John Stott

December 2, 2004

The other day I was intrigued to see New York Times conservative columnist David Brooks writing about John Stott, one of my favorite theologians who I originally learned about from my pastor, Ron Watts. I was going to link to Brooks’ column, but initially decided against it because he took a shot at both Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, two men I admire notwithstanding their feisty style.

But when I ran across a blog post by Susan Olasky at World Magazine Blog , I decided to go ahead and say something on the subject. Who am I to criticize someone for feistiness? Yes, each of them (Falwell and Robertson) sometimes says things I don’t agree with and even wish they hadn’t said, but I still respect them and believe they are solid Christian men. I may be a little biased here too, in that Jerry Falwell interviewed me on his television show for my first book and was extremely gracious.

Pat invited me to participate in a debate on the runaway federal judiciary with Jay Sekulow and Ann Coulter against Alan Dershowitz, Barry Lynn and Nadine Strossen at Regent University. It was emceed by Catherine Crier, was later televised by C-Span, and was great fun.

Pat and his entire crew were great. He interviewed me on the 700 Club that same week on my second book, which had been released recently. The point is that I personally like and respect Pat and Jerry and don’t want to participate in trashing either one of them. That being said, let me go ahead and cite the Brooks column. Brooks said he had watched a TV debate between Falwell and Al Sharpton on Meet the Press. Brooks wrote:

Inviting these two bozos onto “Meet the Press” to discuss that issue is like inviting Britney Spears and Larry Flynt to discuss D. H. Lawrence. Naturally, they got into a demeaning food fight that would have lowered the intellectual discourse of your average nursery school.

As much as I respect Brooks, I think that’s a little harsh concerning Falwell. I do think that Sharpton is a charlatan — though an amusing one. I didn’t see the show, but I know Falwell is not one to back down and sometimes feisty people fight fire with fire.

It’s easy for mild-mannered types to criticize combatants for battling, but I’m glad someone stands up to Sharpton. It’s not easy to maintain an appearance of calm and dignity when dealing with a verbal street-brawler. Not everyone has the composure of Swiftee John O’Neill, whose cool demeanor and encyclopedic command of the facts under fire continue to amaze me. Jerry doesn’t back down from a fight and while it may have appeared unseemly to some, those kinds of things don’t bother me. I was raised by a father who loved to debate WITH VOLUME. He was passion personified. And I don’t think that pastors necessarily have to be pictures of meekness.

Brooks continued:

There is a world of difference between real-life people of faith and the made-for-TV, Elmer Gantry-style blowhards who are selected to represent them. Falwell and Pat Robertson are held up as spokesmen for evangelicals, which is ridiculous. Meanwhile people like John Stott, who are actually important, get ignored.

It could be that you have never heard of John Stott. I don’t blame you. As far as I can tell, Stott has never appeared on an important American news program. A computer search suggests that Stott’s name hasn’t appeared in this newspaper since April 10, 1956, and it’s never appeared in many other important publications.

Now I’m devastated — and personally offended. (OK, just kidding). But I — not that I’m important — have written about Stott, I’m happy to say.

In a column in 1999 about the Clintonoids I cited Stott on the subject of whether it is OK for Christians to “judge.” You always hear liberals citing the Scripture, “Judge not, lest ye be judged,” to indicate that we can’t make moral judgments, etc. I knew I had a book where Stott had addressed the issue and I quoted from it. I wrote in my column:

Of course, Christ is telling us we should avoid hypocrisy, but he is not suggesting that we abandon the administration of justice or the societal distinction between good and evil.

Theologian John Stott explains that Christ’s words are “well known, but much misunderstood. Our Lord’s injunction to ‘judge not’ cannot be understood as a command to suspend our critical faculties in relation to other people, to turn a blind eye to their faults, to eschew all criticism, and to refuse to discern between truth and error, goodness and evil. Much of Christ’s teaching in the Sermon on the Mount is based on the assumption that we will (indeed should) use our critical powers.”

But my favorite words of Stott come from his book, “The Cross of Christ.” I have never read or heard anyone articulate the problem of human suffering in a world created by an omniscient, omnibenevolent God, better than John Stott. Here are a few poignant paragraphs:

We are not to envisage God on a deck chair, but on a cross. The God who allows us to suffer, once suffered Himself in Christ, and continues to suffer with us and for us today… He cries when we cry….

I myself could never believe in God were it not for the cross. The only God I believe in is the One Nietzsche ridiculed as ‘God on the Cross.’ In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it? I have entered many Buddhist temples in different Asian countries and stood respectfully before the statue of the Buddha, his legs crossed, arms folded, eyes closed, the ghost of a smile playing round his mouth, 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 wretched, brow bleeding from thorn pricks, mouth dry and intolerably thirsty, plunged in God-forsaken darkness. That 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. Our sufferings become more manageable in the 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. The cross of Christ … is God’s only self-justification in such a world as ours.

I have read parts of “The Cross of Christ” before and have been inspired to read it cover to cover after revisiting it lately. I believe I have the book featured in my Christian books section on this site.

Bottom line: regardless of Brooks’ assessment of Robertson and Falwell, I agree with him that John Stott is one exemplary human being.