Saturday, June 12, 2010

Basic Christian: The Inside Story of John Stott

Basic Christian: The Inside Story of John StottI just finished reading the biography of John Stott by Roger Steer Basic Christian. My knowledge of Stott is probably much like many on this side of the pond. We have been aware of him for as long as we can remember as the British evangelical pastor scholar who wrote The Cross of Christ, but we know very little about him. I can say I had the privilege of hearing him preach at Saint Andrew the Great (StAG) while in Cambridge.

Roger Steer’s book takes a narrative approach to Stott’s life and presents it from a personal angle. The book is a brief but comprehensive, personal, sympathetic narrative of the life of John Stott. I found it easy to read and hard to put down. Steer is to be commended for his approach to the organization of the book with its short chapters—there are essentially 31 chapters comprising 282 pages. The brief chapter structure allows one to duck into John’s life for a brief spell without feeling the need to spend a whole afternoon there. This does not mean that you’ll not take an afternoon. In reading it I had trouble stopping with just one—I have the same trouble with a bowl of ice cream.

Reflecting on John Stott’s life and ministry of over 5 decades through this brief and well-written account had a significant affect on me. As I reflect on the John Stott I met in the book several adjectives come to my mind:

John’s ministry was centered on the ministry of the Gospel understood wholistically. He spent his life spreading it, defending it and living it. He defined and embodied the Gospel in traditionally and nontraditionally evangelical ways. His Gospel centricity resulted in two moves that for some will seem divergent paths: the Cross of Christ and an aggressive social program represented in the Lausanne Covenant. To compare him to personalities popular today, John Stott was/is a mixture of John Piper and Bono. Not exactly two names you would naturally coordinate. But that combination reveals the uniqueness of John Stott.

Culturally engaged
John did not cloister himself away from the culture around him. Instead he engaged it and as such is the epitome of the “everyday theologian” Vanhoozer describes. John provides a clear example of a Christian who critically engaged the culture within which the church of the twentieth and early twenty-first century lived and lives.

Driven & disciplined
John was a driven and disciplined person with a tremendous work ethic. More than once, the value he placed on punctuality is mentioned in the book by his study assistants.

Intellectual & theological
John was an intellectual in the best sense of the word. He was a theological intellectual without being irrelevant. His nearly 30 books and the important “congresses” he founded, such as Lausanne, are a testimony to his intellectual power. All this intellectual activity was conducted from the context of the church. For this reason I nominate John Stott, if he's not already, as the patron saint for the Society for the Advancement of Ecclesial Theology (SAET).

Irenicly evangelical
John was an evangelical in the best sense of the word. I think his close relationship with Billy Graham on the one hand and his falling out with Martyn Lloyd-Jones over his decision not to leave the Anglican Church on the other show that he exemplified a winsome evangelicalism that could not be equated with the more sectarian forms.

One more thing. I was surprised when I saw that my friend John Yates was featured in the book. John and I were both at Cambridge working with Markus Bockmuehl – by the way I feel like I’ve said this before (e.g. Charles Anderson). I knew that John had been a study assistant with Stott, but now I wish I had taken the opportunity to pursue conversations about Stott with John. John I don’t know if you read our blog, but if you do, be prepared the next time I see you to have a long conversation about your assistantship. I’ll certainly buy you a beer or two in return. Perhaps at the upcoming SAET fellowship in October if you're attending.



Gerald said...


I've not read much of Stott, but from everything I've read about him, I think you are correct about him embodying everything the SAET stands for: a true pastor-theologian in the fullest sense of that term, broadly ecumenical within the evangelical world, irenic rather than polarizing, culturally engaged.

Yates and Wilson and I often commented back in the early days of the SAET that Stott represents the sort of pastor we hope to emulate.

Thanks for the review; Steer's book likes like one worth reading.

howardpetts said...

I've seen only positive comments about John Stott's legacy - which is great - but I wonder if there are some positive criticism's of his legacy about as well that we can learn from?