For some readers of this blog, the name John Stott will be very familiar. For others, he may be someone vaguely on the radar. For still others, the name may well mean nothing.
Regardless, I think it is worth flagging up the ongoing relevance of this man of God’s superb writing and teaching – which continues to make believers think long after his promotion to glory back in 2011 – and his long-time publisher, IVP UK, has recently given me as good an excuse as any to do that. One of Stott’s best known works (perhaps his most popular, after the classic The Cross of Christ) is The Contemporary Christian. This long-ish book, first published in 1992 (when I was 2!) covered a wide range of topics and issues facing Christians today, in over 400 pages. It was regularly reprinted, and 2019 has seen a fresh approach to that.
If you read the still-live Amazon page for the original book, the summary explains this well:
The Contemporary Christian is John Stott’s definitive and passionate plea to the church. Before we attempt to teach or evangelise, he urges, we must listen to God’s Word and God’s world. Only then will we be able to communicate the authentic gospel effectively.John Stott himself models this ‘double listening’ as he tackles five key questions:
* Amid scepticism inside the church as well as outside, what is the authentic gospel?
* In a world torn by pain and need, what characterises the obedient disciple?
* Now that the Bible is often set aside as culturally irrelevant, how can we relate it with integrity to contemporary society?
* Given the church’s general lack of credibility, what is her calling and how can she fulfil it?
* In a pluralistic society and a hungry world, what is the church’s mission?
We now live in a world where people tend not to read as much, and certainly seem to read less books. If my blog’s experience is anything to go buy, people are much hungrier for short books that cover one thing concisely, rather than more magestiral books that attempt to cover everything. With some light updates and discussion questions written by Tim Chester, and approved by Stott’s literary executors, ‘The Contemporary Christian Series’ (literally five books made from one) is an interesting bit of publishing from IVP. Rather than make small books equal small ideas, this is instead the distillation of some astute and probing writing into a format that I hope more people will read. I was sent the series to review, and whilst I think there was a key missed opportunity in not differentiating the beginning and ends of the books more – indeed, the introduction and conclusion of the books seemed to me to be literally identical, with the core chapters being different – I think this is a helpful bit of publishing.
In The Gospel: A Life Changing Message Stott reminds us of the good news in ways that made my heart sing.
In The Disciple: Gods Word for Today Stott suggests beautifully what it means to follow Jesus in this oft-confusing ‘time between the times’.
In The Bible: A Book Like No Other Stott masterfully shows us why the Bible is both beautiful and confusing, divine and human, and utterly true and trustworthy.
In The Church: A Unique Gathering of People, Stott (With an Anglican but not overwhelmingly so slant!) paints a glorious picture of what God’s family on earth can look like, aware of issues, but with a hope rooted in Jesus.
In The World: A Mission to be Accomplished, Stott sketches out how to live as missionaries, and how to think about what that means.
These five little books stand alone, but also demonstrate the theological and biblical genius of the original. I’d warmly recommend them to you – and would recommend reading the reviews I’ve written to get a better feel for if they will be helpful for you. Put it this way – if you liked The Contemporary Christian, and wish the distinct chunks could have been separated out into attractively produced little books to give to fellow Christians without compromising on their content, then have I got good news for you…
Some readers may be concerned that being given a book/books for free to review means I won’t be critical. I’d suggest reading my review of Steve Chalke’s The Lost Message of Paul to put the lie to that.