Generous Orthodoxy  

Thursday, July 28, 2011

John R. W. Stott 1921-2011

The entire Christian world, and indeed the entire population of the globe can be profoundly grateful to John Stott, whose death was announced today. Most Christian leaders have had embarrassing public traits; even Billy Graham, as he almost but not quite admitted, was tainted by his love of being close to presidents (contrast Elijah). Stott's life, however, insofar as it can be judged from his reputation, was blameless. The New York Times obituary, remarkably, reveals no flaws; indeed, it is as respectful as one could wish from an organ which often seems to be out to discredit Christianity whenever possible. There are many wonderful things in the obituary. Here is the link:

When I was at Grace Church in New York, John Stott came to visit and to speak to small groups. It was quite thrilling to be up close to the famous world evangelist. The scholar who took a "double first" at Cambridge spoke with the upper-class, erstwhile "BBC accent" which has now almost completely vanished from England (not even the Queen speaks the "Queen's English" any more). Yet it was obvious that he was committed body and soul to global Christianity and was altogether indifferent to the motley styles of dress, comportment, and speech that he met everywhere he went. He was truly a man of the "Majority World," as he called the "Third World." My husband attended All Souls Langham Place frequently when on business trips to London, and it was obvious from its multiethnic congregation that John Stott's ministry had brought people there from all over the global South.

John Stott's holiness of life was such that one can only repent of one's own shortcomings. His disciplined commitment to prayer, his singleminded concern that the gospel be preached, his outpouring of books, his nurturing of disciples, his global reach, his passion for the incarnation of Christ's mission in every department of human life was perhaps unequalled in recent Protestantism.

He was formidable, but he had an attractive human side. I will admit that perhaps my favorite of all his books is the "bird book," which is mentioned in the obituary, and my favorite story is one that he charmingly told on himself at Grace Church about a man who introduced him by saying that he would crawl on his knees a thousand miles to hear John Stott, and then promptly fell asleep! Stott added wryly, "I can only assume that he was exhausted from his thousand-mile crawl."

No one is without limitations. Very much like John Paul II, another celibate who was surrounded by men all his life, he was apparently somewhat clueless about women. A more important factor in assessing his influence is his character as the quintessential modernist. As such, his works--even including the famous Basic Christianity, translated into more than 60 languages--will probably find less ready audiences in decades to come. Arguments from reason no longer resonate as they once did, and his writing sometimes seems dry. The man for the next season has been at home with the Lord since 1998, but his star should rise: Lesslie Newbigen saw postmodernism coming in a way that Stott did not, and was able to rise to meet it. For both these men, for all that they wrote, for the gospel that they tirelessly preached, and for the peoples of the Majority World for which they labored, God's holy Name be praised.

Here is a nice little summary of some of Stott's quotable quotes:

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Tree of Life, continued

Well, the conversation about the Tree of Life movie is apparently just beginning (see previous post). You can check out the laudatory appraisal in Christian Century, but you have to be a subscriber and frankly, it's a pretty thin piece of work. A better review is that by Ross Douthat. He praises it to the skies, but likes The New World even better.

One of the New York Times film critics, Stephen Holden, picked it as the movie to see this summer. His opening line describes how the "mostly older" audience sat hushed and rapt as if they were in church. Maybe that's the idea. But Holden thinks it's a takedown of a patriarchal God. He writes inevitably of the "fearsome, unpredictable Old Testament God"...sigh. I don't have any hope that my new Old Testament book (And God Spoke to Abraham) will make any inroads against this tiresome misunderstanding--certainly the Times man won't read it--but I have done my best.

If the "God of Job" is as awful (as distinguished from awe-ful) as Holden assumes, then what is his relationship to the forgiving figure on the beach at the end whose feet Brad Pitt embraces? If that sort of separation between the Father and the Son is really what the director is doing, then I like the movie even less than before. But who knows, at this stage, what Malick is up to? Maybe he will give us an interview. Anyway, the debate will go on and will, perhaps, gain in depth. (Full disclosure: I was asked to review it for The Living Church but turned down the opportunity. I don't have time or energy to see it twice more and then write a serious, lengthy piece. I am still working on my Cross book, trying to wrestle 750+ pages into shape.)

Maybe I am wrong about the movie. I may change my mind. But I'm not going to change my mind about the overbearing use of so much blockbuster classical music (most of which I adore in the proper context).

I continue to recommend Malick's New World with its meticulous adhering to what we know of the historical story, combined with lyrical and, admittedly, languid camera work through the landscape of my native part of Virginia. An approximation of Pocahontas' language was reconstructed for the film, and as I wrote earlier, the Indian Princess' appearance at the English court in her authentic historical costume at the end is breathtaking (her husband, John Rolfe, being a commoner, had to come in the back door, so to speak).

Saturday, July 02, 2011

DSK fiasco

This case has apparently ended in humiliation and defeat for virtually everyone. But the person who will be able to salvage something out of it is Dominique Strauss-Kahn himself, who, while somewhat damaged, will now be lionized more than ever by his supporters (the most celebrated one also goes by three letters, BHL--Bernard Henri-Levy), and the issue of economically and socially vulnerable women exploited by powerful men will go unaddressed yet again. Those of us who had hoped for "a heroic witness" (see previous post) and a landmark case are bitterly disappointed. The fact that DSK left his DNA all over the room seems now to be irrelevant. Adultery saves marriages, trumpets a headline in The New York Times today. Isn't there an underlying issue here? Is it really OK for a wealthy married man to have "consensual" sex on the run with a hotel chambermaid? and then to be supported by the by-now-oh-so-familiar loyal wife? Yuck.