Christ the Cornerstone aptly names this collection of essays by John Stott. It partially fits because these articles are drawn primarily from Stott’s monthly “Cornerstone” column in Christianity Today written between 1977 and 1981. But far more importantly, especially to Stott, the column title itself reflects one of the ways the New Testament designates Jesus and his unique role in the building that is the church, God’s people (Eph. 2:20– 22; Acts 4:10–12; 1 Pet. 2:4–8).
While the essays in this volume range from 1959 to 1992 and deal with a variety of topics, I’d like to draw attention to four themes that unite them and make them relevant for today.
First, Stott writes for the honor and glory of Jesus Christ.
In all he did, Stott sought to articulate and demonstrate the comprehensive glory, power, truth, mercy, and justice of Jesus Christ, our Cornerstone. These essays cover a wide spectrum of theological, ethical, cultural, and global issues. In some ways, reading them feels like stepping back in time because of the varying shifts that have occurred since these pieces were first written. Looked at in this way, it is striking at several points to see how advanced Stott’s evangelical voice was as he addressed the issues of his time. But in another way, it is remarkable how current his words can still seem, and how internally consistent they are over time. That is because these essays hold on display some of the most distinguishing features of Stott’s life and ministry, above all his plain, relentless zeal to lift up Jesus as Lord and to allow his life, death, and resurrection to be the benchmark, the plumb line, the motivation, the inspiration for everything he addresses. Whatever or wherever the issue Stott is writing about, his standard is clear, and this explains the evergreen quality of his writing.
Second, Stott writes with fairness and clarity.
These essays offer us a chance to learn from someone who tackles complex, and often contested, issues in ways that reflect his humble willingness to listen and learn (even from opponents), to receive and honor distinct points of view, and to be judicious and clear in offering his own point of view. I was struck by these same qualities when I first heard Stott as a preacher and teacher at the Urbana missions conference sponsored by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. During the afternoon seminars, he was asked to hold a question-and-answer session in which, for two hours, he fielded a very wide set of questions. He was strong-minded, disciplined, biblically fluent, but relentlessly fair and clear. He treated people and ideas with respect. These same qualities are ones you will find throughout this collection of essays, making them a rich point of reflection especially in these current days of contentious, inhospitable, uncivil division.
Third, Stott grounds his writing in a humble and confident reliance on the Bible.
These essays treat a myriad of global, ecclesiastical, and cultural issues, but the reference point for his most salient comments or responses start and finish with the teaching of the Bible. His use of Scripture avoids proof-texting; it is less about any one text and more about a text in its context, or a text in combination with the weight of a line of biblical teaching. This is undoubtedly part of the enduring force of his writing (and of his preaching), and why the re-publishing of these essays is welcome.
He is endlessly trying to raise the bar of biblical literacy and fluency, and wants to be held accountable more to the force of a biblical argument than to agreement or disagreement with his interlocutors. While working on the questions at hand, Stott is also working to form a “Christian mind” that is rich and nimble, humble and wise, assured but not over-reaching. The value of these essays may lie less in the contemporary relevance of their particular topics and more in the opportunity to watch a careful master student of the Scriptures simply do his work.
Finally, Stott writes about the world with neighbor-love.
The commanding range of Stott’s study and travel allowed him to make the distant appear near, but what he does in his writing is more profound and personal than that. Few Western Christian leaders have spent time in the global South as extensively as Stott did, and even fewer have done so as listeningly as Stott did. He put virtually all of his honoraria and royalties to work paying for his travels to remote places, speaking often to small gatherings and struggling institutions. In all his travels he was eager to listen, to care, and to learn from those he came to know. I can’t adequately count the numbers of times Majority World leaders have told me that “Uncle John” listened and cared like few other Western leaders they have ever known. And having listened, he followed up with prayer and with practical and strategic actions of support and encouragement. He saw and touched the world in ways that are human, approaching others with compassion and empathy, not with abstraction and objectification. His traveling journals were filled with names and stories. In this way he not only made the distant near, but made it close, because that’s what genuine love of neighbor means and does.
Having known John Stott first as a preacher and writer, then as a boss and colleague, and surely as a friend and brother, I eagerly commend this volume of essays. I believe you will be blessed by watching the way he addressed some of the many and varied people and concerns that occupied his attention. But read and listen more carefully, and John Stott will richly demonstrate and embody qualities of being a disciple that could not be more urgently needed in and among us today. May Christ the Cornerstone explain our lives as truly as it did his.
This post is excerpted from Mark Labberton’s introduction to Christ the Cornerstone: Collected Essays of John Stott (Lexham Press, 2019).