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Remembering John R.W. Stott on his Birthday – One of The Greatest Evangelicals of Our Time

27 Apr

Remembering John R.W. Stott Who Would Have Been 91 on April 27, 2012

I first met John Stott in 1985 after he had given a message at a Chapel service at what was then called Multnomah School of the Bible (Multnomah University) in Portland, Oregon. After he spoke he stayed for lunch and ate in the cafeteria. I was privileged to sit with him and hear his wisdom for over an hour. I was impressed with his humility, knowledge of the Scriptures, and genuine concern for us students. Two years later I was returning from spending two months in Spain on a missions trip and met up with my parents in London for a few days. While there we went to All Souls Church in London and worshiped there with John Stott delivering a wonderful Christo-centric sermon from Isaiah. Afterwards while waiting in a very long line to greet “Uncle John” he said to me without hesitation, “Hello David, how is your ministry at Multnomah going?” I couldn’t believe that he remembered my name, my ministry (with junior highers at the time), and where I was going to school! Needless to say, I was dumbfounded. I have always held Stott’s commentaries, books, and ministry in high regard – but what I loved most about Stott – was his genuine love for, and ability to shepherd like the Chief Shepherd – not just his local sheep, but around the world. I have taken random samples of tribute from Stott in this short article – many are from memorial services held for him around the globe, and some are from tributes in various venues. May John Stott’s tribe increase! We miss you Uncle John! – Dr. David P. Craig

“He (John Stott) truly was, in some ways, the first person who spoke the word of God to me through his literature and I also heard him in person,” proclaimed Tim Keller, senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City and whom Newsweek magazine described as a “C.S. Lewis for the twenty-first century.”

Keller delivered the sermon at John Stott’s U.S. memorial service Friday (Wheaton Bible Church, November, 11, 2011) and shared that Stott’s bestselling book, Basic Christianity (1958), which has sold well over a million copies and has been translated into 25 languages, had a “profound informative influence” on him.

“Therefore, I needed to rethink. I need to do what Hebrews 13:7 says I should do. I need to rethink my life in light of the results of his (Stott’s) life,” recalled Keller about his thinking several months ago when he was invited to speak at Stott’s memorial service.

He is the author of over 50 books translated into 65 languages, and was named by Time magazine in 2005 as one of the “100 most influential people” in the world.

But despite the influence and recognition he received during his life, Stott is remembered for his humbleness and dedication in serving the Lord.

“The greatest gifts in John’s life were not his talents, it was actually his character,” remarked the Rev. Dr. Mark Labberton, a former study assistant of Stott who is now a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary in California.

Keller, who said he read six volumes on the life of John Stott over the past two months, stated that he uncovered five findings about Stott’s life that should make Christians rethink their own life.

First, Christians should be convicted by Stott’s Kingdom vision and zeal for God’s Kingdom.

“Everything I have read, known, and by all accounts, John Stott’s motives were about as pure as a human being’s motives can be,” asserted Keller. “He was not an ambitious man for his own glory. He did not want power. It was obvious he did not want status. He did not want wealth, he gave it away.” 

“But there was something driving him,” said the influential American preacher.

Although Stott was considered the greatest student evangelist of his generation and foresaw the rise of Christianity in the global South before most anyone else, he was not satisfied with his accomplishments.

“Here is my point. Most of the rest of us would be very happy being told you are the best. You are the best preacher, you’re the best of this or that. But he didn’t care about that. He wanted to change the world for Christ,” Keller explained. “I looked at his motives, I looked at his labors, how he spent himself, and how he gave himself. Why wasn’t he ever satisfied? It really was not worldly ambition. He really wanted to really change the world for Christ. We should be convicted by that.”

Stott’s life, according to Keller, should also make Christians reflect on their cultural learning curve in terms of the cultural blinders on their eyes, and believers should be chastened by his leadership controversy. If even a man as gracious as Stott could not avoid controversy and fall-outs with other Christian leaders, people should “realize that it (controversy) is going to happen. If you want to do something for Christ, someone will be mad.”

Keller also found that Stott was a great innovator, including his reinvention of expository preaching, invention of the modern city-centered church, his role as a Christian statesman who uses institutions to further the work of God, and his forcing evangelicals to deal with social justice issues.

Finally, the evangelical scholar, while studying Stott’s life, found that the English clergyman essentially created evangelicalism, which Keller sees as “the greatest center between fundamentalism and liberalism.”

The Rev. Dr. Christopher Wright, the so-called “successor” of Stott and the international director of Langham Partnership in London, remarked that Stott was way ahead of his time.

