BOOKS TO MAKE YOU PONDER
BOOKS TO MAKE YOU PONDER
EXPANDED AND UPDATED EDITION, 2021
John Stott: Pastor, leader and friend
ISBN: 978 1 8380972 1 9
AVAILABLE FROM ANY BOOKSHOP
John Stott was one of the foremost Christian leaders of the 20th century.
This is a unique collection of perspectives on John Stott's ministry. It includes writers from all continents, each who knew him personally. All contributions are well-researched, together bringing a picture of a multi-faceted ministry - ever strategic, and always pastoral.
Contributors include Chris Wright, Frances Whitehead, Lindsay Brown, Henry Scriven, Ajith Fernando, Samuel Escobar and Dave Bookless.
READ THE FOREWORD BY MICHAEL NAZIR-ALI
I welcome this expanded collection of pieces on John Stott, written largely by those who knew him well. It is the right time to assess again the life, thought and legacy of this remarkable Christian.
I first met John fifty years ago, when I was a young ordinand, and he already a senior leader, pastor and evangelist. After that meeting, we never lost touch. He graciously gave time to me, and Valerie, my wife, at his flat in London, or in our own home; and he maintained contact, as he did with so many, through his wise, patient and meticulous correspondence, all in long hand!
We knew that whenever there was a crisis - political, social, ecclesiastical or personal - John was always ready to listen and to help. He was a rock for us during two periods of serious persecution, one a long way from him in Pakistan, and the other in the United Kingdom. We shall forever be grateful to him for that, and for much else.
One of the contributions of the Anglican tradition has been serious study of the Bible and the background to its different books: what the authors intended the text to mean; how the church has understood and interpreted it; and how we should seek to apply it to ourselves and to the world around us. John was one of the foremost exemplars of this approach and, moreover, it was he who taught me how to use the Bible in preaching.
The Anglican tradition has been committed to expository preaching, which should never become stale for preacher or congregation. More, Anglicanism also expresses how the Bible is to be used thematically for the seasons of the Church’s year, to address particular issues,[i] and how it should be used on special occasions in the life of a community or the nation. John Stott’s ‘double listening’, of attending to God’s Word, and to the world around us, is surely required if the church is to remain faithful to Scripture, united in the Apostolic faith, and engaged with contemporary issues.
John was not just an evangelical who happened to be Anglican. As Bishop Timothy Dudley-Smith explains, he had drunk deeply from the Anglican tradition, and this was one of the reasons why he was so widely acclaimed in the Anglican world. He did not hesitate to discuss and debate with Anglicans who were very different from himself, as his debate with David Edwards has shown.[ii] I remember accompanying him on one occasion when he was preaching at Southwark Cathedral, that great shrine to liberal Anglicanism! His sermon was gracious, reasoned and firmly biblical. Even there, it was well received.
His disagreement with Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones at the National Assembly of Evangelicals in 1966 about whether evangelicals should leave their denominations and establish an evangelical church is well known.[iii] He urged younger evangelicals to stay in the Church of England because it was ‘comprehensive’. I asked him about this just before he moved into St Barnabas’ Clergy Home in 2007, after the ructions in the Anglican Communion on human sexuality. His measured reply over a kebab lunch can be summed up in two words: he said that he had always believed in ‘principled comprehensiveness’. That is to say, orthodox Anglicans could continue to belong to their denomination as long as there was a consensus about essentials, but not if those essentials were widely repudiated, whether in the formularies or in practice.
His Anglican allegiance did not, of course, mean isolationism. He was ready to work with Christians from other traditions. His involvement both with the World Evangelical Fellowship (now the World Evangelical Alliance) and with the World Council of Churches is noted within these pages. We see here, too, his leadership in the Lausanne Movement, from its very inception, which required co-operation with Christians from very different backgrounds; and his immersion in IFES. More surprising for some was the lead he took in the Evangelical - Roman Catholic Dialogue on Mission and his co-editing, with Monsignor Basil Meeking, of its final report which does not pretend to be an agreed statement, with some significant areas of divergence as well as agreement.
