The modern world detests authority but worships relevance. Our Christian conviction is that the Bible has both authority and relevance, and that the secret of both is Jesus Christ.
Knowledge is indispensable to Christian life and service. If we do not use the mind that God has given us, we condemn ourselves to spiritual superficiality and cut ourselves off from many of the riches of God’s grace.
Quoting John Stott:
To worship God…is to “glory in His holy name” (Ps. 105:3), that is, to revel adoringly in who He is in His revealed character. But before we can glory in God’s name, we must know it; hence the propriety of the reading and preaching of the Word of God in public worship… These things are not an intrusion into worship; they form the necessary foundation of it. God must speak to us before we have any liberty to speak to Him. He must disclose to us who He is before we can offer Him what we are in acceptable worship. The worship of God is always a response to the Word of God. Scripture wonderfully directs and enriches our worship.
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Quoting John Stott:
To encounter Christ is to touch reality and experience transcendence. He gives us a sense of self-worth or personal significance, because He assures us of God’s love for us. He sets us free from guilt because He died for us and from paralyzing fear because He reigns. He gives meaning to marriage and home, work and leisure, personhood and citizenship.
Quoting John Stott:
Theology is a serious quest for the true knowledge of God, undertaken in response to His self-revelation, illumined by Christian tradition, manifesting a rational inner coherence, issuing in ethical conduct, resonating with the contemporary world and concerned for the greater glory of God.
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John Stott died last week at the age of ninety. When John Stott began his ordained ministry, evangelicals had little influence in the Anglican Church hierarchy. He often bemoaned the anti-intellectualism apparent in some Christians. Stott believed that most evangelical Christians were not integrated in their daily living. He saw a tendency among Christians to exclude certain areas of their life from the lordship of Jesus; it might be their business life and work, or their political persuasion.
Concerning preaching, Stott, when speaking to the Langham Partnership International said:
The church is growing everywhere of course, or nearly everywhere, but it’s often growth without depth and we are concerned to overcome this lack of depth, this superficiality, by remembering that God wants his people to grow. Now if God wants his people to grow into maturity, which he does, and if they grow by the word of God, which they do, and if the word of God comes to them mainly through preaching, which it does, then the logical question to ask is how can we help to raise the standards of biblical preaching?
John Stott’s best-known work, Basic Christianity, has sold two million copies and has been translated into more than 60 languages. Other titles include The Cross of Christ, Understanding the Bible, The Contemporary Christian, Evangelical Truth, Issues Facing Christians Today, The Incomparable Christ, eight volumes in The Bible Speaks Today series of New Testament expositions, and most recently Why I Am a Christian. Billy Graham called John Stott “the most respected clergyman in the world today,” and Christian author John Pollock described him as “in effect the theological leader of world evangelicalism.” Chuck Colson recently wrote in an article titled “John Stott: Will Evangelicals Continue His Mission?” the following:
In 1967, at a time when most Evangelicals were content to remain safe behind the walls of their churches, ignoring the larger world around them, Stott wrote a book entitled, Our Guilty Silence.
In it Stott made the case that because the Gospel is “Good News” we are under an obligation to share it with others. This sounds obvious, but in 1967 this kind of witness, and that kind of engagement with the larger society, was the
last thing many Christians wanted to do. They much preferred their comfortable worship and cultural isolation.
Among its many benefits, this isolation didn’t require them to think too much, especially when it came to matters of faith. So five years later, Stott wrote Your Mind Matters, a book whose title could serve as a mission statement for this broadcast.
In it Stott criticized the “spirit of anti-intellectualism” that pervaded Evangelicalism at the time. This “spirit” often produced “zeal without knowledge” that was mistaken for Christian maturity. True Christian maturity is impossible without understanding what it is we believe and how it applies to our lives.
It is true. John Stott will be sorely missed. The question, “Will evangelicals continue his mission?” is an important question and it will have to be decided by each of us.
