Mike Cope's blog

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Many of you have heard me talk before about one of my heroes, John Stott, an evangelical minister and writer in the Anglican Church. I once preached to a small gathering in Florida of ministers that included him. I wanted to stop in the middle and say, "I'm sorry. This is wrong. Mr. Stott, would you please come do this right?" I love this editorial in today's NY Times. November 30, 2004 OP-ED COLUMNIST Who Is John Stott? By DAVID BROOKS Tim Russert is a great journalist, but he made a mistake last weekend. He included Jerry Falwell and Al Sharpton in a discussion on religion and public life. 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. This is why so many people are so misinformed about evangelical Christians. 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. Yet, as Michael Cromartie of the Ethics and Public Policy Center notes, if evangelicals could elect a pope, Stott is the person they would likely choose. He was the framer of the Lausanne Covenant, a crucial organizing document for modern evangelicalism. He is the author of more than 40 books, which have been translated into over 72 languages and have sold in the millions. Now rector emeritus at All Souls, Langham Place, in London, he has traveled the world preaching and teaching. When you read Stott, you encounter first a tone of voice. Tom Wolfe once noticed that at a certain moment all airline pilots came to speak like Chuck Yeager. The parallel is inexact, but over the years I've heard hundreds of evangelicals who sound like Stott. It is a voice that is friendly, courteous and natural. It is humble and self-critical, but also confident, joyful and optimistic. Stott's mission is to pierce through all the encrustations and share direct contact with Jesus. Stott says that the central message of the gospel is not the teachings of Jesus, but Jesus himself, the human/divine figure. He is always bringing people back to the concrete reality of Jesus' life and sacrifice. There's been a lot of twaddle written recently about the supposed opposition between faith and reason. To read Stott is to see someone practicing "thoughtful allegiance" to scripture. For him, Christianity means probing the mysteries of Christ. He is always exploring paradoxes. Jesus teaches humility, so why does he talk about himself so much? What does it mean to gain power through weakness, or freedom through obedience? In many cases the truth is not found in the middle of apparent opposites, but on both extremes simultaneously. Stott is so embracing it's always a bit of a shock - especially if you're a Jew like me - when you come across something on which he will not compromise. It's like being in "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood," except he has a backbone of steel. He does not accept homosexuality as a legitimate lifestyle, and of course he believes in evangelizing among nonbelievers. He is pro-life and pro-death penalty, even though he is not a political conservative on most issues. Most important, he does not believe truth is plural. He does not believe in relativizing good and evil or that all faiths are independently valid, or that truth is something humans are working toward. Instead, Truth has been revealed. As he writes: "It is not because we are ultra-conservative, or obscurantist, or reactionary or the other horrid things which we are sometimes said to be. It is rather because we love Jesus Christ, and because we are determined, God helping us, to bear witness to his unique glory and absolute sufficiency. In Christ and in the biblical witness to Christ God's revelation is complete; to add any words of our own to his finished work is derogatory to Christ." Politicians, especially Democrats, are now trying harder to appeal to people of faith. But people of faith are not just another interest group, like gun owners. You have to begin by understanding the faith. And you can't understand this rising global movement if you don't meet its authentic representatives. Not Falwell, but Stott.

5 Comments:

  • While I may agree w/ Brooks that neither Sharpton nor Falwell should be held up as experts on religion in public life, it seems contradictory for Mr. Brooks to speak of a better tone in the same column wherein he reduces himself to calling people names like "Bozo." Bozo was a friend of mine, so I just felt I should defend his honor.

    By Blogger Val, at 11/30/2004 01:57:00 PM  

  • Beautiful post! The author of the article gets it. It's refreshing even to those outside the pale when they see authentic Christianity. Fortuantely, inside the pale we get to see it every day in some form. Sometimes it's through the voice of Stott, Cope, (any number of names here)... What a novel idea to unbelievers—authentic Christianity. Beautiful post!

    By Blogger WDS, at 11/30/2004 07:58:00 PM  

  • My thoughts exactly, thank you for bringing this article to my attention. I watched the show twice Sunday, and I've been wanting to express something similar to Mr. Russert all week. In my opinion Russert is the best in the business, however, either he or his producers took the easy way out. Surely he doesn't really think these guys are the best he can find. Was P.T. Barnum not available?

    By Blogger Jeff, at 12/01/2004 05:19:00 AM  

  • GEORGE: Bozo?

    ERIC: No.

    GEORGE: B-O-Z-O?

    ERIC: Sorry, I...

    GEORGE: You've never heard of Bozo the Clown?

    ERIC: No!

    GEORGE: How could you not know who Bozo the Clown is?

    ERIC: I don't know, I just don't.

    GEORGE: How can you call yourself a clown and not know who Bozo is?

    ERIC: Hey, man - what are you hassling me for? This is just a gig, it's not my life. I don't know who Bozo is, what - is he a clown?

    GEORGE: Is he a clown? What, are you kidding me!?

    ERIC: Well, what is he?

    GEORGE: Yes, he's a clown!

    ERIC: Alright, so what's the big deal! There's millions of clowns!

    GEORGE: Alright, just forget it.

    ERIC: Me forget it? You should forget it! You're livin' in the past, man! You're hung up on some clown from the sixties, man!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12/01/2004 06:20:00 AM  

  • Mike that was an EXCELLENT article, and thanks for taking the time to bring it to our attention. I don't make a habit of reading the Times, so I doubt I would have seen it. I confess in front of your millions of readers that when someone mentions the Times, I have a reaction similar to Nathanael's when he said "can any good come out of Nazareth?" I see I need to back off of that prejudice, and look for the good in everything....even the Times! :) I read my first Stott book this year, and it made me hunger for more. I have become a huge fan, and should have started reading him much earlier........like maybe in the 80's when you were referencing him from the pulpit at College. Hey, better late than never! Thanks again!

    By Blogger David U, at 12/01/2004 06:51:00 AM  

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