Thursday, 6 October 2011

Ye Servants of God

Over the last 3 months we have seen in Britain the passing of three of our most insightful theologians. The Church Militant has benefited greatly from their thoughts and their words, and now the Church Triumphant is blessed by their presence.

John Stott was an Anglican Evangelical Church leader who helped the Church throughout the world to grasp a fuller understanding of the nature of the Christian gospel. As one of the authors of the Lausanne Covenant in the 1970s he helped the evangelical wing of the church to see that salvation wasn't just about the soul of the individual believer, but about social caring and the struggle for justice. Many thousands of new Christians were grounded in their faith through reading 'Basic Christianity'; many more came to a fuller understanding of the Cross through reading 'The Cross of Christ'; and yet more were helped in their discipleship in an increasingly pluralistic society and through the decline of Christendom through his work with the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, and books such as 'Issues Facing Christians Today' and 'The Contemporary Christian'. Stott was instrumental in guiding Evangelicals out from the margins of the church and into a position where they now have considerable influence.

Kingsley Barrett was one of the leading New Testament scholars of the 20th Century. His commentaries on John's Gospel, the Acts of the Apostles, and Paul's letters to the Romans & Corinthians have become seminal works in Biblical Studies. But Barrett is remembered just as much by some for his passionate commitment to the Methodist people. He was a strong critic of the stalled unity scheme with the Church of England in the 1960s, and quickly became the unofficial spokesman for the 'Voice of Methodism' that grew up as a reaction to the unity talks. But what impressed me most about him was his willingness - indeed his love - of preaching not in the 'big' University pulpits of Durham but in the small mining village chapels, where he preached in down-to-earth language about the Jesus he not only studied but whom he loved and served.

Angela Shier-Jones may not be as well-known in the wider church as the two above, but she was no less of a great scholar and theologian. Angela cared deeply about her Methodist heritage, and longed for people to understand and live out the inherent inclusivity of Wesleyan Arminian theology. Her writings demonstrate her passion, and her desire to make that heritage relevant to contemporary discipleship. Angela was, at times, the grit in the oyster of Methodism, irritating (in the positive sense) to produce pearls of great wisdom and insight. Her blog 'The Kneeler' was a vehicle for her to vent some of her frustration and anger with her beloved Methodist Church, but always with a loving and prophetic edge.

The Church today is the richer for the wisdom and devotion of these saints and servants of Christ. May they rest in peace and rise in glory.