John’s faith was lively and warm but he was no pietist, if by that is meant ‘all heart and no head’. His books, whether Bible commentaries, books on discipleship or those tackling current issues, all breathe a reasoned presentation of the gospel so that there remains no excuse for rejecting it. For him faith rested on a knowledge of God’s character as revealed primarily in Jesus Christ, and in the salvation history of the biblical narrative; but also in Creation and in the testimony of our own hearts. Such an approach was welcomed by thoughtful students in the many university missions of which his addresses formed a focal point.
He was committed to an effective Christian presence in ‘secular’ universities and was somewhat wary of Christian ones because of the danger of creating a ghetto mentality among Christians. He did not live to see the day when free speech in the ‘secular’ universities would come under threat, and where Christian witness would be silenced and excluded.
The assumptions of freedom and a fair hearing now no longer hold, and it has become difficult, if not impossible, to teach and learn from a biblical perspective, and to address controversial issues in faithfulness to the historic teaching of the Church. Would he have become more sympathetic, I wonder, to the idea of a Christian university which models what a university should be, in terms of an holistic approach to knowledge which is accessible to all, while firmly grounded in a Christian worldview? Such a university would aim for excellence, especially in areas which cannot now be easily addressed in institutions with a secular worldview. This would not mean, of course, that all Christians would choose to go to a Christian institution. Most would still go to secular ones and what John has to say about being a Christian in such settings is even more important now than it was in the past.
At the beginning of the eighteenth century Evangelical Revival, stretching into the early nineteenth century, evangelicals were socially very active whether in the campaign against the slave trade or slavery itself, or in campaigns to improve the lot of working men, women and children in the UK and more widely in the emerging British Empire. According to David Bebbington, eminent historian of evangelicalism in Britain, the advent and growing influence of pre-millennialism (that is the belief that the world is under imminent sentence of death and that Christ will return very soon to inaugurate his millennial reign), cut the nerve of social involvement. What was the point of improving things if the world faced inevitable doom?
It was not until the 1960s and 1970s that evangelicals began to recover their awareness of social responsibility, and its corollary, social justice. As we see in the final chapter, through the Congress on World Evangelization in 1974, John was able to articulate the growing consensus amongst evangelicals that evangelism and social responsibility, whilst distinct from one another, were integrally related in the mission of the Church. He chaired the small drafting group that produced the Lausanne Covenant, emanating from that gathering, which was to become so influential in the revival of holistic mission amongst evangelicals. At a subsequent conference at Grand Rapids, Michigan (1982), evangelism and social responsibility were described as being like the two blades of a pair of scissors or the two wings of a bird.[iv] Such a statement was entirely consistent with the way in which John’s thought was moving. In due course, it would find mature expression in his landmark book Issues Facing Christians Today.
As we are about to discover, John had a privileged life and spent most of it in the environs of ‘posh’ London. But even here, from his days as curate onwards, it is noteworthy that he gave careful attention to the poorer parts of the All Souls Parish. Instead of using his privilege to advance his own interests, or to increase his comfort, he placed it wholly at the disposal of the Church, at first in the United Kingdom and then, increasingly, in its mission worldwide.
Most of those reading this book will also be blessed with education, skills and knowledge. You may have a position of leadership in Church or society or have been entrusted with significant wealth. In our reading of the pages that follow, we will be challenged about how we are using the gifts and resources which the Lord has given us for the sake of the Gospel and the Kingdom of God which it announces. Without any doubt, we can take John Stott as our example and guide in the sacrificial and creative service of God’s plan for his world.
 For more see Timothy Dudley-Smith, John Stott: The Making of a Leader (IVP authorized biography Vol 1) pp 270-272; and Vol 2 (op cit) pp 20, 23-24, 49-50.
[i] See Stott’s Through the Bible through the Year (Monarch DATE)[ii] See John Stott and David L Edwards Essentials: A liberal - evangelical dialogue (Hodder, 1988)[iii] For a detailed account, see Timothy Dudley-Smith, John Stott: A global ministry (IVP Authorized biography Vol 2) pp 65-71[iv] For the full statement with a Foreword by John Stott, as Chair of the Drafting Committee, and an Introduction, see John Stott (Ed) Making Christ Known: Historic documents from the Lausanne Movement 1978-1989, Paternoster 1996, pp 165-209