Monday, January 3, 2011

The Books #29: Between Two Worlds by John Stott

I really can't believe that John Stott's book, Between Two Worlds, falls this low on my list. I tried to get it higher, but I just couldn't bounce any of the ones above it. This is the first of four books on my list that has to do with preaching or teaching, which means that many of you will not read it. But let me just say at the beginning. If you are in ministry and you preach or teach on a regular basis and you have never read this book: shame on you! This should be your New Year's Resolution: Read Between Two Worlds by John Stott.

In many ways, this book should have been higher on my list because this book helped shape a lot of my thinking on my book, Helping Johnny Listen. For instance, listen to what Stott says about the relationship between the preacher and listener: "In nearly every church closer and more cordial relations between pastors and people, preachers and listeners, would be beneficial. There is need for more cooperation between them in the preparing of sermons, and more candour in evaluating them" (11). Later in the book, he lays the emphasis with the preacher to help the listener: "if we ourselves grow sleepy over our message, our listeners can hardly be expected to stay awake" (275).

Anyways, enough on listening to preaching, this book is primarily about the preacher and his message. The reason for the title is that Stott says the preacher must stand solidly in the world of the Bible, but he has better as well stand in the reality of the contemporary world. He must know both worlds. In his fifth chapter, he says the preacher is called to study. He says that we are called first to study the Bible. "Since the Christian pastor is primarily called to the ministry of the Word, the study of Scripture is one of his foremost responsibilities . . . The higher our view of the Bible, the more painstaking and conscientious our study of it should be" (181-2).

Most pastors in the circles I run believe that. What sometimes comes as strain for them is what Stott says next. He says that the preacher should also study the modern world. "Biblical and theological studies do not by themselves make for good preaching. They are indispensable. But unless they are supplemented by contemporary studies, they can keep us disastrously isolated on one side of the cultural chasm" (190). Those not in the ministry might not know of this, but there has been a debate over the past couple years in regards to contextualization of ministry. It centers on how much the knowledge of the modern world should dictate our ministries or teaching ministries.

I might tend to fall more on the need of contextualization than the average person in my circles. My point is not to defend my position in this blog post, but to bring to the awareness that we all live in culture. And this culture in which we live is different than the culture in which the Bible was written. Let me end with one last quote by Stott on the need for this study of the contemporary world:

"Some disagree with the call to study the modern novel, stage and screen because they consider it a compromise with fashion. They regard the quest for 'revelance' in preaching as a surrender to worldliness. Those who give in to it are dismissed as men-pleasers, whose main objective is to be trendy rather than godly. Once again, we need to heed this criticism. The lust for popularity is indeed imperious, and many of us are twentieth-century Pharisees who love 'the praise of men more than the praise of God' . . . This is a wise warning. But it does not condemn a study of contemporary trends. For what I am proposing is not co-operation with the spirit of the age, still less marriage to it, but rather an understanding of it with a view to confronting it with a relevant word from God" (194).

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