Archive for July, 2011

Thoughts on The Death of John Stott

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

British church leader, preacher, and Bible teacher par excellence John Stott has died at the age of 90. An online Christianity Today story reflects on his life, death, and contribution.

I first read his classic Basic Christianity as a junior in high school. Though it was not the same kind of book as Mere Christianity, it introduced me as a young Christian to a basic and understandable systematic theology of sorts.

I had the privilege of hearing John Stott teach or preach on several occasions, and I did meet him once. As a teacher, preacher, and Bible commentator he was always clear and precise in his use of language, a skill I have tried to emulate (how successfully, others will judge).

My deep admiration for his biblical-pastoral writing, both its style and (overall) its content, can be seen in an offer I made to a good friend when he graduated from seminary with me in the early 1980s. “As a graduation present,” I said to him, “I will send you a new John Stott book each year until I run out.”

Unfortunately, I did not make good on the promise, breaking it after only a year at most, I’m afraid. But the intention was good.

Perhaps most importantly, I came to admire John Stott early on for his deep commitment to both the Great Commission and the Great Commandment, an admiration that has become a constitutive part of my own spiritual and theological personality. I do not remember the details of the book, but I especially remember being deeply impressed with his little book Christian Mission in the Modern World.

Four of John Stott’s commentaries became models for my own ways of reading and teaching the Bible, that is, his works on the Sermon on the Mount (Christian Counter-Culture was the original title), on Ephesians (originally called God’s New Society), on Romans 5-8 (Men Made New) and on Revelation 1-3 (What Christ Thinks of the Church). The last of these was even a required text in my Princeton seminary course on Revelation with (the also late) Bruce Metzger. I learned much about the transformative power of the gospel and about the importance of the church as a countercultural, missional community from these books.

I’m not sure that I would agree with everything John Stott said in any of those commentaries (of course I don’t agree 100% with any commentator, not even myself!), and I would probably differ a bit more on some of his more theological works on, say, the atonement. But that is both natural and beside the point. John Stott was a global Christian and church leader who commanded people’s respect because of who he was at the deepest level. Although I have not thought very much about him since a conversation about him with N.T. Wright a few years back, his passing is a great loss, and his legacy much more than that of many others combined. I am sure that I join the ranks of many around the world in gladly affirming that I would not be who I am today without the influence of John Stott.

The Trajectory of a Scholar’s Vocation

Thursday, July 21st, 2011

My most recent thoughts on this subject:

1. Read books (published)
2. Read book reviews
3. Write book reviews
4. Write books
5. Read book reviews (of one’s own books)
6. Read books (manuscripts about to be published)
7. Write book endorsements

These days I feel like I am mostly in stages 6 and 7. I hope to get back to stage 4 soon!

Civil Religion Undone

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

Although we seldom see success stories in the uncivilizing of Christian faith in the U.S., here’s heartening news from one of my students, who also happens to be a reader of this blog:

After numerous conversations with my pastor and occasions when I shared your words and those of others, as well as my reflections on other churches, this July 4 Sunday [2011] was different at my church. My pastor did not lead a pledge to the flag and made no reference to the flag. He wished the congregation a pleasant holiday, and included in the prayers those who are ill at home and abroad in various capacities, and did use as a recessional hymn one verse of Eternal Father. That was it, and I was so proud of him for his willingness to change after 11 years of pledging and hauling out the flag [emphasis added]. The pastor was concerned that some in the congregation would take him to task for not doing the flag thing, but it seems that no one said a word, at least not yet.

My response was, not surprisingly, “Hallelujah!” Both this student, for such a witness, and this pastor, for such courage, deserve our admiration and gratitude.