The Church: What does it look like?

Selected Biblical Images of the Church

a. A Body

The first image of the church that we will look at is the image of the church as a body.  Ephesians 1:22-23 teaches that the church is like a body which has Christ as its head.  This imagery is one of the most common images used in the New Testament, and it emphasizes several important aspects about the church:

  1. The imagery of the Church as a body emphasizes the church’s subjection to Christ.  Christ is the Head of the church, and the church must be subject to Him (Ephesians 5:25).
  2. The imagery of the Church as a body emphasizes the church’s role as the servants of Christ.  Just as Christ used his own body to minister during His earthly ministry He now uses the church as His body to minister during His physical absence from this world.  The body of Christ, the church, is an extension of Christ’s ministry.
  3. The imagery of the church as a body emphasizes the interconnectedness of each individual within the church.  The church is a unified body made up of individuals who have each been gifted in a unique way to serve the purposes of the church.  1 Corinthians 12 explains this in detail.

Much more could be said concerning the church as a body, but it is clear that this illustration for the church does not work unless we are a part of the local church.  If we are not a part of a local church then we are not obey what God’s word says, which means we are body not obeying its own head [The Spiritual version of Parkinson’s Disease].  If we are not a part of the local church then we can be used as an extension of Christ’s ministry, which means we are a body that doesn’t do anything.  Finally, if we are not a part of the local church then we are a body part without any other body parts.  The imagery of the church as a body only works if we are a faithful part of the local church.

b. A Building

Another illustration the New Testament uses for the church is the imagery of the church as a building.  Ephesians 2:19-22 explains this imagery to us.  In this illustration Jesus is the cornerstone of the building, the teaching of the apostles is the foundation, and each individual believer is a stone in the building.  This imagery is made even more impactful by the fact that the building is the dwelling place of the Spirit of God.  This is a powerful illustration for the church, but it is only effective if we—as stones in the building—attach ourselves to a local church.  Charles Spurgeon put it this way:

I know there are some who say, “well, I have given myself to the Lord, but I do not intend to give myself to the church.”

Now why not?

“Because I can be a Christian without it.”

Are you quite clear about that? You can be as good a Christian by disobedience to your Lord’s commands as by being obedient.  What is a brick made for?  To help build a house.  It is of no use for that brick to tell you that it is just as good a brick while it is kicking about on the ground as it would be in the house.  It is a good-for-nothing brick.

In the illustration of the church as a building, if you are not faithful to a local church then you are a “good-for-nothing” brick.  This is a far cry from 1 Corinthians 3:9 which says the church is the “building of God.”

c. Family

Another illustration the New Testament uses for the church is the imagery of the church as the family of God.  We saw this in passing in Ephesians 2:19, but I want to turn to Galatians 4:4-9 to look at it a little closer.  This passage outlines the work of Christ in redemption.  This is how we are saved.  When we look at this passage our tendency is to think individually about how God saved us—which is certainly something that the passage teaches.  However, we must not forget that we are not alone in being adopted into God’s family.  We have been brought into God’s household along with other believers.

For us to neglect our brothers and sisters in God’s family would be totally contrary to the picture the New Testament paints.  Think of it this way, you might fight with your family or get just get frustrated with them, but at the end of the day they are still your family.  You are not going to the miss Thanksgiving dinner because they bug you, or because its inconvenient (at least I hope not).  The same should be true of the church.  Sure, there are going to be people who are a part of your local church that get on your nerves, but they are your family (plus you probably get on their nerves too!)

d. Holy Temple

The last illustration of the church that I want to look at today is the imagery of the church as the Temple of God.  1 Corinthians 3:16, and 6:19 make it clear that as individual believers we are a temple of God because we are possessed by the Holy Spirit.  Additionally, 1 Peter 2:4 combines this imagery with the imagery of the building to teach that the church is a “spiritual house” for worship.  In the Old Testament the Temple was the place where God’s presence dwelt in a special way, additionally it was where all the people of God would come together for worship.  Now, Peter teaches us that the church is the new “spiritual house” for worship.  Donald Whitney explains it this way,

God will manifest His presence in congregational worship in ways that you can never know even in the most glorious secret worship.  That’s because you are not only a temple of God as an individual, but the Bible also says that Christians collectively are God’s temple….

