven and earth should affect and increase the respect with which we treat it now." (50)
"We respect nature because God made it; we do not reverence nature as if it were God."
Stott quotes at length from the "The Evangelical Commitment to Simple Lifestyle," the document that emerged out of a 1980 international consultation. "If the life is new, the lifestyle should be new also."
The following quote is from paragraph 9 of the 1974 Lausanne Covenant:
"All of us are shocked by the poverty of millions and disturbed by the injustices which cause it. Those of us who live in affluent circumstances accept our duty to develop a simple life-style in order to contribute more generously to both relief and evangelism" (66)
"In spite of all these earthly duties as conscientious citizens…we still belong first to heaven! We are aliens and exiles on earth. We are pilgrims traveling home to God. This fact (our heavenly citizenship) profoundly challenges our attitudes to money and possessions,…to tragedy and suffering,…and especially our attitude to temptation and sin. … Our soul is on its way to God. So we should abstain from everything that might hinder its progress, and must live a holy life in preparation for the holy presence of God in heaven." (97)
While independence is sometimes appropriate, dependence is the most characteristic attitude for a disciple. "We come into this world totally dependent on the love, care and protection of others. We go through a phase of life when other people depend on us. And most of us will go out of this world totally dependent on the love and care of others. And this is not an evil, destructive reality. It is part of the design, part of the physical nature that God has given us. … We are all designed to be a burden to others." (110) Paul tells us in Galatians to carry each other's burdens.
"Life through death is one of the profoundest paradoxes in both the Christian faith and the Christian life." (112) "The radical biblical perspective is to see death not as the termination of life but as the gateway to life." (114)
The barrier to fellowship is sin and "the wages of sin is death." Salvation is characterized by death, for the only way to enter the life of fellowship with God is to become united to Christ in his death and resurrection. By faith we become united to Christ in his death and resurrection.
Discipleship is characterized by death for "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross…. Whoever loses their life…will save it." (Mark 8:34-35) Paul teaches also that we must be crucified with Christ.
Although frequently overlooked, suffering is an indispensable aspect of mission. Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. (John 12:23-25) Death is the way to fruitfulness. We may be called to a death less dramatic than martyrdom. Nevertheless real death is involved, especially for cross-cultural missionaries.
The Christian life is often characterized by persecution. Special honor is given to those who are martyred (Rev 20:4). Further we must all face our mortality. Although dying can be messy and undignified, we recognize that death, the last enemy, has been personally conquered by the Christ in the resurrection so that it is not the end.
What will our new bodies be like? "We answer it by drawing attention to the relationship between a seed and its flower. There will be an essential continuity between the two (e.g., mustard seeds produce only mustard plants). But the discontinuity is much more striking. The seed is bare and ugly but its flower is colorful and beautiful. So will it be with our resurrection body. It will preserve a degree of continuity with our present body, but it will have new and undreamed-of powers (1 Corinthians 15:35-44)." (130)
Paul said, "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. … I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far. (Philippians 1:21-23)" (130) "On the other hand, we must not understate the cost of the death which alone leads to life: 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)
"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." (133)