When I was a child, my father was friends with a tall, energetic man called John Stott who died just over a month ago. He was educated at the same school as I was, where he was Head Boy. When I was there, I remember reading some of his work. A good deal has been written about him, almost all of it positive and affirming. He was not a stage preacher, a rabble-rouser but a quiet, scholarly and methodical preacher of the Gospel, author of over fifty books and was described as ‘making light shine on the words of Scripture’. Not a bad epitaph.
His death is a watershed moment in the history of modern evangelicalism. He represented a faith which was not neo-fundamentalism but a bold effort to engage and love a rapidly changing world. He wrote in “The Cross of Christ” :
“Good Samaritans will always be needed to succour those who are assaulted and robbed; yet it would be even better to rid the Jerusalem-Jericho road of brigands.”
He was the figurehead of a renewal movement in Christianity which was genuinely reformational in spirit, in that a major focus was sharing theology with the men and women in the pews in recognition that these people with jobs and families were the real priests on the frontline. In contrast with the pietism of past generations, this infusion of knowledge was intended to spur an outpouring of love; not only was the traditional evangelical emphasis on the “great commission” of disciple-making celebrated, so was the “greatest commandment” of loving your neighbour.
Neglecting denominational prejudice, the ‘evangelical wing’ of the church is a behemoth, a vast network. Millions of Chinese converts, South Korean missionaries, South American Pentecostals, Congolese immigrants to Dublin – the world is suddenly a village. Personally I have no time for neo-Calvinist claptrap which emphasizes predestination and which has often so easily been confused with “evangelicalism’ the sniggering of the Anglo-Catholics notwithstanding. Neither am I impressed with the Romans Road soterians who build an entire church culture around their view of salvation since this is nothing more than growth without depth.
These are troubling thoughts – since I ‘know’ how to share Christ, which is really tantamount to nothing more than giving testimony, but discipleship is quite another matter, since those who are influenced by what we say are sometimes often rebranded versions of our own poorly thought out and frequently misinformed theology. Opinion most prevalent is that we are all too often left to ‘work out’ our own salvation with a good deal of bewilderment as well as fear and trembling but this isn’t discipleship and I’m comforted by the fact that this isn’t what the church is for. As for loving my neighbour, the more I think about it the less I really understand what it means. This is of course no bad thing. Wearisome as the phrase is, the Holy Spirit does not just comfort the afflicted but afflicts the comfortable.