Wednesday, July 27, 2011

John R. W. Stott, 1921--2011

John Stott died today at age 90.  His writings have impacted me from my first year as a believer.  His Basic Christianity helped put the gospel together for me.  And The Cross of Christ (IVP) is a classic work, and will be for many years.

Here is his obituary:

John Stott, the British preacher, author and evangelist, died in Lingfield, Surrey, England, on 27th July 2011. He passed away peacefully at 3.15pm UK time.  Close friends and family were with him during the morning.

John Stott shaped much of the course of evangelicalism in the 20th century through his writing and preaching, and in 2005, TIME magazine placed him among the world’s ‘100 most influential people’. He was chief architect of The Lausanne Covenant (1974) and remained Honorary Chairman of The Lausanne Movement until he died.

The work of Langham Partnership International (LPI, or John Stott Ministries in the USA) is perhaps his major legacy to the world Church. This strategic threefold initiative, now under the direction of Christopher J H Wright, works to strengthen the Church in the Majority World by (i) training preachers, (ii) funding doctoral scholarships for the most able theological thinkers so they will be equipped to teach in their country’s seminaries, and (iii) providing basic libraries at low-cost for pastors. John Stott’s own considerable royalties were all ‘recycled’ into the production and distribution of theological books for the global south.

Stott’s father, Sir Arnold Stott, a Harley Street cardiologist, hoped his son would enter the diplomatic service, and his eirenic spirit and Cambridge double first in modern languages would have equipped him well for this. But while at Rugby School aged 17, his future plans changed. A friend invited him to the Christian Union where he listened intently to the visiting speaker, E J H Nash. Seeing his potential, Nash (more commonly known as ‘Bash’) drew him into leadership of boys’ public school camps. Bash’s discipleship training, alongside the vibrant life of the Cambridge Inter-Collegiate Christian Union (CICCU), established John Stott in his faith.

John Stott has been described as ‘a renaissance man with a reformation theology’. He had remarkable intellectual reach, and always worked to bring his mind under the scrutiny of the Bible.  John Stott loved Scripture and for over 50 years he read the whole Bible through annually, using Robert Murray McCheyne’s reading plan. Martyn Lloyd-Jones had introduced him to it in the early 1950s and he valued the way it began with the ‘four great beginnings’ of Genesis, Ezra, Matthew and Acts, and opened out Scripture’s ‘grand themes’. It became a pattern to rise at 5.00am daily to read and pray, and to listen to the world service.

Stott summed up his priorities as ‘students and pastors’. He saw the critical nature of the university, and was an energetic Vice-President of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES). While Billy Graham, a long-time friend, was drawing tens of thousands to football stadia, Stott’s mission field was the university campus. Numbers were smaller, but the strategic influence for the gospel could not have been greater. He conducted week-long evangelistic missions for IFES national movements in many of the world’s universities, drawing even the most cynical students into the pages of the New Testament to read for themselves of the historic Christ. His warm yet serious style, and sheer conviction of Scripture’s authority, brought students back night after night.

Through his work with students, ‘Uncle John’ as he was known,  met many of the sharpest up-and-coming Christian thinkers worldwide while they were still at university, and he kept in contact with them as they graduated. He wanted to apply biblical truth to all areas of thought and progress, and would invite sharp thinkers at the new frontiers of science and technology to help him do so.

In 1950, while only 29, he was appointed rector of All Souls Church, Langham Place in London’s West End. He had grown up through its Sunday School and served here as a curate. His gifts in expository preaching were to become widely celebrated, but he sensed the unchurched in his inner-city parish needed more. A new initiative was called for. In 1958 he took the bold step of founding the All Souls Clubhouse, a venture in youth and community work twenty years ahead of its time.

As invitations to travel increased, he was in 1975 given the title Rector Emeritus, and released by the church to serve globally, and to write. John Stott then moved from the rectory into a small mews flat built for him above the rectory’s adjoining garage. He remained in this modest one-bedroomed home until a fall constrained him to leave it.

