There are certain Christian leaders and authors in every generation who by grace leave a profoundly good influence upon the Christian community and even unbelieving people. John Stott is one of those leaders. Among his many excellent books I want to highlight one in particular because the current issue of the Resonance Journal is on Christianity and Culture. That one is New Issues Facing Christians Today (Zondervan:1999). I think that this book is essential reading for anyone who identifies him or herself as a disciple of Jesus the Christ because Stott has outlined and modeled how we can face the task of grappling with contemporary issues.
As is characteristic of Stott’s writing, he introduces the contemporary issue (topically), lays before the reader the relevant biblical doctrines and/or passages, the strengths and weaknesses of contemporary approaches to understanding and addressing the issue and then presents what he is convinced is the biblically rooted and reasonable way to think about it (intellectual) and means to address it (practical response). The strength of this book is the sound scholarship, the honest dialogue with contemporary (non-Christian) thinkers and ideas, the rigorous yet clear explanation of interpretative options for Christians and the generosity he displays towards the people and positions which he disagrees with.
The broad outline of the book begins with the most basic questions regarding active social involvement by Christians (section one) and shifts to topics under “Global Issues” (section two) and then to topics under “Social Issues” (section three) and to topics under “Sexual Issues” (section four) and concludes with a section on Christian leadership. I will not elaborate here the whole table of contents as these general sections give the reader an indication of the breadth of Stott’s grappling with contemporary issues. His handling of each topic is remarkable because of the clarity thought, coherence of his arguments and reasonableness of his conclusions. In regard to those issues about which I disagree with Stott I acknowledge the strength of his position. I find that I must seriously consider what he has presented.
Selectively quoting from New Issues Facing Christians Today, like quoting from any great book, can be unhelpful because I could give the reader the impression that those citations encompass the best sections of the book. Stott’s work demonstrates the years of careful writing and revising that went into this current edition. (Note: John Stott passed on to be with our Lord in 2011.) My aim in citing several paragraphs here is to wet the readers appetite to get this book and make a careful study of themselves.
First, in regard to environmental concerns, in the chapter entitled “Our Human Environment,” Stott draws this general conclusion:
“Anxious public debate continues, not least among Christians, about the application of these biblical principles to such practices as vivisection, intensive farming, the shipping and slaughter of animals for food, their domestication for work and play and the keeping of pets. Christians should protest against all perceived cruelty to animals, and campaign for their humane treatment in all circumstances, asking ourselves whether each practice is consonant with their value (as God’s creatures) and our responsibility (as God’s stewards).”[i]
Second, in regard to continuing urgency of people around the world for working to establish just treatment of all people, Stott notes in the chapter entitled “Human Rights”:
“Christians are called to provide that moral compass [to ground calls for human rights in climate where the secular philosophy of moral relativism, multi-culturalism, and radical pluralism now dominate]. The nature of human rights depends on the nature of the human beings whose rights they are. Fundamental, therefore, to human rights is the question of what it means to be human. Since the Bible focuses on the divine purpose for human beings, it has much to say on this topic. Three words seem to summarize it—‘dignity’, ‘equality’ and ‘responsibility’.”[ii]
Third, in the chapter entitled, “Abortion and Euthanasia,” in regard to the continuing debate over abortion and legal restrictions on it Stott states:
“We also need to repent of our tendency to selective campaigning [for legal restrictions]. We lack integrity if we fight for the life of the unborn and care little for the life of the born—for example, of abused or neglected children, battered and abandoned mothers, slum dwellers or refugees. Christians are committed to human life, both to defending its sanctity and to promoting its quality. . . . To agitate for it [tighter legal abortion policies] without being prepared to bear its costs would be sheer hypocrisy. We must not occasion an increase of illegal ‘back-street’ abortions. Instead, we shall want to help the pregnant woman to overcome any reluctance she feels to have her baby, and see that she is given every possible personal, medical, social, and financial support.”[iii]
Finally, in the chapter entitled, “Same-sex Partnerships?” Stott writes this:
“The secular world says: ‘Sex is essential to human fulfilment. To expect homosexual people to abstain from homosexual practice is to condemn them to frustration and to drive them to neurosis, despair and even suicide. It‘s outrageous to ask them to deny themselves what to them is a normal and natural mode of sexual expression.’ . . . But no, the teaching of the Word of God is different. Sexual experience is not essential to human fulfilment. To be sure, it is a good gift of God. But it is not given to all, and it is not indispensable to humanness. People were saying in Paul’s day that it was. Their slogan was, ‘Food for the stomach and the stomach for food; sex for the body and the body for sex’ (1 Corinthians 6:13). But this is a lie of the devil. Jesus Christ was single, yet perfect in his humanity. So God’s commands are good and not grievous. The yoke of Christ brings rest, not turmoil; conflict comes only to those who resist it.”[iv]
This last quote become even more meaningful and even takes on the character of a testimony when we remember that John Stott chose celibacy over marriage and lived a long and enormously influential life. This book reflects his maturity as a Christian theologian and pastor as well as his convictions. These quotes are just a sampling of the thoughtful and thought-provoking writing as one follows Stott in his grappling with contemporary issues. I commend this book to everyone for reading, study and reflection—whether you find that you agree with Stott or not. This volume has become an indispensable resource for me.
[i] New Issues Facing Christians Today (Zondervan:1999), p.137.
[ii] New Issues Facing Christians Today, pp.172-173.
[iii] New Issues, p.374.
[iv] New Issues, p.411.