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Quoting John Stott:
We who are called to be Christian preachers today should do all we can to help the congregation to grow out of dependence on borrowed slogans and ill-considered clichés, and instead to develop their powers of
intellectual and moral criticism, that is, their ability to distinguish between truth and error, good and evil. Of course, we should encourage an attitude of humble submission to Scripture, but at the same time make it clear that we claim no infallibility for our interpretation of Scripture. We should urge our hearers to ‘test’ and ‘evaluate’ our teaching. We should welcome questions, not resent them. We should not want people to be moonstruck by our preaching, to hang spellbound on our words, and to soak them up like sponges. To desire such an uncritical dependence on us is to deserve the fierce denunciation of Jesus for wanting to be called ‘rabbi’ by men. (Matt 23:7, 8) By contrast, the people of Berea are commended as ‘noble’ . . . because they combined enthusiastic receptivity with critical listening. . . . (Acts 17:11)
This kind of open but questioning mind is implicit even in the ‘pastoral’ metaphor. . . . The way in which the shepherd feeds [the sheep] is significant. In reality, he does not feed them at all (except perhaps in the case of a sick lamb which he may take up in his arms and bottle-feed); instead he leads them to good grazing pasture where they feed themselves. (Between Two Worlds: The Art of Preaching in the Twentieth Century, (Eerdmans, 1982) p. 177)
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Quoting John Stott:
The modern theological tendency is to lay much emphasis on the historical activity of God and to deny that he has spoken; to say that God’s self-revelation has been in deeds not words, personal not propositional; and in fact to insist that the redemption is itself the revelation. But this is a false distinction, which Scripture itself does not envisage. Instead, Scripture affirms that God has spoken both through historical deeds and through explanatory words, and that the two belong indissolubly together. . . .
Here then is a fundamental conviction about the living, redeeming and self-revealing God. It is the foundation on which all Christian preaching rests. We should never presume to occupy a pulpit unless we believe in this God. How dare we speak, if God has not spoken? By ourselves we have nothing to say. To address a congregation without any assurance that we are bearers of a divine message would be the height of arrogance and folly. It is when we are convinced that God is light (and so wanting to be known), that God has acted (and thus made himself known), and that God has spoken (and thus explained his actions), that we must speak and cannot remain silent. As Amos expressed it, ‘The lion has roared; who will not fear? The Lord God has spoken; who can but prophesy?’ (3:8) . . . God has spoken. If we are not sure of this, it would be better to keep our mouth shut. Once we are persuaded that God has spoken, however, then we too must speak. A compulsion rests upon us. Nothing and nobody will be able to silence us. (Between Two Worlds: The Art of Preaching in the Twentieth Century, (Eerdmans, 1982) p. 95-96)
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Quoting John Stott:
The ‘message’ is God’s own Word. For the people have not gathered to hear a human being, but to meet with God. They desire like Mary of Bethany to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to his teaching. They are spiritually hungry. The bread they desire is the Word of God.
What, then, are the code and channel of communication? Obviously the code is words and the channel speech. Yet the communication is to be understood neither in physical terms (from pulpit to pew), nor even in human terms (one mouth speaking, many ears listening), but in divine terms (God speaking through his minister to his people).
It is this total context which makes preaching unique. For here are God’s people assembled in God’s presence to hear God’s Word from God’s minister.
That is what I mean when I claim that, even in this age that is saturated with the most elaborate media of communication, preaching remains sui generis. No film or play, no drama or dialogue, no seminar or lecture, no Sunday School or discussion group has all these elements in combination. What is unique is not an ideal or an atmosphere, but a reality. The living God is present, according to his covenant pledge, in the midst of his worshipping people, and has promised to make himself known to them through his Word and sacrament. Nothing could ever replace this.
Although in the rather flowery language of a century ago, Matthew Simpson gave an admirable summary of the uniqueness of the sermon event. He wrote of the preacher:
His throne is the pulpit; he stands in Christ’s stead; his message is the word of God; around him are immortal souls; the Savior, unseen, is beside him; the Holy Spirit broods over the congregation; angels gaze upon the scene, and heaven and hell await the issue. What associations and what vast responsibility!
