I wish I could say that I have had a deep and life-long relationship with the Reverend Doctor John Stott and that his work has long influenced my thinking about scripture and church doctrine. Even better, I wish I could call him a friend. But alas, it is not so. However, I think I can safely say that John Stott would have happily considered me a sister in Christ and accepted my heart-felt appreciation for his life’s work and witness. He strikes me to have been a kind man, who somehow managed to write in a fashion that intertwined academic rigour with human warmth,
kindness and genuine humility. I find this a striking combination and indeed, as striking as the manner in which Jesus himself interprets the truth of scripture in the gospels. The Reverend Stott had a gift for speaking the truth in love and I consider him to have been a great blessing to the body of Christ.
In actual fact, John Stott only came into my life relatively recently. I dare say I am possibly one of the least qualified people to comment on the impact of his scholarship and preaching, since I have probably been exposed to about 0.5% of the works he so faithfully produced. So I don’t boast in my own knowledge; but here’s something I can boast in: it is a fact that it was John Stott’s book, The Cross of Christ, that first led me to understand, perhaps before I could accept it, that I was evangelical. I had never in my life had someone properly explain the atonement to me. The word ‘atonement’ was mostly ridiculed by the teachers and pastors that had ministered to me up to that point. This is not to disrespect any of my brothers and sisters in Christ, but to say, through the ministry I had received, I had developed questions that no one had ever answered in a way that had meaning for me: How could a loving God require the satisfaction of his wrath by such cruel means of suffering? What’s so important about Jesus shedding his own blood?
Coupled with my query about accepting a cruel image of God, I also had other concerns, which were becoming stronger, the more I studied scripture and grew in my knowledge of God. I wondered, ‘If Jesus’ death on the cross was really only the highest exemplar of God’s sacrificial love, what could it achieve? What could it change?’ If forgiveness was all the cross stood for, what did this add to God’s mercy reflected in the sacrificial system already employed by his people? I remember taking these questions to Richard Trist. I told him I wanted to understand how evangelicals understood the cross and he sent me straight to The Cross of Christ. John Stott fixed me good.
I read the book in two days and must have mentally cried out ‘yes’ about a hundred times. ‘Yes, yes, yes! That is what I believe.’ John Stott’s defence of the words ‘satisfaction’ and ‘substitution’: truth spoken in love and very convincing! Naked I stood in the face of my absolute and total reliance on Jesus Christ to pay the price for my sin that I could never pay, so that I could know my Father in heaven. John Stott gifted me with his truthful words and his heart of love for the Lord. What a blessing to us, that in-between pastoring his flock and long hours of study, he one day typed the following words.
‘We cannot escape the embarrassment of standing stark naked before God. It is no use our trying to cover up like Adam and Eve in the garden. Our attempts at self-justification are as ineffectual as their fig-leaves. We have to acknowledge our nakedness, see the divine substitute wearing our filthy rags instead of us, and allow him to clothe us with his own righteousness.’ (The Cross of Christ)
Heather Cetrangolo serves as a Curate (Children and Families) at St Thomas Anglican Church, Burwood, Melbourne.