Josh Harris adds that

This is why gathering to worship with other believers in a local church is so irreplaceable.  It can’t be substituted with a great personal devotional time, a lively Bible study with friends, a meditative nature hike, or a live TV church service.  When the church is together to worship and hear God’s word preached, nourishment and encouragement occur that can’t happen quite the same anywhere else.  Our corporate worship edifies and strengthens us and glorifies God in ways nothing else can.

When we come together as the Temple of God for corporate worship God is glorified in a unique way, and we are affected in a equally unique way.  However, when we separate ourselves from the people of God then we loose this all together.

Conclusion:

As we see what God’s word says about the church it is becoming more and more clear that we cannot live out the Christian life, or do ministry apart from the church.  To do so would violate God’s plan as laid out in the New Testament, and it would do us harm as we seek to Grow in Christ.  The universal church has been created by Christ’s work, and the local church is the necessary embodiment of the universal church.  Through the church God’s sanctifies us and grows His kingdom.

The Church: What is it?

Introduction

After seeing how important it is to love the church it is important for us to understand exactly what it is we are supposed to be loving.  So, what is the church?  Have you ever thought about this question before?  On the one hand this is a simple question.  Every Sunday as we pull up into the church parking lot our girls yell out “I see the church!”  But are they right; is what they see what the NT has in mind when it refers to the church?

“The English word church, as is true of the Scottish kirk and the German Kirche, is derived from the Greek word κυριακός, kyriakos, which means “belonging to the Lord.” The Greek phrase τό κυριακόν, to kyriakon, came to be used to designate the place where Christians met to worship and in time was transferred also to the people themselves as the “spiritual building” of the Lord.”[1] So in a sense my girls are right when they say they see the church.  However, the NT has a much bigger view of the church which goes well beyond a building.

Today I want to provide a brief definition of the Church.   The goal of this is to help us better understand the church, and God’s plan for the church.

General Definitions

When it comes to defining what the church is, it is important to understand that the New Testament uses the term church in two senses:

a. The universal church

The first sense in which the NT uses the term “church” is what you might call the “universal church.”  In the universal sense the church consists of all those who have been reconciled to God through the blood of Christ.  In other words, if you are truly a Christian then you are a part of the church.  Hebrews 12:23 refers to the universal church when it speaks of “the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven.”  Revelation 5:9 teaches reveals that the Universal church consists of individuals from “every tribe and tongue and people and nation.”  This is an amazing thought.

When we think of the church in a universal sense it should remind us of the incredible work that God is doing throughout the world.  Throughout the world the universal church—God’s called people—are being used to grow His kingdom.   Jesus had this universal sense of the church in mind in Matthew 16:18 when He said, “I will build my church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.”  Jesus clearly did not have a church building or an individual congregation in mind when He made this statement.

b. The local church

There second sense in which the New Testament uses the term “church” is what you might calls the “local church.”  This is most frequently what the New Testament is referring to when it speaks of the church.  By biblical standards a local church can be indentified by three activities:

  1. Preaching of the Word
  2. The Ordinances Performed (i.e. Lord’s Supper & Baptism)
  3. Church discipline is done.

In light of how the New Testament defines a local church we can say that the local church is a localized and specific manifestation of the universal church. Think about it, if there were no local churches how could the universal church exist?  Without local churches there would be no preaching, no ordinance, and no discipline.  This is only a small list of the things that would be missing from the universal church if there were no local church.  This is why one author said that, “a local church is a visible, tangible, real-world expression of the body of Christ.”[2]

It has become fashionable to ignore the local sense of the church in favor of the universal sense.  Some people even go so far as to say that they do not have to be a part of the local church because they are a part of the universal church.  However, this is an idea that is entirely alien to the New Testament. God intends for His people—the Universal Church—to meet together in a local context to fulfill His mandates for the universal church.  This happened almost immediately in the book of Acts, and became the standard pattern throughout the New Testament.  Throughout the New Testament we find believers gathering together on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2; Revelation 1:10) in their local contexts to corporately worship God.  A disciple of Christ not being a part of a local congregation was unheard of to the New Testament authors.  In fact, Hebrews 10:24-25 says,

let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.

