I recently purchased Alister Chapman’s Godly Ambition for the exorbitant price of $50.87 – it is a beautiful volume and looks good on the bookshelf. More importantly, it was a good read and I got through it in 2,3 days. Chapman seems to be a youngish guy doing a PhD with access to Stott’s personal  papers. In contrast I took forever to get to p205 (the bookmark is still in place of Timothy Dudley-Smith’s 1st volume (513 p) biography.  Chapman scored points when I discovered he got everything into 222 pages – oh that all authors should consider 250 pages absolute max!

For a person of my longevity Stott was one of those pedestal men. I seem to remember hearing him at EU in General Lecture Theatre 1, Sydney University and probably CMS Summer School, Katoomba as well. Mellifluous voice, careful verse by verse exposition, not excitable but something very special. I remember in the late 1980’s while living in the UK attending All Souls Langham Place, finding seating in the balcony adjacent to the pulpit and the sheer delight which both Chris and I shared when Stott came  forward to preach.

I think Australians mainly know Stott for his preaching and his commentaries. However as Chapman’s book demonstrates he was also a churchman, a leader of evangelical Anglicans who was forever trying, not totally successfully, to hold divergent groups together. Whilst I knew of his 1968 contretemps with Martin Lloyd Jones over Lloyd Jones’ desire for closer unity of evangelical Anglicans and Non Conformists, much of this material was knew.

The other aspect of his life which I  knew a little of, was his efforts to give a social conscience to evangelicalism through the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity and various spinoffs. I learnt something of this while in the UK and for a time was a subscriber to The Third Way, a monthly that fitted with this emphasis in Stott’s life. I was soon, however, writing letters to the editor objecting to some of the views being expressed which I saw as less Biblical and more in common with soft left views (hey, I’m a conservative).  I dipped into his Issues facing Christians Today, now in its 4th Ed, which covers topics such as the rational for Christian engagement in the public square, war and peace, caring for creation, global poverty, human rights, life and relationship issues, etc. I should do a review of it because these issues are important and they do impact on the life of our people.

I think it is true to say that Stott impacted conservative evangelicals (such as Sydney Anglicans, Australian Presbyterians) primarily through his preaching and commentaries, the first part of his life and more open or liberal evangelicals (I tend to put Melbourne Anglicans more into this category) through his later work on social issues and general bridge building work.

Stott explained a good deal of his vision for Christian engagement in society in an interview published in Christianity Today (13 October 2006) in which he makes 3 points

First, that Christians are radically different from non-Christians…. as different as light from darkness and salt from decay.

Second, Christians must permeate non-Christian society as salt must not remain in the saltshaker or light be hid under the bed.

Third, that the salt and light metaphors indicate that Christians can change non-Christian society.

Personally I agree with the first two, but I think the third needs qualification.

However, I think his conclusion,

My hope is that in the future, evangelical leaders will ensure that their social agenda includes such vital but controversial topics as halting climate change, eradicating poverty, abolishing armouries of mass destruction, responding adequately to the AIDS pandemic, and asserting the human rights of women and children in all cultures. I hope our agenda does not remain too narrow.

arguably betrays a certain naivety, and over reach by a member of the clergy into contested public policy that requires a broad range of inputs: economic, political, scientific, technological, though of course in such a broad discourse there is a place for Christian moral teaching. To an extent Stott covers himself by acknowledging the topics to be controversial. The topics themselves are not controversial, it is the way that we frame them (“halting climate change”) and the solutions that are proposed (windmills but not nuclear power) that are controversial.

Well grist for the mill there.

I warmly commend Chapman’s book – pity the price.

My own appreciation for Stott the preacher and writer of commentaries remains undiminished. I admire his courage and tenacity in seeking unity and appreciate his willingness to find common ground.

Eric Kaufmann, a professor of politics at the University of London wrote a book with the title, Shall the righteous inherit the earth?, in 2010. Whilst I’m still ploughing my way through it but already can heartily recommend it, the main idea he presents is that (p)eople are increasingly failing to reproduce themselves and the openly non religious among them are displaying the lowest fertility rates ever recorded in human history: sometimes less than one child per women (p x). He points out that religious people whatever their religion are having more children. He says:

Secularisation  mainly  erodes  unconscious  religion:  the  taken-for­granted, moderate faiths that trade on being mainstream and established. This explains the rapid decline of religion in Europe and, increasingly, the United States.  On the other hand, religious fundamentalists have mobilised against secularism and moderate faith, self-consciously warning their members of its influence . Pronatalism and segregation, the core features of endogenous growth sects, are catching on: we already see conservative Christian theologians advocating these strategies. Mainstream fundamentalist Christians have above-replacement  fertility  rates  and the most theologically zealous are considerably more fecund than average…. (F)undamentalists, combining both high retention and fertility rates, are the demographic equivalent of a coiled spring, whose energy has only recently become apparent. (p 253)

If we (I speak as a confessional Presbyterian affirming inerrancy, etc) can put aside our distaste for the term fundamentalist for a moment I suggest the people we have in our churches – generally, though not necessarily all – are the kind of people that Kaufmann describes. Our young people for the most part marry young and have children, not waiting too long and more like 3,4,5 or more children rather than 1 or 2 (always exceptions for various reasons!). Most of us selected faith based schools for our children or else home schooled – how segregated is that!

