Stott’s Influence (4): Common Ground

On November 15, 2012, I presented a paper at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society entitled “John Stott’s Influence Through Publishing.” I offer it here in five installments. The first installment can be found here.

The fifth and final influence is Stott’s commitment to emphasize what we have in common as evangelicals rather than pound on our differences. As an evangelical statesman, he was of a decidedly vanishing breed. He never sought to divide Christians, to win over people to the particulars of all his viewpoints. Rather he worked to unite Christians in the basic convictions of the faith. He never aimed to win so much as to be winsome. His book
Evangelical Truth (first published in 1999) is one example of this.

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Balanced Christianity (1975), perhaps the most important among his lesser-known writings– calls for a both/and approach to the faith that stands in stark contrast to the either/or approach so common in evangelicalism today. Christianity embraces both intellect and emotion, is both conservative and radical, champions both form and freedom, and engages in both evangelism and social action.

In this regard Stott was so fond of the following quotation from Memoirs of the Life of the Rev. Charles Simeon (ed. William Carus, 1847) that he quoted it at least twice, once in Christ the Controversialist (p. 45) and again, more extensively, in Balanced Christianity (p. 10). Simeon begins with the comment: “The truth is not in the middle, and not in one extreme, but in both extremes. . . . Here are two . . . extremes, Calvinism and Arminianism.” Then Simeon imagines a conversation with the apostle Paul.

“How do you move in reference to these, Paul? In a golden mean?”
“To one extreme?”
“How then?”
“To both extremes; today I am a strong Calvinist; tomorrow a strong Arminian.”
“Well, well, Paul, I see thou art beside thyself; go to Aristotle and learn the golden mean.”

But Simeon continues:

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. . . I formerly read Aristotle, and liked him much; I have since read Paul and caught somewhat of his strange notions, oscillating (not vacillating) from pole to pole. Sometimes I am a high Calvinist, at other times a low Arminian, so that if extremes will please you, I am your man; only remember, it is not one extreme that we are to go to, but both extremes.

Stott then comments, “Simeon’s words are wisdom for today. Whether our polarizations are primarily theological or temperamental, we should avoid them.”

Next Installment: Stott’s Influence (5): Limits and Legacy
Next Installment: Stott’s Influence (5): Limits and Legacy

Author: Andy Le Peau

I've been an editor and writer for over forty years. I am passionate about ideas and how we can express them clearly, beautifully, and persuasively. I love reading good books, talking about them, and recommending them. I thoroughly enjoy my family who help me continue on the path of a lifelong learner.

2 thoughts on “Stott’s Influence (4): Common Ground”

  1. My studies in the field of ideas has led me to the conclusion that the extremes incorporated together create a continuum of tension in the believer of both/and enabling that believer to take the particular aspect/element/pole/extreme that is required by the exigencies of the moment. This keeps the believer from compromising away his convictions, thus, keeping his/her conscience clear, a necessity for functional performance at any given time. There is something intensely liberating about the perspective of both/and, but there is also the temptation to let one’s prejudices subvert one’s views in favor of the usual human wherewithal or, to a lesser degree in the Western World, the apathetic indifference due to a misunderstanding of sovereignty.

  2. Dr. James

    What I think you are saying is that as far as both/and one the one hand and either/or on the other is concerned, we need both–both/and and either/or. Both stances have their value and importance. Both/and means we recognize that truth is complex and multifaceted. It means we have humility about our own perspectives and look for value in the viewpoints of others. At the same time we need the prophetic voice, the conviction and sense of mission that either/or can bring. If we stick solely to one side or the other, we miss out.

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