I think rather highly of the late John Stott for a number of reasons.
First, there’s his longtime involvement with The Lausanne Movement, including his role as “chief architect” of the Lausanne Covenant. I think we can all still learn a great deal from his understanding of the relationship between evangelism and social action. And I’m grateful for the way he devoted so much of his life work to the church in the Global South through Langham Partnership.
Then again, maybe my interest is really just a case of American Evangelical Anglophilia.
The Radical Disciple: Some Neglected Aspects of Our Calling (IVP) was Stott’s final book, as he said it would be, calling it a “valedictory message” to his readers. He explains the choice of words in the title by emphasizing that being a disciple of Christ has to do with being under discipline and “implies the relationship of pupil to teacher.” Disciple, then, is a stronger word than Christian. And radical, which comes from the Latin word for root, emphasizes that our commitment isn’t haphazard, flimsy, or temporary. Radical disciples are rooted ones, under the discipline of Christ. And this book challenges us on our tendency to want nothing to do with that kind of life:
Our common way of avoiding radical discipleship is to be selective: choosing those areas in which commitment suits us and staying away from those areas in which it will be costly.
While many of Stott’s readers have certainly been following Christ for decades, others — like the 18,000 or so who’ll attend Urbana 12 later this year (which always features a great selection of Stott’s work) — are much younger in their faith. One way or another, I think all of us are prone to the sort of selective discipleship Stott is concerned about.
Some — particularly older readers — may be a bit uncomfortable about the chapter on creation care as an essential aspect of discipleship, dealing with questions of population, depletion of resources, waste disposal, and climate change. Based on the biblical teaching that the earth is created by God and has been entrusted to us as its stewards, Stott urges us to avoid the twin errors of either deifying the earth or exploiting it. Rather, he says, we’re called to cooperate with God to conserve the good creation and to develop its resources for the common good.
Younger evangelicals (like myself) are probably more likely to affirm the importance of creation care, but I have a hunch that many of us haven’t really considered how creation care fits into God’s cosmic mission to redeem all things. So even those who are already inclined to “go green” could learn a lot from Stott on this. If creation care truly is part of discipleship, it can’t be reduced to a passing fad. Remember, discipleship is costly; that’s something those who have been Christians for a while know very well.
If the environmental chapter seems to border on the trendy, the other “neglected aspects of our calling,” it seems to me, are anything but popular. They are, however, all essential to biblical teaching, to Christ’s radical call to follow him:
He calls us to nonconformity under his Lordship, ruling out escapism and conformism as available options.
He calls us to Christlikeness in his incarnation, his service, his love, his endurance, and his mission.
He calls us to grow, but to be far more concerned with depth and than with impressive numbers.
He calls us to simplicity as a community and in our personal lifestyles, allowing us to better respond to the needs of the poor and giving credibility to our evangelistic witness.
He calls us to a way of life that holds in balance “our comprehensive identity” as followers of Christ: both individual discipleship and corporate fellowship, both worship and work, and both pilgrimage and citizenship.
He calls us to dependence instead of rugged individualism, recognizing that we’re intended to belong to a family and to a church, both characterized by “mutual burdensomeness.”
Finally, he calls us to a Christian understanding of death, not as something to be ignored or feared, but as the road to life — “one of the profoundest paradoxes” we’ll ever encounter.
I think it’s clear that the multifaceted calling of discipleship doesn’t come easy to any of us, just as I’m sure it didn’t come easy to John Stott. But it’s our common calling, and it’s attainable. We’re called to follow Christ, and we’re given the grace to follow. Fortunately, grace takes many shapes and sizes, and I’m convinced the help we need is often found at least partially in those around us and in those who see the world from a different vantage point.
I for one hope my generation will do better at setting an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity — beginning with myself. And I pray we’ll humbly, eagerly and intentionally seek to learn from those Christians who have been at it longer than we have — even if they drive a gas-guzzling Buick instead of a Prius.
[Photo credit: John Yates via digdeep1962.blogspot.com]