Saturday, July 30, 2011

Two Deaths In Britain

Recently, two rather noteworthy Britons died and entered into eternity. These two individuals could not have been further apart in terms of differences, among which were basic matters such as their genders and lifespans, along with more profound issues including their beliefs, values, lifestyles, and quite likely, their eternal destinies. Both of these individuals gained a level of notoriety that few individuals experience in this life. Yet like so many of the items separating them, the reasons for which each one achieved their recognition are completely polarized.

One may justifiably wonder, why write a post linking these two individuals? Indeed, why should I even see their deaths as connected except for their proximity in time? I confess that the only answers I can give are largely subjective. Yet the nearness in their passings calls observers to consider the lives each one lived, and such a consideration has the potential to yield a bountiful harvest of lessons, principles, and warnings.

John R.W. Stott was born April 27, 1921 in London, England. A little over sixty-two years later, in the same city, Amy Winehouse was born. While there are many details of their lives I could discuss here, there are already sufficient articles and writings which discuss the details of their times on earth. What I want to highlight is the irony in their deaths occurring so close to one another in light of the vast divide between the way their lives played out and. In terms of what they lived for.

Without actually obtaining proof, I am confident that more individuals alive today in the Western world have more knowledge of Amy Winehouse than they do of John Stott. Likewise, I am assured that many more people off the street would more readily quote the lines of a Winehouse tune than those from one of Stott's tomes. This reality would have been reversed by default in previous generations, perhaps even if Winehouse had existed in those times. Nevertheless, at the present it would seem that Winehouse has had the greater sway over our culture, and her Klout rating would probably be higher than Stott's were it possible for such information to be procured.

Now, one might legitimately complain that it is wrong to measure their lives in such a categorical fashion by comparing levels of influence. But to any with such gripes, I would calmly remind you that influence is a measure which all people must line up to, whether they want to or not.

Personally, I will admit that despite the content of some of her songs, I found Winehouse's voice to be among the most distinct of all artists I've ever listened to, and I've heard quite a few by the common man's standard. Although I did not always understand what she was singing until consulting the lyrics, the "soulful" quality of her voice helped her songs (at least the ones I listened to) stay in my mind for some time.

I have not read enough of Stott's writing to offer such an appraisal of his style as I have with the musical style of Winehouse. However, what I have read of his works leads me to see him as one who tried to be considerate of the gamut of views that surround whatever theological topic on which he happened to be writing while resolutely defining and defending that which was true to the message of the Bible.

Currently, I'm working through Stott's magnum opus, The Cross of Christ. It is a work that expounds and articulates one of the most glorious truths proclaimed in the Scriptures, namely that "while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Rom. 5:8b, ESV)

One of the most helpful chapters that I've read so far is titled, "The Problem of Forgiveness." Therein Stott explores a question that has surely been pondered by many a believer and raises it himself when he writes, "if we sin against one another, we are required to forgive one another. We are even warned of dire consequences if we refuse. Why can't God practice what He preaches and be equally generous?" (Stott 89) That is a question I myself have wondered. If we as Christians have to forgive others' wrongs against us, would it not seem reasonable that God ought to simply forgive sin against Him without the need for retribution and punishment? But such a line of reasoning, as Stott makes clear, has severely failed to adequately appraise both God's holiness as well as sin's seriousness. He writes, "For us to argue, 'we forgive each other unconditionally, let God do the same to us' betrays not sophistication but shallowness, since it overlooks the elementary fact that we are not God. The crucial question we should not why God finds it difficult to forgive, but how He finds it possible to do so at all." (Stott 90) While there is much more I could quote from Stott, I'll simply leave it at that for now. Plus, that wasn't the main point of this post. Thinking again of the irony in Stott and Winehouse passing so close to one another, I wonder how many others have noted such a connection. While much of the world was reveling in the scandal surrounding the death of one of the more unique pop entertainers of the recent era, what was likely a smaller group was mourning the loss of Cross's most faithful soldiers and celebrating his reception of his reward from Christ. Truthfully, I was a part of both groups.

As these two individuals have passed, I am ironically reminded of the one aspect of Stott's theology that I consciously disagree with. Without getting into the reasons of why, Stott advocated a view of Hell known as annihilationism, which argues that instead of existing eternally in conscious torment (which is the orthodox view of Hell), people simply cease to exist. Speaking as a human, in some ways I wish that for the sake of Winehouse and others that Stott was right on this one, as that would be preferable for them. Yet even here, I must let the teaching of God's word override any such man-centered feelings.

All in all, despite my one major disagreement with Stott, I would highly recommend his writings and even say along with D.A. Carson that The Cross of Christ is a must read. While I have on occasion enjoyed some of Winehouse's recordings, I cannot offer such strong recommendations for them.

I feel like this post has not really had a clear focus throughout other than pondering the proximity of the deaths of these two British individuals and the ironies of that nearness. I do not really feel the need to explicitly state which one would be better to emulate, as I think most observant individuals can make that conclusion rightly. Yet even many who would so answer the question would still make the wrong choice in experience, and that may be the most significant irony of all.


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