More of This

Whether we like it or not, those of us who claim to be Christians are automatically representatives of Christ and the Christian faith. And what a challenge that can be. I can’t count the times I’ve winced when hearing Christians—many well meaning—sound foolish for any number of reasons in public situations. Nor am I sure I would fare much better if called upon.

This makes it all the more noteworthy when I run across things like the piece New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote several years ago about John Stott. I was fascinated by the fact that Brooks, who is Jewish, lamented the fact that evangelicals are often viewed through the prism of more controversial figures. “Meanwhile, people like John Stott, who are actually important, get ignored.”

He continues:

It could be that you have never heard of John Stott. I don’t blame you. As far as I can tell, Stott has never appeared on an important American news program. A computer search suggests that Stott’s name hasn’t appeared in this newspaper since April 10, 1956, and it’s never appeared in many other important publications.

Yet, as Michael Cromartie of the Ethics and Public Policy Center notes, if evangelicals could elect a pope, Stott is the person they would likely choose. He was the framer of the Lausanne Covenant, a crucial organizing document for modern evangelicalism. He is the author of more than 40 books, which have been translated into over 72 languages and have sold in the millions. Now rector emeritus at All Souls, Langham Place, in London, he has traveled the world preaching and teaching.

Stott is has certainly accomplished a great deal in his lifetime of ministry. But Brook’s further description of the man not only helps to explain why he finds him so compelling, but it perhaps provides a picture of why God has used him so powerfully:

When you read Stott, you encounter first a tone of voice. …It is a voice that is friendly, courteous and natural. It is humble and self-critical, but also confident, joyful and optimistic. Stott’s mission is to pierce through all the encrustations and share direct contact with Jesus. Stott says that the central message of the gospel is not the teachings of Jesus, but Jesus himself, the human/divine figure. He is always bringing people back to the concrete reality of Jesus’ life and sacrifice.

There’s been a lot of twaddle written recently about the supposed opposition between faith and reason. To read Stott is to see someone practicing “thoughtful allegiance” to scripture.
………
Stott is so embracing it’s always a bit of a shock – especially if you’re a Jew like me – when you come across something on which he will not compromise. It’s like being in “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood,” except he has a backbone of steel. He does not accept homosexuality as a legitimate lifestyle, and of course he believes in evangelizing among nonbelievers. He is pro-life and pro-death penalty, even though he is not a political conservative on most issues.

Most important, he does not believe truth is plural. He does not believe in relativizing good and evil or that all faiths are independently valid, or that truth is something humans are working toward. Instead, Truth has been revealed. As he writes:

“It is not because we are ultra-conservative, or obscurantist, or reactionary or the other horrid things which we are sometimes said to be. It is rather because we love Jesus Christ, and because we are determined, God helping us, to bear witness to his unique glory and absolute sufficiency. In Christ and in the biblical witness to Christ God’s revelation is complete; to add any words of our own to his finished work is derogatory to Christ.”

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Brooks’ estimation of Stott provides at least one excellent portrait of what it looks like to commend Christ faithfully to those around us. Notice that he mentions two characteristics that are not always easy to find side by side in abundance:

1. A kindness and warmth rooted in genuine humility.

2. A firm and thoughtful allegiance to the truth God has revealed in and through Jesus Christ.

And yet, unless I miss my guess, it is precisely this combination that is vitally important in regard to people in our culture embracing the gospel. If Christians in general and evangelicals in particular are often viewed as simpletons, bigots, and otherwise unattractive people, it will doubtless take consistent examples to the contrary to gain a hearing for the good news of the biblical gospel, the very thing the apostle Paul called “the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16). In this task, we might do well to think of men like John Stott while asking God for the grace to fulfill the command of Hebrews 13:7: “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.”

For those interested, we carry a handful of Stott’s books in our bookstore. I’ve mentioned the classic Basic Christianity before, and I would rank The Cross of Christ as one of the best books I’ve ever read.

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