“From the early stages of his ministry, he reached out to the whole world. Starting here in the United States, his first international trip, and so many other countries … his thinking, his world was global,” said Wright. “Long before the Internet, John Stott had created a world wide web from relationships and friendships and ministries. Long before the iMac, or the iPhone, or the iPad, there was iFrances (Stott’s long-time secretary), reaching out to the world on behalf of John, by letters, faxes, and eventually, through emails… “He always spoke of himself as just an ordinary follower of Jesus. He once said we should not get used to adulation … he never reveled in being famous. I think he would want to be remembered as a disciple of Jesus.”

Dr. Joshua Moody, senior pastor of College Church, recalled Stott saying decades ago to a group of undergraduate students that included himself, “If I had to live life over, I would live for Christ.” After a pause, Stott added, “You know, if I had to live a thousand lives, I would live them all for Christ.” “We come here to honor a man whose preeminent purpose is to honor Christ,” declared the pastor of the host church of the U.S. memorial service for John Stott.

“I’m not certain that John Stott would want people to remember him,” said John Stott Ministries President Benjamin Homan. Those puzzling words about the man described as the architect of the evangelical movement in the 20th century make sense when you talk to more people who knew him. One of the most popular words used to describe Stott, who passed away Wednesday aged 90, is humble.

“Over and over again as people have described their interactions with John Stott, it is one of humility, and one of not pointing people to himself but to Jesus,” Homan said from Colorado. “The ministries that he began were never about promoting his works or his teachings. They have been about drawing the Church’s attention to the work of Christ around the world, how the Church is growing and how it needs to grow in depth and maturity around the world. I think he will be remembered as a global Christian.”

Not only was Stott’s daily routine strict, but his year was structured with a razor-sharp focus on maximizing his effectiveness in various ministries. For 25 years, Stott spent three months in every 12 travelling for international missions, speaking at conferences and preaching around the world. Another three months of each year would be devoted to writing, and six months dedicated to ministry.

“He was extremely disciplined in his personal life and very simple in his habits. He lived in a one bedroom, one living room with a small kitchenette, and that was his life. He did not have any great wealth or style. He was very simple and frugal,” Wright recalled.

His mentor taught him how to engage in ministry publicly as well as in a pastoral capacity while maintaining equal integrity in both.

“I find him to be a man of genuine humility, not just fake humility, but genuine, through and through humility. He was able to mix with what we might call the ‘rich and famous’ on one hand, or with the ‘poorest of poor’ in other parts of the world, and do so with equal integrity and simply be himself.”

Stott died peacefully at 3:15 p.m. local time on July 27, 2011, at his Christian assisted living home at St. Barnabas College in Lingfield, Surrey, England. At his bedside were his niece and close friends, who read 2 Timothy 2 to him, and listened to Handel’s “Messiah” with him in his final moments on earth.

In 2006, Stott broke his hip and had increasingly become incapacitated. Wright said the elderly clergyman did not suffer dementia, but was weak and in pain in the time leading up to his death. Stott will perhaps be best known for being the chief drafter of the 1974 Lausanne Covenant, the evangelical manifesto on evangelism and theology.

He also was the primary author of the Preamble to the 1951 constitution of the World Evangelical Alliance, the world’s largest evangelical organization, now representing some 600 million evangelicals in 128 countries.

“I can’t think of another evangelical theologian who would come close to Stott in both the depth of his diligent scholarship and the breadth of his unifying work in the global body of Christ – especially through the Lausanne Movement,” said Greg Parsons, global director of the U.S. Center for World Mission, in an email.

“It is probably his involvement in guiding and crafting the masterful document known as the Lausanne Covenant that will be the best single thing for which he is known,” remarked Parsons, who was a member of the Statement Working Group at Lausanne III in Cape Town, South Africa, in 2010. Parsons shared that Stott’s talk at the Urbana Student Missions Conference in 1976, titled, “The Loving God is a Missionary God,” became the first chapter of USCWM’s Perspectives reader.

John Robert Walmsley Stott was born to Sir Arnold W. Stott, an accomplished physician and an agnostic, and Emily, a Lutheran who took her youngest son to All Souls Church in Langham Place, London, as a young boy. Stott later became rector of All Souls in 1950, then rector emeritus in 1975.

In 1959, Stott was appointed chaplain to the queen and served in that position until 1991. He retired from public ministry in 2007 at the age of 86, two years after being named by Time magazine as one of the world’s “100 Most Influential People.”
Fond memories of Stott include his passion for bird watching and his affection for chocolates.

John Stott Ministries President Benjamin Homan recalled that the month before Stott passed away, a friend had visited and told Stott that a black bird was outside his window. Stott, who had lost much of his eyesight by then, corrected his friend, saying that it was a nightingale, which he knew from the bird’s chirp.

“John Piper on John Stott – Year One In Heaven”

Today is John Stott’s first birthday in heaven.

Coming toward the end of my (32-year) ministry as Pastor for Preaching and Vision at Bethlehem Baptist Church, I read Alister Chapman’s new biography of John Stott with special interest. I wanted to see how he finished at All Soul’s and how he shaped the rest of his life.

