The Legacy of John Stott (1921-2011)

Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider
the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.    
 Hebrew 13,7

 Today, around the world, many people are both thankful and sad at the news of the home going of John Stott.  We are thankful for his life and legacy.  We are saddened by his absence.

Like many others, I first met John Stott when I was college student.  While living in London and later Oxford, three of my friends were his study assistants, so I had the privilege of watching him up close and getting to know him personally.  Upon returning to the US, he invited me to be on the Langham Foundation board, which later turned into John Stott Ministries (JSM)in the US (a ministry title which, in his self-effacing way, he very much disliked).  I also had the joy of serving for a short time on the wider Langham Partnership International (LPI)board.

My last visit with “Uncle John” (which is what he asked scores of college students to call him) was August 15, 2008 where I got to visit him at the College of St. Barnabas, an assisted living home for retired Anglican clergy.  On that day he was quite ill.  It was a privilege to be his pastor for part of that afternoon, to pray with him, help him while he was sick, and thank him for the impact he had on my life.

Like Billy Graham, Vernon Grounds, and Roger Nicole, John Stott was another one of those nonagenarian senior saints who have served Christ well for many years.  Such men are all too human, yet we are right to call them godly men because of their lifelong witness, and for the congruency between their lives and their teaching.  In the words of Hebrews 13, they are leaders worth remembering,

Billy Graham called John Stott “the most respected clergyman in the world today.”  Biographer John Pollock described him as “in effect the theological leader of world evangelicalism.”

John Stott was born in 1921 in London.  After training at Rugby School and Cambridge, he was ordained into the Anglican ministry and served at one London church, All Souls, Langham Place,  for more than 60 years. (as Curate, Rector or Rector Emeritus).  As an urban pastor, Stott set forth a model for international city center ministry that was rooted in five things:  the priority of prayer, expository preaching, regular evangelism, careful follow up, and systematic training of leaders.  To this was added another conviction, that the loving service which God sends his people into the world to render, includes both evangelism and social action, each as an authentic expression of love.

One must recall that it was Stott’s influence, more than any other, that led to the resurgence of post war British evangelicalism.  Before he became known for his global ministry, he played a key role in Anglican Evangelicalism leading the National/Evangelical Anglican Congresses, the Church of England Evangelical Council, British Scripture Union, and the British Evangelical Alliance. He also gave himself to evangelizing students through university missions and equipping future Christian leaders through UCCF (Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship).  In all of this he had a passion to relate God’s timeless Word to the modern world.  On six occasions he served as the Bible expositor for the triennial Urbana Student Missions Convention.

The main reason for my visit, on that August afternoon, was to thank him for a lifetime of ministry. So I shared with him what I called “My Stott Seven,” that is, seven ways in which his ministry touched my life.

First, I thanked him for giving my generation a model of “long distance” Christianity.  We need examples of long time faithfulness and integrity.  He would be the first to say that his reliance was on Christ and his righteousness.  Nevertheless, examples matter, and John Stott modeled for many of us what Eugene Peterson calls “a long obedience in the same
direction.”

Second, I thanked him for being an articulate spokesman for Biblical and Evangelical Christianity in our generation—for proclaiming and defending Evangelical truth in formative statements, books, sermons, and lectures.  Stott was the pen behind the Lausanne Covenant (1974) and the Manila Manifesto (1989).  The Lausanne Covenant has been a formative statement in shaping the doctrinal views of worldwide evangelicalism.

Third, I thanked him for modeling a strategic and global vision.  His investment in the Majority World through his travels, and the Langham Partnership, has not only shaped churches all over the world but opened my eyes to the importance of international ministry and partnerships.

When he became Rector Emeritus at All Souls in 1970, John Stott began traveling more with a strategic focus on equipping and mentoring pastors in the Majority World.  As he travelled he discovered that liberal foundations in the West were providing scholarships to train developing world students at liberal Western seminaries.  This was damaging to the cause of the gospel in their countries.   So he was led to start a counter movement to promote Biblical orthodoxy  in the Majority World.  He set up the Evangelical Literature Trust, largely funded by his own book royalties, to send theological books to pastors and teachers.  Then he started the Langham Foundation to provide scholarships for intellectually able evangelicals scholars  in the Majority World to earn their doctorates and then return to their own countries to teach in theological seminaries.  This strategic global vision was needed to provide Biblical leadership to help shape the phenomenal church growth of the “new Christendom.”  Stott had a passion for shaping leaders who know and trust the Bible. He believed that churches live and grow and flourish by the Word of God, but they languish without it.   So raising the standards of Biblical teaching and preaching around the world was an urgent matter to him.  He said, “we see ourselves as not just developing Christian leaders in general terms,  but Christian preachers.”

Forth, and related to this, I thanked him for his own ministry of preaching.   I remember first hearing John Stott preach at Chicago’s Moody Bible Institute, and Urbana. Then I spent a semester worshipping at All Souls Church sitting under his ministry.  His vision for expository preaching seeped even more deeply into my heart during my time with JSM and LPI.  I too was shaped by the “Langham Logic” and the vision of growing leaders and pastors around the world who “sincerely believe, diligently study, faithfully expound and relevantly apply the Word of God”

Fifth, I thanked him for providing a model of thoughtful Christianity.  The book Your Mind Matters, was small but powerful.  It took issue with the anti-intellectualism of Fundamentalism and Pietism and promoted “thinking Christianly” about everything.  What Ambrose did for Augustine in Milan in the 4th century, Stott did for a generation of
younger men in our day—he was an eloquent teacher of truth, who was also generous and kind.  Stott sought to apply the Word, write on issues, and build a bridge from the text to our times, but he did so in a way that showed respect for others.  Many of us were not only helped, but we found a model for our own ministry.

