Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra
The Apostle Peter reminds us: but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect (1Peter 3:15 ESV).
Our ability to respond to Peter’s admonishment is clearly challenged today. Outside of the criticism of our faith arising from the advocates for modern science, we are confronted in our shrinking postmodern world with a host of alternatives to Christianity from other religions and from complex and confusing voices in secular society. In the midst of this whirlwind of controversy, John Stott’s book, Basic Christianity, offers us a plainspoken starting point.
Stott outlines the Gospel in eleven chapters. After a brief introduction, he presents has four parts: 1. Who Christ Is, 2. What We Need, 3. What Christ Has Done, and 4. How To Respond. The first part focuses on the claims, character, and resurrection of Christ. The second part focuses on sin. The third part focuses on Christ’s death and salvation. The fourth part brings us to count the cost, make a decision, and live the Christian life.
John Stott (1921-2011) was rector (pastor) emeritus of All Souls Church, Langham Place, London and founder of the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. He was one of the authors of the Lausanne Covenant which started as a 1974 Christian religious manifesto promoting active world-wide Christian evangelism and continues to influence missions work today. My first acquaintance with Stott came in 1983 when I visited Bonn in Germany as an economics student and a friend gifted me with Stott’s book—Gesandt Wie Christus (1976). At the time, I assumed Stott was German. Needless to say, Stott is still one of the world’s best known evangelical writers.
Stott acknowledges the enormity of the task of defending the faith–apologetics. For example, he recounts a conversation with a young man having trouble reciting one of his church’s creeds because he could no longer believe it. Stott asked him: If I were to answer your problems to your complete intellectual satisfaction, would you be willing to change the way you live? The answer was clearly no. His real problem was not intellectual but moral (25). This conversation is not an isolated event–advocating a disciplined life-style today is a tough sell. Why give up self-control to Christ and live a disciplined life when in Alice’s Wonderland every headache can be solved with a different colored pill?
Stott’s final chapter on being a Christian is most interesting. He writes: Our great privilege as children of God is relationship; our great responsibility is growth. Everyone loves children, but nobody…wants them to stay in the nursery (162). We grow in two dimensions—understanding and holiness—which work out in our duties to God, to the church, and to society (163-166). This growth includes growth in our prayer life. Stott advises readers to respond to God in prayer in the same manner that he speaks to you—do not change the subject. If he talks about his glory, worship him; if he talks about sin, confess it; if scripture blesses you, thank him for it (164). Stott’s comments about the spiritual practice of daily examine flow right out of this discussion. In the morning, commit the details of your day to God’s blessing and, in evening, review what happened during the day.
John Stott’s Basic Christianity provides a well-ordered accounting of the Gospel that is worthy of study and reflection. His summary—God has created; God has spoken; God has acted—is brief but compelling (18). The Apostle Peter’s admonition sounds initially like evangelism. But, if the truth be known, the accounting of our hope in Christ benefits us at least as much as anyone we meet.