Book Review: “Between Two Worlds” (John Stott)

betweenDr. John Stott was born in London in 1921 and served at the All Souls Church, Langham Place in London for 35 years (from 1945-1950 as vicor and from 1950-1975 as rector). He studied at Trinity College, Cambridge (French and Theology) and Ridley Hall Theological College, Cambridge where he was ordained as an Anglical clergyman. Stott was a central figure in British evangelicalism during his ministry and he founded and served as the honorary president of Langham Partnership International. He has written numerous books including Basic Christianity, The Cross of Christ, and Evangelical Truth. Dr. Stott went to be with the Lord on July 27, 2011.

Purpose of the Book

Stott wrote, “I confess to being – for reasons which will emerge in the following chapters – an impenitent believer in the indispensable necessity of preaching both for evangelism and for the healthy growth of the Church. The contemporary situation makes preaching more difficult; it does not make it any less necessary.” His desire is to help preachers bridge the gap between the biblical and contemporary worlds, while also recognizing the necessity of both.

Organization and Content

This book is divided into eight chapters yet, these chapters can be organized into two sections: (1) History and theology of preaching and (2) Practical considerations of preaching. The first four chapters focus on the history, theology, definition, and objections to preaching while the remaining chapters address the more practical components of the preaching task. Stott emphasized that the historical and theological aspects of preaching must not be bypassed in favor of the practical aspects.

In the first chapter, Stott takes a historical look at preaching from the time of Jesus to the twentieth century. He emphasized that preaching has been the foundation of the church and there is a broad tradition of preaching since the time of Jesus. It is essential, then, to examine the historical basis of preaching in any endeavor to discuss contemporary approaches.

Stott focused on the contemporary objections to the preaching responsibility in chapter two. He addressed objections such as the anti-authority mood in contemporary culture, the cybernetics revolution, and the church’s loss of confidence in the gospel. Stott addressed each objection from a biblical perspective and settled on the proposition that biblical preaching will be the best way to address these concerns.

In the third chapter, Stott examined the theological foundations for preaching. He emphasized that theological convictions concerning God, Scripture, the church, the pastorate, and the task of preaching must be firmly established. When they are established, Stott believes that the objections to preaching will not deter preachers from the ministry to which they have been called.

Stott offered a working definition of preaching in the fourth chapter. The title of the book gets its origin in this chapter. Stott emphasized that the preaching task is one in which the preacher bridges the gap between the “revealed Word” and the “contemporary world.” When this is accomplished the preacher will be faithful to proclaim the Word while also applying the Word to the modern hearer.

In the fifth and sixth chapters, Stott discussed the practical issues surrounding studying and preparation for sermons. He insisted that preachers who determine to bridge the two worlds are called to study and prepare. Stott offered guidance for accomplishing both tasks and a step-by-step method for sermon preparation.

The final two chapters consist of Stott’s practical encouragement for the life of the preacher. He stated that preachers must be certain that their lives consist of sincerity, earnestness, courage, and humility. If the preacher’s life is not characterized by these qualities, it will be difficult to gain respect as one whose life has been transformed by the gospel.

Personal Evaluation

One of the greatest accomplishments of this book is that Stott demonstrates a pastor’s heart throughout the work. It is evident that he has a passion for preaching and a passion to see biblical preaching recovered in the local church. His insights are piercing and he is able to balance both the theological and practical dimensions of preaching.

The greatest weakness of this book is that it there is an end to it! This is, by far, the best book I have read on preaching and the responsibility preachers have. I would have liked to see Stott address more issues (namely the mechanics of the preaching event) in the book simply because of his insight and profound wisdom. It is probably the first preaching book that I have finished and wished it were not over.

This book, overall, is a masterpiece for persons who are in pastoral ministry. Those who desire to see biblical preaching recovered in the contemporary church will find an ally in John Stott. He is accessible and yet profound. Between Two Worlds should be on every pastor’s shelf and it should be read at least once a year.