That titan of twentieth century theology, Karl Barth, near the end of his life was asked what the greatest thought he ever had was. He is said to have responded, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” We may safely believe this was the case, for great men seem to move closer towards the fundamental tenets of their worldviews, not further from them, as they approach the end of life.
It is not surprising, then, to find John Stott seeking to formulate and express the bedrock truths of the faith in this tremendous book. In short, he does a masterful job. After a brief survey of many proposed lists of Evangelical “essentials,” Stott boldly suggests his own:
“It would therefore, in my view, be a valuable clarification if we were to limit our evangelical priorities to three, namely the revealing initiative of God the Father, the redeeming work of God the Son and the transforming ministry of God the Holy Spirit. All other evangelical essentials will then find an appropriate place somewhere under this threefold and trinitarian rubric” (p.25).
This is what might be called “simple brilliance.” By positing these essentials in a trinitarian format, Stott has achieved an undeniably Biblical schema that can be easily remembered (and taught). Evangelicalism is in desperate need of such a system. Over against these essentials, Stott argues that there is room in the tent for disagreement over the particulars of certain adiaphora (matters indifferent). This list of twelve is sure to raise the hair on the backs of some necks. Some of these are: baptism, the Lord’s supper, church government, worship, charismata and women (in ministry). Stott does not argue that these issues are unimportant. Anybody who knows even a little about Stott and his flirtation with annihilationism knows that he is not one to avoid controversy. However, he argues that Evangelicals may honestly disagree with some of the details of these issues but still hold to the title.
This book will delight some and enrage others. However, if a true theology of consensus is going to be achieved that avoids a “lowest common denominator” faith on the one hand and a presumptive, arrogant faith on the other, this will undoubtedly be the result. Stott has given it a go that, while not perfect, is commendable. You will be changed by this work.