Certainly it is one of my burdens that in the church we recognise the utterly corrosive influence of secularism, including popular culture: music, drug scene, TV, films. Parents need to be discerning for their children and teach them discernment in turn. Family worship should be a given. Personally, I rate the correct order to be: public worship, family worship, then lastly but certainly personal quiet time.

I grew up in a Sydney (evangelical) Anglican church in a new area in the 1960’s. We had a smallish youth group, taught the Bible, played games, had an annual houseparty and did all we could to bring young people to faith in Christ. The nearby Presbyterian Church in contrast ran dances which were immensely popular. Today that Anglican Church is a large church with many people whilst the Presbyterian Church went into church union and no longer exists.

Kaufman identifies himself as an atheist and secularist but clearly sees the future belonging to the religious, with secularism having entered a period of ideological exhaustion – – he is taking the long view, say 50-100 years ahead.

Kaufmann has some very quotable statements:

….notwithstanding the New Atheists, one has to admit that religion is more rational than unbelief… As a utilitarian, I believe that the maximization of collective happiness is the proper end of humanity, and on that score, religion seems more rational than irreligion. A growing body of research suggests that the religious live longer and are happier than skeptics. (p 266)

Having attended the Global Atheist Convention in Melbourne, April last year I thought the atheists attending lacked any of the joy found among Christians and the only excitement was when one of the Great Ones slagged off at religious faith or when one of their dirty minded comedians (think Catherine Deveny) told a particularly salacious story (I avoided Deveny, she was one step too far).

Here’s another quote:

Dry atheism, even with the leaven of humanism and modern art, can never compete with the rich emotions evoked by religion. (p 260)

How interesting that Kaufmann has come so close to faith himself…..

So, all you Presbyterian and other fundamentalists, do you think Kaufmann has overstated the argument (possibly for devious purposes) or do you think he is right? BTW he sees the ongoing vigour of Christianity as coming largely out of the global south.

When I was a young Christian back in the early 1960’s I remember sitting under ministers who would include references to “our Lord” when speaking of Jesus Christ. I felt uneasy with this form of address for it did seemed to hold my Saviour at a distance and lacked the intimacy of the relationship with Jesus that I had entered into on becoming a Christian.

However, time passes and I don’t know how many times I would have read through the New Testament or engaged in reflective thought regarding the second person of the Trinity over the past 50 years or so, but I know I’m convinced that the almost exclusive way nowadays of Christians, including preachers referring to God’s Son simply as “Jesus” fails to reflect the Biblical testimony of how he is to be known.

My point is simply this. For his followers, Jesus is both Saviour and Lord. He commands our allegiance. He calls us to deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow Him. Overwhelmingly in the pages of the New Testament He is referred to as “Jesus our Lord”, “the Lord Jesus”, “the Lord Jesus Christ”, Jesus Christ our Lord”, “Jesus Christ”, “Christ Jesus”, “Christ” and the like.

To refer to God’s Son as “the Lord Jesus” certainly doesn’t negate the intimacy of the relationship that the believer is drawn into as a member of God’s family. However the constant use of “Jesus” as the sole way of naming God’s Son does mitigate against the Biblical understanding that Jesus Christ is the mighty creator God, judge of the living and the dead, one day to return in power and glory for purposes of judgment, separation and the establishment of the new heaven and the new earth.

Where the New Testament does restrict itself to “Jesus” it is in the context of his humanity being to the fore – principally the Gospels and parts of Acts and Hebrews. So, being Biblical, when we refer to Jesus in His life 2000 years ago in a tiny little country in the region now known as the Middle East, we too talk about Jesus and His exploits and mission.

But in relationship to us and our interests He is always Lord and Saviour, so let us acknowledge this truth by the words with which we address him and talk about Him!

There is a deeper issue at stake and that is the importance of maintaining our confessional stance in acknowledging the two fold nature of Christ as both God and man, and further that God is three persons in the one God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In other words our language used to signify the second  person of the Trinity needs to reflect His twofold nature. To focus exclusively on denoting the Son of God as ‘Jesus’ is tantamount to failure to acknowledge His divinity and therefore to fail to properly describe the nature of our relationship to Him.

So, what do you think?