This passage makes it absolutely clear that in order to be a faithful member of the universal church a disciple of Christ must not forsake the regular gathering of believers.  In other words, you have to be a part of the local church.  Furthermore, as we will see when we look at the biblical images of the church next week, it is impossible to faithfully be a part of the universal church without being a part of a specific local church.


[1] Robert L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (Nashville: T. Nelson, 1998), 804–805.

[2] Joshua Harris, Stop Dating the Church, p. 45.

The Church: Christ’s Love for His Bride

What does Christ’s Love for the Church look like?

In looking at the Gospel we have seen that Christ loved the church, but what exactly does this love look like?  Well, there are a number of passages that help us to understand Christ’s love for the church, and consequently how we are supposed to love the church.  We are going to look at several of these passages very briefly to help our own view of the church.

The first passage we are going to look at is Ephesians 5:25-27. Here the apostle Paul uses the illustration of marriage to demonstrate Christ’s love for the church.  In this illustration the Church is the Bride of Christ—a bride which Christ deeply loves.  In fact, Paul tells us that Jesus displayed the ultimate act of love by giving up his life for the church.  1 John 3:16 tells us that this act demonstrated the very essence of love.  And Paul tells us that it for the Church, not a group of loosely connected individuals, that Jesus demonstrated this love.  Furthermore, Paul tells us why he lovingly gave Himself up for the church.  It was so that He could sanctify His bride by cleansing her.  By the blood of Jesus the church collectively, as well as the individuals who are a part of the church, are transformed into an appropriately holy bride for Christ.  The emphasis here is certainly on Christ’s love for the church as a whole.  This does not exclude individuals, but it certainly emphasized the collective whole more than the individual.

Another passage that demonstrates Christ’s love for the church is Acts 20:28.  Here we find the apostle Paul’s final words to the leaders at Ephesus, and it is no surprise that He is instructing them concerning the church.  Specifically, he is commanding them to lovingly protect the church.  And why were the supposed to do this?  Simple, because this was the church that “God had purchased with his own blood.”  In other words, Paul commanded them to love and protect the church because God loves and protects the church.  Here “God” refers specifically to Jesus, and it is clear yet again that Jesus loves the church.  By His blood Christ has obtained the church for Himself, and because He cared enough about the church to do this we should continue to protect the church as Paul commanded the Ephesians leaders to do.

The last passage that I want to look at in Revelation 19:6-10. Here we see the consummation of all history, and it’s a wedding.  But don’t worry guys, this isn’t like one of those cheesy TLC shows the girls turn on when they get the remote.  This wedding will be the wedding feast to end all wedding feasts.  This is when Christ will come back to take the bride which He purchased, purified, and prepared through His blood. On that day even the angels are going to rejoice.  Are you starting to get the picture? When I think about when the doors opened at my wedding and I finally got to see my beautiful bride fully prepared for the ceremony I still remember the love that I felt for her.  In the same fashion, but on a much grander scale, Christ loves His church as His bride.  This is why He has gone to so much trouble to prepare the church for the wedding feast.  Christ absolutely loves His bride, the Church.  As a result of His death, Jesus will be able to fully express His love His at this wedding feast, and throughout eternity.

What does your love for the Church look like?

In looking at just a few examples from Scripture it is clear that Christ loves the church.  This love is not a fleeting, or trite love either.  Christ’s love for the church is sacrificial.  Out of love for His bride he paid the ultimate sacrifice for her when He gave up his own life.  Additionally, Christ’s love for the church is faithful.  No matter how many times His bride tries to turn away from Him He continues to protect her, and apply His cleansing blood on her behalf.  Similarly, Christ’s love for the church is characterized by commitment.  He is continually preparing the Church for the wedding feast, and He is committed to being with Her for all of eternity.

