May 22, 2012

John Stott, Christian Mission

In 1975 John Stott published a little book, Christian Mission in the Modern World: What the Church Should Be Doing Now! I have heard it mentioned a time or two, and finally have taken the time to read through it, and I must say that it was well worth it. This is an outstanding little book, and is vintage Stott. I include the date because in some ways, the book reflects its setting. But this is largely in the context of ecumenical theology at that point in time, relatively shortly on the heels of the first Lusaunne meetings and also some years into the growth and development of the WCC. Stott references many theologians and church leaders with whom I wasn't familiar. But at the same time, Stott's words are breathtakingly prescient in our world. It is amazing how the trends he discusses from his own day continue on down to ours, and his wise and biblical judgments still warrant an attentive hearing.

The book is focused on the discussion of five words: mission, evangelism, dialogue, salvation, conversion. And in these discussions, which build off of one another, Stott paints a deep and integrated picture of what the gospel is and what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. A number of themes continually emerge, such as the centrality of Jesus Christ and the good news that reports the events of his life, death, and resurrection; the inseparability of the spiritual and social facets of the gospel message; the need for authentic and humanizing interactions with others, and particularly with those of other faiths; and the all-encompassing nature of the gospel for life. Stott's discussions of the encounter between Christians and those of other faiths strikes (in my mind) just the right balance between sympathetic listening and authentic speaking that accounts both for the significance and content of the gospel as well as for the value of the person to whom we speak. He likewise untangles the often distorted problem of the relation of evangelism to social action with great skill, asserting that "each is an end in itself" that should demonstrate an "unfeigned love" (27). He anchors this in Jesus and his ministry, with particular attention to the Great Commission and the Great Commandment (you really need to read the whole chapter to appreciate the wise course he plots).

In all, this short book is a gem. It is filled with wise and compelling words that still need to be heard in our churches today.

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