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Basic Christianity
s

John Stott
F o r e wo r d

by

R i c k Wa r r e n

O v e r 2 . 5 M i l l i o n C o p i e s so l d

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Front Matter.fm Page 3 Friday, May 13, 2011 11:04 AM

Basic
Christianity
s

JOHN STOTT
FOREWORD BY RICK WARREN

Front Matter.fm Page 4 Monday, January 4, 1904 10:21 PM

InterVarsity Press
P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515-1426
World Wide Web: www.ivpress.com
E-mail: email@ivpress.com
lnter-Varsity Press, London
First Edition, March 1958
Second Edition, May 1971
Retypeset and Americanized with a new foreword 2006 by Inter-Varsity Press, London
Published in the United States of America by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois, with kind
permission of Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without written permission
from Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan.
InterVarsity Press is the book-publishing division of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA , a
movement of students and faculty active on campus at hundreds of universities, colleges and schools
of nursing in the United States of America, and a member movement of the International Fellowship
of Evangelical Students. For information about local and regional activities, write Public Relations
Dept., InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA, 6400 Schroeder Rd., P.O. Box 7895, Madison, WI
53707-7895, or visit the IVCF website at <www.intervarsity.org>.
The Scripture quotations quoted herein are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible,
copyright 1946, 1952, 1971 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the
Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Design: Cindy Kiple
Images: Abel Leo/iStockphoto
ISBN 978-0-8308-6379-2 (digital)
ISBN 978-0-8308-3403-7 (print)

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Contents

Foreword by Rick Warren . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


Preface . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
1 The Right Approach . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

7
9
13

PART ONE: CHRISTS PERSON


2 The Claims of Christ . . . . . . . . . . . . .

27

3 The Character of Christ . . . . . . . . . . . .

44

4 The Resurrection of Christ . . . . . . . . . .

57

PART TWO: MANS NEED


5 The Fact and Nature of Sin . . . . . . . . . .

77

6 The Consequences of Sin . . . . . . . . . . .

89

PART THREE: CHRISTS WORK


7 The Death of Christ . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

103

8 The Salvation of Christ . . . . . . . . . . . .

123

PART FOUR: MANS RESPONSE


9 Counting the Cost . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

135

10 Reaching a Decision . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

152

11 Being a Christian. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

164

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Foreword
s

here are a few landmark


books that everyone in the world should read. This is one of the
rare few.
In the twenty-first century, you cannot afford to ignore this
book! Whether you are a skeptic, raised in another faith, spiritual seeker or Christian believer, you need to know why 2.3 billion people call themselves Christians. You need to know what
they believe and why they believe it.
This book is especially essential for leaders in business, government, academics, media, entertainment, journalism and
other fields that work directly with people. To be able to have
an intelligent conversation with one-third of our world's population, you need to understand their worldview.
John Stotts Basic Christianity is a classic introduction to the
faith that has transformed billions of lives.
Rick Warren
Pastor, Saddleback Church

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Preface
s

ostile to the church, friendly


to Jesus Christ. These words describe large numbers of people,
especially young people, today.
They are opposed to anything which savors of institutionalism. They detest the establishment and its entrenched privileges. And they reject the churchnot without some justificationbecause they regard it as impossibly corrupted by
such evils.
Yet what they have rejected is the contemporary church, not
Jesus Christ himself. It is precisely because they see a contradiction between the founder of Christianity and the current state of
the church he founded that they are so critical and aloof. The
person and teaching of Jesus have not lost their appeal, however. For one thing, he was himself an antiestablishment figure,
and some of his words had revolutionary overtones. His ideals
appear to have been incorruptible. He breathed love and peace

