I have a confession. Christ in Conflict is the first John Stott book I’ve read. Sad it’s taken me so long to join the club. If you’ve never read Stott, think winsome engagement. This book undertakes important and difficult topics, topics that are under attack today. Stott, while unabashed in his evangelicalism, also conveys compassion for his readers. Jonathan Lamb is correct in the foreword when he says “One of the special values of this title is that it models the way in which Christians should engage with controversy” (8).
“The spirit of our age is hostile,” says Stott, “toward people who state their opinions clearly and hold them strongly.” He prophetically goes on, “Someone of conviction, however intelligent, sincere and humble they may be, is likely to be labeled a bigot” (15). That’s spot on analysis of our own day, although we’re much further down the slope. What’s clear is Stott is ready to stand resolute when the gospel is at stake (20-21). He ends the first chapter with a charge for Christians: “the church has no freedom to reject its God-given task” (24). He’s not tickling ears.
Stott proceeds to define evangelicalism before jumping into her controversies. Evangelicalism means theological, biblical, original, and fundamental (25ff). The controversies include religion, authority, the Bible, salvation, morality, worship, responsibility (involvement/withdrawal), ambition (God’s glory or man’s). These are core issues. I was intrigued at the level of prophetic insight found in these chapters. For instance, in the chapter on morality, Stott addresses a core argument in the debate about practicing homosexuality within a committed marriage. The argument goes that love supersedes any law. “It’s certainly the case that Jesus made love the top priority. This is common ground” says Stott. “What he rejected were misinterpretations of the law, not the law itself. On the contrary, he obeyed it in his own life” (123). He clarifies the relationship between law and gospel later on by quoting Puritan Samuel Bolton: “‘The law sends us to the Gospel, that we may be justified, and the Gospel sends us to the law again to enquire [sic] what is our duty being justified’” (144).
In this way, we see Stott addressing attacks made on the church that have always been made by those seeking to undermine the gospel. This kind of universality is rare in books written today and should be cherished where it’s found. He also does this kind of thing when taking about the authority of clergy (186-87), proselytism versus evangelism (especially insightful for our celebrity culture 166), the story of Jesus (100), and the authority of Scripture (74, 78) as inspired and without error (90, 96). If you, like me, have made the great error of not reading John Stott, Christ in Conflict would be a great starting point because of its universality and prophetic relevance for our day.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
Mathew Sims is the author of A Household Gospel Fulfilling the Great Commission in Our Homes and also writes for CBMW Men’s blog, Gospel Centered Discipleship, and Servants of Grace. He’s married to LeAnn and they have three daughters. He also loves to read, hike in the woods, and cook. They attend Downtown Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Greenville, SC.