Basic Christianity is a “modern” classic I suppose. The original edition was dated 1958, and the second (and most recent) was 1971. The reason why I paid attention to these dates is because there were sections of the book, wherein the author, John Stott, made commentary about our modern culture, that was was, well, very contemporary. I kept looking to see how recently the book had been edited. I suppose a whole blog post could be devoted to the idea that our culture today is, in many ways, not appreciably different than it was in the early 1970’s. And yet, in so many ways it is much worse. But that, for another time.
Basic Christianity is divided into four sections or parts as Stott refers to them: Christ’s Person; Man’s Need; Christ’s Work; and Man’s Response. Within each part, there are two or three chapters. This alternating style between the study of Christ and corresponding reflection on mankind, works very well as Stott lays out a VERY foundational understanding of our Christian theology and man’s response to it.
Given the title, I give a modest amount of credit to Stott for not tipping his hand in any significant way as to his soteriological leanings, although it seemed in more than just a few instances his attempts at keeping his vernacular simple seemed to point to an obvious Arminian predisposition to the working of God’s grace in salvation and Stott’s descriptions of man’s work to “seal the deal.” Another complaint I have, although it does not occur too often is his use of scripture completely out of context, again seemingly to make a point, or out of an interest in using relatively simple terminology, or perhaps better said, terminology that would be familiar to anyone who had even the remotest background in the scriptures.
The most peculiar of which was Stott’s insistence that Christ knocks at the door of all people, awaiting a response. While I would agree that there is a general call made to all people to repent, I understand scripture to say that this proactive “knocking” by Christ is reserved for the saved elect. Had Stott not cited Revelation 3: 20 for his use of this concept, I might have chocked it up to his trying to use nice metaphor. But the exact context for this knocking of Christ, is to already existing believers in the Church at Laodicea, and NOT unbelievers. In its original context, Christ is sending a message of conviction to the backsliden believers in Laodicea, who needed to step up their faithful obedience, not become saved.
This oddity and a few others aside, Basic Christianity is a good book, and its durability over the course of the last 50 years is evidence of that. Strangely enough, and in betrayal of its title, I probably would not recommend it to someone exploring the faith because of the matters described above, but instead offer it as a good book for group discussion among more mature Christians who can discern some of the points that Stott makes from whatever theological stream he originates from, and accept or reject them based on their own more developed understanding of scripture.