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ARCANE AND GERMANE BOOK REVIEWS #12

After reading a new book, never allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between.”
“All that is not eternal is eternally out of date.”
(C.S. Lewis)


John Stott Centenary Special—The Bible Still Speaks Today!

Today, Tuesday the 27th April 2021, we mark the centenary of the birth of John RW Stott (1921-2011).

It is difficult to overstate Stott’s massive influence on twentieth-century Christianity; not least in his impact on biblical teaching and preaching.  The enduring legacy of Stott’s influence in Australia is clearly on display in the now widespread commitment in evangelical churches and AFES University work to the expository preaching of the Scriptures. John Chapman, who himself trained up generations of preachers and evangelists, would often recall the watershed moment of John Stott’s visit to Australia in 1958 to take the Bible studies at the CMS Summer School. Stott spoke from 2Corinthians. Chapman said:

I heard only one of those Bible studies but I was so taken by the way he stuck to the text and stayed with it. He could show you the logic of the argument in the Scriptures. Prior to that, I had tended to get an idea from a passage and to leap all over the Bible supporting the idea from other parts so that the people I taught knew the “idea” but not the passage from which it came or how that passage fitted into some overall argument from the  Scriptures. It is to John Stott I owe the ability I have to expound the Bible. He provided a model of expository preaching that I could copy and make my own. I needed time to practice. [1]

BST Message of Galatians

BST Message of Galatians

IVP.
IVP.

Another influential figure for preaching in Australia, and member of the TGC council Peter Adam, acknowledges a similar debt to Stott on first hearing him preach in the mid-60s. Here was a way of preaching that was not merely impressive, but that by its method showed his hearers how they themselves could read and teach the Bible in a way that could be adapted individually. That is, as you are hearing the Scriptures taught and following along in your own Bible, you are thinking:

I can see that, I understand the context of this passage. I can place this passage in God’s unfolding salvation plan revealed in the ‘big story’ of the Bible. I think I could do that. I can understand what God is saying to me and to his people, and help somebody else to understand it as well!’

Stott’s model was not designed to entertain or to impress … It was solid health-giving food that sustains life, and prepares you for judgement day and eternity

Stott’s model was not designed to entertain or to impress. Neither was it merely to be theologically provocative, with the small-minded goal of intellectual stimulation. Nor was it aimed at creating a mood, merely rousing emotions so that hearers feel in the moment that they are having a ‘spiritual experience.’ It wasn’t junk food delivering a short-lived hit, but solid health-giving food that sustains life, and prepares you for judgement day and eternity. This is preaching that converts sinners, equips God’s people for faithful ministry, and with time and perseverance builds a culture of life-long worship in individuals and communities; as future generations are raised-up by God to take the biblical gospel of Christ crucified and risen to the world.

John Stott took seriously the responsibility of Christian ministers, not only to themselves preach Jesus Christ from all the Scriptures, but to teach and to train others to do the same.

And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others. (2Timothy 2:2)

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. (2Tim 2:15-16)

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of the appearing of his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. (2Timothy 4:1-3)

A Word of Testimony

While I never got to hear John Stott preach in person, he was an important influence in the formation of my Christian life. Through my involvement with the Christian Union at the University of Melbourne, I had the privilege of hearing preaching that expounded the Scriptures as we have received it in each book of the Bible. This was an experience of hearing God speak by his powerful Spirit about his Son. It made me want to read the Bible for myself, and with others. During this time I became convinced that this should be my ‘life’s work.’ And at home, I was learning from the preaching Stott had turned into commentaries—particularly for the Bible Speaks Today Series. [2]

Reading the Bible with John Stott –

The Message of Galatians – Only One Way (1968)

During this time I developed a pattern of learning from the Scriptures (which I still use). I would choose a Bible book to sit with over the course of a term—for example, in 1993, it was Galatians. Then I’d:

  • Read through Galatians in a few sittings in two different translations (NIV—dynamically equivalent translation; RV/NASB—word for word literal translation).
  • Work out a one sentence summary statement of the message of Galatians.
  • In a further reading, divide the letter into sections.

Then over a period of weeks. I would:

  • On one day, take a passage at a time, read it out aloud, and then ‘preach it’ to myself in the form of my own written explanation and application in my journal.
  • Use that as the basis of my prayers for myself and other people I was serving with.
  • On another day, read the passage again (also embedded in the body of Stott’s text) and read and underline Stott’s commentary on that section, writing out quotes that helped my understanding, or that I was challenged or encouraged by. I might also note down points that Stott highlighted which I hadn’t seen, or questions to take back to Galatians and the rest of the Bible, or have conversations with others about.
  • Pray & repeat.

Working through the books of the Bible in this way helped me in sharing the message of the Bible with others.

The beauty of Stott’s commentaries is that you can read them right through from beginning to end. A picture of the whole Bible book gradually forms, as you become familiar with its overall message. It’s like being on a cross-country train trip, sitting opposite John Stott as your conversation partner in the Scriptures—stopping for breaks, but then continuing the conversation. The best thing about these conversations was that he always directed me back to the passage of Scripture in its context. He would highlight its implications for our lives, and the contemporary life of the church. his chief concern was to teach his readers to be confident in the all-sufficiency of Christ, and the forgiveness and life which we have in him.

Looking back over my journal entries as a 3rd year University student, these were some of the ‘parts of the conversation’ that I noted down:

Galatians 1:1, 2 – The Uniqueness and Authority of the Apostles

The apostles of Jesus Christ were unique: unique in their experience of the Jesus of history … in their sight of the risen Lord … in their commission by Christ’s authority and unique in their inspiration by Christ’s Spirit. We may not exalt our opinions over theirs or claim that our authority is as great as theirs. For their opinions and their authority are Christ’s. If we would bow to his authority, we must therefore bow to theirs. As He himself said, ‘he who receives you receives me.’ (Mt. 10:40; Jn. 13:20). [3]

Galatians 1:6, 7 – Changing the gospel troubles the church

So the two chief characteristics of the false teachers are that they were troubling the church and changing the gospel. To tamper with the gospel is always to trouble the church. You cannot touch the gospel and leave the church untouched, because the church is created and lives by the gospel. Indeed, the church’s greatest trouble-makers (now as then) are not those outside who oppose, ridicule and persecute it, but those inside who try to change the gospel. It is they who trouble the church … the best way to serve the church is to believe and to preach the gospel. [4]

Galatians 2:15-16 – Justification through faith

Jesus Christ came into the world to live and to die. In his life, his obedience to the law was perfect. In his death, He suffered for our disobedience. On earth, He lived the only life of sinless obedience to the law which has ever been lived. On the cross, He died for our law-breaking, since the penalty for disobedience to the law was death. All that is required of us to be justified, therefore, is to acknowledge our sin and helplessness, to repent of our years of self-assertion and self-righteousness, and to put our whole trust and confidence in Jesus Christ to save us. [5]

 Galatians 3:14 – Faith in Christ not faith in Faith

Faith is laying hold of Jesus Christ personally. There is no merit in it. It is not another ‘work’. Its value is not in itself, but entirely in its object, Jesus Christ. As Luther put it, ‘faith … apprehendeth nothing else but that precious jewel Christ Jesus.’ Christ is the Bread of life; faith feeds upon him. Christ was lifted up on the cross; faith gazes at him there. [6]

Galatians 3:29 – Who am I? In Christ we are Abraham’s seed

[Application] So conversion, although supernatural in its origin, is natural in its effects. It does not disrupt nature, but fulfils it, for it puts me where I belong. It relates me to God, to humanity and to history. It enables me to answer the most basic of all human questions, ‘Who am I?’ and to say, ‘In Christ I am a son of God. In Christ I am united to all the redeemed people of God, past, present and future. In Christ I discover my identity. In Christ I find my feet. In Christ I come home. [7]

Galatians 4:17-20 – True and False Pastors: Telling the Difference

Notice, finally, the references to Christ in verses 14 and 19. Verse 14: You…received me…as Christ Jesus. Verse 19: I am again in travail until Christ is formed in you! What should matter to the people is not the pastor’s appearance, but whether Christ is speaking through him. And what should matter to the pastor is not the people’s favour, but whether Christ is formed in them. The church needs people who, in listening to their pastor, listen for the message of Christ, and pastors who, in laboring among the people, look for the image of Christ. Only when pastor and people thus keep their eyes on Christ will their mutual relations keep healthy, profitable and pleasing to almighty God. [8]

‘Well done good and faithful servant’

The gospel is above all, ‘the power of God for salvation.’(Rom. 1:16) There is no stronger argument for faithful expository preaching than this, that it is through the kerygma, the revealed good news committed to our trust, that God is pleased to save those who believe. There is no power in the words of men. The devil does not relinquish his grasp upon his prisoners at the bidding of mere mortals.
No word has authority for him but the Word of God. Then let us proclaim and expound God’s Word, confident that it ‘effectually worketh’ (Rom. 10:3) in those who believe. [9]

John Stott wrote these words at the age of 40, having already been a minister of the gospel for 16 years. his commitment to trusting in, obeying and using the Scriptures in all of life and ministry would carry forward through the long years of his ministry in the UK and around the world, until his death aged 90 in 2011. Now on the anniversary of the centenary of the birth of John Robert Walmsley Stott, we can give thanks to God for his faithful servant, and others like him who in print and in person have faithfully shared the Scriptures with us; and pray for God’s strength to persevere in our own ‘life’s work’ of receiving and sharing God’s life giving word to us.

Prayer of thanksgiving for those who have gone before us

We praise you, Lord God, for your faithful servants in every age, and we pray that we, with all who have died in the faith of Christ, may be brought to a joyful resurrection and the fulfilment of your eternal Kingdom. Hear us Father, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (10)


[1] Michael Orpwood. Chappo: For the Sake of the Gospel. (Russell Lea, NSW: Eagleswift Press, 1995), 158. him

[2] Of the many books of John Stott, 11 are Bible commentaries, most of which appear in the Bible Speaks Today (BST) series, of which he was the New Testament editor. These are still in print in revised versions. In order of publication: Galatians (1968); 2Timothy (1973); The Sermon on the Mount-Matthew 5-7 (1978); Ephesians (1979); Acts (1990); 1&2 Thessalonians (1991); Romans (1994); 1Timothy & Titus (1996). In Other series: Revelation 1-3 (1958); The Letters of John (1964-Tyndale); Men Made new; Exposition of Romans 5-8. (1966).

[3] John Stott. The Message of Galatians: Only One way. (Leicester UK; BST: IVP, 1991 (1968)), 15-16.

[4] Stott, Galatians,

[5] Stott, Galatians,

[6] Stott, Galatians,

[7] Stott, Galatians,

[8] Stott, Galatians,

[9] John R.W. Stott, The Preacher’s Portrait. (London: The Tyndale Press, 1961), 100.

[10] An Australian Prayer Book. (1978), 1

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