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Thursday, July 28, 2011

John Stott 1921-2011

For an excellent, outside view of this recently departed minister of the Gospel, see:

Browsing around the web, I have learned that John Stott, retired pastor of All Souls Parish in London, England, has gone to be with the Lord.

As a college student, I was active in the Inter-varsity Christian Fellowship chapter at my Midwestern Alma Mater, and it was there that I first encountered Mr. Stott's little book _Basic Christianity_, one of many volumes which he penned. Hence, in 1972, when I went to England to visit my sister, brother-in-law, nephew, and niece, I made it a point to take in a Sunday service at All Souls.

After emerging from the "chyube", I looked at street signs and maps, and probably looked like a typical, lost American tourist. But God sent two well-dressed Ugandan students who asked me where I was headed, and, when I explained my mission, they asked me to follow them to my destination. All Souls, a CofE parish, was probably the first heavily attended "Mainline" church I ever visited. Although clearly the crowd that Sunday was mostly local English people, there was a clear smattering of former colonials, like my guides, who had found there a church home away from home. On a summer Sunday, there was space only in the balcony for someone who arrived just a few minutes before the beginning of the service. I don't remember much of the service apart from the quiet dignity of "Low Church" Anglicanism, but the sermon has remained with me for almost forty years.

Mr. Stott preached on Gal 4:4-7. In clear, eloquent educated British English, he first noted the Trinitarian character of the passage. Having grown up among theological modernists and at that time new to Evangelicalism, I had heard very little doctrinal preaching before then; and after that one Sunday at All Souls, I was hooked. Mr. Stott expounded the Father's control of the flow of human history down to that "fulness of time" when Christ should come; the cooperation of the Trinity in our salvation; Christ's working salvation for us and granting us an "introduction to the Father" (a jolt, for among my new Evangelical friends, there was something of a "Unitarianism of the 2d Person" afoot); and the Spirit's application of divine grace to us, causing us once again to focus on the Father as we address hims as "Abba". How interesting that even when writing to a Gentile audience, the Apostle Paul should use his native Aramaic to express the fatherhood of God...

But that last sentence is myself. In he course of his ordinary pastoral duties, Mr. Stott showed this wet-behind-the-ears young American tourist the importance of the Trinity, how it is relevant to everything in the Christian walk, and began to make it understandable. Of course, there was not time on that one Sunday morning to review all that the Greek Fathers and Reformers had written on the subject, but never again could anyone tempt me to believe that the doctrine of God as three persons in one substance was not plainly taught in the pages of Scripture. This has informed my prayers and private worship, and when I seek a new fellowship after a move, I know what to look for.

Many of the tributes I have read this night were from people who knew Stott better than I ever could, and all noted that Stott was a humble, saintly, pious Christian prior to his being a powerful and thorough exegete and preacher. David Brooks, a secular Jew, opined that if we Evangelicals had a Pope, Stott would have been the man. Perhaps I cannot quite agree, but can understand why Brooks may have said such a thing.

Mr. Stott died at the age of ninety, after several years' retirement, "in good old age", as the Book says. But may God raise up more preachers like him.


  1. Hi Kepha, it's Traeh.

    So do you happen to know biblical texts that really require one to conceive God as omnipotent and omniscient? Not just immensely powerful or immensely knowing, but ALL-knowing, and in control of absolutely everything...

    Also, do you recall a part of the Bible where one of the patriarchs, I think it was, has a dialogue with God, and sort of reprimands/corrects God, maybe says to God something like, "why didn't you do x?" or "Why don't you do x?" And God accepts the reprimand/correction and changes something He had been doing? I could swear I heard a story like that when I was listening to the Bible on tape some years ago...

  2. Addendum. I would like to collect all such statements in the Bible that refer or might refer to omniscience and omnipotence...

  3. Traeh, good to hear from you.

    On the omnipotence of God:

    I am the Alpha and the Omega, saith the Lord God, who is and was and is to come, the Almighty (Rev. 1:8)

    Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come. (Rev. 4.8)

    But our God is in the heavens: He hath done whatsoever he pleased (Ps. 115:3)

    He doeth all according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say unto him, What doest thou? (Daniel 4:35)

    I know that thou canst do every thing, and that no thought of thine can be hindered. (Job 42:2)

    Ah Lord Jehovah! behold, thou hast made the heavens and the earth by thy great power and by thine outstretched arm; there is nothing too hard for thee. (Jeremiah 32:17)

    And Jesus looking upon them said to them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.

    For no word from God shall be void of power (Luke 1:37).

    So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it whall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.
    (Isaiah 55:11).

    And we know thaat all things work together for the good of them that love God, to them who are the called according to his [God's] purpose. (Rom. 8:28)

    For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; (Rom. 1:20)

    Some quotes are from the American Standard Version; some from the King James.

    Note the title "The Almighty" given to God in Scripture.

    The quote from Psalm 115 is in the context of a contrast between God and the idols of the nations.

    Note the quotes from the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah. These are in the context of visions about the rise and fall of nations, and the impending destruction of the kingdom of Judah. Whereas the march of history seems inexorable to most people, those who know God recognize that the events of history are under the direction of the same God who sent Jesus to die for our sins and bring us salvation. I admit that this is a tough one to accept, but it's there. Romans 8:28 is addressed to the infant church in Rome, which would soon face the horrors of the Neronian persecution; and even in that, God was at work for the good of his church.

    As for someone dialoguing with God over why God doesn't do such-and-such, I think you have in mind Genesis 18:22-33, where Abraham bargains with God over the judgment on Sodom,and gets God to agree to spare Sodom if he [God, that is] finds ten righteous men therein. This does not nullify the omnipotence of God, but underscores that the prayers and righteousness of God's people are among the means through which God works to accomplish his purposes.

