Book Review – The Message of Thessalonians (John Stott)

The Message of ThessaloniansThis is actually the second time I have read (and reviewed) this book in the Bible Speaks Today series, but since I was recently going through Thessalonians again, I wanted to re-read it. I feel I have a great collection of commentaries on Thessalonians as I also really enjoyed the ones by Green and Fee. But I always appreciate Stott’s insights, and this volume has the advantage of being more concise (200 pages).

The introduction provides a brief outline of the Acts account. Stott sees the lesson of 1 Thessalonians as “the gospel and the church” and breaks it into five sections which roughly correspond to the five chapters:

  • Christian evangelism
  • Christian ministry
  • Christian behaviour
  • Christian hope
  • Christian community

Stott has a knack for breaking passages down into structures that might seem implausibly neat at first, but after he goes through the passage, you begin to think that Paul himself probably had the exact same headings in mind.

There is also a brief introduction to 2 Thessalonians, whose structure is broken down as:

  • Revelation of Christ
  • Rebellion of Antichrist
  • Responsibility of Christians meanwhile

I’ll pick out a few highlights from his commentary, which as always is insightful, devotional and practical. On the triad of “faith, hope and love” mentioned in 1 Thess 1:3, he notes that these three virtues are outgoing (faith towards God, love towards others, hope towards the future) and productive (“faith works, love labours and hope endures”).

In the section on “Christian Ministry” (1 Thess 2:1-3:13) he highlights the minister’s dual responsibility, first to the Word of God and second to the people of God. In the section on “Christian Responsibility” (1 Thess 4:1-12) he argues that “There is an urgent need for us, as pluralism and relativism spread world-wide to follow Paul’s example and give people plain, practical, ethical teaching”.

right from the beginning, converts must be told that the new life in Christ is a holy life, a life bent on pleasing God by obeying his commandments.

Although this is by no means an academic commentary series, Stott will refer to the Greek where neccessary, such as discussing the meaning of σκεῦος and κτᾶσθαι in 1 Thess 4:4.

There are a couple of places where I am not sure I agree with his conclusions. For example, he argues that the most likely explanation that some of the “idle” had stopped working was due to their imminent expectation of the Parousia. And his fitting of the “idle, timid and weak” in 1 Thess 5:14 very neatly into groups discussed earlier (so for example the “weak” are the sexually immoral) is ingenious if perhaps a little contrived. I did find his argument that the commands of 1 Thess 5:16-18 are in the context of a church service to make a lot of sense, and it is not an option I had considered before.

As I mentioned in my previous review, he provides a level-headed approach to the teaching on the second coming and antichrist. He also takes opportunities in both books to firmly underscore his opposition to the thought of modern-day apostles.

Overall, I would say that this is classic John Stott, and a fine example of how Biblical exposition should be done. Unless you need the more detailed analysis of Fee or Green, this is a great starting point for getting to grips with the teaching of these two often neglected epistles.

Book Review–The Message of Romans (John Stott)

I heard the news of John Stott’s death only a couple of days after I started re-reading this Romans commentary. It was one of the first of the Bible Speaks Today series that I read, and for all the numerous things he will rightly be remembered for, I feel especially thankful for his contributions to and editorship of this series. In this volume, as with his other commentaries, John Stott models a truly evangelical approach to Scripture. He comes reverently to the Bible, believing it to be the very Word of God, eager to learn, ready to engage with difficulties of exegesis and doctrine, and most of all, expecting to encounter God through it.

A book like Romans of course is a daunting task for any Bible expositor. So many notable expositors and scholars have already tackled it in great depth. And there are many tricky theological issues it raises. What is “the righteousness of God”? What is the correct understanding of the doctrine of election? What place does the people and nation of Israel have in God’s ongoing plan? Who is the conflicted man of Romans 7? Was Junia an apostle? Whatever positions you take, you certainly can’t please all of the people all of the time in a commentary on Romans.

