Summary: A book of basic discipleship. Not apologetics or evangelism as much as teaching.
As I get older (alway a bad way to start out a review), I am continually struck by how important good discipleship is to Christianity. And how little emphasis is put into discipling young believers not only among Evangelicals, but also among many streams of Christianity.
Basic Christianity is mostly a book of discipleship. Because it was originally written in 1958, it is a little dated and I think Stott’s later Radical Disciple written 50 years later shows how he changed his approach over time. The structure is in four parts, the person of Jesus (and some confirmation of Jesus’ historical reality and divine nature), our need for God, how Christ’s work changes us, and then how we should respond to God. The structure is straightforward and clear, although dated.
I have read a number of John Stott’s books. But as I have become more theologically aware of the differences between different streams of Christianity, I can start recognizing areas where Stott’s Anglican theology comes through in ways I would not have noticed earlier.
One example is Stott’s description of three hindrances that people put up to Christianity, Intellectual, Moral and Personal Pride. And I think Stott (writing in 1958) was right that for many people it is not the intellectual problem as much as it is a moral objection, that we cover up with intellectual objections. He tells a story of a young university grad that recently moved to London. He said he stopped coming to church because he could no longer say the Creed without sounding like a hypocrite to himself (Personal Pride) and had a number of intellectual objections to Christianity. Stott rightly discerned that the intellectual issues were secondary. He asked, ‘If I were able to completely answer all your intellectual questions to your satisfaction, would you be willing to change your moral behavior?’
Stott was without question an Evangelical, but he was an Anglican Evangelical. And as such his understanding on the human role in salvation (not doing anything to be saved, but having a responsibility to respond to God to accept his salvation) comes through clearly in Basic Christianity.
I think Stott is also writing in culture where the Church of England still held some sway, albeit waining influence. The structure makes sense if you assume that most readers, whether they thought of themselves as Christian or not, would have had basic theological education. So Stott assumes basic knowledge, but also assumes that they have been poorly taught and need re-teaching. Then at the end of the book, there is a basic presentation of the gospel and steps to Christian Growth.
A modern book would probably do the opposite. Give the basic gospel presentation and talk about the theological issues while mixing in the steps toward spiritual growth (if including them at all.)
There is nothing that was fundamentally new here. And as a well educated Christian, I could have skipped the book. But there is some value in reading older book that present things differently. It was also interesting to think about the fact that even though Stott and Lewis were of different generations, Basic Christianity was written only 6 years after the Mere Christianity. They had different audiences, but still they were written close together and broadly trying to accomplish much the same thing.
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