John Stott’s going-home-to-glory was announced yesterday. I wrote the piece below last September, but the thoughts are just as valid if not more so now. If you haven’t read Uncle John’s farewell message to all of us, please do so. There’s a link at the bottom of the post.
There are few leaders in the Christian world greater than John Stott. I first heard him preach at Urbana 1970 – forty years ago, when I was a senior in high school. [You can read the actual talks here – I don’t think the recordings are available on-line.] I’ve followed his ministry career ever since, though almost always from a distance – we shook hands perhaps twice or three times, but my memory fades a bit at this point. John is now at the end of his life, though he has not yet ended his service to the church and her Lord. He has written one last book that is intended to be his farewell to those of us still here – and you need to read it.
I’ve known many leaders who ended their careers in scandal. I’ve known a fair number now whose ministries were cut short by illness or death – they left us too soon and without warning, without the benefit of any last words of wisdom to carry us forward. There have only been a few who, knowing they were leaving, took the time to share with us from that unique and precious place that is halfway between earth and heaven. Those who have lived their lives well, and know they are about to leave for another, better place – they deserve to be listened to. If you had an opportunity right now to spend a few hours with John Stott, knowing he is at the end of his life, wouldn’t you do that? So get this book…
Stott has called this last message The Radical Disciple: Some Neglected Aspects of Our Calling. Like all of his teaching, his thoughts are disarmingly simple, and unarguably biblical – and because of that, dangerous to read. Having read, you can hardly say you didn’t understand what he was getting at. And if you are someone – as I am – who wants to build his life on the Bible, Stott leaves you with precious little to defend yourself if, as probably will happen, it turns out that you have been neglecting some of these aspects of discipleship yourself.
So what are these neglected truths that are important enough to be this man’s farewell message to his sisters and brothers? Here are a few quotes from the first four out of a total of eight:
1. Non-conformity: The church has a double responsibility in relation to the world around us. On the one hand we are to live, serve and witness in the world. On the other hand we are to avoid becoming contaminated by the world, So we are neither to seek to preserve our holiness by escaping from the world nor to sacrifice our holiness by conforming to the world. Escapism and conformism are thus both forbidden to us. (p 17)
2. Christlikeness:I remember vividly the major question that perplexed me (and my friends) as a young Christian. It was this: What is God’s purpose for his people? Granted we had been converted, but what next? …I want to share with you where my mind has come to rest as I approach the end of my pilgrimage on earth. It is this: God wants his people to become like Christ, for Christlikeness is the will of God for the people of God. [p 28-29]
3. Maturity: [Stott sees “growth without depth” as one of the greatest dangers the worldwide church faces today. But what is this depth, or maturity?] Paul’s most common way of defining Christians is to say that they are men and women “in Christ,” meaning not inside Christ as when our clothes are in a wardrobe or when tools are inside a chest, but rather as the branches are “in” the vine and our limbs are “in” the body, that is, united to Christ. So then, to be “in Christ” is to be personally, vitally, organically related to him. In this sense, to be mature is to have a mature relationship with Christ in which we worship, trust, love and obey him… [p 42]
4. Creation Care: [Surprised to find this listed alongside Christlikeness and spiritual maturity?] The Bible tells us that in creation God established for human beings three fundamental relationships: first to himself, for he made them in his own image; second to each other, for the human race was plural from the beginning; and third, to the good earth and its creatures over which he set them. Moreover, all three relationships were skewed by the Fall. …It stands to reason therefore that God’s plan of restoration includes not only our reconciliation to God and to each other, but in some way the liberation of the groaning creation as well. [p 49-50]
That last happens to be the central theological pillar on which Care of Creation’s ministry is built – and fascinatingly his brief outline of three broken relationships (God, others, creation) restored by redemption is completely consistent with the four relationships (God, self, others, creation) that I have made a key part of my own teaching and writing. The fact that Stott has made it the first of his “application” truths reflects both his life – he has been one of the world’s most famous birders – and, I believe, his deep understanding of the wisdom of God and the word of God.
Creation care is not simply “one more nice thing to do”. It is central to the message of the word and to the mission of the church, because it is a key part of God’s redemptive work in the world.
So let’s get to work.
[For completeness, the remaining four truths Stott expounds are Simplicity, Balance, Dependence and Death. I won’t take the time to develop those – you really do need to read this book!]