Sunday, July 31, 2011

quotes from john stott

"God’s Word is designed to make us Christians, not scientists, and to lead us to eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ. It was not God’s intention to reveal in Scripture what human beings could discover by their own investigations and experiments."  (From Christian Basics)

"The incentive to peacemaking is love, but it degenerates into appeasement whenever justice is ignored. To forgive and to ask for forgiveness are both costly exercises. All authentic Christian peacemaking exhibits the love and justice—and so the pain—of the cross."  (From The Cross of Christ)

“The meaning of atonement is not to be found in our penitence evoked by the sight of Calvary, but rather in what God did when in Christ on the cross He took our place and bore our sin.”  (From The Cross of Christ)

“In our vision of ultimate reality, who is occupying the throne today? Are we authentic New Testament Christians, whose vision is filled with Christ crucified, risen and reigning? Is guilt still reigning, and death? Or is grace reigning, and life?  To be sure, sin and Satan may seem to be reigning still, since many continue to bow down to them. But their reign is an illusion, a bluff. For at the cross they were decisively defeated, dethroned and disarmed.  Now Christ reigns, exalted to the Father’s right hand, with all things under his feet, welcoming the nations, and waiting for his remaining enemies to be made his footstool.”  (From The Message of Romans)

“No theology is genuinely Christian which does not arise from and focus on the cross.”  (The Cross of Christ)

“All inadequate doctrines of the atonement are due to inadequate doctrines of God and man. If we bring God down to our level and raise ourselves to his, then of course we see no need for a radical salvation, let alone for a radical atonement to secure it. When, on the other hand, we have glimpsed the blinding glory of the holiness of God, and have been so convicted of our sin by the Holy Spirit that we tremble before God and acknowledge what we are, namely ‘hell-deserving sinners’, then and only then does the necessity of the cross appear so obvious that we are astonished we never saw it before.”  (The Cross of Christ)

“It is the cross that gives God his credibility. The only God I believe in is the one Nietzsche (the nineteenth-century German philosopher) ridiculed as ‘God on the cross.’ In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it?  In the course of my travels I have entered a number of Buddhist temples in different Asian countries. I have stood respectfully before a statue of the Buddha, his legs crossed, arms folded, eyes closed, the ghost of a smile playing around his mouth, serene and silent, a remote look on his face, detached from the agonies of the world. But each time, after a while, I have had to turn away. And in my imagination I have turned instead to that lonely, twisted, tortured figure on the cross, nails through hands and feet, back lacerated, limbs wrenched, brow bleeding from thorn pricks, mouth dry and intolerably thirsty, plunged in God-forsaken darkness.  The crucified one is the God for me! He laid aside his immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us, dying in our place in order that we might be forgiven. Our sufferings become more manageable in light of his. There is still a question mark against human suffering, but over it we boldly stamp another mark, the cross, which symbolizes divine suffering.”  (From Why I Am a Christian)

“The concept of substitution may be said . . . to lie at the heart of both sin and salvation. For the essence of sin is man substituting himself for God, while the essence of salvation is God substituting himself for man. Man asserts himself against God and puts himself where only God deserves to be; God sacrifices himself for man and puts himself where only man deserves to be. Man claims prerogatives which belong to God alone; God accept penalties which belong to man alone.”  (The Cross of Christ)

"The Christian life is not just our own private affair. If we have been born again into God’s family, not only has he become our Father but every other Christian believer in the world, whatever his nation or denomination, has become our brother or sister in Christ. … But it is no good supposing that membership of the universal Church of Christ is enough; we must belong to some local branch of it. … Every Christian’s place is in a local church. … sharing in its worship, its fellowship, and its witness."  (From Basic Christianity)

"If you find it hard to believe in God, I strongly advise you to begin your search not with philosophical questions about the existence and being of God, but with Jesus of Nazareth. … If you read again the story of Jesus, and read it as an honest and humble seeker, Jesus Christ is able to reveal himself to you, and thus make God. … real to you."  (From I Believe in God)

"Social responsibility becomes an aspect not of Christian mission only, but also of Christian conversion. It is impossible to be truly converted to God without being thereby converted to our neighbor."  (From Christian Mission in the Modern World)

"Sin and the child of God are incompatible. They may occasionally meet; they cannot live together in harmony."  (From The Letters of John)

“Faith is a reasoning trust, a trust which reckons thoughtfully and confidently upon the trustworthiness of God.”  (From Your Mind Matters)

“God condemned sin in Christ, so that holiness might appear in us.”  (From Men Made New)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

John R. W. Stott, 1921--2011

John Stott died today at age 90.  His writings have impacted me from my first year as a believer.  His Basic Christianity helped put the gospel together for me.  And The Cross of Christ (IVP) is a classic work, and will be for many years.