    I myself was raised to think that the omnipotent God of "Calvinism" was a "monster". But after gaining a bit of familiarity with the Bible, I came to the horrifying conclusion that the God seen by so many of my elders and betters was, in fact, not God, but a bugaboo of their own proud imaginations.

    How does this differ from the God of Islam? Well, if Islam does indeed believe in a sovereign God, I can only say they got at least one thing right; but they still have a lot wrong, including a merely human Jesus; a merit/demerit system for their salvation; a supposed "revelation" that is not truly connected to the prior saving acts of God; no atonement for sins; no victory over death and Hell; and false witness against their neighbors. What we see in Islam's sacred texts is one true element [the unity and sovereignty of God] bundled in a tissue of falsehoods.

    I hope that this answer is helpful to you.

  4. Addendum:

    One further problem: for lots of people, God is only a man writ large. This was perhaps the key error of the otherwise wonderful and loveable people who bore, raised, and educated me.

    I suggest that if you really want to know the Christian God, start with "God writ in small human scale", namely Jesus Christ.

    Apart from the Bible, there's a very good little book, albeit rather old (1970's vintage_ entitled _Knowing God_ by J.I. Packer. But nothing substitutes for a prayerful and respectful reading of the Gospel of John and Paul's Epistle to the Romans.

  5. Traeh: Re the omniscience of God:

    Psalm 139--We cannot hide from God in either heaven, earth, or the farthest part of the sea; and to God even the thickest darkness is as light.

    I Jn. 3:20: God knows everything.

    Job 37:16: God is perfect in knowledge.

    Prv. 15:3: The eyes of the LORD are in every place.

    Mt. 10:29-30; Not a sparrow can fall without God's knowledge, and even the very hairs of our heads are numbered.

    Is. 46:9-10: I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done...

    Ps. 139:4: For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O LORD, thou knowest it altogether.

    I strikes me that the desire to avoid the omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience of God stems from the desire to affirm human freedom.

    But, how absolute can human freedom be? While I accept that we are born legally free (that is, not in bondage to another human), does any of us have the power to choose his parents? nation of birth? social status prior to adulthood? eye color? hair color? whether we are freckled or not? Can I, being an American of limited means, pay cash on the dollar for a Ferrari ordered directly from Italy? Do I have such freedom that I will be able to infinitely evade death, should the Lord tarry during my lifetime? Could any of us be completely free from the constraints of parents or guardians when children, or from society as adults?

    I believe that a far better safeguard for the dignity of the human person is that we are created after the image of God (Gen 1:27,9:6, Col. 3:10); not that human freedom is absolute.

    And, if God is limited in his knowledge, how could any of us trust him to know our needs, fulfill prophecy, or do any of the other things he promises in Scripture?

  6. Kepha, thank you for all those quotes!

    I will have to meditate on them.

    I'm pretty sure the biblical dialog I am thinking of was not to do with the judgment of Sodom. The dialog I have in mind was not about a judgment or anything so grave as the judgment of Sodom. But I still thank you for that.

    I do not deny the omnipresence of God. Nor do I claim that human freedom is absolute, far from it. We are partly free, partly unfree. We can become increasingly free beings, not by being able to indulge every whim, but by doing actions worthy of love and being thus able to genuinely love our own actions. Perhaps it was St. Augustine who said "Love, and do as you will." I understood that to mean, "So long as your actions are loving, you have a profound freedom to do anything you want."

    Any actions that are not loving are in one or another fashion enslaving, perhaps. Following our whims would appear to be an incredible freedom, but in reality it enslaves us to addictions and weakness. Only loving action -- which can include the quest for knowledge through science or philosophy, and the quest for beauty through art, or for that matter many other fields of human endeavor, as well as more direct ministering to others -- only loving action makes us increasingly free beings, gives us a chance to fully inherit the Kingdom of Heaven, to become Sons of God after Jesus, inheritors of a divine power, a growing divine freedom of initiative and of self-command that few people perhaps even begin to imagine, but that many at some point in their lives glimpse through a glass darkly.

    But I do not see how God can be omniscient, in the sense of literally knowing everything including every detail of the future, without that omniscience making a total sham of human freedom (I mean the partial and potentially growing freedom that human beings have). Isn't it the case that if God knows in advance the outcome of every human decision process, the human decision process is a sham, since every "decision" is in reality already determined in advance?

    Christ may be the unique son of God, and the hinge of all cosmic and earthly evolution, including the evolution of human consciousness. I do think that one can look at all of earthly and biological evolution as bound up with the Fall, and as culminating in the Incarnation. Yet revelation is not done, and neither is the evolution of consciousness done. We are more and more to understand and grow into maturity by learning better and better to understand Jesus Christ. This may lead us to heights of consciousness, freedom, and knowledge -- including science -- that few people today suspect.

    Thank you for being so helpful, Kephas, and for tolerating a confession which probably does not interest you in the least, except as an idiosyncratic and errant curiosity.

    I must become more knowledgeable about the Bible, among other things.

    -- Traeh

  7. Addendum. When I mention biological evolution being bound up with the Fall and the Incarnation, I am not conceiving biological evolution in the fashion of either the neo-Darwinists or the Intelligent Design folks. Those two options are not the only ones.

  8. Well, I cannot see how a non-omniscient God can be God. Further, we need to consider the greatness of our God. All of our scientific knowledge--something which I certainly do not despise--is doing nothing but working its way along the trough between two ridges of the fingerprint which God has left on His creation.

    Be assured, I'm not bored or bothered by this dialogue in the least.