So here is the question for you, do you love what Christ loved?  Do you love the church?  Is you love for the church seen through sacrifices that you make for the church?   Or, is church all about what you can get?  Is your love for the church faithful?  Are you faithfully attending church, faithfully fulfilling your role in church, and faithfully helping the church prepare for its wedding feast with Christ?  Or, are is church just another part of your already busy life?  What about commitment?  Is your love for the church seen in your commitment to the church?  Are you committed to being a part of the church despite all of Her shortcomings? Or, is you commitment to the church contingent upon something else?

These are all questions that we need to be asking ourselves, because if we are not loving the Church then we are not like Christ.  And if we are not like Christ then we are not demonstrating the fruit of salvations in our lives.  Christ-like love for the church is a fruit of your salvation, and a conformation that you are truly a believer.  This is why it is absolutely vital that we talk about the church, and understand better.

The Church: First things First…

Before we can begin to talk about the church we need to make sure that we understand the message of the Gospel.  Romans 1:16 teaches us that the message of the Gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes….”  It is through the Gospel that individuals are saved, delivered from sin, and made a part of the church.  Apart from the Gospel there is no Church.

One of the clearest explanations of the Gospel is found in 2 Corinthians 5:21.  There it says,

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

Here we see that God the Father sent Jesus into this world for a reason.  As the Son of God, Jesus was absolutely perfect.  As Paul puts it, He knew no sin!  This is not only amazing, but it was also necessary.  You see, Jesus came for a reason.  He had to come on our behalf.  Because of our sin we were spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1).  There was absolutely nothing that we could do to please God, and appease His righteous wrath.  This is why Jesus had to come on our behalf.  As a perfectly righteous substitute Jesus was able to come and die as a sacrifice for sins.  As Romans 5:8 puts it,

But God demonstrated His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

Going back to 2 Corinthians 5:21, this substitutionary death occurred so that we might be declared righteous by God.  This is what Paul meant when he said “that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”  Here we see the doctrine of imputation.  Our sin was imputed, or credited, to Christ which He paid for on the cross.  Furthermore, His righteousness was imputed, or credited, to us through faith.  When we put our faith in Christ, by God’s grace, we are forgiven (Ephesians 2:8-9).

This is the Gospel message, and it is through this Gospel message that an individual becomes a part of the people of God—the Church.  Through His death, burial, and resurrection Christ has created the Church.  This has massive implications for our discussion of the church for two primary reasons.  First of all, you cannot be a part of the church unless you put your faith in Christ.  The only true members of the church are true disciples of Christ.  Secondly, the Gospel reveals what Christ thought about the church.  Specifically, it reveals that Christ loved the church.

The Church: Why we need to be talking about the Church

Introduction

Today I am beginning an extended series on the doctrine of the church (ecclesiology).  In my opinion it

is one of the most neglected doctrines in the church today, and Christians are suffering for it.  The purpose of this series is not to positively assert everything that needs to be said about the church, nor is the purpose to negatively criticize everything that is wrong with the current

state of the church.  The purpose of this series is simply to place the doctrine of the church at the forefront of our minds so that we can think through it biblical.

Why do we Need to talk about the Church?

Alfred Lord Tennyson famously wrote, “Ours is not to reason why, ours is but to do or die.”  Tennyson’s words were amazingly insightful in the context of the Crimean War, however in this context I think that it would be helpful for us to understand why we need to talk about the church.  To be honest with you the church is not a very popular topic in today’s world so I feel like I need to justify why it is so important for us to talk about, and understand what the bible teaches about the church.

Whether you are talking to your unbelieving neighbor or a Christian you work with, it seems like there are misconceptions about the church everywhere.  Usually these misconceptions aren’t favorable either.  [i.e. Church is where you go to avoid hell; church is boring; church is oppressive; church is full of hypocrites; etc.]

