Review: Christ the Controversialist

When John Stott died last year I vowed I would read some more of his books that I already own.  This is the first one I've finished, which indicates something about my reading ability!  Interestingly, it appears it's quite hard to get hold of today.  My version - published 1970 - is the same as the picture here, which is the same as the picture on Amazon!  So perhaps this one wasn't one of his most popular books.

However, let me say up front that I found this an exceptionally helpful book.  It is classic Stott: carefully grounded in the Bible, precisely written with an eye to culture and application.

The title tells us his focus in terms of Biblical material.  Stott takes us through the controversies or debates that we find Christ engaged in through the gospels.  However, Stott writes:
The aim of this book can be simply stated.  It is to argue that 'evangelical' Christianity is authentic Christianity, true, original and pure, and to demonstrate it from the teaching of Jesus Christ Himself. (p.13)
He proceeds with two essays, the first defending precise theological definition and the second a plea for evangelical Christianity.  The remainder of the chapters look at Jesus' controversies with the aim of showing, in effect, that evangelical Christianity is faithful to Jesus' teaching.  For example, chapter 1 engages with the Sadducees and their doubting of the supernatural linking them to modern scientific materialists and chapter 2 engages with the Pharisees and their traditions (esp. Mk. 7) linking in to Catholicism and so forth.  Stott does also address internal issues within evangelicalism - such as the debate with respect to evangelism and social involvement (his view on this continues to cause debate!).

Each chapter is precise, thought-provoking, Biblical, thoughtfully applied and worth reading.  My only concern, and perhaps this explains why it is no longer published, is who would now read it?  The level is probably a bit high for your average reader of Christian books (let alone your average Christian), although the keen, bright reader would certainly find it helpful.  It is also somewhat dated in terms of the culture it is addressing, even the church culture.  It would be useful for evangelical ordinands and younger ministers perhaps especially within a Church of England context, although it is important to see that the debates have progressed in the last 40 years.  It would be wonderful if non-evangelical readers would pick it up and read it, but I wonder it would perhaps be helped by some updating in that role.

With those thoughts in mind though, it is still an excellent reminder of how God used John Stott to contend for the faith in the last half of the 20th Century and of the great blessing his sharp and biblically focussed writing has been to the church.


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