Over the years the Lord has allowed me to discover several incredible books that I do not believe have received the attention they deserve. These are books that are potentially mind-blowing, life-transforming, and ministry-shaping, but for whatever reason have been figuratively (or literally) collecting dust in the shadows for years. To help remedy this, I begin today an occasional series pointing our readers to some true neglected goldmines, unfamiliar books definitely worth your careful study. And first and foremost on my list is Such a Great Salvation: The Collected Essays of Alan Stibbs, edited by Andrew Atherstone.
I serendipitously purchased this book a number of years ago, almost by accident. I had never heard of Alan Stibbs (or Andrew Atherstone, for that matter) but was intrigued by a glowing advertisement for it I read in the back of another book. I am so, so thankful that the Lord introduced me to Stibbs and his writings, for this volume is among the very best books I’ve read in my adult life.
For those unfamiliar with Alan Stibbs, he was a missionary to China in the 1930s with Hudson Taylor’s China Inland Mission. After returning from the field, Stibbs then became tutor and then vice-principal at Oak Hill Theological College in London where he researched and taught for the rest of his life. He influenced generations of evangelical Anglicans and, along with Lloyd-Jones and Stott, was instrumental in the evangelical resurgence in England.
Stibbs was a mighty preacher of the Word and was described by one of his contemporaries as “one of the truly great expository preachers of the last twenty years” (16). He was also a systematic theologian of surgical precision whom J.I. Packer calls “for many years the best theological mind serving British evangelicals.” So Great Salvation demonstrates that Packer may have been understating his case. Stibbs is as exegetical as B.B. Warfield or John Murray but with a good bit more devotional warmth. He really does hit that near perfect balance of exegesis and experiential application.
This volume of essays and articles covers the gamut of topics from the inspiration of Scripture to the completeness of Jesus’ cross-work to the primacy of preaching to the nature of the local church. I finished the volume a few years ago and can testify today that some of the essays have had a dramatic and continuing influence on me. Just to illustrate my responses to this volume, at the conclusion of his essay, “The Bible as Revelation” (pgs. 49-59), I jotted in the margin of my copy, “This is one of the most remarkable essays I’ve read in years and definitely one of the best I’ve ever read on the nature of the Bible.” At the end of “God Became Man” (pgs. 95-123) I scribbled “This is the best single thing I’ve ever read on Jesus’ two natures”. And after finishing his lengthy article “Sacrament, Sacrifice and Eucharist: The Meaning, Function and Use of the Lord’s Supper” (pgs. 247-310) I wrote, “This is the very best thing I’ve ever read on the Lord’s Supper. I should read it several more times” (and I say that as a life-long Baptist). I’m not exaggerating whatsoever when I say that I learned more about the Bible in general, and about the work of Jesus in particular, from this book than from any I’ve read in the last decade (at least).
If you’re curious about the academic difficulty of So Great Salvation, the book is written about the same level as the volumes in the New Studies in Biblical Theology series (a series I believe pastors should be reading continually). One important difference, however, is that Stibbs frequently employs a beautiful, almost poetic prose more common among the British of a couple generations ago but so sorely lacking in almost all writing today.
Let’s work together to get Alan Stibbs the attention he deserves. If you’ve benefitted from guys like J.I. Packer, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, or Don Carson, I believe you’ll absolutely love Stibbs. Get yourself a copy of Such a Great Salvation: The Collected Essays of Alan Stibbs and start mining the treasures of this neglected goldmine today!
Timothy Raymond is an editor for Credo Magazine and has been the pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Muncie, Indiana since April 2006. He received his MDiv from the Baptist Bible Seminary of Pennsylvania in 2004 and has pursued further education through the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation.