Review of John Stott’s “Balanced Christianity”

Introduction

When books on the issue used by Stott to name this book were on demand many of them were written and all proposed to bring back to balance polarized issues within Christian Evangelical thinking. The approach was often the explanation that “balance” is not in the “happy middle” but that balance was in placing two volumes of the same weight on both sides of the old fashion scale so the fulcrum would be in the center indicating balance. Unfortunately most of these books would do exactly what they said they wouldn’t do. Depending upon the theological tendencies of its writer, what they called balance was nothing more that “don’t ask, don’t say it”, that is, “don’t bring up your polarized issues and I won’t bring mine and let’s call this balance.” The avoidance of that which was apparently irresolvable was then, named “balance”. In the end, the very thing these authors called “not real balance”, that is, “happy medium” was exactly what they were intentionally trying to lead their readers to accept as balance. He starts by bringing up the old adage “In essentials Unity, in non-essentials Liberty; in all things Charity”. Again, many other writers use this, what is now, aphorism to suggest that we should find a point of agreement and be mum about any other that would be a disagreement.

In this book Stott makes a great case for genuine balance using unique approach to the issue of Balanced Christianity. There is no overt advice in avoiding issues, there is no suggestion that one should be intellectually lazy simply by abandoning difficult issues, and he positively offers an outlook of how we can balance our views within our Christian faith without compromising our convictions.

As a translator, I seek terms that can be deemed emotional to identify how strongly an author feels about the issue with which he is dealing. Stott uses terms such as “greatest weakness,” “devil’s pastime” and “devil’s hobby” to indicate clearly what he feels about imbalanced Christianity. Keeping these two emotions (my assessment) in mind a reader can greatly benefit from this book and kindly forgive the author for points of disagreement.

Theme

For full disclosure, I am a Calvinist. Perhaps because I learned that if “A” is diametrically contrary to “B,” then “A” cannot “B” and cannot be reconciled with “B.” As such I tend to look upon “balance” as an elevation for the word compromise. As the author lays out his plan to explain it is theme readers can ponder on terms that are easily observable in Christian gatherings and not some far-fetched concept. Terms such as “emotion” and “intellect” are not after all such a lofty concept that no one needs heavy thinking exercises to know what they are about and how evident they are in Christian circles today. As Mark Labberton hints at, “although this book has been written for a different time, his words are still poignant and provocative.”

On the very first topic of his theme, Stott presents what he calls the “first polarization,” namely Intellect and emotions. Here is an excellent topic and perhaps the most visible of all if one has traveled across the denominational spectrum. Stott points to the appellative aspect of some evangelistic efforts and also the tendency of elevating emotional experiences to an “emperor” which people enthrone. It is remarkable how Stott perfectly makes the point that “rationality is part of our divine image in which God has created us; that he made us rational beings and gave us a rational revelation” (15) and to deny rationality is to deny our humanity. This is a very key point in Stott’s approach to the issue; by a little examination we can find that idea underlining his entire approach.

The chapter “Intellect and Emotions” is very rich indeed! Some of the sentences in it could be reason for debate, for consideration in our pulpits, but above all for us to “internalize” them and made them part of our Christian thinking. An example of that is when Stott affirms the non-existent conflict between faith and reason when he authoritatively asserts: “Scripture never sets faith and reason over against each other as incompatible!” You can say that again Brother Stott! Obviously being such a Biblical scholar, Stott provides ample biblical evidence to support his point and quotes John Wesley. This chapter, if read by a Bible student and a Christian History student, will lead one to remember the famous phrase attributed in an “out of context sort of way” to Martin Luther: “Reason is the devil’s whore.” Stott makes a case for being reasonable and using our minds (reasoning) to reach and increase faith. If he would stop this book here, in the middle of page 16, we would have learned a great deal and would have material to ponder for a long time. The issue of “emotion” as worldliness is also courageously dealt with in this chapter!

“Conservative and Radicals” is the chapter where Stott uses to contrast the extremes of those who want to preserve the status quo (as they see it) and the “rebellious people” who want to change everything that is inherited and inherent to the past. Often you can see Stott’s emotion again against certain radicals who “reverence no sacred cows.” As a reviewer, I had the impression that he prefers the conservative mode, which is indicated by his notion that although Christ was himself sometimes conservative and sometimes radical, in theology the “conservative” side prevails when it comes to Christ and the preservation of sound doctrine. This chapter is remarkably current! Contrary to other problems mentioned in the book, this is a real issue today and probably more serious than it was yesterday or even is olden days! Today we notice schisms not only in the theological field, but also how we should conduct our services, how the “singing” should be, what kind of musical instruments should be allowed and even the layout of the church building itself. This chapter is tremendously useful for one to see how these extremes, conservatism and radicalism, are harmful to the Church today and how they can be valuable in the fulfillment of the Church’s calling if we are able to balance them. This chapter is the one that more identifies, in my view, the idea of “Balanced Christianity”.

The chapter on Evangelism and Social Action does bring interesting points about the beliefs of the “Jesus People.” Things more related to the problems of the identity of certain Christian groups more akin to the 1970’s perhaps will raise the historian’s interest but probably will bore the reader who seeks answers on balanced Christianity as it solves the current problems facing the Church today, a day where the issue of Evangelism and Social Action has been simply defined by the sharp turn to the political left some churches have turned and their separation from the so called “evangelical Churches.” I did not find any clue that could help to reunite both sides in this chapter. It will, however, be of great benefit to the reader to pay close attention to his comments on the World Council of Churches “Salvation Today” document, which in its preparatory stages, defined salvation as “almost entirely social economical and in political terms.” I am not reviewing the aforementioned document, but I am reviewing how Stott proposes that Christianity should balance the issue between Evangelism and Social Action. I think most of what he says falls short of a proposition of balancing those two extremes by making reference to how the World of Council of Churches sees the problem. I think the book is richer in options and propositions in the previous chapters.

The book concludes with an interview with Stott that is presented as a “special” feature of the book. There are questions on the issue of poverty, implications with the role of the Church in social action, but nothing absolutely extraordinary in my view.

Conclusion

It is worth reading. It is a short book; it can be read in a commute, in one cozy evening and it is a pleasant reading. Consider that some of the specific problems may not be the same as today but generically the book is valuable in dealing with imbalances regardless of the day. Notwithstanding if one is reading this book as a “user manual” (which the book is not, but can be made into) to balance Christianity in his own Church or denomination, they have a great resource here and I hope that they will be able to see that in its pages.

Who can benefit to reading this book?

Pastors of all sizes of congregations, but specifically those that have a diverse economical and intellectual membership; Bible students and Church Historians can use this book as a reference of actual situations that occurred during the 70’s in various locations of the non-Roman Catholic Christian Churches.

You Might Also Like

Leave a Reply, Please!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.