When it comes to naming the biggest influences on my life, the task is easy. No human beings are more responsible for the shaping of my convictions than John Stott and DA Carson. It is a dead heat - and I am forever grateful. In my impressionable early twenties these two men helped me build my foundations for life.
I had 6-8 MDiv classes at TEDS with a much younger Don Carson. His ongoing pastoral and prayerful interest in me and my family has been gracious and humbling. As a 20yr old I heard Stott expound Romans ch1-5 and as I sat transfixed by it all, I discovered my own calling for life. I am one of many who has had breakfast with him in his flat (March 1984!) - and years later I find myself working in the organisation which he has founded.
So I am a privileged chap, aren't I?!
It has been interesting to follow these two men over the years.
In recent weeks both men have been honoured by their friends with publications. Chris Wright has edited John Stott: a portrait by his friends - in time for Stott's 90th birthday later this week. See the review by All Souls' staff member, Mark Meynell, here. Don Carson has had a Festschrift handed to him earlier this month. It is called Understanding the Times: New Testament Studies in the 21st Century. There is a lovely piece written here by his friend, John Woodbridge, to mark the occasion.
And now - in 2011 - their fingerprints can be seen on two organisations whose reach is increasingly global.
John Stott has been at the heart of the Lausanne movement since it commenced in 1974 and his DNA can still be seen in their latest publication, The Capetown Commitment, available here as a pdf - and here, if you like having a little book in your hand. I read it through on a recent flight from Hong Kong to Auckland. It is impressive, ideal for personal study, or small group discussion, or even the basis of a sermon series in a local church.
The subtitle is "a confession of faith and a call to action" and this provides the structure to the booklet. Part One affirms "the Lord we love" and works its way through various things "we love" in a confessional way: the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, the Word, the world, the gospel etc.
Part Two affirms the "world we serve". John Stott would be so pleased with this! The coverage of topics is remarkable: the arts, emerging technologies, the media, ethnic conflict, the poor, people with disabilities, creation, oral cultures, slavery, children, other religions, leadership, cities, "disordered sexuality", power, success, greed, men and women, prosperity gospel, theological education etc - like I say, it is very impressive in its attempt to capture what God is saying to the global church through the Lausanne movement. If I was still pastoring a local church, I'd make it the focus of a day-long retreat for all staff and ministry leaders - asking "what is the Spirit saying to our church through this statement?"
A random quote?
"All children are at risk. There are two billion children in our world and half of them are at risk from poverty. Millions are at risk from prosperity. Children of the wealthy and secure have everything to live with, but nothing to live for."
A random omission?
I was surprised that there was not a more searching critique of patriotism and the way nationhood is an obstacle to the 'committed internationalism' so advocated by John Stott.
Don Carson is at the heart of the rapidly growing Gospel Coalition movement in the United States - with a breathtaking website that is appreciated all around the world. If you haven't already, do some surfing. It is a-mazing. They just had their gathering earlier this month and so the site is full of new material. If you surf carefully you will come across two documents under "About Us" - a Confessional Statement and a Theological Vision for Ministry - with its focus on epistemological, hermeneutical and contextualisation issues, together with practical implications. These absorbing statements have no little Carsonian DNA in them! So much is just brilliant.
If I was still teaching in a theological college I would rush to include an assignment that compares and contrasts these two statements with the Capetown Commitment. It would be a fascinating study into the streams of evangelicalism today.
A random quote - or three?
"To eliminate the propositional nature of biblical truth seriously weakens our ability to hold, defend, and explain the gospel. But to speak of truth only as propositions weakens our appreciation of the incarnate Son as the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and the communicative power of narrative and story, and the importance of truth as living truly in correspondence to God."
"Reading “along” the whole Bible. To read along the whole Bible is to discern the single basic plot–line of the Bible as God’s story of redemption (e.g., Luke 24:44) as well as the themes of the Bible (e.g., covenant, kingship, temple) that run through every stage of history and every part of the canon, climaxing in Jesus Christ ... (and) Reading “across” the whole Bible. To read across the whole Bible is to collect its declarations, summons, promises, and truth–claims into categories of thought (e.g., theology, Christology, eschatology) and arrive at a coherent understanding of what it teaches summarily."
"The gospel itself holds the key to appropriate contextualization. If we over–contextualize, it suggests that we want too much the approval of the receiving culture. This betrays a lack of confidence in the gospel. If we under–contextualize, it suggests that we want the trappings of our own sub–culture too much. This betrays a lack of gospel humility and a lack of love for our neighbor."
It is brilliant stuff.
A random omission - or two?
As the logo above suggests, it has a very 'NA' identity - North American, with a little bit of North Atlantic thrown in. That just does not cut it in terms of what God is doing around the world. Is it wise, or just, to pour so much energy and resourcing into a movement so narrowly focused?
And I find the niche which women occupy - or don't occupy, as is the case - to be regrettable. Many people will shut their ears to so much good stuff simply because of this. Again - it is more narrowly defined than is necessary. So not just ethnicity - but also gender. One of the most breathtaking discoveries on the website is to go to "About Us" and click on "Council Members" and scroll through the photos (on and on it goes) of 52 men and no women! For the record the key sentences in the Confessional Statement affirm the following:
"In the ministry of the church, both men and women are encouraged to serve Christ and to be developed to their full potential in the manifold ministries of the people of God. The distinctive leadership role within the church given to qualified men is grounded in creation, fall, and redemption and must not be sidelined by appeals to cultural developments."