John Stott on Discipleship

Last week I cried upon hearing of the death of a man I had never met. Like many of my friends, colleagues, and countless others in the evangelical world, John R.W. Stott was my favorite expositor. My understanding of the Scriptures and my theology, particularly my Christology, have been shaped more by “Uncle John’s” writings than any other single author or theologian. Stott was a practical theologian. He was a pastor with a scholar’s mind and a scholar with a pastor’s heart. He loved His Lord and the Scriptures. He loved the nations and sought to see the glory of God proclaimed throughout the world. He was passionate about engaging the prevailing culture and calling for the redemption of culture. He invested in young pastors all over the world through his writings. His is a legacy of service in the name of Jesus. Many leaders who knew him have written eloquent tributes about his life and ministry, a thing I choose not to attempt. Rather, I prefer to honor his memory by taking up the theme of the last of his fifty-plus books, The Radical Disciple.

In the book he wrote as his farewell, Stott offers the eight characteristics of what he considered the portrait of a radical disciple. In selecting his title, Stott was intentional in choosing his words, as I believe he always was, for he wanted to convey the idea that those who have Jesus as Lord ought to take seriously His call to discipleship. Our belief in Jesus Christ should go down to the roots (the word “radical” is from the Latin for “root,” as in “radish”) and result in a thoroughgoing obedience to His commands. The book is worth reading, and Stott’s final written words fold in nicely with our discussion: What is a disciple?

One of Stott’s eight characteristics of a radical disciple is Christlikeness. He points out that we are to be like Christ in His incarnation, service, love, patient endurance, and mission. Stott ties the first and the last of these words together to speak of an incarnational mission. He notes Jesus’ words from John 20:21, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (ESV). In the same fashion as Jesus was sent into the world on mission, He sends His disciples into the world on mission. We must enter the world of those we wish to serve just as Jesus entered ours.

I resonate with this idea that the true disciple is one who embodies incarnational mission. It is our mission as disciples, after all, to make disciples. It is disingenuous for one to claim to be a disciple without sensing some compulsion to be on mission to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Moreover, the true disciple does not merely desire to proclaim the Gospel in word. The true disciple should want to live the Gospel by investing his life in the lives of others. It is the conviction of Paul in 1 Thessalonians 2:8: “So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us” (NKJV). Alan Hirsch calls this the missional-incarnational impulse and contends that it is latent in the spiritual DNA of every believer (see The Forgotten Ways). I have experienced an awakening of this impulse in my own life over the last several months. My family and I have discovered that the more incarnational we become with our mission, the deeper we want to go. This should not surprise us. Jesus bestows upon us the Holy Spirit and sends us by His power to be on His mission (John 20:21-22). The impulse is there, we are just asleep to it.

So, among other things, a disciple is one who lives as Christ would live, by being faithfully present with those to whom they wish to proclaim the message of the Gospel. He studies the Word of God, seeks to apply the Word of God, and resolves to share the Word of God.

What is a disciple? A disciple is… John Stott.