Solid and passionate teaching on the church from a well-respected statesman
The Living Church: Convictions of a Lifelong Pastor
Author: John Stott
Publisher: InterVarsity Press (www.ivpress.com)
How is it that one of the greatest Christian statesman to ever live is unknown by most of my friends and acquaintances? Even a self-professed Christian bibliophile had never heard of him. Even so, his passing in 2011 did not go unmarked. TIME magazine wrote, “One of the world's most influential and popular Evangelical figures, Anglican pastor and theologian John Stott helped transform the movement into a worldwide phenomenon. The Englishman headed the drafting of the 1974 Lausanne Covenant, which led 2,300 leaders from 150 nations to affirm their dedication to global evangelism, cementing his status as an ambassador and supporting the faith in the developing world. Indeed, his focus on earthly concerns such as poverty and social justice served as a counterpoint to more-boisterous Evangelical leaders who set their sights firmly on the afterlife. A consummate intellectual, Stott, who died July 27 at 90, wrote more than 50 books.” In 2005 when Stott was named to the TIME 100, the magazine included a tribute from Billy Graham, “(Stott) represents a touchstone of authentic biblical scholarship that ... has scarcely been paralleled since the days of the 16th century European Reformers.”
One overlooked and unique aspect is Stott’s lifelong celibacy. “The gift of singleness,” he said, “is more a vocation than an empowerment, although to be sure God is faithful in supporting those He calls.” It is rare to find this calling in the leadership ranks of the evangelical world. Stott is an admirable role model for Christian singles everywhere.
He also appreciated the beauty of God’s creation as evidenced by his enjoyment of birdwatching. This provided the inspiration for the book, The Birds Our Teachers.
Being unknown to the average Christian in the US is probably related to Stott being Anglican and from the UK. He lacked a rock star persona but diligently went about changing the world by being faithful to his vocation.
This well-lived life informs the pages of The Living Church. Stott cover the essentials with brevity, balance and by being thoroughly biblical. A clear and simple message that resounds with weight graces every page.
Stott is a master at holding the truth in delicate tension. One example is his summation on fellowship groups: “We are anxious that the groups will not become unbalanced and degenerate into being merely Bible reading groups, prayer groups, study groups or action groups. We want the fellowship groups to be true to their name, expressing the fullness of koinonia. So we keep asking ourselves: are we growing in Christian maturity together? Are we serving the Lord, the church or the world together? Are we increasing in love and care for one another? Then we may say with confidence and joy, ‘we had good fellowship together’” (96).
Are there books that go deeper? Are there volumes that are more historical, that examine distinctive, and wrestle more with challenges? Yes, but if you want solid and passionate teaching on the basics like worship, evangelism, ministry, fellowship, preaching, giving, and impact (all chapter titles), this is rewarding.
Stott has written at least one modern classic, Basic Christianity, and this reads like another one. I also enjoyed the three historical appendices, which consists of letters that Stott wrote at different stages in his life. The last is the choice reflection of an 80 year old.
Reading this makes me realize the wealth of insight and maturity that resides in Stott’s writings. In an endorsement that graces the cover, Tim Keller writes, “I have relied on John Stott’s books for decades.” Christianity has lost a great statesman, but Christians everywhere can continue to rely on the treasure found in his books.