Basic Christianity by John R. W. Stott

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Basic Christianity Summary

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

John Robert Walmsley Stott was born to Sir Arnold and Emily Stott on April 27, 1921. He was educated at Rugby School and Trinity College, Cambridge. At Cambridge, he earned a double first (an extraordinary honor) in French and theology. While a student at Rugby, he had undergone a conversion experience because of the preaching of Eric Nash and determined to devote his life to the Gospel. He was ordained in the Church of England in 1945 and went on to become curate at the Church of All Souls, Langham Place, London, from 1945 to 1950, then rector there from 1950 to 1975, and then rector emeritus beginning in 1975. He was appointed a chaplain to Queen Elizabeth II (1959-1991). One of his major involvements in Christian action was through the 1974 International Congress on World Evangelization held at Lausanne, Switzerland. Stott acted as chair of the drafting committee for the Lausanne Covenant, a significant milestone in the evangelical movement. As chair of the Lausanne Theology and Education Group from 1974 to 1981, he contributed greatly to the growing evangelical understanding of the relation between evangelism and social action. He has also been active in the Tear Fund, an evangelical British charity, for many years. He has written more than forty books, including Basic Christianity and The Cross of Christ (1986), and founded the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity in 1982. He never married. He was awarded the CBE in the New Year’s honors list, 2006.

Basic Christianity is exactly what its title suggests, an exposition of the central themes of Protestant Christianity. “Christianity is a rescue religion,” Stott declares midway through the book, but this is his theme in one form or another throughout. He begins with God’s central activity in creation. The Creation and God’s word given through the prophets and through Christ call for a response from humankind.

The proclamation of God’s word through Christ begins with what Stott calls Jesus’ “self-centered teaching.” He contrasts this to other great religious teachers. They proclaimed truth to be apart from themselves; Jesus called himself “the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6). His claims for himself were both direct and indirect, both spoken and dramatized. His feeding of the five thousand is an example of a dramatized claim.

Stott then turns to the issue of the character of Jesus as a person. He notes that Jesus believed himself to be in complete harmony with the will of God; that his followers, exemplified in the epistles of Peter and John, viewed him as without sin; and that even his enemies were reduced to petty legalisms to find fault with him. The perfection of his character is clear from both his self-observations as preserved in the Gospels and those made by his contemporaries.

From this, the examination turns to the Resurrection. Stott has four observations here: First, the body of Jesus was gone; second, the burial garments were undisturbed (Stott’s emphasis on this is forensic); third, there are various accounts of his having been seen and spoken to after his death; and fourth, serious changes in personality and behavior could be observed in Jesus’ followers. From these Stott concludes the veracity of the Resurrection.

Stott now turns back to the death of Christ and its meaning. He calls this section “Man’s Need” and begins with a subheading, “The Fact and Nature of Sin.” Sin, Stott notes, is an unpopular subject. People prefer not to hear about it, but it is ever present. There would be no need for door locks were it not for sin, but locks are a universal of human experience, and thus it can be seen that sin is universal as well. Stott spends some time on the Ten Commandments, examining the far reaches of their implications. Stott’s interpretation of the commandment against theft is illustrative: “What the world calls ’scrounging’ God calls stealing. To overwork and underpay one’s staff is to break this...

(The entire section is 1,015 words.)