When I first opened The Radical Disciple, I wasn’t expecting to be captivated. It’s an unassuming little book, brown and white, with a subtitle that sounds suited to an academic publication and a Table of Contents that consists of a terse series of one-word chapter titles. In the text itself, the writing style is simple and direct; this is not stylish or witty prose. Eight chapters, preface, and postscript take up fewer than 140 small pages.
As I read, though, I was won over. In the book, Stott explores eight aspects of Christian discipleship which are often neglected in today’s church. The eight aspects include nonconformity, Christlikeness, maturity, creation care, simplicity, balance, dependence, and death. Each individual reader will probably be struck by the application of several of these to his or her own walk with Christ; readers will probably also hold a variety of opinions as to which of these aspects is most egregiously neglected in Christian circles. The chapter on creation care seems to me to be the most surprising inclusion in a book on discipleship; placing stewardship of the earth in such a prominent position among our duties as followers of Christ runs counter to many of our political and social currents. The sections on nonconformity, simplicity and balance are strikingly relevant to individual lifestyles and to the life of the church. The final chapters on dependence and death are especially poignant to me as I face the aging and illness of a beloved family member who is, thankfully, a devoted follower and lover of God. In those chapters, Stott discusses not only physical dependence and death, but spiritual life and death and emotional dependence. A passage about dependence gave me food for thought:
“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.
“I sometimes hear old people, including Christian people who should know better, say, ‘I don’t want to be a burden to anyone else. I’m happy to carry on living so long as I can look after myself, but as soon as I become a burden I would rather die.’ But this is wrong. We are all designed to be a burden to others. You are designed to be a burden to me and I am designed to be a burden to you. And the life of the family, including the life of the local church family, should be one of ‘mutual burdensomeness.’ ‘Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ’ (Galatians 6:2).”
John Stott wrote The Radical Disciple as his final published book at the age of eighty-eight. This is the kind of book that one would expect from an evangelist and author who is nearing the end of an earthly life spent following Christ. With simplicity and a quiet boldness, he passes this reminder to the church: that we are called according to God’s purpose, and that purpose requires us to be imitators of Christ who are set apart and yet engaged in our world.
— Reviewed by Desmognathus. A follower of Jesus Christ, a wife, and a mother. She has an M.S. in biology and a Ph.D. in ecology, and enjoys philosophy and theology. She likes rock climbing and dislikes celery.
* Many thanks to InterVarsity Press for this review copy.