Stott starts with a preliminary essay, which includes several pages devoted to the New Perspective on Paul. He is to be commended on two counts for including this. First, that he pays any attention to it at all. By my reckoning, it is only the likes of Tom Wright that have really brought the NPP into the general evangelical consciousness in recent years.  Yet Stott clearly saw back in 1994 that this was going to become a debating point, and tackled it head on. Second, the way he seeks to correctly understand and fairly represent the opinions of the likes of Stendahl, Dunn and Sanders is also commendable. In some places I felt he articulated their points better than they did, such is his gift for clarity. Having said that, he does not go along with the conclusions of the NPP. I have previously blogged about John Stott’s take on the New Perspective here.

One key interpretive issue in Romans is the role and purpose of the “law”. Stott explains that “For justification we look to the cross, not the law, and for sanctification we look to the Spirit, not the law.” However, he wants to disagree with those who deny the law a place in the Christian life. “The moral law remains a revelation of God’s will which he still expects his people to ‘fulfil’ by living lives of righteousness”. He attempts to find a balance between the errors of legalism and antinomianism by saying “Legalists fear the law and are in bondage to it. Antinomians hate the law and repudiate it. Law-abiding free people love the law and fulfil it.” Do Christians have to obey the law? Yes and no … “not because the law is our master and we have to but because Christ is our husband and we want to.” The Spirit empowers us to keep the law – our freedom from the law is not freedom to disobey it.

As he ponders what the “righteousness of God” is, he notes three explanations often given. Is it (1) a divine attribute (2) a divine activity (his saving intervention), or (3) a divine achievement (the righteous status we are given)? He asks why we have to choose – “it is at one and the same time a quality, an activity and a gift”. He then expands on this to define the righteousness of God as “God’s righteous initiative in putting sinners right with himself by bestowing on them a righteousness which is not their own but his.”

He takes some time to defend the biblical concept of the “wrath of God”, from those who find this doctrine objectionable (again pre-empting a debate that has gained much momentum more recently in evangelical circles). “God’s wrath is his holy hostility to evil his refusal to condone it or come to terms with it his just judgment upon it.” The human predicament is not only sin, but God’s wrath upon sin.

Stott’s take on the identity of the conflicted man in Romans 7 is interesting. He cannot see it as a believer, since “a slave to sin” cannot be a Christian, and yet neither can he accept the unbeliever explanation. He concludes that it is a “regenerate” man, but not one who has the Holy Spirit. For Stott this leaves him with no other option than saying that the ‘I’ is an Old Testament believer. Stott of course strongly rejects the Pentecostal view of a subsequent baptism in the Spirit for a believer (as he makes clear in his comments on Rom 8:14-17), so cannot entertain the possibility that this ‘I’ could be a believer fighting sin in human strength alone without the empowering of the Spirit.

Stott has occasion to touch on subjects such as election and predestination, and while he seems to accept a Calvinist position, he prefers to refer to the concept of “antinomy” – two seemingly conflicting truths being held together – such as divine sovereignty and human responsibility. I like his suggestion that “the perseverance of the saints” should be renamed “the perseverance of God with the saints”.

As he tackles the subject of Israel, Stott is eager to underscore the importance of evangelism for all people, including the Jews. He includes a brief “manifesto of evangelism” that summarising the teaching of Romans on evangelism.

Overall, despite not necessarily agreeing with his every viewpoint, I would say this is another excellent work and valuable for anyone personally studying or teaching through Romans. There are of course the works by Douglas Moo and Tom Schreiner which I would recommend to those wanting to go into more exegetical depth, but Stott should not be underestimated and there is plenty of well argued and thought-provoking material in here to help shape your understanding of this important New Testament book.

Book Review–The Message of 2 Timothy (John Stott)

This is, I think, one of the earliest volumes in the Bible Speaks Today series, originally published in 1973 by John Stott as a standalone exposition of 2 Timothy, entitled Guard the Gospel. Stott sums up the overall message as a call to “guard the gospel, suffer for the gospel, continue in the gospel, and proclaim the gospel”.

