Some Neglected Aspects of Our Calling
Why I picked up this book:
Since I am a blogger that regularly writes book reviews, I received this book from Intervarsity Press.
Who Should Read The Radical Disciple:
I recommend this book for any believer who cares about practically living out his or her Christian faith. It will also be enriching and beneficial for church leaders, and those who are intentional about holistic discipleship. It’s a thoughtful, yet short and quick read.
What’s in Store for You:
This is my first time reading a book written by John Stott, someone who Christianity Today Leadership Journal calls “one of the giants of evangelical Christianity in the last century.” I found his writing clear and easy flowing, grounded in biblical text and affirmed through many years of faithfully serving our God and king. Stott is no longer with us on earth but his words remain to lead, guide, and encourage still.
Stott correctly understands discipleship as a call and obedience to follow Christ, and not simply a profession of Christian faith. He unapologetically calls readers to submit to the authority of Christ, and to consider eight areas where we tend to neglect or forget our Christian calling.
“The church has a double responsibility in relation to the world around us. On the one hand we are to live, serve and witness in the world. On the other hand we are to avoid becoming contaminated by the world. So 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).”
Christ calls us to holiness even in (and perhaps especially in) a pluralistic society. “Here then is God’s call to a radical disciple, to a radical nonconformity to the surrounding culture. It is a call to develop a Christian counterculture, a call to engagement without compromise (19).”
“God wants his people to become like Christ, for Christlikeness is the will of God for the people of God (29).” Stott follows this challenge with specific ways we are called to be like Jesus: in his service, in his love, in his patient endurance, and in his mission. This obedience leads to three practical consequences: the mystery of suffering, the challenge of evangelism, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
Regarding the Christian scene (or state of the church in the 1990s), Stott summarized it simply as “growth without depth.” This was not his conclusion alone, for he shares quotes from several Majority world leaders who voiced concerns of the superficiality of discipleship, lack of godliness and integrity, and a weak biblical and theological foundation. The solution to all these issues of course is to look to Jesus. “Nothing is more important for mature Christian discipleship than a fresh, clear, true vision of the authentic Jesus (45)…For the discipleship principle is clear: the poorer our vision of Christ, the poorer our discipleship will be, whereas the richer our vision of Christ, the richer our discipleship will be (47).”
- Creation Care:
From the beginning of our time (Genesis 1-2), God established a very good creation where woman and man were given authority over the earth. “The assertions that ‘the earth is the Lord’s and that ‘the earth he has given to humankind’ complement rather than contradict each other. For the earth belongs to God by creation and to us by delegation (51).”
“We are not only to conserve the environment but also to develop its resources for the common good. It is a noble calling to cooperate with God for the fulfillment of his purposes, to transform the created order for the pleasure and profit of all. In this way our work is to be an expression of our worship since our care of the creation will reflect our love for the Creator (53).” There is no doubt that we glorify God and love our neighbors well when we exercise proper care for the earthly creation God has graciously provided.
In this chapter, Stott also briefly explores the ecological crises of accelerating world population growth, the depletion of the earth’s resources, waste disposal, and climate change. The basic conclusion is Christians need to “include the care of creation within their biblical concept of mission (58).”
This chapter gives readers the opportunity to explore the “Evangelical Commitment to the Simple Lifestyle.” This commitment includes content regarding Christian community, personal lifestyle, international development, justice and politics, evangelism, and the Lord’s return.
I don’t normally use the word balance when I consider the call to live as people of faith. To me, the idea of balance gives a false consideration that in some way our life commitments are going to weigh out evenly or perfectly, and once we reach that invisible and unreachable thing, somehow all will be and go well with us. That’s not the image I see of those who lived faithfully for God in the Bible. I see those faithful saints of God pressing on in spite of the chaos, uncertainty, and circumstances of their lives.
I like that Stott does not buy into that notion here, rather he considers balance in light of our identity in Christ. In Christ, we find new life. In him, we have security because our lives are built on the living stone, and we are now part of the church he is building for himself, and nothing will destroy that church! We are priests of God, his chosen people—servants and foreigners in this land. In light of these truths, we are called to growth, fellowship, worship, witness, holiness, and citizenship. Stott reminds us that, “Our Heavenly Father is constantly saying to us…‘My dear children, you must always remember who you are, for if you remember your identity you would behave accordingly’ (99).”
This aspect of our calling is an exposition of the Lord’s Prayer. Ultimately, we are totally dependent upon God for everything in life. God has also created us for interdependency with others. From the beginning, God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone (Gen 2:18).” We are created for community and fellowship with others. “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 (110).” Intentionally nurturing our relationships, with God and with others, is an important aspect of discipleship.
“Life through death is one of the profoundest paradoxes in both the Christian faith and the Christian life (112).” This truth is evident through our understanding of salvation, discipleship, mission, persecution, martyrdom, and mortality. As disciples of Christ, “we must not understate the cost of 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. Death in 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. And we will be willing to die only when we see the glories of the life to which death leads (133).” Amen.
What do you see as neglected aspects of our discipleship and how can we intentionally address them?
© Natasha Sistrunk Robinson 2015