In rereading Evangelical Truth: A Personal Plea for Unity, Integrity & Faithfulness, I am impressed how John Stott reached across divisions to find what we have in common with one another. “Avoiding both extremes separating from one another by insistence on doctrinal purity and an easy tolerance that compromises the truth], we recognize that there is still some genuine overlap between the Catholic, liberal and evangelical streams of Christendom.”
He is “profoundly grieved by our evangelical tendency to fragment…what unites us as evangelical people is much greater than what divides us… I would like to leave behind me as a kind of spiritual legacy this little statement of evangelical faith, this personal appeal to the rising generation.”
“My personal conviction is that what unites evangelicals in our doctrine and experience of the Holy Spirit is considerably greater than what divides us, and my concern… is to concentrate on the former while not concealing the latter.”
He distinguished between evangelical essentials which cannot be compromised and matters of secondary importance on which we may differ. He quoted Ruperet Meldenius, a seventeenth century Lutheran theologian, who wrote: “unity in essentials, liberty in
nonessentials, charity in all things.”
His gentle upbringing in a non-confrontational culture, that sought to avoid embarrassing anyone, formed in him an irenic attitude towards those with whom he might disagree. He believed in a culture of civility.
He admits that he has changed over his lifetime. “Yet I hope that these changes have not been the denial of anything I previously affirmed but rather the enrichment of what was inadequate, the deepening of what was shallow and the clarification of what was
His style of presentation was dialogical. He anticipated the questions of the listeners and sought to include them in his argumentation. He used the inclusive “we” to carry along his hearers and to persuade them of the truth and relevance of his message. He would conclude by appealing to logic and reason by saying: “I think you would agree!” You found yourself having to concede his point and make a decision about it. Here are some examples:
“At this stage we need to pause and reflect….”
“It is because we have grasped…..”
“We have considered…..
“We now devote a separate chapter to each.”
His method of evangelism was rational, appealing to the mind more than the emotions. He believed that the apostles included apologetics in their evangelism. “The apostle Paul could even sum up his ministry by two Greek words which can be translated ‘we persuade people’ (Compare 2 Cor.5:11). And Luke describes him doing so – arguing the gospel, reasoning with people out of the Scriptures and convincing them of its truth. The contemporary church needs to follow the apostolic example. We must be able to say what Paul said to the procurator Festus: ‘I am not insane, most excellent Festus…What I am saying is true and reasonable’ (Acts 26:25)” The Holy Spirit “brings people to faith in Jesus Christ through our words and arguments, when he enlightens their minds to perceive their truth and feel their force.”
In a world of contentious confrontation and emotional argumentation which does little to commend the gospel, John Stott stands out as an island of sanity and serenity. His message and his method were in sync. He would never bully someone into following Jesus, but come alongside them and gently show them who Jesus is for them. His obituary in the news magazine, THE WEEK was entitled, “The quiet Christian who evangelized the world.” (August 12, 2011)
I will continue this line of thought when I review John Stott’s little booklet, Balanced Christianity in my next blog.