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wherever he went. And, for another thing, he invariably practiced what he preached.
But was he true?
An appreciable number of people throughout the world are
still brought up in Christian homes in which the truth of Christ
and of Christianity is assumed. But when their critical faculties
develop and they begin to think for themselves, they find it easier to discard the religion of their childhood than make the effort to investigate its credentials.
Very many others do not grow up in a Christian environment. Instead they absorb the teaching of Hinduism, Buddhism
or Islam, or the ethos of secular humanism, communism or existentialism.
Yet both groups, if and when they read about Jesus, find that
he holds for them a fascination they cannot easily escape.
So our starting point is the historical figure of Jesus of Nazareth. He certainly existed. There is no reasonable doubt about
that. His historicity is vouched for by pagan as well as Christian
writers.
He was also very much a human being, whatever else may be
said about him. He was born, he grew, he worked and sweated,
rested and slept, he ate and drank, suffered and died like other
men. He had a real human body and real human emotions.
But can we really believe that he was also in some sense
God? Is not the deity of Jesus a rather picturesque Christian superstition? Is there any evidence for the amazing Christian assertion that the carpenter of Nazareth was the unique Son of God?
This question is fundamental. We cannot dodge it. We must
be honest. If Jesus was not God in human flesh, Christianity is
exploded. We are left with just another religion with some beau-

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Preface

11

tiful ideas and noble ethics; its unique distinction has gone.
But there is evidence for the deity of Jesusgood, strong,
historical, cumulative evidence; evidence to which an honest
person can subscribe without committing intellectual suicide.
There are the extravagant claims which Jesus made for himself,
so bold and yet so unassuming. Then there is his incomparable
character. His strength and gentleness, his uncompromising
righteousness and tender compassion, his care for children and
his love for outcasts, his self-mastery and self-sacrifice have won
the admiration of the world. What is more, his cruel death was
not the end of him. It is claimed that he rose again from death,
and the circumstantial evidence for his resurrection is most
compelling.
Supposing Jesus was the Son of God, is basic Christianity
merely an acceptance of this fact? No. Once persuaded of the
deity of his person, we must examine the nature of his work.
What did he come to do? The biblical answer is, he came into
the world to save sinners. Jesus of Nazareth is the heavensent
Savior we sinners need. We need to be forgiven and restored
to fellowship with the all-holy God, from whom our sins have
separated us. We need to be set free from our selfishness and
given strength to live up to our ideals. We need to learn to love
one another, friend and foe alike. This is the meaning of salvation. This is what Christ came to win for us by his death
and resurrection.
Then is basic Christianity the belief that Jesus is the Son of
God who came to be the Savior of the world? No, it is not even
that. To assent to his divine person, to acknowledge mans need
of salvation, and to believe in Christs saving work are not
enough. Christianity is not just a creed; it involves action. Our

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intellectual belief may be beyond criticism; but we have to


translate our beliefs into deeds.
What must we do, then? We must commit ourselves, heart
and mind, soul and will, home and life, personally and unreservedly to Jesus Christ. We must humble ourselves before
him. We must trust in him as our Savior and submit to him as
our Lord; and then go on to take our place as loyal members of
the church and responsible citizens in the community.
Such is basic Christianity, and the theme of this book. But
before we come to the evidence for Jesus Christs deity, an introductory chapter on the right approach is necessary. The Christian claim is that we can find God in Jesus Christ. It should be
a help to us in examining this claim if we realize both that God
is himself seeking us and that we must ourselves seek God.

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1
The Right Approach
s

n the beginning God. The first


four words of the Bible are more than an introduction to the creation story or to the book of Genesis. They supply the key which
opens our understanding to the Bible as a whole. They tell us
that the religion of the Bible is a religion of the initiative of God.
You can never take God by surprise. You can never anticipate him. He always makes the first move. He is always there
in the beginning. Before man existed, God acted. Before
man stirs himself to seek God, God has sought man. In the Bible we do not see man groping after God; we see God reaching
after man.
Many people visualize a God who sits comfortably on a distant throne, remote, aloof, uninterested and indifferent to the
needs of mortals, until, it may be, they can badger him into taking action on their behalf. Such a view is wholly false. The Bible
reveals a God who, long before it even occurs to man to turn to