There are many factors that play into these misconceptions about the church.  For instance, more and more we live in a fragmented and personalized world.  It is fragmented in the sense that people create their own separate worlds for each part of their life.  There is the work world, the family world, the friends world, the religious world, etc.  For the most part each one of these worlds exists independent of one another, and most people want to keep it that way.  A great illustration of this is the reaction that many people have when we talk about religion and politics.  In most people’s minds those two “worlds” should be kept separate from “worlds” like the “work world.”  As the cultural commentator George Costanza[1] hypothesized, if two separate worlds come into contact with each other then both worlds may just blow up.

In addition to being fragmented we also live in a society that personalizes almost everything, including truth.  After the Boston Tea Party Patrick Henry declared “give me liberty, or give me death!”  For Henry this freedom was political, but for our society today this cry for liberty extends to every area of life.  Authority figures, objective truth, and moral restraint are all looked upon as infringements upon our individual freedoms.  People do not want to submit to any kind of structure that might contradict their own personal opinions.

These cultural factors have played a major role in the world’s misconceptions about the church, however the effects of culture are not restricted solely to the secular world.  They have had a profound influence upon the church as well.  The church is not intended to be just another “world” in your fragmented life.  According to the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) your “church world” is by its nature intended to collide with every other “world” in your life.  Yet so many Christians fall into the trap of creating a “church world” to go along with their other “worlds.”  Additionally, the Church is built upon the objective truth of God’s word and we have been commanded to submit to the leaders of the church (Hebrew 13:17).  This is hardly commensurate with the personalized culture of the day, and explains why so many Christians have a hard time remaining in one church for an extended period of time.

With all of this in mind it is easy to see why the doctrine of the Church (ecclesiology) is important for us to talk about.  Unfortunately there aren’t many Christians talking about the church.  In fact, the doctrine of the church may be the most neglected doctrine in the church today.  Sure there are some pastors, theologians, and authors may be talking about the church, but do most Christians really understand the doctrine of the church?  Do you think the average Christian could even explain the biblical reasons why they go to church on Sunday morning?  To be honest with you, I don’t think that most Christians have even given much thought.  In their minds it is just what they are supposed to do, and they are not real sure theologically why it is important.  If this is true, which I believe it is, then this is a dangerous thing.  It is dangerous because without understanding the reasons why church is important church inevitably will loose importance to you.  This is proven to be a real danger by the current movement among professing Christians to do their own church.  For them being a Christian has little to do with being involved in a church, in fact many claim the involvement in the church has actually hindered their spiritual growth. Wolfgang Simson has written a book on what he calls the organic church, which is more commonly being called the House Church movement.  This movement is made up of individuals who have stopped attending what they call “traditional church settings” in favor of small gatherings in peoples homes.  The typical house church meeting consists of prayer, mentoring, serving and worship.  These certainly don’t sound like bad things, but as we progress in our study we are going to see that vital elements of the true chuch are missing from these home churches (i.e. biblical leadership, preaching, the ordinances, and discipline).  Additionally, most people are not “tied to” one home group.  They float and rotate from group to group.  This is just one example of Christians turning away from the church.  These movements have arisen because so many Christians don’t understand the doctrine of the church, and consequently don’t understand the importance of the church.

Even if church doesn’t loose its importance, a poor understanding of the church can also result in an attitude that in effect makes the church little more than a legalistic endeavor that makes you a “good Christian.”  In this scenario the church becomes a dead organization rather than a living organism. It becomes just another task on the to-do list that you have to wake up early for.  It becomes something that you need a break from, rather than a Sabbath from normal activity for the purpose of worshiping God.  Thus, even though you don’t completely abandoned the church like some of the examples that we have seen, you’re not completely there anyway.

