What does it mean to be a Christian? Is it mere intellectual assent to the truth claims of Christianity? It is more than that, Stott argues: “Christianity is not just about what we believe; it’s also about how we behave.” (p.15). Thus, Basic Christianity is an introduction and defense of the basic claims of the faith that then argues for a human response. Stott makes his case via four parts: (1) Who is Christ; (2) What we need; (3) What Christ has done; (4) How to respond.
The central claim of Christianity is the claim of Christ’s deity (part one). Jesus claimed deity both directly and indirectly. Indirectly, he claimed to do that which only God can do, such as the power to forgive sins and to judge the world (pp.41-45). Another foundational claim is that all humanity is in need (part two) of Christ’s atoning sacrifice (part three). Here, Stott exposes the reality and pervasiveness of sin from an examination of human history and the biblical record. Stott then shows the consequences of sin and how it separates us from God, enslaves us—such that we need a Savior who can redeem us—and how sin affects the way we treat others. Finally, he demonstrates that Jesus achieved for mankind salvation from sin, resulting in the power to experience newness of life.
Part four is a passionate plea to consider the facts of Christ, count the cost, and make Christ both “Savior and…Lord” (p.163). This decision places the newfound Christian in God’s family. Like any family, being a member of God’s family has “privileges and responsibilities” (p.172). Privileges include an intimate relationship with God that can never be broken. Responsibilities include a duty to God, namely reading the Bible and prayer, a duty to join and serve in the local church; and a duty to serve the world. In the end, being a Christian is “to follow [Jesus], to give ourselves completely and unreservedly to his service” (p.186).
Critique and Application
True to its title, Basic Christianity delivers an engaging and persuasive case to accept and then respond to the basic claims of Christianity. This case is made primarily through a strong biblical argument for the deity of Christ; the reality, pervasiveness, and consequences of sin, and the need to accept and follow Christ as Lord and Savior. This book would be especially helpful to skeptics who have little or no understanding of the basic claims of Christianity and the story of the Bible. It might also prove helpful to Christians who desire a better understanding of the strong case for the deity and resurrection of Christ.
Part two is perhaps the most helpful section. Here, Stott gives a thorough treatment of sin that includes an honest examination of both human history and the biblical record, including, but not limited to, a helpful exposition of the Ten Commandments in which he skillfully demonstrates the pervasiveness of sin and it’s marring affect upon mankind. An honest skeptic would have no choice but to seriously consider such evidence. Stott states the case succinctly when he writes: “God’s order is that we put him first, others next, self last. Sin is the reversal of the order.” (p. 104).
Two points of contention must be mentioned. First, Stott barely, if ever, mentions the role of grace in the act of salvation. Rather, the reader could easily come away with the impression that God and man are equal partners in the equation. Secondly, Stott’s use of Revelation 3:20 to explain how Christ is ready to enter an unbeliever's soul is used out of context. While perhaps it is theologically accurate, the text itself is used in relation to people who already believe.
Nevertheless, Stott’s insistence that the reader submit to Jesus as Lord and Savior is valid and refreshing. In fact, it is this very call that applies to me personally. The reminder that Jesus calls us to abandon self and to follow him with complete surrender is a reminder that all of us need to hear from time to time. Submitting to that call is made easier when we look to the cross. Stott says it well when he says: “It is only as we see the cross that we become willing to deny ourselves and follow Christ.” (p.158).