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him, while man is still lost in darkness and sunk in sin, takes the
initiative, rises from his throne, lays aside his glory, and stoops
to seek until he finds him.
This sovereign, anticipating activity of God is seen in many
ways. He has taken the initiative in creation, bringing the universe and its contents into existence: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. He has taken the initiative in
revelation, making known to mankind both his nature and his
will: In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers
by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a
Son. He has taken the initiative in salvation, coming in Jesus
Christ to set men and women free from their sins: God . . . has
visited and redeemed his people.1
God has created. God has spoken. God has acted. These
statements of Gods initiative in three different spheres form a
summary of the religion of the Bible. It is with the second and
third that we shall be concerned in this book, because basic
Christianity by definition begins with the historical figure of
Jesus Christ. If God has spoken, his last and greatest word to the
world is Jesus Christ. If God has acted, his noblest act is the redemption of the world through Jesus Christ.
God has spoken and acted in Jesus Christ. He has said
something. He has done something. This means that Christianity is not just pious talk. It is neither a collection of religious
ideas nor a catalog of rules. It is a gospel (i.e., good news)
in Pauls words the gospel of God . . . concerning his Son . . .
Jesus Christ our Lord.2 It is not primarily an invitation to man
1

Genesis 1:1; Hebrews 1:1-2; Luke 1:68.


Romans 1:1-4.

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to do anything; it is supremely a declaration of what God has


done in Christ for human beings like ourselves.
GOD HAS SPOKEN
Man is an insatiably inquisitive creature. His mind is so made
that it cannot rest. It is always prying into the unknown. He pursues knowledge with restless energy. His life is a voyage of discovery. He is always questing, exploring, investigating, researching. He never grows out of the childs interminable Why?
When mans mind begins to concern itself with God, however, it is baffled. It gropes in the dark. It flounders helplessly
out of its depth. Nor is this surprising, because God, whatever
or whoever he may be, is infinite, while we are finite creatures.
He is altogether beyond our comprehension. Therefore our
minds, though wonderfully effective instruments in the empirical sciences, cannot immediately help us here. They cannot
climb up into the infinite mind of God. There is no ladder, only
a vast, unmeasured gulf. Can you find out the deep things of
God? Job was asked. It is impossible.
And so the situation would have remained if God had not
taken the initiative to remedy it. Man would have remained for
ever agnostic, asking indeed with Pontius Pilate, What is
truth? but never staying for an answer, because never daring to
hope that he would receive one. He would be a worshiper, for
such is his nature; but all his altars would be inscribed, like the
one in Athens, To an unknown god.
But God has spoken. He has taken the initiative to disclose
himself. The Christian doctrine of revelation is essentially reasonable. God has unveiled to our minds what would otherwise

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have been hidden from them. Part of his revelation is in nature:


The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
What can be known about God is plain to them [that is,
men], because God has shown it to them. Ever since the
creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his
eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the
things that have been made.3
This is commonly called Gods general revelation (because
it is made to all men everywhere) or natural revelation (because
it is in nature). But this is not enough. It certainly makes known
his existence, and something of his divine power, glory and faithfulness. But if man is to come to know God personally, to have
his sins forgiven and to enter into relationship with God, he
needs a more extensive and practical revelation still. Gods selfdisclosure must include his holiness, his love and his power to
save from sin. This too God has been pleased to give. It is a special revelation, because it was made to a special people (Israel)
through special messengers (prophets in the Old Testament and
apostles in the New).
It is also supernatural because it was given through a process commonly called inspiration, and it found its chief
expression in the person and work of Jesus.
The way in which the Bible explains and describes this revelation is to say that God has spoken. We ourselves communicate with one another most easily by speech. It is by our words

Psalm 19:1; Romans 1:19-20.

