Friday, August 05, 2011

Assessing Christian Taxonomy Thru the Lens of a Life Well Lived

CT's Mark Galli offers what is for us both the best appreciation of the late John Stott and the best assessment of evangelicalism's sense of frustration over the excesses of its fringe family members. Galli shows Stott as a sample of the best of evangelicalism, suggesting that when one compares subgroups of Christianity--Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, emergent/emerging--one ought to compare the best to the best, not the worst to the ideal.

Some quotes:

So for a few decades now, we've witnessed many evangelicals grow weary of arm wrestling about dispensationalism or egalitarianism or annihilationism or atonement or a host of other issues. They look longingly to Rome and that glorious magisterium, where supposedly one fiat ends all debate.
Or we compare our trivial services that pass for worship and become infatuated with the bells and smells of Orthodoxy.
Or we grow tired of rationalism and all things modern, so drift into emergent and postmodern Christianity.
Or we are frustrated with privatistic pietism and long for a faith that engages the world on its own terms.
. . .
What many don't see is that every Christian movement and tradition—Catholic, Orthodox, emergent, liberal, and so forth—has their crazy uncles (Episcopal Jack Spong), scandalous behavior (priestly abuses), and boorish attitudes (Orthodox ethnocentrism). It's called sin, and no movement escapes it. 
. . .
One could hardly do better than by first rereading the works of John Stott, and reflecting on his life.
Why? Because Stott articulated a biblical faith in ways that are true and faithful to the text of the Bible. No postmodern experiments with deconstructing. No theological flights of fancy. No sermons that overwhelmed the biblical narrative with his own cute stories. No pandering after the crowds. No studied attempt to be authentic, no pacing up and down the stage, no working the crowd for a laugh. Just simple and clear exegesis, with the appropriate illustration or classic quote.
Why? Because he lived a life that was true and faithful to the Bible. He spoke with conviction and humility. He worked hard but did not burn out. He played hard—if you call his fascination with bird-watching play—but was never tempted to let leisure define his lifestyle. He listened to his critics without being cowed by them. He wore his fame lightly, and used it not to promote himself or the sale of his books, but to further the ministries he had given himself to. He continued to grow and learn his whole life, expanding God's calling on his life until his last breath. He put love into action, bringing into near perfect biblical balance the call for evangelism and social justice.
Why? Because he preached and lived a life that was an apology for the oldest and strongest pillars of evangelicalism: the complete trustworthiness and authority of Scripture; the primacy of the substitutionary atonement of Christ; Jesus as Savior and Lord; and a life of activism, characterized by both evangelism and social justice.


JB in CA said...

I agree. Calli's article is excellent. It's worth noting, however, that Stott himself was a fringe family member. His belief in annihilationism was generally considered heretical.

I think the most interesting point Calli makes is this:

But when we at the office discover that some group is ministering to the poor in a garbage dump in Cairo, or rescuing girls from sexual slavery in Thailand, or sharing the gospel with Muslims in a country where conversion is a capital crime, or languishing in a prison for simply practicing their faith under a totalitarian regime, well, we usually discover that they are either Catholics or evangelicals.

One has to wonder why so many evangelicals defect to Eastern Orthodoxy rather than Catholicism if social justice is such an important part of their heritage. I suppose we could say that it's because they wish to avoid the Pope, but I can't help think that it has more to do with Orthodoxy's almost obsessive emphasis on religious experience, which, of course, is one of the standard criticisms of evangelicalism. To his credit, Stott served as a major corrective to that tendency among evangelicals.

Jon A. Alfred E. Michael J. Wile E. SWNID said...

Stott managed to articulate annihilationism in a way that didn't annoy as many people as others have with the same or lesser matters, which is again testimony to his skilz and integrity.

We entirely agree with your assessment of the Road to Byzantium.