November 29, 2012
Stott's Influence (4): Common Ground
On November 15, 2012, I presented a paper at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society entitled "John Stott's Influence Through Publishing." I offer it here in five installments. The first installment can be found here.
The fifth and final influence is Stott's commitment to emphasize what we have in common as evangelicals rather than pound on our differences. As an evangelical statesman, he was of a decidedly vanishing breed. He never sought to divide Christians, to win over people to the particulars of all his viewpoints. Rather he worked to unite Christians in the basic convictions of the faith. He never aimed to win so much as to be winsome. His book
Balanced Christianity (1975), perhaps the most important among his lesser-known writings-- calls for a both/and approach to the faith that stands in stark contrast to the either/or approach so common in evangelicalism today. Christianity embraces both intellect and emotion, is both conservative and radical, champions both form and freedom, and engages in both evangelism and social action.
In this regard Stott was so fond of the following quotation from Memoirs of the Life of the Rev. Charles Simeon (ed. William Carus, 1847) that he quoted it at least twice, once in Christ the Controversialist (p. 45) and again, more extensively, in Balanced Christianity (p. 10). Simeon begins with the comment: "The truth is not in the middle, and not in one extreme, but in both extremes. . . . Here are two . . . extremes, Calvinism and Arminianism." Then Simeon imagines a conversation with the apostle Paul.
"How do you move in reference to these, Paul? In a golden mean?"
But Simeon continues:
. . . I formerly read Aristotle, and liked him much; I have since read Paul and caught somewhat of his strange notions, oscillating (not vacillating) from pole to pole. Sometimes I am a high Calvinist, at other times a low Arminian, so that if extremes will please you, I am your man; only remember, it is not one extreme that we are to go to, but both extremes.
Stott then comments, "Simeon's words are wisdom for today. Whether our polarizations are primarily theological or temperamental, we should avoid them."
Next Installment: Stott's Influence (5): Limits and Legacy