Book Review: Mark Meynell, ed. Pages form a Preacher’s Notebook: Wisdom and Prayers from the Pen of John Stott

Meynell, Mark, ed. Pages form a Preacher’s Notebook: Wisdom and Prayers from the Pen of John Stott. Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2020. 238 pp.; Pb.  $19.99  Link to Lexham Press

This new book from Lexham Press is a collection of notes, quotes and illustrations from the files of John Stott. Volunteers compiled and digitally scanned Stott’s notes, originally written on 4×6 notecards. Mark Meynell, who worked at All Souls Langham Place with Stott, selected the best of these illustrations for Pages from a Preacher’s Notebook. In the introduction to this book, Meynell suggests that the value of these notes is threefold. First, they are fascinating, insightful and occasionally provocative. Second, they reveal a great deal about Stott’s evolving working methods. And third, these notes model a deep engagement with both Scripture have a contemporary world.

Stott, Preacher's NotebookMeynell presents these notes are in four broad categories: God and Gospel, Church and Christian, World and Worldviews, and Prayers. The entries rarely take up a full page since they originally fit on an index card. Following the title of the note, the note is tagged with two or three themes. When Stott used a quotation, the editor has provided a footnote to the original source.

In the introduction, Meynell observes Stott was a magpie when it came to interesting information or cultural artifacts. Stott’s observations run from church history (Tertullian’s prayer for the government) to observations about contemporary culture (Woody Allen’s film Love and Death). He refers to diverse literary figures (Ebenezer Scrooge as an illustration of covetousness), Mark Twain’s What is Man?, and Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff.  Stott copied out C. S. Lewis’s advice on writing (starting with “turn off the radio” and ending with “don’t use a typewriter”). This originally appeared in The Letters of C. S. Lewis (1966).

His engagement with contemporary culture is clear throughout the book. For example, he uses Gerald Ford’s presidential pardon is an illustration of God’s pardon of sin. Since these notes come from a world before Google, occasionally Stott writes a short biographical note on a contemporary figure. There is a note concerning the rules of cricket. He is aware of popular films and books and even refers to The Simpsons.

Occasionally I wonder about the value of a note. For example, under the heading “addictions, at least two of the notes are dictionary definitions of popular drugs (180-81). There is a list of “Key Astronomical Discoveries” (227-28). There are some notes on the book John Robinson’s Honest to God (1963), although the book is not particularly relevant today. These notes serve to illustrate Stott’s many interests, even if they seem dated.

There are several photographs of original notes scattered throughout the book. The book concludes with a helpful index to names cited in the notes. One thing lacking is a date for each note. Perhaps this information was not available; occasionally I wondered when a particular note was written.

Pages form a Preacher’s Notebook is a fascinating book which sheds light into John Stott’s process for gathering and organizing information. The notes selected for this collection are often thought-provoking, stimulating further thought in a contemporary context.

Mark Meynell has a blog, Quaerentia: a home for seeking, curiosity and curiosities.

Thanks to Lexham Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

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