Friday 13 January 2012

Listening as an Act of Love

[I contributed this week’s ‘Connecting with Culture’ from the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, written to coincide with the London memorial service of thanksgiving for the life of John Stott.]

This day, Friday 13 January 2012, sees the London Memorial and Thanksgiving Service for the life of John Stott, held at St Paul’s Cathedral.

John will be remembered for many things, highlighted in the range of tributes already offered. Just one of those, key to LICC’s Connecting with Culture reflections, is his call to ‘double listening’ – listening to the word and listening to the world.

Already in the first edition of Issues Facing Christians Today, published in 1984, John wrote of his conviction to begin with ‘God’s Word written’, along with ‘a second commitment... to the world in which God has placed us’. And that double commitment was played out across a range of global, social, and personal issues. But it was in his 1992 book, The Contemporary Christian, that he laid out the concept of ‘double listening’ as ‘indispensable to Christian discipleship and Christian mission’.

And so he wrote of listening ‘carefully (although of course with differing degrees of respect) both to the ancient Word and to the modern world, in order to relate the one to the other with a combination of fidelity and sensitivity’. For John, this was a way of carefully treading the line between irrelevance to the world on the one hand and accommodation to the world on the other hand.

As such, it lay at the heart of his vision of preaching Scripture, training leaders, and making disciples. Our submission to God’s word and our location in God’s world mean that paying attention to both is essential for authentic Christianity.

But we don’t do so as a cheap evangelistic ploy. John insisted on the need to empathise with the way the world is experienced by our fellow human beings. Listening involves understanding the world’s needs, acknowledging its fears, hearing its questions, and loving its people. Love, of course, goes with genuine listening – living out our love for God and our love for our neighbours in the realities of the world in which God has placed us. The challenge, then (to borrow terms from Andy Crouch’s Culture Making), is to listen not only as an occasional ‘gesture’ but as a characteristic ‘posture’.

John expounded the topic of double listening in his books, but he exemplified it in a life of ministry and mentoring, and encouraged others through exposition of the word and exhortation to be salt and light in the world, for God’s own glory.


LICC’s John Stott tribute site.

John Stott, The Contemporary Christian: An Urgent Plea for Double Listening (Leicester: IVP, 1992).

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