InterVarsity Press, 2010
There is a part of me that wishes John Stott had not written this book, or at least that he had written a different book, or given the book a different title. Or something along those lines. This small book published by InterVarsity Press this year marks, if I understand correctly, the conclusion of John Stott’s public career. Stott has long been a leader in the Evangelical church as a preacher, Rector, author and lecturer. But if this book marks the final chapter of his storied literary career then he ended on a less than celebrated note.
I would have preferred to remember the John Stott who wrote the great books The Cross of Christ and Between Two Worlds and The Spirit, The Church, and The World. Those books helped form my early views of the Christian faith and were marked by careful scholarship and attention to detail. I kind of feel like The Radical Disciple was a publishing company’s attempt to cash in one last time on a fading light. I confess that when I saw it as a book of the month from IVP I was very excited and couldn’t wait for it to arrive. I was disappointed, to say the least, in the final product.
Stott started out strong with a call to non-conformity yet what follows (his other seven characteristics of a radical disciple; viz., Christlikeness, maturity, creation care, simplicity, balance, dependence, and death) fell short of the sort of theological brilliance that has typically characterized Stott’s work. He begins this way: “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” (17). Bold. Very bold and very true. I only wish he had simply explored this theme through the rest of the book.
The worst chapter is chapter 4, Creation Care. I know not one single Christian who believes that our mandate to ‘rule’ and ‘subdue’ the world means that we ought to rape and pillage the planet’s resources. In this chapter he speaks of the ‘ecological crisis’ that is looming over our heads. He continually uses the word ‘crisis’ which is, in my opinion, mere hyperbole. For example, his first crisis is the ‘accelerating world population growth’. Why is a rising population a crisis? The very Scriptures Stott alludes to in support and justification of his version of creation care as, an aspect of the Radical Disciple’s life, namely, Genesis, tells us that we are to fill the earth, to ‘be fruitful and multiply.’ So how can it be a crisis that we are doing just that? Is God not capable?
One gets the impression that God is not the Lord of the planet after reading this chapter. One also gets the impression that Stott is sort of agitated with those who do not share his conclusions with respect to global warming (or, as he calls it, ‘climate change’). He regurgitates the typical ‘liberal’ line when it comes to the earth—lines I do not agree with or subscribe to. “Crisis is not too dramatic a word to use” (57) he writes. I disagree. If God is the Lord of the heavens and the earth, as I know Stott believes, then there is no crisis–unless it is our responsibility to fix all that he thinks is wrong. Thankfully, this is the shortest chapter in the book.
There is a sort of randomness to Stott’s selection of the eight characteristics he writes of, which he himself admits (see p 134). To be sure, he does call these eight characteristics ‘my portrait of the radical disciple’ and goes on to write, “You will no doubt want to compile your own list. Hopefully it will be clearly biblical, but still also reflect your own culture and experience, and I wish you well as you do so” (134).
This is generous and important. I may well disagree with Stott that accepting ‘climate change’ as a prop in my discipleship is necessary, but I do agree with him that discipleship in Jesus will necessarily be shaped in part by the culture in which we reside. It is as unavoidable as Anakin Skywalker becoming Darth Vader. Culture necessarily has to do with the way we act and practice our faith. I will leave it up to each person who reads Stott to decide how their culture will affect, define, and shape their lived-out life in Christ. And there is no doubt that what Stott wrote in these pages reflects areas in his own life where he has struggled or even failed to be as pristine as hoped. Each of us will write a valedictory message, and it will reflect our own failures and struggles. We can only hope to be as honest and forthcoming as John Stott has been in his.