ePUB2 Basic Christianity ePUB2

by John R.W. Stott

The mission : to find a book explaining Christian belief which makes the least bit of sense.

First attempt : Mere Christianity by C S Lewis. I think we know how that one went.

Second attempt : Basic Christianity by John Stott


The foreword of this tells me there are few landmark books that everyone in the world should read – "this is one of the few". This is the 50 year anniversary edition of the book originally published in 1958 and "in the 21st century you cannot afford to ignore this book!" Okay, I'm not ignoring. I'm told this will explain the basic worldview of one third of humanity.

Chapter one is called The Right Approach but it has the wrong approach. Immediately the non-believer runs into fundamental problems with the vocabulary. The whole idea of God is assumed – God as eternal, God as good and for Christians, God as personal. The entire assertion "God sent his only-begotten son" needs to be explained piece by piece – God needs to be explained letter by letter – me and the Christians need to start way way way further back to have any chance of understanding each other – you can't assume I know what you mean when you say these words. But this book does. For instance :

The Bible reveals a God who, long before it even occurs to men and women to turn to him, while they are still lost in darkness and sunk in sin,takes the initiative, rises from his throne, lays aside his glory, and stoops to seek until he finds them.

That's on page 2. Not good! The thing about this stuff is that without careful explanation I have no idea what in the above quote is supposted to be literal and what is metaphorical. Rising from a throne and stooping – that's surely metaphorical. But "initiative" – that's supposed to be literal. Yes? I think so, but I get no assistance from John Stott. So this is for me terminally confused language.

Here's a bold assertion. John Stott says :

Our chief claim to nobility as human beings is that we were made in the image of God and are therefore capable of knowing him.

And I say : Sez you! I think our chief claim to nobility is that we are still able to create love and art and music in the middle of this charnelhouse planet and in the face of our knowledge of the tiny spoonful of life we are able to live here, andthat even in the middle of death, we live furiously and horribly and sadly and brilliantly, howling with laughter through the river of tears, and weeping at weddings and cheap pop songs.

Well something along those lines. You get my drift.

But let's try another chapter – The Fact and Nature of Sin, chapter 5. Now we run into another issue.John Stott is saying that Christianity is a project by God. He created humanity and gave us the free will to sin and guess what, we sin all day long, day in, day out. (Well, you know, quelle surprise. What did you expect, God?) Okay, you and me might say well, come on, John, I'm really too old to be sinning much these days, and he says no, even you goodreads reviewers are vile sinful wretches, because there is positive sin where you DO something which is wrong, like murder or invade a sovereign country or swindle millions, and it's reasonable for you to say that you haven't done any of those things lately, but then there's negative sin, which is where you haven't done something you should have done, and that's where we GETCHA!! Unless you're Mother Theresa you're just another dreadful selfish hideous squiggly mass of filthy sin in God's eyes. Yes, sorry, even you. You broke all the commandments before you cracked your four minute boiled egg this morning, yes you did don't you try to deny it you little creep I saw you.

Yes, there's a lot of this kind of thing in chapter five all right. John tut-tuts over us all :

We'd find it quite easy to consider ourselves good at high-jumping if the bar were never raised more than a few inches!

You see what he's saying ? Your standards of goodness are repulsively low.You might as well not have any. You worm. But hold on :

God is interested in the thought behind the deed, and the motive behind the action.

Actually, isn't that a bit hopeful? My motive for not ever washing my car is not laziness but environmentalism! All that wasted water! My motive for not joining the charity half-marathon in support of cancer research is also not laziness, it's to avoid being tempted into smugness and Pharisaic self-regard if I had done it!But actually John is more pitiless than me. He points out that

We may have attended church – but have we ever really worshipped God? We may have said our prayers – but have we really prayed?

Wow, this is Christianity as practised by the SS – come on now, Mr Bryant, your eyes were closed, you were in a church, but you weren't really praying – were you? Hmm? (Another twist of the thumb-screw, deacon).

John Stott is on much firmer ground when he talks about the collective action of humanity, but he only mentions this in asides. In 1958 the world was reeling from two world wars within forty years of each other, ending with the atom bombs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. If he was writing in 2008,he'd have been pointing out climate change and general environmental woes, not to mention the one billion people on the planet still suffering in abject poverty.So human waywardness and selfishness - sin, if you like - is real all right.So, okay, let's go with humanity's sin. God's project is to rescue us all from its consequences – great! That's gotta be good news! But he does it in a really wierd way. It's like a Playstation game with hidden levels. It's not the way I would have done it at all.

Stott hammers home that the way God reconciles us with him & frees us (individually, conditionally) from sin is via the sacrifice of Jesus, the Crucifixion. Then he takes a paragraph to say that he can't explain why Christ was crucified. Not really. "Much remains a mystery." But he'll have a go.

1) Christ died as an example. Stott says that Christ demonstrated total non-resistance, complete passivity in the face of authority. If non-Christians persecute you for your belief, do not resist.

To bear unjust suffering patiently brings God's approval... Perhaps nothing is more completely opposed to our natural instincts than this command not to resist. Yet the cross urges us to accept injury, love our enemies and leave the outcome to God.

Whoah. This is very radical stuff. Seriously? So it was unChristian to declare war against the Nazis? Let Hitler and every other Hitler do their genocide dance? Seriously? I really have a hard time deciding what is to be taken literally here.

2) Christ died as our sin-bearer.Now we get mystical. But the idea to begin with is crude. Back in the Old Testament, you sinned and you made a sacrifice. I suppose slaughtering a few sheep & goats was giving up valuable animals as a symbolic gift to God, it's a common thing throughout many religions.The idea of the scapegoat started here. As soon as Jesus appears, John the Baptist identifies him as a human sacrifice : "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world." So apparently, according to Stott who gets it all from St Paul, when Jesus was on the cross

The accumulated sins from the whole of human history were laid upon him… He made them his own. He took full reponsibility for them…. Our sins sent Christ to Hell. He tasted the agony of a soul alienated from God. Bearing our sins, he died our death. He endured instead of us the penalty of separation from God which our sins deserved.

So he had freed us all from the alienation from God which our sins should have brought upon us.

Reconciliation to God was available to all who would trust this Saviour for themselves and receive him as their own.

Ah, there's the catch. The unique sacrifice comes with strings, it is the genuine article but only if you're a Christian. Stott does not comment on the fate of the other two-thirds of humanity.

Stott then remarks : "This simple and wonderful account of sinbearing is strangely unpopular today." Perhaps because it's weird and incomprehensible. But he does not tell us what is the popular interpretation of the crucifixion. Which kind of leaves us dangling.

Stott winds up with an account of what it means to be a Christian, which reminds me of the old Byrds country song :

My buddies tell me that I should have waited
They say I'm missing a whole world of fun
But I still love them and I say with pride
I like the Christian life

I won't lose a friend by heeding God's call
For what is a friend who'd want you to fall
Others find pleasures in things I despise
I like the Christian life

Well, Basic Christianity is written without the paternalistic smugness of C S Lewis' Mere Christianity, but I really feel it might possibly have been a half-way decent account if a non-Christian had been along for the ride, interrogating John Stott a little more thoroughly than he interrogates himself. A little too mystical-twistical in the middle and far too Pol-pottish at the end.

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Book Title
Book Author
PublisherIVP Books
Release date 03.11.2006
Pages count179
eBook formatPaperback, (torrent)En
File size4 Mb
Book rating4.15 (5872 votes)
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