Seek and you shall find," Jesus told the disciples who crowded around him for his mountainside sermon. In the first chapter of his classic, Basic Christianity, John Stott points out, "We do not find because we do not seek. And the truth is that we do not seek because we do not really want to find." (p.25) Finding the truth would put demands on our lives, and the last thing we in the twenty-first century want is Someone else telling us what to believe or how to live.
Basic Christianity is a clear, compelling and, well…, basic look at the essence of the gospel designed for those who have rejected the institutional church without really considering Jesus Christ himself. It is for young people who have grown up in the church, but never thought through their own faith, and for those who grew up outside the church and have never been introduced to Jesus as anything other than a myth or a swear word. It is for those who are prepared to seek, committed to living whatever they find to be the truth.
John Robert Walmsley Stott writes about a Jesus who was radical, demanding far more than lip-service to a remote God; a Jesus who shows compassion for the poor and the oppressed and is not content with doctrinal orthodoxy. In his own parish of All Souls, Langham Place, in London's West End, he got involved in the nitty-gritty of holistic ministry to the inner city in the 1950s when most evangelicals were content to preach and keep their hands clean.
I first heard John Stott in person when he gave the morning Bible teaching at the 1967 Urbana Missions Conference. I was one of the lucky high school seniors allowed into this tri-annual conference for university students. Stott brought the morning Bible studies again in 1970 when I was there along side my future husband as a bona fide college student. As I re-read the opening chapters of Basic Christianity this morning, I could see Stott's professorial gaze over his reading glasses. I could hear his precise English diction; his calm, matter-of-fact presentation. Believe me, John Stott did not sound like a Fox newscast or a televangelist! He had no need to shout; the truth is clear if you read the text with a mind that is actively seeking to know. He presented a Christianity that was rational and well-thought-out at the same time that it thoroughly embraced God's supernatural intervention into history. He challenged my generation to be counter-cultural in ways that went far beyond burning bras and joining communes to smoke pot.
My own life has not been the same because of the influence of John Stott. I turned in a card at Urbana '70, saying I was willing to serve God anywhere in the world that he called me. I attended Urbana '73 as the wife of an Inter-Varsity staff worker. By Urbana '76 we were in Ethiopia. Since then we have served in several other countries in theological education, training those God has called locally to work more effectively. At the basis of all our adventures has been the faith we learned from our parents, shaped by John R. W. Stott--a faith that seeks to put love into action because we serve a God who did exactly that. We are blessed to be a blessing.
This week I attended John Stott's memorial service in Wheaton, Illinois. He died in July at the age of 90. Even if you hadn't heard of John Stott before this, I've no doubt you would recognize the special music--Sarah Groves and Michael Card, both humble and ordinary people. Tim Keller, author and pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, preached. As various people shared remembrances of their relationship with Stott, we heard over and over of his humility. This is the man who wrote more than fifty books, selling millions of copies; traveled the world, speaking on every continent; drafted the Lausanne Covenant, the 1974 manifesto of evangelical Christianity; and was chaplain to the queen of England. But he prayed for the people in his congregation and could call them by name. He listened when he traveled to the developing world and so empowered the leaders God was raising up there. He assigned his royalties to a trust that supplies books to pastors and seminary students all over the world and now provides for publishing the work of developing world theologians.
Inter-varsity Press recently brought out a 50th anniversary edition of Basic Christianity, originally published in 1958. I have a FREE COPY for someone who comments on this blog. Share your own memory of Stott or of someone else who has influenced the way you see your faith. Leave your e-mail address (writing out "at" and "dot" to fool the phishers) and I will draw a name. (Because of the cost of shipping, entry is limited to residents of the US. Void where prohibited. The odds of winning depend on the number of entries.)
LeAnne Hardy has lived in six countries on four continents. Her books come out of her cross-cultural experiences and her passion to use story to convey spiritual truths in a form that will permeate lives.
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