As we look at the struggles and shortcomings concerning the current views on the church it is important that we are honest with ourselves, and our own ecclesiology (the doctrine of the church).  It would be easy for us to pick on the rest of the Christian world and never see our own shortcomings.  But the truth of the matter is that we all struggle with the doctrine of the church on some level.  It may be that you are in the category of someone who has never even thought about it before.  Or, you could be in the category of knowing what the bibles says about the church, but struggling to put your knowledge to practice.  Whatever the case, it is important for all of us to evaluate and examine our doctrine of the church.  If you are willing to do this then I can assure you that it will be to your benefit. A healthy and robust doctrine of the church will be one of the most important keys to your sanctification.  Think of it this way, sanctification could be defined as the process of becoming like Christ, and as we will see Christ loved the church.  So if we want to be like Christ then we need to understand, and love the church.  Plus, if we understand and love the church then God will use the church as an instrument to make us more like Christ.  This, along with a number of secondary reasons, is why it is so important for us to talk about the church.


[1] “If Relationship George walks through that door, he will kill Independent George! A George divided against itself, cannot stand!” – George Costanza

Book Review: What Did You Expect?? by Paul Tripp

Paul Tripp has provided the church with another excellent tool for Christian living and biblical counseling with his latest title, What Did You Expect?? Redeeming the Realities of Marriage.  With this title Tripp focuses on several key principles for the Christian life, and how they affect (and should affect) your marriage.  If you are familiar with Tripp’s previous work then this book will not break a lot of new ground.  However, it does help to apply some of the principles he has been so faithful in teaching (i.e. heart idolatry, the importance of worship, etc.) in the realm of marriage.

Tripp orients the teaching of this book around six commitments that He would like to see married couples make:

1. We will give ourselves to a regular lifestyle of confession and forgiveness.

2. We will make growth and change our daily agenda.

3. We will work together to build a sturdy bond of trust.

4. We will commit to building a relationship of love.

5. We will deal with our differences with appreciation and grace.

6. We will work to protect our marriage.

Each of these commitments was personally convicting, and all point back to the larger principles of working at your marriage.  As the title suggest Tripp points out that many couples get married with the wrong kind of expectations.  Tripp astutely observes that “life after the honeymoon is radically different from the honeymoon that preceded it.  The person you loved to play with, you are now living and working with.” (32)  This means that to have ongoing growth in your marriage you need to be committed to working at it.

Additionally, Tripp rightly argues that before you can deal with the problems horizontally (with your wife), you must first deal with your problems vertically (before God).  As Tripp puts it,

It is only when I love God above all else that I will ever love my neighbor as myself.  At the foundational level, the difficulties in our marriage do not first come because we don’t love one another enough.  They happen because we don’t love God enough; and because we don’t love God enough we don’t treat one another with the kind of love that makes marriages work. (36)

Thus, in order to improve (sanctify) our marriages we must be committed to the process and committed to God.  The rest of the book deals with the specifics of how this happens.

Overall I loved this book.  It challenged me personally, and it will be a useful resource in the context of counseling.  The only criticism that I have of the book is I wish that it had been better organized around the 6 commitments I listed above.  The commitments were displayed before every chapter, but it might have been helpful if these commitments were more overtly tied to the content of the chapter.  It seemed as if the chapters were written before the commitments.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, but I think it could have tied the overall theme of the book together more effectively if these commitments had been incorporated more into each chapter.

That being said, I will read this again and I will have others read it as well.

Paul Tripp has provided the church with another excellent tool for Christian living and biblical counseling with his latest title, What Did You Expect?? Redeeming the Realities of Marriage.  With this title Tripp focuses on several key principles for the Christian life, and how they affect (and should affect) your marriage.  If you are familiar with Tripp’s previous work then this book will not break a lot of new ground.  However, it does help to apply some of the principles he has been so faithful in teaching (i.e. heart idolatry, the importance of worship, etc.) in the realm of marriage.

Tripp orients the teaching of this book around six commitments that He would like to see married couples make:

1. We will give ourselves to a regular lifestyle of confession and forgiveness.

2. We will make growth and change our daily agenda.

3. We will work together to build a sturdy bond of trust.

4. We will commit to building a relationship of love.

5. We will deal with our differences with appreciation and grace.

6. We will work to protect our marriage.

Each of these commitments was personally convicting, and all point back to the larger principles of working at your marriage.  As the title suggest Tripp points out that many couples get married with the wrong kind of expectations.  Tripp astutely observes that “life after the honeymoon is radically different from the honeymoon that preceded it.  The person you loved to play with, you are now living and working with.” (32)  This means that to have ongoing growth in your marriage you need to be committed to working at it.

