08 May 2008

the living church (8)

John Stott, The Living Church (Downers Grove: IVP, 2007).

[The final part of the review: I leave the conclusion and the appendices for the reader]

Chapter Eight: Impact
"One of the most important questions facing Christians in every age and every place is this: what values and standards are going to dominate our national culture?" (128).  A great starting point and very poignant question over which the church must wrestle.  Stott recognizes this as both an ecclesial question as well as a social and cultural one.  Certainly, we are at no current loss of perspectives for just how church and culture (or government) should go together.  It is rather unfortunate that Christians have allowed such secondary issues to disrupt the primary unity of the faith, both sides claiming the other is the guilty party (cf. Matthew 7:3-5).  Yet according to Stott, "There can surely be no doubt that our Lord Jesus Christ wants his values and standards to prevail" (129, emphasis in original).

"So he sends his people out into the world both to preach the gospel and make disciples, and to sweeten the whole community and make it more pleasing to God, more just, more participatory, more free" (129).

On one level, there is nothing particularly new within this chapter.  Stott returns to the images of salt and light, briefly explaining their specific usefulness in Jesus' context.  But I do appreciate his outworking of the images - a mode for the symbols to find meaning and significance in the life of the church.  "First, Christians are radically different from non-Christians - or ought to be" (130, emphasis in original).  Stott is right to point out that this is one of the major themes of Scripture - God's calling of a people from among the rest.  And there have been points within church history where we can clearly see the church making a definitive statement in its counter-culturalism (yes, sometimes to error), but it has been a long time since we as believers have collectively given our culture the bird.  We misunderstand assimilation, I fear.

"Second, Christians must permeate non-Christian society" (131, emphasis in original).  This is precisely the point of not hiding the light under the bowl.  Similarly, the salt would have no effectiveness without it actually touching the meat it is meant to preserve.  How are believers supposed to pull this off?  "One way to permeate secular culture for Christ is through our daily work" (132).  We need to rid ourselves of the mentality that only professional minister do the ministry and everyone else is along for the ride a few hours a week.

"Third, Christians can influence and change non-Christian society" (133).  I continue to be amazed at how many churchgoers remain so skeptical about the effectiveness of the gospel.  So many people pay lip-service to the power of the gospel but do not really expect it to change the world in their hearts, minds and (especially) efforts.  Stott labels this section more 'controversial territory' but I would beg to differ - so long as we are willing to drink the kool-aid we're trying to sell.

After reviewing these areas, Stott considers six *weapons* for making this change a reality: prayer, evangelism, example, argument (reason), action, suffering (135-139).  All of this boils down to the need for Christian distinctness - the ability for the salt to retain its saltiness.  It is the mark of a well-thought and highly reflective ecclesiology that Stott includes this chapter, with this specific tone - that the edification of the church finds its culmination in the outworking of the kingdom of God.

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