When I was involved in campus ministry at the University of Sydney, we had an annual conference where book reviews were a regular fixture. Our speaker would bring a big pile of books up to the podium and plug each one. I graduated six years ago, and there’s just one book from those recommendations that I can remember: The Cross of Christ by John Stott. The speaker joked that we weren’t allowed to leave university until we’d read that book. I took this to heart, and bought the book straight away.
Stott’s magnum opus was a crucial point in my formation as a Christian. Before that, I only had an elementary understanding of theology, and I couldn’t have adequately answered the question of why Jesus had to come and die. Sure, I knew he died for our sins. But why couldn’t God have just forgiven us? Stott answered my questions and gave me a sure footing in the doctrine of the atonement.
Because of this debt I owe to Stott, I was excited to see that Tim Chester released Stott on the Christian Life last year. I wanted to learn not just about what Stott believed, but how he lived out his theology. That’s the goal of Crossway’s Theologians on the Christian Life series, with each volume aiming to summarise the main teachings of different theologians while also weaving in accounts of their lives. Chester’s contribution highlighted Stott’s character—his gentleness, self-control, and humility—which grew concurrent with his great achievements.
In his introduction, Chester recounts how he met John Stott for the first time at a conference:
Stott— the only speaker that day— had seen an awkward-looking teenager standing alone and had taken it upon himself to make the young man feel welcome. I met him a few times thereafter, and he always remembered my name.
That anecdote was just one of many in the book which demonstrate how Stott’s godliness was his defining feature, outweighing even his most impressive achievements.
These achievements were not few. I was amazed at how much John Stott was able to do in his 90 years. There seemed to be two main factors that made Stott’s enormous productivity possible: his singleness and his self-discipline.
As a single person myself, I found it greatly encouraging to read about how Stott poured himself into gospel work. He embraced the freedom and flexibility that singleness afforded him, and so he pastored a church, wrote prolifically, joined many committees, travelled and spoke around the world, and still found time for his favourite hobby: bird-watching. Instead of wasting his singleness and leaning into self-centredness, he worked extremely hard for the glory of God.
His greatest commitment
Above all, what stuck out to me from Chester’s book was Stott’s commitment to Jesus. Naturally, Chester includes a specific chapter on the atonement, but this doctrine also suffuses all other chapters. We see how Stott’s preaching centered on Jesus, and how he engaged in mission and social causes for the glory of Jesus. Above all his achievements, his personal commitment to the cross stands out. Chester writes: “Stott’s contribution to our understanding of the atonement was foundational for a generation of evangelicals. But the cross was never simply a theological puzzle for him. It was the controlling passion of his life.”
A fitting anecdote to illustrate this was Chester describing Stott’s last sermon::
As [Stott] stood to speak, he knew it was for the last time. What would he take as the topic for his final sermon? The sufficiency of the cross? The authority of the Bible? The importance of the mind? The urgency of mission? The place for social action? All might have formed a fitting conclusion to his ministry. But Stott ended with Jesus Christ.
Throughout this book, Chester paints a compelling portrait of John Stott, rich with theological truth and encouragement. He was willing to disagree with Stott and push back on his blind spots and errors. while respecting his contributions as one of the most influential evangelicals of the twentieth century. Rather than serving as a replacement for reading Stott’s books, this volume actually made me want to read his work more, knowing what an able guide Stott will be as I live the Christian life.
Crossway provided me with a complimentary copy of this book through the Blog Review Program. I’m under no obligation to post a positive review.