In 1982 John Stott chastised himself for his 1966 book Men Made New. It was an exposition of Romans 5 through 8. I read it in 1967 while coming alive to the glories of exposition. He agreed with a critical letter: “Your book is like a house without windows,” meaning it had no illustrations (Between Two Worlds, 240).
My response to that was, and is: Men Made New did not need windows. It was all window.
I was waking up from the soporific effects of the kind of preaching that was one part explanation and 99 parts illustration. I had never heard the sort of thing John Stott did when he preached (and turned it into books). It was riveting. Thrilling. Suddenly the meaning of Bible sentences became treasure chests to be opened.
To this day I have zero interest in watching a preacher take his stand on top of the (closed) treasure chest of Bible sentences and eloquently talk about his life or his family or the news or history or culture or movies, or even general theological principles and themes, without opening the chest and showing me the specific jewels in these Bible sentences.
John Stott turned the words of Bible sentences into windows onto glorious reality by explaining them in clear, compelling, complete, coherent, fresh, silly-free, English sentences.
For Stott “all true Christian preaching is expository preaching. . . ”
“Exposition” refers to the content of the sermon (biblical truth) rather than its style (a running commentary). To expound Scripture is to bring out of the text what is there and expose it to view. The expositor [pries] open what appears to be closed, makes plain what is obscure, unravels what is knotted, and unfolds what is tightly packed.” (Between Two Worlds, 125ff)
Yes! This is what I was starving for and didn’t even know it. Amazing! Someone is telling me what these sentences mean! Someone is making light shine on these words. It is shining so bright, I can’t sleep in this light! I am waking up from decades of dull dealing with God’s word. Thank you. Thank you. I could care less if you tell me any stories. I want to know what God means by these words!
And of course what God means is staggeringly important and glorious and horrible and tender and rugged and shocking and ravishing and relevant. And implications are crashing down on me every minute, and my heart is churning with shock and wonder and fear and hope and sorrow and joy and cries for help. This is what I have been waiting for all my life. Thank you, John Stott, for telling me what these words mean.
In those days, I knew I could not preach. But I knew that this is the kind of preaching I wanted to hear — and if a miracle happened, and I ever became a preacher, the kind I wanted to do. The expository kind. The articulate kind. The coherent kind. The clear kind. The shove-your-face-in-the-text kind. The iron-clad-argument-from-conjunctions kind. The blow-the-gloom-of-ignorance-and-doubt-away kind. The no-nonsense-utterly-realistic-tell-it-like-it-is kind.
So, John Stott, I’m glad you preached and wrote Men Made New just like it was. I’m glad you preached the way you preached. And when you heard your “Well done,” yesterday in heaven, I don’t think Jesus meant, “Except for the illustrations.”