Book Review: Jesus Christ: Teacher, Servant & Savior

John Stott, Jesus Christ: Teacher, Servant & Savior, John Stott Bible Studies (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Connect, 2008), booklet, 64 pages.

CoverJohn R. W. Stott is known worldwide as a preacher, evangelist, and communicator of Scripture. For many years he served as rector of All Souls Church in London, where he carried out an effective urban pastoral ministry.

This Bible study guide is a new addition in the reissued John Stott Bible Studies Series. Each booklet in the series begins with an introduction to the book (understandably sparse given the nature of the book) and includes two sections of tips for using the book, one for using it as an individual study and another for using it in a group. The back features a three-page section of helps for those using the book for leading a Bible study.

The books in the series are without ornamentation, lacking even catchy section headings, though each study is named according to its scriptural contents. Each study has four sections: Open, Study, Apply, and Pray. The “Open” section follows an introductory paragraph and features a thought-provoking question to direct the reader’s attention toward the theme of the passage being studied. The “Study” section is numbered according to each portion of the passage and includes information and summaries as well as questions. The “Apply” section provides application questions, and final “Pray” section concludes each study with guidance for turning each section into prayer or for using the teaching of the passage as a guide for prayer.

The contents of the updated series are identical to the earlier edition. The book covers have been replaced with a more classy and elegant design. The visual design of the series reflects the fact that it is all about studying the text rather than entertaining the reader with visually stimulating but bite-sized pieces of information that may or may not be relevant. The understated format—neither flashy nor showy—exemplifies this concern: don’t focus on the study guide or the questions. Let these lead you to the Scriptures and beyond them to the God of the Scriptures.

Jesus Christ: Teacher, Servant & Savior

The book Jesus Christ: Teacher, Servant & Savior is a helpful guide with thirteen studies intended for either personal or group Bible study. Each study follows one passage of Scripture (with the exception of two that share the same passage) and highlights one aspect of Jesus’ person or ministry.

The flow of the study guide follows redemptive history by beginning with Jesus as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy (Study 1: “Fulfillment of Scripture”) through His work as Savior and Lord (Studies 2-9). The final four studies address the continuing ministry of Christ on behalf of his people.

Each study is from a different book in the New Testament in roughly canonical sequence (in other words, the first study is from Matthew, the last from 1 Peter, and the studies from Paul’s epistles appear to be in the order they are believed to have been written). One of Stott’s strengths is his carefulness to place each Scripture portion in the context of the book in which it is found and in the flow of New Testament history. A new believer or a growing Christian using this study would be exposed to several of the most significant portions of Scripture and also be introduced to the major themes of thirteen New Testament books.

For example, in the final “Summary” section of the Mark study (Mark 8:27-38), Stott points out that this text deals with three major themes of Mark’s Gospel. A study leader could point this out and prepare a brief digression that points out where these themes are covered in Mark’s Gospel or assign a student to read the epistle with these themes in mind or search for these themes. The study in 1 Peter mentions (“Summary,” p. 60) that Peter’s first epistle has six passages on suffering. Any one who is discipling a new Christian could assign his or her partner to read 1 Peter and search out each of those six sections.

As one would expect from a John Stott Bible Study, each study is true to the text with only minor points of disagreement here or there (for example, some classical dispensationalists would not prefer Stott’s designation of the church as a “new Israel” or his statement that God is transferring the kingdom of God to his new people). These are easily handled in the explanation or discussion session of a study time. The overall value of the study guide more than compensates for any of these potential problems.

One place I expected some disagreement was in the study on 2 Thessalonians 2:1-17, where Stott describes Jesus as the coming Judge. But the section turned out to be very well written—not imprecise but also not going too far into one interpretive view or another. It can be used with little difficulty by a leader or church of any eschatological persuasion.

The study deals with several important themes, such as rebellion against God, the lordship of Christ, and suffering. Each is handled with adherence to the biblical text, and the application points are relevant and challenging. Some of the application points appear to be directed to those who have been Christians for a while (most notably the questions on suffering in 1 Peter), but those questions might allow the group or leader to give personal testimony to encourage a new believer.

The weaknesses of this study are those inherent in any brief study guide such as this. There is little background to the books (though Stott does well in pointing out relevant information), and a list of suggested reading would have provided much help to those using this as an independent study.

Conclusion

Overall, this study is helpful and thought-provoking. A pastor, Bible study leader, or discipleship counselor will find many ideas to use for further study and will be able to cover many of the most crucial areas of the Christian life through this little study—and find his own faith strengthened in the process. A pastor might do the study for his own edification and then use the provided texts as the basis for a sermon series. He may find it helpful to circulate copies of the study guide through the congregation while preaching the series.

As a pastor, I found myself not only challenged in my own faith (I had never asked myself what the long-term benefit of suffering has been on my Christian maturity, p. 60) but also encouraged in my ministry (p. 50, “Nothing is more necessary for the life, health, and growth of the church than the faithful teaching of the truth”). I have also been challenged to see myself in Christ and to contemplate what that means. This challenge has come with the proper tension between divine sovereignty and human responsibility. A statement in the “Pray” section on p. 42 has lingered in my thinking. Speaking of Christ as Victor, Stott reminds the reader that Christ is victorious over sin and evil forces and then encourages the reader to “pray that you will always be a participant in this victory.”

JonesMichael R. Jones is a native of Jacksonville, Florida, and is pastor of Zion Baptist Church in Taylor, Michigan. He is a graduate of William Tyndale College and Michigan Theological Seminary, where he is currently working on his MDiv. Michael is married to his beautiful wife, Tondra, and has two wonderful children, Spencer and Sophia. He blogs at www.soberdiscourse.blogspot.com.
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