by Dr. Peter Walker (seen teaching on the left)
The King’s Speech
(2010) vividly portrays the power of a king addressing his people, as we hear the British King George VI speaking to the nation before the Second World War. How keenly people huddled around their radio sets in order to hear exactly what he was saying!
In the Bible, we have the speech of another—far, far greater—King. God is speaking to us in his Word, addressing us as his people. But are we listening? Are we “tuned in”?
I was speaking recently to someone who was reflecting on the way in which—not least because of the Internet—there are so, so many words out there in the “ether”, on the airwaves. “Words have become cheap”, she said, “So many words but less and less meaning!” And together we tried to coin a word for this death of the word in our culture: “legicide”, we mused, or perhaps “lexicide”?
Bombarded by a relentless barrage of wordy noise, of fake news, of multiple choices, it becomes difficult to turn aside to hear the “still, small voice” (1 Kings 19:12 in AV), and deliberately tune into hear our Master speaking “in accents clear and still”.
One person who did tune in—on a daily basis for over 50 years—was EFAC’s founder, John Stott. He expected those working for him in the church to do as he did—setting their alarms very early to enjoy reading the Scriptures in prayer for an hour before daring to appear for breakfast. Woe betide those whose bedroom lights had not been on at 6.00 a.m.!
Out of this personal discipline—paying close attention to the Word of the Lord, puzzling over its problems, seeking understanding from the Spirit—there emerged John’s ministry of faithful preaching and lucid exposition of the biblical text.
Chris Wright (who has inherited some of John’s ministry in running the Langham Partnership) once summarized John’s gift as being that of a “skilled exegete of the New Testament text”. John’s writing is a legacy that brings the magisterial beauty of the New Testament before our eyes and causes our hearts to “burn within us” as we hear through its pages the voice of the King addressing us as his people.
And so, we are bringing you over the coming months three or four extended extracts from one of his many books,
Focus on Christ
, which is a written version of a sermon series he gave in London forty years ago and which is soon to be republished by Langham Publishing under the new title
Life in Christ
Speaking in the aftermath of the controversy caused by the publication of
The Myth of God Incarnate
(1976) he noted that: “over against every denial of the incarnation, the church needs to reaffirm its conviction that the Christian faith is a Christ-centred faith (a faith in God as revealed in his incarnate Son) and that the Christian life is a Christ-centred life (a life lived in fellowship with Jesus Christ).”
John then set out to give us a fresh portrait of the fully-revealed biblical Christ and to encourage us make him the very centre of our thoughts and our actions. Let him continue in his own words:
My theme in this little book is that Jesus Christ is the centre of Christianity, and that therefore both the Christian faith and the Christian life, if they are to be authentic, must be focused on Christ
My concern is to examine the implications of a Christian faith and life that are focused on Christ, and to do so by means of the prepositions which are used in the New Testament in reference to him. In themselves prepositions are insignificant little words, but in the New Testament they are also signposts to profound theological truths. Many prepositions are pressed into service to portray the richness of a Christian’s relation to Christ. We are said to live our lives “through” Christ, “on” him, “in” him, “under” him, “with” him, “for” him and “like” him. Our relationship to Christ is thus displayed as a multi-faceted diamond of great beauty.
My purpose is not just theoretical; it is also pastoral and practical. How can we develop our relationship to him? How can Jesus Christ become more real to us until he occupies the central place in our lives? The process of Christian growth which is implied by these questions is as mysterious in its maturing as falling in love. For just as a couple come to know, respect and love one another more and more, until each feels the other to be indispensable and they agree to marry, so we are to come to know, worship and love Jesus Christ more and more until he becomes indispensable to us, and life without him becomes inconceivable.
It was my privilege to preach a course of sermons on this topic at All Souls Church, Langham Place, London, in 1978. This series overlapped the three-week residential Lambeth Conference at the University of Kent outside Canterbury. So as a congregation we found ourselves praying, with thousands of others throughout the Anglican Communion, that Christ would be the centre of the bishops’ thinking. As the sermons have now been rewritten for publication as a book, it expresses my anxious desire and prayer that God will graciously make many more of us in his church become truly Christ-centred Christians.
The founder of EFAC was praying that Christ himself would truly be “front and centre” throughout the Anglican Communion. One generation later (note the biblical period of forty years!) no doubt his prayer would be robustly the same.
Those forty years have seen many developments—not least the dawn of the Internet with its multiplication of words. So, there may be real value in our returning to the words of John Stott. Growing up in the era when radio ruled the world and words had to been chosen well and delivered clearly, John learnt the skill of crystal analytical clarity expressed in concise, clear speech. He drilled down into the detail of the text and emerged with nuggets of diamond-like beauty: simple, clear and deep words bringing to light the plain truths of Scripture.
The result is authoritative teaching that is biblical, pastoral, concise and incisive. As we tune in to John’s distinctive wavelength, may we also find ourselves tuning in to the King’s speech—hearing fresh messages from the King.
(1) The original book was published under the title
Focus on Christ
(Collins, 1979). All extracts are taken from the soon to be rereleased updated version, now titled as
Life in Christ,
by John R. W. Stott published by Langham Preaching Resources, Carlisle, UK, 2019. www.langhampublishing.org. Used by permission.