In his (possibly last) book, The Radical Disciple, John Stott addresses the 8 characteristics of discipleship that he believes are most lacking in western forms of Christianity. So, I’ll spend a little time going over what he says about them. The first is non-conformity, but before we get there a few words from his preface.
“For genuine discipleship is wholehearted discipleship … Our common way of avoiding radical discipleship is to be selective.”
This is the nature of the human heart. We think that we are obedient if we keep some of this demands. But Jesus’ call to discipleship requires that we follow with all our heart, and all that we are. We do not pick and choose the ways we will love Him any more than we should pick and choose how to love our spouse.
“Escapism and conformism are thus both forbidden to us. … We are neither to see to preserve our holiness by escaping from the world nor to sacrifice our holiness by conforming to the world.”
This is the point of Jesus’ statement about us being “in the world, but not of it.” Stott summarizes it well. He specifies a few challenges we face as we try to live this out. The first is pluralism. While maintaining humility, we need to affirm his uniqueness in incarnation, atonement and resurrection. As a result, Jesus is “uniquely competent to save sinners.”
Materialism is another challenge. We are not to be like some obscure philosophers who denied the reality of the material world. Materialism is a “preoccupation with material things”. In the parable of the Sower, Jesus mentions how such a preoccupation stifles spiritual life. We are not to live for this life. We are to lose our lives for the sake of the gospel- self-denial.
The next challenge is ethical relativism. Postmodernism’s attack on absolute truth has seen a reject of absolute moral standards. One of those is the attack on “traditional marriage”. Some churches are even beginning to question this. They say that Jesus never addressed homosexuality. Jesus did address marriage, and in a way that eliminates non-traditional marriage. He quotes Genesis 1:27 and 2:24 in discussing marriage. God made men and women in His image, and then gives the biblical definition of marriage: a man united to his wife. Jesus affirms this view of marriage as God’s view of marriage (Mt. 19). One of the key elements of true discipleship is the Lordship of Jesus. He, not culture, defines right and wrong for us.
“To confess Jesus as Lord but not obey him is to build our lives on a foundation of sand.”
He also notes narcissism as a serious problem that we face. The church has often bought into the therapeutic pseudo-gospel which advocates self-love (thank you Robert Shuller). The point of agape, as he mentions, is sacrificial love. Self-love, on the other hand, is a sign of the last days (2 Timothy 3:2). Self-love actually sabotages the love of community that is a reflection of the gospel (God is love, an eternal community of love).
These are some important trends and pattern which challenge us. We cannot risk conforming to the materialism, pluralism, relativism and narcissism of the culture. True disciples are conformed to Christ, not the world. But they don’t escape the world in a holy huddle either.
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