The introduction includes a brief survey of the debate over authorship, in which he makes many of the same points made in the intro to The Message of 1 Timothy and Titus. With over 100 pages of commentary devoted to the four chapters of 2 Timothy, he is able to take his time, discuss the meaning of each phrase, and, as always, draw out plenty of practical and devotional insights from the text.

He warns against the temptation to alter the substance of the gospel message, a call that is no less relevant almost 40 years after the first edition was published. He shows how faithfulness to the gospel involves more than just not modifying it, but we are also to live holy lives in accordance with it, demonstrating both purity of doctrine and purity of life. And we are not to hide away while doing so, but we are to proclaim the gospel, which will sooner or later involve us suffering for the gospel.

You can escape persecution by withdrawal from the world, or by assimilation to it. It is only for those who are both in the world and in Christ simultaneously that persecution becomes inevitable.

At the risk of regular readers of this blog finding the conclusions to these reviews predictable and repetitive, I have to say yet again that I highly recommend this for anyone wanting to study 2 Timothy or preparing to teach on it. Stott doesn’t just write with insight, but also with integrity, as his own lifelong passion has been to guard, to live and proclaim the gospel.

Book Review–The Message of 1 Timothy and Titus (John Stott)

Apologies for the lack of posts here recently. My energies recently have been focused on preparing some talks for Southampton and Solent CUs.

Although this commentary does not cover all three pastoral epistles, Stott uses the introduction to discuss the arguments for and against Pauline authorship for the pastorals as a whole. He does not go into exhaustive detail, but the discussion is fuller than normal for the Bible Speaks Today series.

He works verse by verse through the two letters in expository fashion, not just explaining the text, but applying it to contemporary church situations and is always willing to briefly comment on theological issues raised. Both letters contain plenty of material directed to church leaders, a passion that Stott shares, believing that “the health of the church depends very largely on the quality, faithfulness and teaching of its ordained ministers.”

His discussion of gender issues is sensitively handled, and he argues for a creation principle of male “headship” which has varying cultural expressions. This leads him to categorise women teaching alongside men raising their hands and women plaiting their hair – practises that may or may not be appropriate in different cultures as expressions of an underlying principle. It is an interesting suggestion, although it does require him to maintain that the first century cultural expression of this principle is the exact opposite of the modern one in this case.

He suggests that the ministry of deacons includes teachings, and that they functioned as assistants to the elders. The treatment of the subject of money in chapter six is particularly insightful, discussing simplicity and destitution. “Money is a drug, and covetousness a drug addiction”.

The letters of 1 Timothy and Titus have plenty to say on the importance of sound doctrine, a passion that Stott shares. He also highlights the emphasis on the importance of good works that permeates the letter to Titus. He describes Titus as being about “doctrine and duty” – in the church, the home, and the world. He argues that there is an “indissoluble connection” between doctrine and duty and that “any doctrine that does not promote godliness is manifestly bogus”.

As with all Stott’s contributions to the Bible Speaks Today Series, this is one that I would highly recommend for anyone wanting to go deeper in their personal Bible study.

Book Review–The Message of Ephesians (John Stott)

This is my second reading of this volume in the Bible Speaks Today series, and it was just as enjoyable as I remembered it being first time round. All of John Stott’s contributions are excellent, and this is one of his best.

Published originally in 1979, this volume is slightly different from others in that there is no introduction. I actually think this is a good move, as Stott deals with issues of authorship, dating, recipients in his comments on the opening verses and draws out key themes of the letter as he goes along.

Perhaps the biggest eye-opener for me (the first time through anyway) was recognising the theme of “God’s new society”. We have become so accustomed to reading the Bible individualistically that we can miss the implications for the church community. Instead of interpreting the blessings and commands in an entirely personal way (“what do I get, how should I behave”), Stott does a brilliant job of highlighting the corporate emphasis running through the letter.