Additionally, Tripp rightly argues that before you can deal with the problems horizontally (with your wife), you must first deal with your problems vertically (before God).  As Tripp puts it,

It is only when I love God above all else that I will ever love my neighbor as myself.  At the foundational level, the difficulties in our marriage do not first come because we don’t love one another enough.  They happen because we don’t love God enough; and because we don’t love God enough we don’t treat one another with the kind of love that makes marriages work. (36)

Thus, in order to improve (sanctify) our marriages we must be committed to the process and committed to God.  The rest of the book deals with the specifics of how this happens.

Overall I loved this book.  It challenged me personally, and it will be a useful resource in the context of counseling.  The only criticism that I have of the book is I wish that it had been better organized around the 6 commitments I listed above.  The commitments were displayed before every chapter, but it might have been helpful if these commitments were more overtly tied to the content of the chapter.  It seemed as if the chapters were written before the commitments.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, but I think it could have tied the overall theme of the book together more effectively if these commitments had been incorporated more into each chapter.

That being said, I will read this again and I will have others read it as well.

Book Review: The Radical Disciple

For well over half a decade John Stott has been providing the Evangelical world with a lot to think about.  Many of Stott’s contributions have been invaluable (for instance the Cross of Christ), however some of his contributions have been less than helpful in my estimation (i.e. his view on hell).  Now, writing the book of his storied ministry, Stott has remained consistent with this pattern of providing the Evangelical world with a lot to think about–some good and some not so good.

The Radical Disciple is John Stott’s final book.  As He put it,

As I lay down my pen for the last time (literally, since I confess I am not computerized) at the age of eighty-eight, I venture to send this valedictory message to my readers.  I am grateful for your encouragement…. (136)

With this last message Stott has chosen to briefly write about matters of the Christian life which are important to him.  Specifically, Stott writes about 8 characteristics which form his “portrait of the radical disciple.”   Explaining how he chose these 8  characteristics Stott writes,

To be sure, I have been selective, and my selection has been somewhat arbitrary.  Yet there are other aspects of discipleship that I would like to see in every disciples of Jesus, and not the least in myself.  You will no doubt compile your own list.  Hopefully it will be clearly biblical, but still reflect your own culture and experience, and I wish you well as you do so.

The list of characteristics given by Stott is most valuable in that it calls all Christians to think deeply about their own commitment to Christ, and whether or not they are “Radical Christians.”  As Stott puts it,

Our common way of avoiding radical discipleship is to be selective: choosing those area in which commitment suits us and staying away from those areas in which it will be costly. (15)

This book is certainly helpful in thinking through what it means to be a radical disciples.

A couple of chapters that I had some issues with were the chapters on “Creation Care” & “Simplicity.”  In the chapter on Creation Care Stott argues that Christians must care for the creation essentially by reversing the effects of global warming.  I agree that Christians need to care for the creation, but I disagree with Stott’s diagnoses of the “environmental crisis.”  The chapter on simplicity encouraged Christians to do something about poverty in the world.  I have no problem with this, but there were a couple of statements that didn’t sit well with me.  For instance, quoting from another document Stott asserts that “pverty is an offense against the goodness of God.”  (71) To this I would ask who is the offending party?  Is it God because in His sovereignty He has allowed some to be poor?  Is is the poor person who is stuck in poverty?  Or, is the the wealthy for not being in poverty?  Stott doesn’t answer the question, so I don’t know who the offending party is.  However, the tone of the chapter made it seem as if the wealthy are to blame, and if they would just live a more simple life then everyone else would have more (which is something I don’t think would work in the real world).

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed Stott’s Swan Song, and would recommend it to all you discerning readers out there.