“Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people” (Genesis 25:8).
Two UK deaths this week have been famous—the death of Amy Winehouse and that of John Stott. But what a contrast! Although both of them rose to fame through the use of their voices—one as a singer and the other as a preacher—one died young (at the age of 27) and the other died old and “full of years” (at the age of 90). They both experienced a meteoric rise to fame, but one soon came down like a comet while the other remained up there like a satellite. The death of Amy was tragic due to the destructive effect of sin on her life, but the death of John Stott is one that leaves all of us full of praise to God for a life whose fruitfulness will continue to be felt all over the world long after we have been gathered with our fathers.
If you have never heard of John Stott, then happy belated welcome to planet earth! Here was a life that was truly dedicated to the work of the gospel. I had never met him in person, but I met him through his books and through those he personally impacted. In this blog post I want to share a little about some of John Stott’s books and and what they have meant to me over the years.
The impact of his books
Emmanuel Chisola is a member of Kabwata Baptist Church. I had just preached a sermon on our church’s 25th anniversary in which I spoke in passing about the place of the State in God’s providence. He was elated because this was something he had just read in John Stott’s book, Basic Christianity. So, he shared with me what he was reading and how it was revolutionising his life. On and on he went, sharing with me some of the truths he was finding so refreshing to his soul. He had just discovered “John Stott” the way in which I had discovered him thirty years earlier. Of the 50 titles that came from his pen, let me mention 10 or so of them that impacted me.
1. The Preachers Portrait has always been a pocket guide for me. It deals with some big word pictures of who a preacher is—a steward, a herald, a witness, a father, and a servant. We all need to remember this in an age where the most famous preachers are a far cry from this biblical picture. This little book is worth reading once a year by preachers of the gospel.
2. Our Guilty Silence is a little book on why we are hindered in sharing the gospel and why we should overcome those hindrances. These are: Either we have no compelling incentive even to try to speak, or we do not know what to say, or we are not convinced that it is our job, or we do not believe we shall do any good, because we have forgotten the source of power. The book prepared me as I left university to go and work in the Zambian copper mines. I was determined to share the gospel at whatever cost.
3. Your Mind Matters helped me to love the Lord my God with my mind. Stott wrote against a spirit of anti-intellectualism that was gaining ground among Christians. “Knowledge puffs up,” became a cant phrase and hence the use of the mind was seen as anti-spiritual. Stott shows in this book that we need both knowledge and zeal. I trust that over the years I have not lost sight of this and have tried to live by the principles I learnt from this book.
4. The Baptism and Fullness of the Holy Spirit is a small book that deals with what it really means to be baptised and filled with the Holy Spirit today. It inoculated me against the charismatic movement with its emphasis on ecstasy and tongues in my university days. As ever, Stott was concerned to show what the Bible taught and not simply to support a side in the debate. He put the book of Acts under the torch light of the epistles. I found that helpful.
5. The Lausanne Covenant: An Exposition and Commentary. Will I ever forget the impact that reading this had on my life? It must have been towards the end of my university studies when I stumbled across the Lausanne Covenant. I recall using it to illustrate how Evangelical Christians took evangelism so seriously and, therefore, challenged my fellow Evangelical students that we should be zealous for evangelism if we are to be true to that name.
6. Issues Facing Christians Today was an encyclopaedia for me across the 1980s and the 1990s. I never read it from cover to cover, but often went to it when dealing with some of the vexing issues in my ministry, especially when I had a seminar to handle that dealt with the same topic. I always came away thankful that I had it on my shelf. It has since grown legs.
7. The Cross of Christ. J I Packer referred to this book as John Stott’s masterpiece. It is his magnus opus, and rightly so because the cross is at the very heart of our religion. A friend of mine, Dr Yotham Phiri, read this book over and over again, and thus caused me to put my teeth into it. I did not regret it. Of course, I have often wished that he had gone so far as to speak more clearly of particular redemption. However, what he wrote, he wrote very well.
8. Why I am a Christian. How can I ever forget the book that led to my dad’s conversion? How much of it dad actually read I am not sure. However, I bought it for him when one day I saw him enter the Christian bookstore before he was even converted. So, I thought he needed to be challenged about Christianity from a man with a brilliant mind. It was not long after that when dad began to walk with Christ. So, I owe a great debt to this book.
9. Christian Counter-Culture. This book is basically a series of expositions based on the Lord’s Sermon on the Mount. Together with Lloyd-Jones book, these were the two that made my day when I was preaching through this passage at KBC. Other The Bible Speaks Today commentaries by John Stott have also been worthy references on my bookshelf. I think here of the ones he wrote on Acts, Romans, and Ephesians. Stott was a clear Bible commentator.
10. Let me end with The Birds Our Teachers. I love bird watching. I know that it is not a very African trait. However, when a UK friend learnt of this love of mine, he gave me Stott’s book. I was excited to learn that he was a bird lover. I devoured it from cover to cover in almost a single sitting. Since then, when I am asked about my bird watching hobby, I tell people that I am simply obeying the Lord. It was he who said, “Look at the birds” (Matt. 6:26). This book shows some biblical lessons we can learn from the habits of birds.
Well, good old Uncle John has gone to his rest. What shall we say in conclusion? Someone has said, “Buy everything that this author has written.” You may not agree with everything he has said, but will still be the better for it. It will certainly be infinitely more profitable to your soul than all the songs put together that Amy Winehouse has sung!