The one place I found myself disagreeing with Stott (or at least wanting to say “yes, but…”) was in his discussion of the “Ephesians 4 ministries”, in which he made clear his reservations about the charismatic movement’s understanding of the need for ongoing “apostolic” and “prophetic” ministries. He makes clear that in his estimation, by far the most important gift is that of teaching. I agree with its great importance, but it seems to me that he undermines the very point he has just made so forcefully about the need for a diversity of gifts.

He devotes considerable space to the contentious issue of submission, arguing that there is indeed a creation principle of male ‘headship’, but is very careful to explain what is not meant by this.

“Certainly, ‘headship’ implies a degree of leadership and initiative, as when Christ came to woo and to win his bride. But more specifically it implies sacrifice, self-giving for the sake of the beloved, as when Christ Gave himself for his bride. If ‘headship’ means ‘power’ in any sense, then it is power to care not to crush, power to serve to not dominate, power to facilitate self-fulfilment, not to frustrate or destroy it.”

In fact if anything, Stott’s commentary on Eph 5:21-6:9 focuses more on what the text is not saying than what it is. For example, he includes a section explaining why the NT does not explicitly call for the abolition of slavery.

Though this is not an academic commentary, Stott is not afraid to get involved in exegetical debates where necessary. For example, he spends several pages surveying the history of the idea that the “powers and authorities” are not demons but socio-political structures. His thoughtful critique of the position (which is still popular) concludes that it is “ingenious” yet “contrived”.

“in reaffirming that the principalities and powers are personal supernatural agencies, I am not at all denying that they can use structures, traditions, institutions, etc. For good or ill; I am only wishing to avoid the confusion which comes from identifying them. … Advocates of the new theory warn us against deifying structures; I want to warn them against demonizing them.”

Stott also makes good use of the best quotes from other commentators, which makes this a rich treasure trove of source material for those preaching on Ephesians. It contains a marvellous combination of careful exegesis and pastoral wisdom, which makes it an excellent choice for anyone wanting to study the book of Ephesians in greater depth.

John Stott on Unity and Credibility

John Stott on Eph 2:11-22 in The Message of Ephesians, p111

It is simply impossible, with any shred of Christian integrity, to go on proclaiming that Jesus by his cross has abolished the old divisions and created a new single humanity of love, while at the same time we are contradicting our message by tolerating racial or social or other barriers within our church fellowship. 

We need to get the failures of the church on our conscience, to feel the offence to Christ and the world which these failures are, to weep over the credibility gap between the church’s talk and the church’s walk, to repent of our readiness to excuse and even condone our failures and to determine to do something about it. I wonder if anything is more urgent today, for the honour of Christ and for the spread of the gospel, than that the church should be, and should be seen to be, what by God’s purpose and Christ’s achievement it already is – a single new humanity, a model of human community, a family of reconciled brothers and sisters who love their Father and love each other, the evident dwelling place of God by his Spirit. Only then will the world believe in Christ as Peacemaker. Only then will God receive the glory due to his name.

Book Review – The Message of Acts (John Stott)

This volume of the Bible Speaks Today series runs to over 400 pages (plus study guide), making it one of the longest in the series. Rather than simply providing commentary on the text, Stott seeks to show how the message of Acts applies to us today.

I have tried, therefore, to address myself with integrity to some of the main questions which the Acts raises for today’s Christians, such as the baptism of the Spirit and charismatic gifts, signs and wonders, the economic sharing of the first Christian community in Jerusalem, church discipline, the diversity of ministries, Christian conversion, racial prejudice, missionary principles, the cost of Christian unity, motives and methods in evangelism, the call to suffer for Christ, church and state, and divine providence.

His attention to contemporary issues raised by the text makes this commentary a much more vibrant read than several other commentaries I have read on Acts (TNTC by Howard Marshall, NICNT by F F Bruce, NIBC by David Williams). Stott does address issues of historicity, geography and historical background, but not to the same depth as these other commentaries, leaving him plenty of space to reflect on theology and practical application.