Much of his substantial writing – over 50 books translated into 65 languages – was completed at ‘The Hookses’, a remote cottage on the Welsh coast which he purchased in 1954, in a state of dereliction. For most of his lifetime it had no mains electricity. Over the years, it was developed by working parties to host study groups, and has been left in trust to The Langham Partnership. John Stott’s books included the million-selling Basic Christianity (1958), Christ the Controversialist (1970) Issues facing Christians Today (1984) and the one he always considered his best: The Cross of Christ (1986) which he dedicated to his secretary, Frances Whitehead, who worked with him for more than 55 years.

Later books included The Birds our Teachers (1999) for which he took almost all the photographs himself. He had been encouraged by his father from childhood to ‘open his eyes and ears and shut his mouth’ as he observed the natural world, and as a self-taught ornithologist saw some 2,500 of the world’s 9,000 bird species. A companion volume, People my Teachers (2002) reflected his teachable spirit and his desire to learn from others.

John Stott pioneered several influential movements. Among them was the National Evangelical Anglican Congress (NEAC) which first met in Keele University in 1967 to bring a unified evangelical voice from the church. He also founded the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity (1982), of which the sociologist and broadcaster Elaine Storkey later became Director, succeeded by Mark Greene. His initiatives in drawing together groups of thinkers led to several other ventures; The Frontier Youth Trust and Tearfund are two examples.

Stott served as Chaplain to the Queen from 1959 and then as Extra Chaplain. He was awarded four honorary doctorates in Britain and America including a Lambeth DD, and his life and work became the subject of several doctoral theses in his lifetime. He was made a Commander of the British Empire in the Queen’s 2006 New Year Honours list.

The life of this urbane and gracious visionary and strategist who loved the natural world and who determined to express the eternal truth of the Christian gospel to the well-educated, the less privileged and the dropouts alike, will doubtless attract much further attention as future history slowly unveils the extent of his quite extraordinary influence.

Thanksgiving and memorial services are being planned around the world.  For details see www.johnstottmemorial.org

2 comments:

Richard said...

I first heard John preach while I was a student at Oxford, where he led an OICCU mission in, I think, 1964. Later (from 1966-1968) I worshipped at All Souls, Langham Place, living at the "Clubhouse" and serving on the PCC. I became an All Souls ordinand, starting training for the ministry in 1968. I still have vivid memories of John expounding the Scriptures in the evenings during his weeks for ordinands at The Hookses. He divided the days into three: the morning was for the mind and we were expected to study; the evening was for the body and we worked to lay a concrete road down to the house, and the evening was for the spirit as we sat round in the light of the oil lamps and listened to John teaching from the Bible. I particularly remember his teaching from 2 Corinthians 3-5. His study there looked out over the sea so that he could watch the birds while reading. I remember him rushing out one morning calling us to leave our books and watch the gannets fishing in the bay.

Over the years, our paths diverged. But I was very touched when, only a few years ago my wife went to the funeral of a former colleague of John's, George Swannell, at which John preached. John remembered me and asked very kindly after me.

His ministry played a formative role in my own Christian life, most importantly giving me a lasting conviction of the authority and trustworthiness of Scripture and the centrality of the Cross for salvation. The lucidity and intellectual rigour of his preaching remains for me a benchmark to this day.

As time went on I found myself drawn more and more into the charismatic movement and we would have had some doctrinal disagreements. However, there are many, many people who would have disagreed with John about the baptism and fullness of the Holy Spirit who, nonetheless, are profoundly grateful to him for all that he has given of himself and of his teaching to make the evangelical wing of the church in England and throughout the world, the force, under God, that it is today.

Sandy said...

Thanks, Richard, for the great post! I've just been reading about the Clubhouse and the Hookses and birdwatching... what a wonderful period of history & you got to be a part of that!