The Passing of John Stott

Today I heard about the death of John Stott. In view of the man’s stature and his personal influence on me, I think this deserves a few words.

John R. W. Stott’s name is one of the most familiar in the broad reaches of “Christianity.”  This notoriety extends beyond evangelicalism and into neo-orthodox and neo-liberal churches.  His name is associated with several important movements, publications and declarations of the past fifty years, including the Lausanne Covenant on world missions, the ministry and outreach of All Soul’s Church, Langham Place, in the center of London, his standing up (for better or worse) against D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ call in 1966 for evangelical Anglicans to come out from that tainted institution and not lend implicit support to its ruinous influence; a response that many believe prevented just such an exodus as “the Doctor” had hoped for.  Stott would probably place second, behind Lloyd-Jones, in the minds of most British Christians, as the foremost preacher of the Twentieth Century.  He was a Christian statesman of no mean stature.  What is more, his written work contains some classic compositions which will continue to bless believers until the Lord’s Return.

I got the chance to hear Stott on more than a few occasions when I lived in London.  I took great pleasure in taking my new wife, who had been raised on a diet of Independent Fundamental Baptist rant, to hear him when we honeymooned in England in 1997.  He was a very unprepossessing man; at least that is my impression of him.  I saw him at the door of All Soul’s shaking hands with people and chatting freely with all sorts of people after the service.  I watched him kneeling in what certainly seemed to be disinterested and earnest prayer prior to preaching from that strange sculpture-like pulpit at the church.  I knew two people who knew him quite well, and their high opinion of his piety would not have been won if there was not something of the Spirit about the man.

As a preacher I would have to say that Stott was no orator, if by that one means that his voice and his gestures transfixed the listener.  His delivery was blessedly plain and unhurried, but superbly clear, sincere, and compellingly logical.  He appeared to have found the golden hammer left behind by Alexander Maclaren, wherewith he could tap a text and it would fall open before him.  His expository preaching (which he said was the only kind of preaching) was of an extraordinary caliber.  There is no American preacher I have heard who could hold a candle to him.

As a writer he gave the Christian world such works as Basic Christianity, and Issues Facing Christians Today, and Christ the ControversialistThe Cross of Christ is the best thing on that subject bar none.  His Between Two Worlds is one of the best books for the preacher ever written.  Far better than the pragmatic “How-to” manuals that have had such a baleful influence on contemporary preaching for too long.  Then there are the commentaries.  His contributions to The Bible Speaks Today series are generally outstanding.  Beginning with his book on the Sermon on the Mount (Christian Counter-culture), there are terrific volumes on Acts, Romans (even if tarnished a bit with theistic evolution), Galatians, Ephesians, the Thessalonian Epistles, and the Pastoral Epistles.  As examples of true exposition, rather than what often passes for exposition nowadays, they are a great boon for men trying to improve themselves as faithful teachers of Scripture.  His Tyndale commentary on The Epistles of John is also a first rate work.

I have been blessed by the ministry of John Stott.  I fully realize all was not gold.  His soft-peddling on eternal punishment is the best known example, but his egalitarianism, and his too willing cooperation with non-believing clergy are not to be swept under the rug either.  Still, when I think of John Stott I think of a very gifted, godly, humble and compassionate man whose many works were done in service of the Savior.  He has gone to his reward.  I should be glad and surprised if, at the end of my course, I have one fraction of the fruit of Christian labor to present to Christ in comparison to this true giant of the Faith.

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