The group of churches I am part of, newfrontiers, tends to favour different interpretations of the book of Acts to Stott in several places. First of all, Stott is convinced that the concept of an “apostle” belongs to the first century only, arguing that there are no more apostles today, since apostles must be directly appointed by Christ. This causes him to make less emphasis on Paul’s church planting methods and relationship with those churches as a paradigm for modern day church planting and apostolic ministry.

Second, Stott is not a charismatic, and so plays down expectations that gifts of tongues and prophecy as well as signs and wonders may occur today. Third, he strongly disagrees with the Pentecostal (and Catholic) understanding of baptism in the Spirit as distinct from conversion. There are other places where his Anglicanism is noticeable, such as his plea not to abandon the “institutional church”, as well as his views on the mode of baptism.

Notwithstanding these differences of opinion, there is a wealth of profitable material to be gleaned from this commentary. He highlights some interesting parallels between Luke’s gospel and Acts, including the way Paul’s journey to Jerusalem mirrors Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem. In addition, the arrest and trial narratives of both Jesus and Paul have various parallels. Another is the similarity between the Emmaeus road and Ethiopian eunuch stories. By telling these stories in parallel ways, Luke shows how the early believers (and Paul especially) walked in the steps of Jesus.

Just as the Spirit came upon Jesus to equip him for his public ministry, so now the Spirit was to come upon his people to equip them for theirs.

Though he does not take it up at every point, Stott chooses a few key places to defend the historicity of Luke’s account, such as the ascension and the relationship between the three tellings of Paul’s conversion.

Stott brings out plenty of helpful principles for evangelising and for communicating the gospel as he works through the various stories of the mission of the early church, especially in how different approaches were needed for those of different religious and cultural backgrounds.

Although in Acts 19:1-6 Stott is adamant that the Ephesian disciples were clearly not believers, his language sounds remarkably similar to David Pawson’s concept of the “normal Christian birth” consisting of distinct elements:

The norm of Christian experience, then, is a cluster of four things: repentance, faith in Jesus, water baptism and the gift of the Spirit. Though the perceived order may vary a little, the four belong together and are universal in Christian initiation.

Though Stott’s views on the Spirit will not be agreed with by those like myself from newfrontiers, we do find a lot of common ground on his comments on eldership. He sees eldership as being “local” and “plural”, with no pyramid structure, but rather a team. “Elders”, “pastors” and “overseers” are all terms referring to the same office.

This was my second reading of Stott’s commentary on Acts, and it only serves to cement its place as my favourite on this book. I would recommend consulting it to all who preach from or study the book of Acts.

Book Review – The Radical Disciple (John Stott)

There is a certain poignancy to this book – it is John Stott’s "farewell" – his final publication. Over the years he has produced dozens of books covering Biblical exposition right through to engagement with all kinds of contemporary issues. His book "The Cross of Christ" is certainly a contender for the best Christian book I have ever read, and his contributions to the Bible Speaks Today series are amongst the best on offer (Sermon on the Mount, Romans, Acts, Galatians, Ephesians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy & Titus, 2 Timothy). He is one of the most (if not the most) widely respected evangelical leaders in the UK, and deservedly so. So when he writes a "farewell" book, it’s definitely going to be worth paying attention to.

The book is a call for us all to be "radical disciples". To be radical is to be deep-rooted and whole-hearted. Stott picks out eight areas to explore in which we can become more committed followers of Jesus.

Our common way of avoiding radical discipleship is to be selective; choosing those areas in which commitment suits us and staying away from those areas in which it will be costly. But because Jesus is Lord, we have no right to pick and choose the areas in which we will submit to his authority.

The first area is non-conformity. Both escapism and conformism are forbidden to the believer. We are called to engage with our culture without compromise. Stott identifies four areas in which we need to refuse to conform: pluralism, ethical relativism, materialism, and narcissism (love of self).

