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.

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