John Stott’s Basic Christianity

As a boy, I remember seeing certain titles on my dad’s bookshelf:  C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, a boxed set of Calvin Miller’s Singer trilogy, a hardbound Francis Schaeffer trilogy including Schaeffer’s The God Who is There, and John Stott’s Basic Christianity.  There were more, but these were the ones I remember most, probably because, largely through my father’s influence, each of these books came to have quite an impact on my own life.

I should clarify:  the writings of John Stott have had an impact on my life for some time, but I have only recently come to experience John Stott’s seminal Basic Christianity.  “Seminal” is not a word that should be used lightly, but it justly applies to this amazing little work from the pen of one of Evangelicalism’s most prolific lives and ministries.  I turned to this book after the recent death of Stott, and I regret now that it has taken me so long to do so.

Part introduction, part summary, part apologetic, Basic Christianity has achieved the unlikely goal of being both an illuminating explanation of the faith suitable for nonbelievers and an inspiring reminder of the faith suitable for long-time believers.  The book is written in a style that is deceptively simple.  I say “deceptively,” because, in truth, Stott has handled a number of profoundly deep truths in this little work in a style that is conversational and easily accessible.  Part of Stott’s genius was his ability to communicate through clear explanation and deft illustration fundamental biblical verities that are, to steal from Luther, “shallow enough to wade through but deep enough to drown in.”

Stott covers aptly the nature of God, man’s sin nature and need for a Savior, the person, work, and ministry of Jesus, how one comes into the Christian life, and the privileges and responsibilities of one who has come into the Christian life.  He writes convincingly, carefully, and with great erudition and learning.  His apologetic for the resurrection is particularly noteworthy.  Furthermore, his handling of the truths of justification and sanctification is tremendous and, for this believer, very helpful and thought-provoking.

If you would like a wonderful primer to give to a person with whom you are sharing the faith, I would highly encourage Basic Christianity.  If you would like a compelling and, frankly, enjoyable refresher on the faith, I would highly encourage this book again.

Basic Christianity is wonderfully lucid, helpful little book that you will not regret reading or giving to a friend or loved one.

John Stott’s Baptism and Fullness: The Work of the Holy Spirit Today

John Stott’s fascinating and controversial book, Baptism and Fullness: The Work of the Holy Spirit Today, will almost certainly cause all who read it to rethink many of their assumptions surrounding the Holy Spirit and His work today. In a day in which Pentecostalism is the fastest growing expression of Christianity in the world, this book will be found to be as timely and relevant as it was when written over twenty five years ago. Furthermore, Stott’s work takes its place among the most important and significant pneumatological works available today.

While at all times respectful to those who differ, there can be little doubt that Stott wrote this work as a corrective to the more crude and deficient ideas surrounding the Holy Spirit today. His central thesis seems to be that there is no Biblical basis for the so-called “baptism of the Spirit” as defined as a second, post-conversion, individualistic empowerment by the Holy Spirit. Instead, Stott argues for a universal, one-time “baptism of the Spirit” among all believers at the point of conversion and then differentiates between this and subsequent “fillings of the Spirit” that Christians should rightly pray for. What is more, Stott argues that there is no basis for arguing that speaking in tongues and miraculous healings are signs of a special blessing from the Holy Spirit.

Stott goes on to discuss a myriad of issues surrounding his central theme: the question of miracles today, the definition of “tongues” in the Bible, the number and nature of spiritual gifts, etc. In discussing all of this, Stott employs his characteristic tone of maturity and care. His conclusions are based on solid exegesis and a thoughtful reading of Scripture.

While there is something in this book to make everybody pause, and while there is probably something in this book that everybody might disagree with, it cannot be doubted that Stott’s voice on these issues deserves to be heard. I, for one, greatly appreciate his views on the Spirit (as well as his views on most other things!) and would heartily recommend this book to any who want to think again about this most important issue.

John Stott’s Evangelical Truth

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.