The second area is closely related – Christlikeness is the will of God for the people of God. Stott takes us on a Bible-study showing the call to Christlikeness, some specific ways in which we are to be like Christ, and some implications of our Christlikeness. One of the reasons our evangelistic efforts fail is that we don’t look like Christ.

God’s purpose is to make us like Christ, and God’s way is to fill us with his Holy Spirit

The third area is maturity. Stott laments the fact that the modern church can be summed up in the phrase "growth without depth". He draws on Col 1:28-29 to bring out some aspects of maturity. In particular, we need a fresh vision of Christ, from the pages of Scripture. We must look for Christ as we read the Scriptures, in order to love, trust and obey him.

"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ."

A fourth area is creation care. The simple fact that this chapter is here shows Stott’s commitment to applying Scripture to contemporary issues. He starts by building a biblical case for our responsible stewardship of the earth, avoiding the two extremes of deification of nature and exploitation of nature. He commends the work of tearfund and A Rocha, and calls us to be deeply committed to care for the creation. He quotes Chris Wright:

It seems quite inexplicable to me that there are some Christians who claim to love and worship God, to be disciples of Jesus, and yet have no concern for the earth that bears his stamp of ownership. They do not care about the abuse of the earth and indeed, by their wasteful and over-consumptive lifestyles, they collude in it.

A fifth area is simplicity. John Stott speaks from a position of integrity on this subject, since his book sales and speaking engagements could have made him a millionaire, yet he practices what he preaches, giving all his book royalties towards the work of providing books for believers and pastors in poorer countries. He feels grieved that the International Consultation on Simple Lifestyle which took place in March 1980 received very little attention, and this chapter is simply given to republish their statement (which he co-wrote with Ron Sider). This is a very challenging chapter, and one that exposes deep-seated idols that we are reluctant to part with. It is sad that Stott seems to be something of a lone voice in the evangelical world on this subject.

The sixth area is balance. In this chapter Stott expounds 1 Peter 2:1-17 and brings out three areas to hold in balance:

  • Both individual discipleship and corporate fellowship
  • Both worship and work
  • Both pilgrimage and citizenship

The seventh area is dependence. He movingly speaks of his experiences of growing increasingly frail and weak. Humiliation is the road to humility. He notes that we start and end our lives completely dependent on others. We are not designed to be independent from one another: "You are designed to be a burden to me and I am designed to be a burden to you."

Christ himself takes on the dignity of dependence. He is born a baby, totally dependent on the care of his mother. He needs to be fed, he needs his bottom to be wiped, he needs to be propped up when he rolls over. And yet he never loses his divine dignity. And at the end, on the cross, he again becomes totally dependent, limbs pierced and stretched, unable to move. So in the person of Christ we learn that dependence does not, cannot, deprive a person of their dignity, of their supreme worth. And if dependence was appropriate for the God of the universe, it is certainly appropriate for us.

The final chapter deals with death. In it he explores from several angles the paradox of Christianity that death is the road to life. Our disicipleship involves a death to self. Our mission leads to the cross. He speaks of persecution and martyrdom, before moving finally to consider our mortality, and how death has been robbed of its horrors for the Christian.

Basic to all discipleship is our resolve not only to address Jesus with polite titles, but to follow his teaching and obey his commands.

In conclusion, this is a book you will want to read if you have had any contact with John Stott’s teaching ministry before. Though he is far too humble to say it about himself, it comes from a man who has fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith (2 Tim 4:7). He has not asked us to do anything that he has not modelled first in his own life. It is a fitting farewell from a remarkable servant of God and I pray that his vision of radical discipleship will be fully embraced by the next generation.

William Temple on Christlikeness and the Spirit

In John Stott’s Radical Disciple, in a chapter on Christlikeness, he cites William Temple:

It’s no good giving me a play like Hamlet or King Lear and telling me to write a play like that. Shakespeare could do it; I can’t.
And it is no good showing me a life like the life of Jesus and telling me to live a life like that. Jesus could do it; I can’t.
But if the genius of Shakespeare could come and live in me, then I could write plays like his.
And if the Spirit of Jesus could come and live in me, then I could live a life like his.