Here is his obituary:

John Stott, the British preacher, author and evangelist, died in Lingfield, Surrey, England, on 27th July 2011. He passed away peacefully at 3.15pm UK time.  Close friends and family were with him during the morning.

John Stott shaped much of the course of evangelicalism in the 20th century through his writing and preaching, and in 2005, TIME magazine placed him among the world’s ‘100 most influential people’. He was chief architect of The Lausanne Covenant (1974) and remained Honorary Chairman of The Lausanne Movement until he died.

The work of Langham Partnership International (LPI, or John Stott Ministries in the USA) is perhaps his major legacy to the world Church. This strategic threefold initiative, now under the direction of Christopher J H Wright, works to strengthen the Church in the Majority World by (i) training preachers, (ii) funding doctoral scholarships for the most able theological thinkers so they will be equipped to teach in their country’s seminaries, and (iii) providing basic libraries at low-cost for pastors. John Stott’s own considerable royalties were all ‘recycled’ into the production and distribution of theological books for the global south.

Stott’s father, Sir Arnold Stott, a Harley Street cardiologist, hoped his son would enter the diplomatic service, and his eirenic spirit and Cambridge double first in modern languages would have equipped him well for this. But while at Rugby School aged 17, his future plans changed. A friend invited him to the Christian Union where he listened intently to the visiting speaker, E J H Nash. Seeing his potential, Nash (more commonly known as ‘Bash’) drew him into leadership of boys’ public school camps. Bash’s discipleship training, alongside the vibrant life of the Cambridge Inter-Collegiate Christian Union (CICCU), established John Stott in his faith.

John Stott has been described as ‘a renaissance man with a reformation theology’. He had remarkable intellectual reach, and always worked to bring his mind under the scrutiny of the Bible.  John Stott loved Scripture and for over 50 years he read the whole Bible through annually, using Robert Murray McCheyne’s reading plan. Martyn Lloyd-Jones had introduced him to it in the early 1950s and he valued the way it began with the ‘four great beginnings’ of Genesis, Ezra, Matthew and Acts, and opened out Scripture’s ‘grand themes’. It became a pattern to rise at 5.00am daily to read and pray, and to listen to the world service.

Stott summed up his priorities as ‘students and pastors’. He saw the critical nature of the university, and was an energetic Vice-President of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES). While Billy Graham, a long-time friend, was drawing tens of thousands to football stadia, Stott’s mission field was the university campus. Numbers were smaller, but the strategic influence for the gospel could not have been greater. He conducted week-long evangelistic missions for IFES national movements in many of the world’s universities, drawing even the most cynical students into the pages of the New Testament to read for themselves of the historic Christ. His warm yet serious style, and sheer conviction of Scripture’s authority, brought students back night after night.

Through his work with students, ‘Uncle John’ as he was known,  met many of the sharpest up-and-coming Christian thinkers worldwide while they were still at university, and he kept in contact with them as they graduated. He wanted to apply biblical truth to all areas of thought and progress, and would invite sharp thinkers at the new frontiers of science and technology to help him do so.

In 1950, while only 29, he was appointed rector of All Souls Church, Langham Place in London’s West End. He had grown up through its Sunday School and served here as a curate. His gifts in expository preaching were to become widely celebrated, but he sensed the unchurched in his inner-city parish needed more. A new initiative was called for. In 1958 he took the bold step of founding the All Souls Clubhouse, a venture in youth and community work twenty years ahead of its time.

As invitations to travel increased, he was in 1975 given the title Rector Emeritus, and released by the church to serve globally, and to write. John Stott then moved from the rectory into a small mews flat built for him above the rectory’s adjoining garage. He remained in this modest one-bedroomed home until a fall constrained him to leave it.

Much of his substantial writing – over 50 books translated into 65 languages – was completed at ‘The Hookses’, a remote cottage on the Welsh coast which he purchased in 1954, in a state of dereliction. For most of his lifetime it had no mains electricity. Over the years, it was developed by working parties to host study groups, and has been left in trust to The Langham Partnership. John Stott’s books included the million-selling Basic Christianity (1958), Christ the Controversialist (1970) Issues facing Christians Today (1984) and the one he always considered his best: The Cross of Christ (1986) which he dedicated to his secretary, Frances Whitehead, who worked with him for more than 55 years.