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that we disclose what is in our minds. This is even more true of


God who has desired to reveal his infinite mind to our finite
minds. Since, as the prophet Isaiah put it, his thoughts are as
much higher than our thoughts as the heavens are higher than
the earth, we could never have come to know them unless he
had clothed them in words. So the word of the Lord came to
many prophets, until at last Jesus Christ came, and the Word
became flesh and dwelt among us.4
Similarly, Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, since, in
the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through
wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach
to save those who believe. Man comes to know God not
through his own wisdom but through Gods Word (what we
preach), not through human reason but through divine revelation. It is because God has made himself known in Christ
that the Christian can boldly go to the agnostic and the superstitious and say to them, as Paul did to the Athenians on the
Areopagus, What therefore you worship as unknown, this I
proclaim to you.
Much of the controversy between science and religion has
arisen through a failure to appreciate this point. The empirical
method is largely inappropriate in the sphere of religion. Scientific knowledge advances through observation and experiment.
It works on data supplied by the five physical senses. But when
we inquire into the metaphysical, no data are immediately available. God today is neither tangible, visible nor audible. Yet there
was a time when he chose to speak, and to clothe himself with
a body which could be seen and touched. So John began his first
4

John 1:1, 14.

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epistle with the claim, That which was from the beginning,
which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which
we have looked upon and touched with our hands . . . we proclaim also to you.
GOD HAS ACTED
The Christian good news is not confined to a declaration that
God has spoken. It also affirms that God has acted.
God has taken the initiative in both these ways because of the
character of mans need. For we are not only ignorant; we are
sinful. It is not sufficient therefore that God should have revealed himself to us to dispel our ignorance. He must also take
action to save us from our sins. He began in Old Testament days.
He called Abraham from Ur, making of him and his descendants
a nation, delivering them from slavery in Egypt, entering into a
covenant with them at Mount Sinai, leading them across the
desert into the Promised Land, guiding and teaching them as his
special people.
But all this was a preparation for his greater deed of redemption in Christ. Men needed to be delivered, not from slavery in
Egypt or from exile in Babylon, but from the exile and the slavery of sin. It was for this principally that Jesus Christ came. He
came as a Savior.
You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people
from their sins.
The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that
Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.
For the Son of man came to seek and to save the lost.

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He was like the shepherd who missed the only sheep which
was lost from the flock and went out to search until he found it.5
Christianity is a religion of salvation, and there is nothing
in the non-Christian religions to compare with this message of
a God who loved, and came after, and died for, a world of lost
sinners.
MANS RESPONSE
God has spoken. God has acted. The record and interpretation of these divine words and deeds is to be found in the Bible.
And there for many people they remain. As far as they are concerned, what God has said and done belongs to past history; it
has not yet come out of history into experience, out of the Bible
into life. God has spoken; but have we listened to his word? God
has acted; but have we benefited from what he has done?
What we must do will be explained in the rest of this book. At
this stage it is necessary to make only one point: we must seek.
God has sought us. He is still seeking us. We must seek him. Indeed, Gods chief quarrel with man is that he does not seek.
The Lord looks down from heaven
upon the children of men,
to see if there are any that act wisely,
that seek after God.
They have all gone astray, they are all alike corrupt;
there is none that does good,
no, not one.6

Matthew 1:21; 1 Timothy 1:15; Luke 19:10; 15:3-7.


Psalm 14:2-3.

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Yet Jesus promised: Seek and you will find. If we do not


seek, we shall never find. The shepherd searched until he found
the lost sheep. The woman searched until she found her lost
coin. Why should we expect to do less? God desires to be found,
but only by those who seek him.
We must seek diligently. Man is as lazy as he dares to be,
wrote Emerson. But this matter is so serious that we must overcome our natural laziness and apathy and give our minds to the
quest. God has little patience with triflers; he rewards those
who seek him.7
We must seek humbly. If apathy is a hindrance to some, pride
is an even greater and commoner hindrance to others. We must
acknowledge that our minds, being finite, are incapable of discovering God by their own effort without his self-revelation. I
am not saying that we should suspend rational thinking. On the
contrary, we are told by the psalmist not to be like a horse or a
mule which have no understanding. We must use our mind; but
we must also admit its limitation. Jesus said,
I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou
hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes.
It is one of the reasons why Jesus loved children. They are
teachable. They are not proud, self-important and critical. We
need the open, humble and receptive mind of a little child.
We must seek honestly. We must come to what claims to be
Gods self-revelation not only without pride, but without prejudice; not only with a humble mind, but with an open mind.
7

Hebrews 11:6.