Stott became Rector at All Souls in 1950 at the age of 29. Just shy of 20 years later he told the church council on September 20, 1969 that “he wanted to stand down.” The church was not prospering as it once had. He felt his calling was to “wider responsibilities.”

The council accepted the proposal and 15 months later Michael Baughen took the helm. “Within a few years All Souls was bursting again” (75). But, Chapman observes, “by almost any measure, Stott’s ministry at All Souls was a success” (77).

Stott was still on the ministerial team at All Souls for another five years. When the severance was complete in September, 1975, he wrote, “I find myself pulled and pushed in various directions these days, and need divine wisdom to know how to establish priorities” (Timothy Dudley-Smith, John Stott, A Biography: The Later Years, IVP, 2001, 248).

I found this comforting. It is remarkable how many good things there are to do. And if one is ambitious to live an unwasted life for the glory of Christ, discernment is crucial. Sudden release from decades of familiar pastoral expectations can easily lead to sloth or superficial busy-ness.

Stott’s discovery was that his calling was a remarkable global ministry. “As with Jim Packer, Stott gave himself to Anglican politics but in the end tired of them. Neither had an obvious, appealing role to fill in England. Both were in demand elsewhere. The result was that two of England’s most gifted evangelicals spent most of the end of their careers serving the church beyond England’s shores” (Godly Ambition, 111).

The thesis of Chapman’s book, Godly Ambition: John Stott and the Evangelical Movement (Oxford, 2012), is that Stott “was both a Christian seeking to honor God and a very talented man who believed he had key roles to play in God’s work in the world and wanted to play them. In short, he combined two things that might seem incongruous: godliness and ambition” (8). With that double drive, “few did more than John Stott to shape global Christianity in the twentieth century” (160).

This ambition was as vital to the end of Stott’s days as his mental and physical life would sustain. One reason is that it was biblically grounded. Explaining his own understanding of ambition he said,

Ambitions for God, if they are to be worthy, can never be modest. There is something inherently inappropriate about cherishing small ambitions for God. How can we ever be content that he should acquire just a little more honour in the world?

Christians should be eager to develop their gifts, widen their opportunities, extend their influence and be given promotion in their work — not now to boost their own ego or build their own empire, but rather through everything they do to bring glory to God. (156)

May every one of us, in the transitions of our lives, seek the kind of holy fire that gives both the light of discernment and the heat of ambition. All of it for the glory of God. This is my deep longing as I face whatever future God gives.

In remembering the humble preacher, author, and theologian, here are a few of his lasting words:

“His authority on earth allows us to dare to go to all the nations. His authority in heaven gives us our only hope of success. And His presence with us leaves us with no other choice.”

“The truth is that there are such things as Christian tears, and too few of us ever weep them.”

“Every Christian should be both conservative and radical; conservative in preserving the faith and radical in applying it.”

“I believe that to preach or to expound the scripture is to open up the inspired text with such faithfulness and sensitivity that God’s voice is heard and His people obey Him” (His definition of expository preaching).

“When it comes to preaching – Theology is more important than methodology.”

“The gospel is NOT preached if Christ is not preached.”

“Before we can begin to see the cross as something done for us, we have to see it as something done by us.”

“We should not ask, ‘What is wrong with the world?’ for that diagnosis has already been given. Rather we should ask, “What has happened to salt and light?”

“Social responsibility becomes an aspect not of Christian mission only, but also of Christian conversion. It is impossible to be truly converted to God without being thereby converted to our neighbor.”

“Sin and child of God are incompatible. They may occasionally meet; they cannot live together in harmony.”

“Good conduct arises out of good doctrine.”

“Every powerful movement has had its philosophy which has gripped the mind, fired the imagination and captured the devotion of its adherents.”

“The Christian’s chief operational hazards are depression and discouragement.”

“Faith is a reasoning trust, a trust which reckons thoughtfully and confidently upon the trustworthiness of God.”

“Knowledge is indispensable to Christian life and service. If we do not use the mind that God has given us, we condemn ourselves to spiritual superficiality and cut ourselves off from many of the riches of God’s grace.”

“Christianity is in its very essence a resurrection religion. The concept of the resurrection lies at its heart. If you remove it, Christianity is destroyed.”

“Writing a book or a manifesto, is the nearest a man gets to having a baby.”

“The very first thing which needs to be said about Christian ministers of all kinds is that they are “under” people as their servants rather than “over” them (as their leaders, let alone their lords). Jesus made this absolutely plain. The chief characteristic of Christian leaders, he insisted, is humility not authority, and gentleness not power.”

“We must allow the Word of God to confront us, to disturb our security, to undermine our complacency and to overthrow our patterns of thought and behavior.”

Did You Know? 
Stott daily woke up at 5:00 a.m. to read the Bible and pray for hundreds of people before breakfast. For over 50 years, he would read the entire Bible annually.

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