Later books included The Birds our Teachers (1999) for which he took almost all the photographs himself. He had been encouraged by his father from childhood to ‘open his eyes and ears and shut his mouth’ as he observed the natural world, and as a self-taught ornithologist saw some 2,500 of the world’s 9,000 bird species. A companion volume, People my Teachers (2002) reflected his teachable spirit and his desire to learn from others.

John Stott pioneered several influential movements. Among them was the National Evangelical Anglican Congress (NEAC) which first met in Keele University in 1967 to bring a unified evangelical voice from the church. He also founded the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity (1982), of which the sociologist and broadcaster Elaine Storkey later became Director, succeeded by Mark Greene. His initiatives in drawing together groups of thinkers led to several other ventures; The Frontier Youth Trust and Tearfund are two examples.

Stott served as Chaplain to the Queen from 1959 and then as Extra Chaplain. He was awarded four honorary doctorates in Britain and America including a Lambeth DD, and his life and work became the subject of several doctoral theses in his lifetime. He was made a Commander of the British Empire in the Queen’s 2006 New Year Honours list.

The life of this urbane and gracious visionary and strategist who loved the natural world and who determined to express the eternal truth of the Christian gospel to the well-educated, the less privileged and the dropouts alike, will doubtless attract much further attention as future history slowly unveils the extent of his quite extraordinary influence.

Thanksgiving and memorial services are being planned around the world.  For details see

Friday, July 22, 2011

a father's gift

And you, Solomon my son, know the God of your father and serve him with a whole heart and with a willing mind, for the LORD searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought.  (1 Chronicles 28:9 ESV)

In studying 1 Chronicles 28 and David's passing the leadership baton to his son Solomon, I remembered a poem that means a lot to me.  I edited the original slightly and printed it out to give to my sons at Christmas in 1997.  Unlike David I do not have a lot of material wealth to pass on to my children, but I do have a spiritual heritage.

The original author was Merrill C. Tenney (1904-1985), a Professor of New Testament and Dean of the Graduate School at Wheaton College.  He wrote this for his two sons.

A Father’s Gift

To you, O son of mine, I cannot give
A vast estate of wide and fertile lands;
But I can keep for you, long as I live,
Unstained hands.

I have no coat of arms that insures
Your path to eminence and worldly fame;
But longer than empty heraldry endures
A blameless name.

I have no treasure chest of gold refined
No horded cache of glittering wealth;
I give to you my hand, and heart, and mind –
All of myself.

I can exert no mighty influence
To make a place for you in men’s affairs;
But lift to God in secret audience
Unceasing prayers.

I cannot, though I would, be always near
To guard your steps with the parental rod;
I trust your soul to Him who holds you dear,
Your father’s God. 

Monday, July 18, 2011

on a lighter note: fountain pen of the month

I've decided my favorite fountain pen this month -- great for journaling or whatever -- is this 1949 black Sheaffer Valiant with a smooth Fine Triumph nib, with gold trim.  

This is the so-called 'fat' version Valiant before Sheaffer began making the TM (thin model) the following year, in 1950.  It has the Touchdown filling system.

The Triumph is a wrap-around, conical nib, and the name was given during the early WW2 years.  Most, like this one, write very smoothly.

Here's David Nishimura on the Touchdown models, and Richard Binder on the Triumph nib.

more than humanitarian

Machen shows that, contra liberalism, Jesus is more than an exalted human example to us. He is a supernatural Person who is the object of faith. It is not an either-or.  He is both object of faith and example of faith, but because of his identity and work as God's Son, he is first the One in whom we trust.

But Jesus is an example to us, as well.  Machen notes that this is not just in humanitarian concerns, like healing the sick, but also in his relationship to God his Father:

Jesus is an example, moreover, not merely for the relations of man to man but also for the relation of man to God; imitation of Him may extend and must extend to the sphere of religion as well as to that of ethics. Indeed religion and ethics in Him were never separated; no single element in His life can be understood without reference to His heavenly Father. Jesus was the most religious man who ever lived; He did nothing and said nothing and thought nothing without the thought of God. If His example means anything at all it means that a human life without the conscious presence of God--even though it be a life of humanitarian service outwardly like the ministry of Jesus--is a monstrous perversion. If we would follow truly in Jesus' steps, we must obey the first commandment as well as the second that is like unto it; we must love the Lord our God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength.   (J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism

Friday, July 15, 2011

thinking about thinking

It is impossible to know and love God without thinking.  He has revealed himself not only in his Son, but also by the many words of Scripture.  There is content, and much to learn about God.  We cannot love him without knowing about him.  