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Every student knows the dangers of approaching his subject


with preconceived ideas. Yet many inquirers come to the Bible
with their minds already made up. But Gods promise is addressed only to the earnest seeker: You will seek me and find
me; when you seek me with all your heart.8 So we must lay
aside our prejudice and open our minds to the possibility that
Christianity may after all be true.
We must seek obediently. This is the hardest condition of all
to fulfill. In seeking God we have to be prepared not only to revise our ideas but to reform our lives. The Christian message has
a moral challenge. If the message is true, the moral challenge has
to be accepted. So God is not a fit object for mans detached
scrutiny. You cannot fix God at the end of a telescope or a microscope and say How interesting! God is not interesting. He
is deeply upsetting. The same is true of Jesus Christ.
We had thought intellectually to examine him; we find he
is spiritually examining us. The roles are reversed between
us. . . . We study Aristotle and are intellectually edified
thereby; we study Jesus and are, in the profoundest way,
spiritually disturbed. . . . We are constrained to take up
some inward moral attitude of heart and will in relation to
this Jesus. . . . A man may study Jesus with intellectual impartiality, he cannot do it with moral neutrality. . . . We
must declare our colours. To this has our unevasive contact
with Jesus brought us. We began it in the calm of the study;
we are called out to the field of moral decision.9
8

Jeremiah 29:13.
P. Carnegie Simpson, The Fact of Christ, 1930; James Clarke edition, 1952,
pp. 23, 24.

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This is what Jesus meant when, addressing some unbelieving


Jews, he said, If any mans will is to do his [that is, Gods] will,
he shall know whether the teaching is from God or whether I
am speaking on my own authority. The promise is clear: we can
know whether Jesus Christ was true or false, whether his teaching was human or divine. But the promise rests on a moral condition. We have to be ready not just to believe, but to obey. We
must be prepared to do Gods will when he makes it known.
I remember a young man coming to see me when he had just
left school and begun work in London. He had given up going
to church, he said, because he could not say the Creed without
being a hypocrite. He no longer believed it. When he had finished his explanations, I said to him, If I were to answer your
problems to your complete intellectual satisfaction, would you
be willing to alter your manner of life? He smiled slightly and
blushed. His real problem was not intellectual but moral.
This, then, is the spirit in which our search must be conducted. We must cast aside apathy, pride, prejudice and sin, and
seek God in scorn of the consequences. Of all these hindrances
to effective search the last two are the hardest to overcome, intellectual prejudice and moral self-will. Both are expressions of
fear, and fear is the greatest enemy of the truth. Fear paralyzes
our search. We know that to find God and to accept Jesus Christ
would be a very inconvenient experience. It would involve the
rethinking of our whole outlook on life and the readjustment of
our whole manner of life. And it is a combination of intellectual
and moral cowardice which makes us hesitate. We do not find
because we do not seek. We do not seek because we do not want
to find, and we know that the way to be certain of not finding is
not to seek.

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So be open to the possibility that you may be wrong. Christ


may in fact be true. And if you want to be a humble, honest,
obedient seeker after God, come to the book which claims to be
his revelation. Come particularly to the Gospels which tell the
story of Jesus Christ. Give him a chance to confront you with
himself and to authenticate himself to you. Come with the full
consent of your mind and will, ready to believe and obey if God
brings conviction to you. Why not read through the Gospel of
Mark, or John? You could read either one through at a sitting
(preferably in a modern translation), to let it make its total impact on you. Then you could re-read it slowly, a chapter a day.
Before you read, prayperhaps something like this:
God, if you exist (and I dont know if you do), and if you can
bear this prayer (and I dont know if you can), I want to tell
you that I am an honest seeker after the truth. Show me if
Jesus is your Son and the Savior of the world. And if you bring
conviction to my mind, I will trust him as my Savior and follow him as my Lord.
No one can pray such a prayer and be disappointed. God is no
mans debtor. He honors all earnest search. He rewards all honest
seekers. Christs promise is plain: Seek and you will find.