The radical disciple
Inter-Varsity Press, 2010, Pbk., 160p., ISBN 9781844744213
The title of this book suggests some heavy subject matter, yet in a number of ways this is only partially true, and on the whole it is an accessible study rather than a daunting one. The eight chapters, printed in a large font and set out with generous margins, cover eight characteristics of a Christian disciple as selected by Stott. They are: non-conformity, Christlikeness, maturity, creation-care, simplicity, balance, dependence and death. A preface explains that the term radical means ‘root’, whilst a brief conclusion simply says ‘over to you’ with a few guidelines.
This book is not a course, and unlike David Watson’s Discipleship (Hodder, 1981) it contains no programme or even questions. Some of the chapters might possibly lend themselves for discussion, but overall this is not how this book feels. Instead it has a pastoral quality about it. This is particularly evident in the chapter on dependence, where the author reflects on his own physical frailty as an elderly person in quite a candid way, and in the final chapter on death, which is human and yet hopeful. However, it does add something to earlier studies in so far as the issues of concern need to be kept relevant. Stott identifies materialism as a snare (as did Watson) but he adds pluralism, ethical relativism and narcissism. And the subjects creation-care and simple lifestyle are surely two of the most contemporary matters for us to consider.
Most of the book contains original material although a substantial chunk of ‘simplicity’ comes from a 1980 symposium, and ‘Christlikeness’ is more or less a transcript of Stott’s final public speaking engagement, his address at Keswick in 2007. The latter is a particularly welcome inclusion and says very clearly and yet somehow quite gently that being an imitator of Christ is about service, love, patience, not paying evil-for-evil, and entering other people’s worlds in the sense of understanding where they are coming from. Being Christlike, he says, is the surest way to see the Kingdom grow.
I have not always found John Stott the most appealing author to read, and I found the chapter on balance less interesting. The chapter on maturity, which reflects on the lack of depth in much Christian living, could also be difficult in the sense that it could come over as more of an address. But his use of scripture passages to show how immaturity was a problem which the apostles had to deal with, and his discussion of the Greek term ‘teleios’ are particularly helpful. Growing in maturity, says Stott, starts with a better vision of Jesus and it something for all Christians to aspire to, not for an elite.
This is John Stott’s final book and it concludes with a farewell postscript. It was a particular pleasure to read there how much he has enjoyed books and reading, which he regards as a ‘much neglected means of grace’. This is an uplifting as well as a thoughtful and challenging book and I doubt there could there be a more uplifting note to finish on for a Christian librarian.
Contributed by: Robert Foster, BA, DipIM, MCLIP, who is a CLIS committee member and works as Deputy Counter Supervisor in the Maughan Library, King’s College, London.