Stott concludes:

God’s purpose is to make us like Christ, and God’s way is to fill us with his Holy Spirit

Book Review – The Message of Galatians (John Stott)

This is one of the first volumes in the Bible Speaks Today series, and was originally published 40 years ago in 1968. Unlike later volumes in the series, there is no introduction. Stott dives right in and begins his exposition of the text. Naturally, he covers the issues like authorship, dating, recipients, and themes along the way, but not in so much detail as a typical commentary might.

Paul is writing, he argues, to the churches in South Galatia to defend his apostleship and his gospel, both of which have come under attack from false teachers. Stott often points out that Paul still has many modern day opponents who deny his authority and reject his gospel message.

Each chapter of Galatians is dealt with in three or four chapters in the commentary. Stott sees Galatians as more or less falling into three main parts which roughly correspond to two chapters each. The first (Gal 1,2) deals with a question of authority. Paul defends his authority based on his apostleship. Those who are familiar with Stott’s writings will know how keen he is to emphasise the uniqueness of the 12 apostles, and his denial of any kind of apostolic succession or modern day apostles, both of which he would view as challenging the apostolic authority of Scripture.

The second section (Gal 3,4) deals with a question of salvation. The gospel is presented as salvation through the death of Jesus Christ, and is received by faith alone. He sees the false teachers as proponents of salvation through keeping the law as a necessary ‘supplement’ to what Christ has done. He shows how the law of Moses ("thou shalt…") is contrasted to God’s promises to Abraham ("I will…"), and therefore the gospel is analogous to the promise, not the law. He regularly quotes Luther in this section.

The significance of the law is to show us our need of the gospel. Stott argues that this step cannot be bypassed – we must let the law show us our sin, before we can understand what the gospel is. Come to Moses first, and let Moses lead us to Christ.

The third section (Gal 5,6) deals with a question of holiness. Up until now, Paul’s message of Christian liberty may lead some to assume that anything goes in terms of behaviour. But liberty does not mean license. Stott argues that Christian freedom is primarily a freedom of conscience – we are not guilty before God. But freedom from law does not mean freedom from keeping the law – our sanctification involves us fulfilling the law, which Paul says is summed up in the command to love your neighbour (Gal 5:14). Similarly, we are called to fulfil the law of Christ (Gal 6:2).

Stott argues that the Christian has a conflict between what he is by nature (the flesh) and what he is by rebirth. In both Gal 5 and Rom 7 Paul presents walking by the Spirit as the solution to this conflict. We have nailed our flesh to the cross, but we need to keep it there until it dies. He describes holiness as a harvest. Paul speaks in Gal 6:8 about whether we sow to the flesh or to the Spirit. Holiness then is not automatic, but depends on where and how we sow.

Although the book has no introduction, a summary section at the end reiterates the main themes of the book and its key points for application. There is also a study guide at the end.

As with John Stott’s other contributions to the Bible Speaks Today series, this volume comes highly recommended. Due to its age, he does not address the question of the "New Perspective on Paul" (in particular, were the false teachers really teaching salvation by works?), and perhaps his approach to the issue of modern day apostles would be tempered by some of the clarifications that have been made by groups such as newfrontiers (that modern day apostles are not seen as having an authority equivalent to the 12, who were unique in that sense). I also felt that he could have explored more what it means to walk in the Spirit. Stott makes several comments throughout the book to state that the church are the inheritors of the Old Testament promises, and are in full continuity with the Old Testament believers, which is another key theme found in Galatians.

The strength of this commentary is an uncompromising proclamation of the message of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Having laid this foundation, Stott then goes on to show how exhortation to holiness is not in conflict with this message. It will prove a valuable resource for anyone wanting to study or teach through the book of Galatians.