Thus Word and worship belong indissolubly to each other. All worship is an intelligent and loving response to the revelation of God, because it is the adoration of his Name. Therefore acceptable worship is impossible without preaching. For preaching is making known the Name of the Lord, and worship is praising the name of the Lord made known. Far from being an alien intrusion into worship, the reading and preaching of the Word are actually indispensable to it. The two cannot be divorced. Indeed, it is their unnatural divorce which accounts for the low level of so much contemporary worship. Our worship is poor because our knowledge of God is poor, and our knowledge of God is poor because our preaching is poor. But when the Word of God is expounded in its fullness, and the congregation begins to glimpse the glory of the living God, they bow down in solemn awe and joyful wonder before his throne. It is preaching which accomplishes this, the proclamation of the Word of God in the power of the Spirit of God. That is why preaching is unique and irreplaceable. (Between Two Worlds: The Art of Preaching in the Twentieth Century, Eerdmans, 1982, p. 81-82)
Quoting John Stott:
All true Christian preaching is expository preaching. . . . To expound Scripture is to bring out of the text what is there and expose it to view. The expositor prizes open what appears to be closed, makes plain what is obscure, unravels what is knotted and unfolds what is tightly packed. The opposite of exposition is ‘imposition’, which is to impose on the text what is not there. But the text in question could be a verse, or a sentence, or even a single word. It could equally be a paragraph, or a chapter, or a whole book. The size of the text is immaterial, so long as it is biblical. What matters is what we do with it. Whether it is long or short, our responsibility as expositors is to open it up in such a way that it speaks its message clearly, plainly, accurately, relevantly, without addition, subtraction or falsification. In expository preaching the biblical text is neither a conventional introduction to a sermon on a largely different theme, nor a convenient peg on which to hang a ragbag of miscellaneous thoughts, but a master which dictates and controls what is said.
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Quoting John Stott:
“The Christian unity for which Christ prayed in John 17:20-23 was not primarily unity with each other, but unity with the apostles (a common truth) and unity with the Father and the Son (a common life). The visible, structural unity of the church is a proper goal. Yet it will be pleasing to God only if it is the visible expression of something deeper, namely unity in truth and in life. In our ecumenical concern, therefore, nothing is more important than the quest for more apostolic truth and more divine life through the Holy Spirit. As William Temple put it, ‘the way to the union of Christendom does not lie through committee-rooms, though there is a task of formulation to be done there. It lies through personal union with the Lord so deep and real as to be comparable with his union with the Father.’” (The Contemporary Christian, Leicester and Downers Grove: IVP, 1992, 267)
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Quoting John Stott:
“To sum up, because of our disobedience we were under the curse of the law. Christ redeemed us from it by bearing it in our place. As a result, we receive by faith in Christ the promised blessing of salvation. The sequence is irresistible. It prompts our humble worship that God in Christ, in his holy love for us, was willing to go to such lengths, and that the blessings we enjoy today are due to the curse he bore for us on the cross.” (The Cross of Christ)
From the pen of John Stott:
What is there about the cross of Christ which angers the world and stirs them up to persecute those who preach it? Just this: Christ died on the cross for us sinners, becoming a curse for us (Gal. 3:13). So the cross tells us some very unpalatable truths about ourselves, namely that we are sinners under the righteous curse of God’s law and we cannot save ourselves. Christ bore our sin and curse precisely because we could gain release from them in no other way. If we could have been forgiven by our own good works, by being circumcised and keeping the law, we may be quite sure that there would have been no cross. Every time we look at the cross Christ seems to say to us, ‘I am here because of you. It is your sin I am bearing, your curse I am suffering, your debt I am paying, your death I am dying.’ Nothing in history or in the universe cuts us down to size like the cross. All of us have inflated views of ourselves, especially in self-righteousness, until we have visited a place called Calvary. It is there, at the foot of the cross, that we shrink to our true size. And of course men do not like it. They resent the humiliation of seeing themselves as God sees them and as they really are. They prefer their comfortable illusions. So they steer clear of the cross. They construct a Christianity without the cross, which relies for salvation on their works and not on Jesus Christ’s. They do not object to Christianity so long as it is not the faith of Christ crucified. But Christ crucified they detest. And if preachers preach Christ crucified, they are opposed, ridiculed, persecuted. Why? Because of the wounds which they inflict on men’s pride.