But thinking is not the end in itself, it is the means.  Here's John Piper on the role and place of thought in loving God...
"I will suggest that loving God with the mind means that our thinking is wholly engaged to do all it can to awaken and express the heartfelt fullness of treasuring God above all things. Treasuring God is the essence of loving him, and the mind serves this love by comprehending (imperfectly and partially, but truly) the truth and beauty and worth of the Treasure.

"The upshot is that the task of all Christian scholarship—not just biblical studies—is to study reality as a manifestation of God’s glory, to speak and write about it with accuracy, and to savor the beauty of God in it, and to make it serve the good of man.

"In summary then, all branches of learning—and this book about thinking—exist ultimately for the purposes of knowing God, loving God, and loving man through Jesus Christ. And since loving man means ultimately helping him see and savor God in Christ forever, it is profoundly right to say all thinking, all learning, all education, and all research is for the sake of knowing God, loving God, and showing God. 'For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen' (Rom. 11:36)."

(John Piper, Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God)

Monday, July 11, 2011

christianity and liberalism

I'm reading again Christianity and Liberalism by J. Gresham Machen (1881-1937).  This is a classic work written in the early decades of the last century.  He shows how the liberalizing movements of his day were presenting not a modified Christianity but an outright denial of the gospel.  

In the process he gives a very clear delineation of the essence of biblical Christianity.  For example on the topic of sound doctrine he says,

"Christianity is based, then, upon an account of something that happened, and the Christian worker is primarily a witness. But if so, it is rather important that the Christian worker should tell the truth. When a man takes his seat upon the witness stand, it makes little difference what the cut of his coat is, or whether his sentences are nicely turned. The important thing is that he tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. If we are to be truly Christians, then, it does make a vast difference what our teachings are..."

(J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism, p 35-36)

This book is very relevant for today, especially in the face of those evangelicals who, along with some proponents of the emergent church, have come to embrace much of what early liberalism was putting forth.

This book is available here as a pdf, and here in Kindle format (free).   

marching as to war

“In Christ’s kingdom there can be no conscientious objectors. In Christ’s church, there is no inactive duty. To be a disciple is to be a soldier of the cross… The term of enlistment is a lifetime, beginning with conversion, ending with the discharge papers or transfer to the church triumphant in heavenly rest, where we are eager to hear the words, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’”

--Stanley Gale, author of Warfare Witness: Contending with Spiritual Opposition in Everyday Evangelism, as quoted by Tim Challies in "Marching As To War"

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

reconciliation: honor answering honor

I stood at this site and relived a powerful moment in the healing of a nation.  General Robert E. Lee chose to surrender to the Union Army at Appomattox Courthouse in April 1865. At this site, on the road outside Appomattox, the following occurred.  The text is from the historical marker there: 

On April 12, 1865, Union Brig. Gen. Joshua Chamberlain watched the distant ridge as the Confederates prepared for the surrender. They formed into column, marched into the valley, then up the Richmond-Lynchburg Stage Road toward the village. As the column approached this knoll, Chamberlain ordered his men to honor them. The Federals snapped to “carry arms” – the “marching salute.”

A surprised Maj. Gen. John B. Gordon instantly ordered his men to return the salute. Until now, the drama at Appomattox had been played out by major figures. But here was a profound expression of respect by the armies’ common soldiers. They, more than anyone else, would blaze the path to reconciliation in the years that followed.

Not only was this a moving way to begin reconciliation, but the characters involved were remarkable.

General Grant gave very generous terms of surrender, and would not allow the Union soldiers to cheer their victory.  General Lee's efforts at reconciliation are recorded so well in Charles Bracelen Flood's book, Lee: The Last Years

But the two players on the stage road deserve special mention:

Joshua Chamberlain, an exemplary Christian and college professor (fluent in nine languages in addition to English: Greek, Latin, Spanish, German, French, Italian, Arabic, Hebrew, and Syriac), had distinguished himself in defending Little Round Top at Gettysburg.  After the war he served as Governor of Maine, and later as president of Bowdoin College.  In his early years as a student at Bowdoin he came under the influence of a spiritual awakening among the students there.  (See Chamberlains' early letters on the Bowdoin College site.) 

