BookReview: John Stott, The Living Church. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2011.

living church

Few people in modern church history have combined pastoral concern and theological depth as well as has the late John Stott. His book The Living Church, originally published in 2007 but re-released in 2011 (the same year Stott died), is a passionate plea for the Church to be all that it is called to be, holding its diverse callings together. But its more than that. This book is the culminated wisdom of a lifetime serving Christ and the church, and as such should be read by every pastor, missionary, and layperson who cares about the local church and its mission.

Like Stott himself, this book is both scholarly and practical. In many ways, the book is an expansion of one of Stott’s sermons given at All Souls Church, where Stott grew up, pastored, and retired. And at the 150th anniversary of this church, Stott, with apologies to Martin Luther King, offered his own “dream” for what a biblical church could and should look like. He expounds throughout on what he considers the four essentials: a learning church, a caring church, a worshipping church, and an evangelizing church. In concluding, he wraps these up neatly with the slightly broader categories borrowed from Paul’s first letter to Timothy (6:11-2), of an ethical church, a doctrinal church, and an experiential church.

The real value in this volume lies in its balance. Stott let’s no excess go unchecked. For example, he argues eloquently that preaching should be biblical and contemporary—it should speak from the biblical world to the present world. It should be both prophetic—warning people of God’s judgment, and pastoral—comforting those who are distraught. Stott argues that we must not minimize the paradox’s of the church’s life (e.g., “in the world but not of the world”), but learn to balance these tensions in ways that fully capture the reality of the church as the pilgrim people of God.

There is a tremendous need today for the church to more fully understand itself. Various theological and social issues have divided the church into numerous factions that more often than not have led to imbalances in what the church is called to do and be, as everyone is out defending their preferred perspective. This book though will encourage pastors to teach this material to their congregations, and it will encourage congregations to perhaps become more than they have been. Its lucid, its faithful to Scripture, and it is chock full of wisdom. I suspect this will be one of those books that I will pick up every so often and re-read, if for nothing else, for its simple clarity. I highly recommend it.