Sixth, I thanked him for his ministry of writing books.  Stott was the author of some 40 books in 72 languages which includes Basic Christianity, (one of the most successful Christian books of the 20th century),  Christian Basics, Evangelical Truth, The Bible Speaks Today commentary series, The Cross of Christ, I Believe in  Preaching, Issues, The Contemporary Christian, etc..  For a generation, his books were easy to give away because they helped explain Christianity so clearly.

Seventh, I thanked him for giving us an example of mentoring younger leaders.  His sermon, preached in later years, on raising up Timothys, and his model of having a long succession of study assistants, gave me a vision for going through the rest of my days intentionally investing in Timothys.

John Stott was not without his short comings.  He could be abrupt and exacting at times.  Some American evangelicals dismiss him because of his break with Martyn Lloyd-Jones over the issue of remaining in the Church of England, or for his view on annihilationism.  While I disagreed with him on the later issue, it is a mistake to overlook the extraordinarly positive influence he continues to have on the worldwide Evangelical movement.

What impressed me most about John Stott was his friendly, courteous and disarming humility.   This came through whether he was interacting with students or famous scholars.  For all he has achieved, John Stott thought of himself as one who leaned wholly on the grace of God and was an unworthy servant of his master.  He has modeled a life of faithfulness and integrity as a humble partner with fellow Christian leaders around the world.

So why did I share my appreciation with him on that afternoon?  Because many saints in their final years are tempted to doubt, or wonder whether they really accomplished anything significant.  So I wanted to remind him of what I have called “My Stott Seven.”

After I finished, he said in his weak voice–“but what about friendship?  Aren’t you thankful for our friendship?”  “Well,” I said, “I assumed that underneath these seven points, was a friendship for which I am very grateful.”  So I said, “Yes, I am also thankful for our friendship.”  To which he replied, “well that makes eight then!”

So there you have it–“My Stott Eight!”  He seemed to like that.  And in light of his passing, I offer them to you.  With many others around the world,  I give thanks to God for the life and legacy of this servant of God and each of the ways he has touched our lives.

For more information on John Stott, see the Christianity Today Obituary

https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/julyweb-only/john-stott-obit.html

Categories: Christian Leadership | Comments

10 Comments

  • Didge Pedicord says:

    Dear Don, thank you for sending this on to us. Marj Wise forwarded it to me. I, too, give thanks for those that led, taught, guided, supplied, exemplified, encouraged, confirmed, etc., etc. the life that Christ would/does have us live. And bless you, Pastor Don, for your giving through the years. Your wonderful sermon this month at CCPC (Welcome home, again) on humility was another jewel in the crown of Christian character. Shall look forward to following up on your other web site missives. Glad bless you and Christine always.
    With Joy,
    Didge Pedicord

  • Jeff Jeremiah says:

    Don,
    Thanks so much for this testimony to a great Christian leader. Your “Stott Eight” is an excellent summary of his ministry and impact.

  • Don,

    Many thanks for your thoughtful reflects on John R.W. Stott.

    For many young evangelicals in the 1970s, John Stott was a welcoming refuge from the wacky world of fundamentalism. Stott, along with J.I. Packer, introduced us to the goodness and majesty of God. Along with that, they both provided evangelicals with a much needed vision of “one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.”

    Two of your childhood neighbors are faithful members of my flock, Bob and June Hill. They speak of you often, glow, and refer to you as “Donnie.”

    We’d love to have you minister here if you are ever in SW Florida. Blessings to you and RTS.

    Chuck Wiggins
    Trinity Presbyterian Church
    Venice, FL

    • dwsweeting says:

      Chuck
      Thanks for your comments about Stott and Packer. I had Packer as a prof at Regent College. So both of them made a huge impression on my life.
      Nice to meet you. What a small world! Bob and June’s son John, who was my best friend growing up, stopped by RTS this Spring and I had not seen him in years.
      Would love to come down some time. Send me an email at my rts addresss dsweeting@rts.edu and we’ll work on making it happen.
      Every Blessing
      Don

  • Patti Stagg says:

    There is also a good article in World magazine that I received today, but the front cover is dated July 16 instead of August. I already have a World edition for July 16. Ugh! Patti

  • Rich says:

    I have two honest questions as I have only read one of Stott’s books.

    1. What exactly DID he believe about annihilationism? Did he hold it firmly?

    2. How does one hold to annihilationism and still do SO MUCH for world missions? I realize the glory of eternity with Jesus is a greater positive motivation than an eternal hell is a negative one, but I cannot seem to reconcile his view on eternity and his passion for global evangelism.

    Thank you.

    • dwsweeting says:

      Rich
      In answer to #1, he said he held it “tentatively.” But there was a stream of British evangelicals that have held this position. I think he was in part influnced by that stream.
      In answer to #2, I can’t really answer for him on this. But he was very firm on missions and the great commission. Remember that annihilationism is not universalism.
      For a helful link and critique of annihilationism, see the following link and review by J.I. Packer
      https://www.the-highway.com/annihilationism_Packer.html
      evangelical Annihilationism in Review J.I. Packer

  • ddevries says:

    Don,
    Hello from Lynchburg, VA!
    I remember being in a gathering (perhaps at TEDS) with John Stott when he was asked how he began each day. He said that he always greeted each member of the Trinity. I have tried to make that my practice as well.
    Thanks for your nice tribute to this man of God.
    Daryl DeVries

  • dwsweeting says:

    Thanks for your tribute as well! Don

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