No modern author has given the church a greater written treasure, at least regarding what is essential to Christianity and real faith, than John R. Stott. I have written about John R. Stott in several previous blogs over the last four years or so. I love to encourage a new generation of readers to discover the importance of his work for evangelism, apologetics and solid biblical theology. Stott's small book, Basic Christianity (first published in 1958) was recently released in a fiftieth anniversary edition, thus making it a true classic now available in a new format and special edition. I use this particular book to teach young believers. I also use it to guide those who have never had a "basic" introduction to the central truths of Christian faith, even if they've been in the church for decades. This is a book that both Catholic and evangelical readers can profit from precisely because Stott addresses the "fundamental claims of Christianity" not the polemical issues that still divide Christians.
Stott rightly claims that the fundamental question is this: "Was Jesus God?" We cannot dodge this question given the centrality of Christ's person to the faith that we believers hold dear. Is there evidence for the deity of Jesus? Is the evidence minimal or seriously flawed, or is it historically strong enough to commend it to an honest intellect? Sott says that Jesus' claims about himself are "extravagant . . . so bold and so unassuming" (Basic Christianity, 8). It is claimed that he rose from the dead thus Stott rightly concludes that "the circumstantial evidence for this resurrection is most compelling" (8). But, supposing Jesus was the Son of God is the acceptance of this fact what basic Christianity is really all about? Sott's answer, typical of the clarity of his honest insight, is "No."
Once we examine the nature of his work we must ask: "What did he come to do?" The biblical answer is that he came into the world "to save sinners." He is the Savior that all sinners need. Salvation is what he came to bring and he accomplishes this by his death and resurrection.
"Then is basic Christianity the belief that Jesus is the Son of God who came to be the Savior of the world?" Stott answers, maybe to some readers surprise: "No" (9). "To assent to his divine person, to acknowledge man's need of salvation, and to believe in Christ's saving work are not enough" (9). Stott says that our intellectual beliefs are important, indeed very important, but "we have to translate our beliefs into deeds" (9).
What then must we do? "We must commit ourselves, heart and mind, soul and will, home and life, personally and unreservedly, to Jesus Christ" (9). We must humbly trust in him as our Savior and submit to his as our Lord. Then, "we go to take our place as loyal members of the church and responsible citizens in the community" (9). "Such is basic Christianity" (9), Stott concludes.
I can't think of a better introduction, in only a few compact words and sentences, than this. And this is only in the preface of a superb book that I commend to all readers everywhere.