This is John Stott‘s last book. He decided to retire several years ago and now has said he will no longer write (update: he passed away in 2011 at the age of 90). So I think it is interesting that he is intentionally writing a book about discipleship and concentrating on areas that he thinks are often left unaddressed.
The book ends with a poignant chapter on death, similar to the last album by Johnny Cash. Both Cash and Stott knew they were not long for this world. The afterward says goodbye to the reader and discusses his will and legacy. In many ways, I wish he opened with this. Because it gives more weight to the rest of the book.
However, if he started with death it might overwhelm the general theme of the book, Non-Conformity. The title of the first chapter, he is calling us to be different as Christians. Not just different from the world, but different because we were created to be like Christ. There is a good quote about the fact that we cannot live like Christ, unless we have Christ live in us. And I think that the living with Christ in us as the only way to achieve Christlikeness may be more counter cultural to the church than anything else in the book. We all know that we have transformed, but to really be transformed we not only have to strive after living like Christ, we have to submit to the Spirit that guides us.
The subjects are fairly standard for a book on discipleship, Maturity, Simplicity, Balance, Dependence, (although their treatment is fairly unique). But there is one subject that is unusual in a US context. That chapter is about the responsibility of Creation Care. He carefully places our role for creation as part of our original work given in the garden and clearly separates it from worship of the creation. And he has clear biblical guidance in the chapter. But as I was glancing through the reviews on Amazon, it was the number one complaint. Readers just do not want to hear that care for creation is part of discipleship. It could be a cultural difference. While NT Wright, John Stott and a number of other authors that are outside the US include extensive writing about the role of creation care in discipleship, almost no one inside the US does the same. My guess is that it is an attribute of the US political system where environmentalism is almost solely a Democratic party issue. But outside the US there is not a real question about the role of creation care in discipleship.
The chapter on Dependence is unique in another way. I have heard many people talk and write about being dependent on God. But I am not sure I have ever heard anyone talk about being dependent on others as part of discipleship. Stott, nearing the end of his life, and having spent years loosing faculties as a normal part of aging, understands dependence. He talks about breaking his hip and needing constant attention. But where it is interesting to me is where he talks about Christ as a model of dependence on others. Christ was born a baby. He was totally dependent, for food, to be cleaned, propped up, taught language, etc. Christ was fully dependent without the loss of his divinity. For us, dependence is a part of the created order of life. Most people we will have a period of life where others (children or parents or others) are dependent on us. Then we will grow older and again we will depend on others for the basics of life. Stott quotes Jesus talking to Peter about growing old and being led where he does not want to go. That passage is about Peter’s death in particular, but is a good example of what happens when we all age.
Alzheimer’s runs in my family. My grandfather is in late stages of Alzheimer’s. He is mostly unaware of what is going on or of who anyone is. He is being lead where he does not want to go. But this dependence (both living through it and seeing it in others), according Stott is still part of the process of learning to follow Christ. In many ways, I think this was the most important part of the book for me. Stott asserts the proper way to view aging, and the increased dependence is joy at the opportunity to learn to follow Christ better. But often there is sadness and desire to not be a burden. He encourages the embracing of tears and sadness as part of the learning.
One thing to know about this book is that Stott quotes heavily from a number of Christian statements. These are often very important statements (on voluntary simplicity for the sake of the gospel, the importance of evangelism, etc.), but if you are like me, you tend to skip over statement to find out what Stott says about them. Luckily I was listening (one of my favorite narrators, Grover Gardner, narrates the book) and it is more work to skip over the statements than just continue. While the language of these statements are often formal and a bit unwieldy, they really are important documents that we would be good to read and think about and discuss.
The audiobook was provided by christianaudio.com for purposes of review.