John Brown Gordon likewise was an outstanding soldier and Christian.  He had been present, and wrote about, the revival among the troops in the winter of 1863/64 on the Rapidan River (at the base of Clark's Mountain in Orange County, while the Federal troops were camped in Culpeper County).  Read about this in chapter 16 of his Reminiscences of the Civil WarAfter the war he, too, had a political career, serving as a senator from Georgia.

Lee, Grant, Chamberlain, and Gordon all exemplified the beauty of reconciliation, or in Chamberlain's terms, "honor answering honor".  

Below, Chamberlain (left) and Gordon.

Postscript.  Here is how Chamberlain retold the event in later years:

The momentous meaning of this occasion impressed me deeply. I resolved to mark it by some token of recognition, which could be no other than a salute of arms. Well aware of the responsibility assumed, and of the criticisms that would follow, as the sequel proved, nothing of that kind could move me in the least. The act could be defended, if needful, by the suggestion that such a salute was not to the cause for which the flag of the Confederacy stood, but to its going down before the flag of the Union. My main reason, however, was one for which I sought no authority nor asked forgiveness. Before us in proud humiliation stood the embodiment of manhood: men whom neither toils and sufferings, nor the fact of death, nor disaster, nor hopelessness could bend from their resolve; standing before us now, thin, worn, and famished, but erect, and with eyes looking level into ours, waking memories that bound us together as no other bond;—was not such manhood to be welcomed back into a Union so tested and assured? Instructions had been given; and when the head of each division column comes opposite our group, our bugle sounds the signal and instantly our whole line from right to left, regiment by regiment in succession, gives the soldier's salutation, from the "order arms" to the old "carry"—the marching salute. Gordon at the head of the column, riding with heavy spirit and downcast face, catches the sound of shifting arms, looks up, and, taking the meaning, wheels superbly, making with himself and his horse one uplifted figure, with profound salutation as he drops the point of his sword to the boot toe; then facing to his own command, gives word for his successive brigades to pass us with the same position of the manual,—honor answering honor. On our part not a sound of trumpet more, nor roll of drum; not a cheer, nor word nor whisper of vain-glorying, nor motion of man standing again at the order, but an awed stillness rather, and breath-holding, as if it were the passing of the dead!

    — Joshua L. Chamberlain, Passing of the Armies, pp. 260-61

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

best way to receive divine guidance

Great quote from Alistair Begg, transcribed and sent to me by my friend, Harry Kriz, on divine guidance...

"In the Scriptures, God was and is speaking to us. He was speaking, and he is speaking. If you want to listen to God, open your Bible.  The safest way to hear God speak is to read your Bible. And beware of every other notion about how you're going to hear from God. The mystical ideas that have come out of the dark centuries, understandably so, when they didn't have a Bible to guard them and to keep them they came up with all kinds of notions. The trivial ideas of contemporary modern writing which seem to suggest that somehow or other we can hear from God absent what he has said in his word. Again Luther helps us: 'What more can He say than to you He has said, to you who to Jesus for refuge have fled.'  I warrant you that some of the craziest people you will ever meet are the people who have decided that the Bible is insufficient for them when it comes to hearing from God. And some of the bypath meadows of contemporary evangelicalism are directly related to a willingness to listen to books, no matter how influential the author may be, which suggests that the answer to your quest is to be found over here in a corner somewhere listening for something. Finding out where God is going, finding out what God is doing. My dear friends, if you want to know where he's going and what he's doing, read your Bibles."
-- Alistair Begg, "Why Bother With the Bible?"


Sunday, July 3, 2011

biography suggestions

Here's a list, in no special order, of some good biographies to read:

Surprised by Joy, C. S. Lewis

The Swans are not Silent (series), by John Piper

Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther, by Roland Bainton.

Faithful Women and Their Extraordinary God, Noel Piper

A Chance to Die: The Life and Legacy of Amy Carmichael, by Elisabeth Elliot

Through Gates of Splendor, Elisabeth Elliot

Hudson Taylor's Spiritual Secret, by Dr. and Mrs. Howard Taylor and George Verwer

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, by Eric Metaxas

Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery, by Eric Metaxas.

Augustine of Hippo: A Biography, by Peter Brown.

Francis Schaeffer, An Authentic Life, by Colin Duriez.

Lee: The Last Years, by Charles Bracelen Flood

Robert E. Lee on Leadership: Executive Lessons in Character, Courage, and Vision, by H. W. Crocker

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: the First Forty Years (Vol. 1), and The Fight of Faith (Vol. 2), by Iain Murray.

Jonathan Edwards: A Life, by George M. Marsden

The latter two entries are more in-depth, and have been personal favorites of mine.