Not I But Christ by Stephen Olford

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“Years in the ministry have taught me that many people endure the Christian life rather than enjoy it,” so begins this book by well-known Christian leader, Stephen Olford. Not I But Christ is developed around Olford’s favorite passage of Scripture, Galatians 2:20. The author writes, “So the Christian life is nothing less than ‘the outliving of the indwelling Christ’ on the principle of dependent faith” (p. XVII). Later: “The victorious life is the victorious Lord living in you and me in utter mastery” (p. 78).

There is much rich, solid meat in this little volume. Olford continuously reminds us that the Christian life is not to be lived in self-effort nor is Christ to be used as a means for our own personal ends. He quotes frequently from some of the excellent Christian leaders of the past generation, names unfamiliar to many in this generation (I am not sure why he used Bonhoeffer—p. 50).

Olford has obviously drunk deeply at the well of higher-life (Keswick) theology. Some in this movement drifted into quietism—the idea that Christ does it all while we are passive (the “let go and let God” philosophy). At times Olford seems to slip into this error as he talks about the “secret of the exchanged life” (pp. 37-38). I have always resisted this word “secret.” It was the Gnostics, not Christians, who promoted secret and esoteric knowledge. Secrets are things hidden, but the knowledge we need for Christian living is front and center—available to all.

While Olford uses some Keswick language he distances himself from quietism. He clearly states that quietism is only half right and “taking of Christ must be matched by the yielding to Christ, and that calls for discipline, obedience, dedication, and self-giving. This is not passivity; this is action” (pp. 96-97). But later he writes, “We do not live the Christ-life by trying, but by trusting. When we try, it is self-effort, and we are bewitched; when we trust, it is spirit-effort, and we are blessed” (p. 136). I am confused! More clarification is needed to reconcile these statements.

The “higher-life” teachings also are akin to holiness teachings, especially the second work of grace emphasis that elevated the normal Christian to a higher plain. Olford hints at this as well, at least once (p. 71).

The weakest section of Not I But Christ is the Afterword which contains several troubling statements. Speaking of living “by every word that comes from God,” he states, “It is the word that God speaks to your soul in the quiet place of prayer and meditation” (p. 157). Then during prayer Olford advises, “Wait until the glory of His presence seems to come upon you” (p. 161). Finally, “Take the message the Lord has given you and pray it back to Him” (p. 162, see also p. 75). I don’t believe any of these things have the backing of Scripture and could easily open the door to mystical Christianity.

Nevertheless, Not I But Christ is a book that overall will feed your soul and draw you closer to Christ. Olford’s passion for the Lord is obvious throughout and may very well be contagious.

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