Back when I was at college in London some of us would travel in on a Sunday evening to hear John Stott preach at All Souls Langham Place.
Probably not very good ecclesiology, but in the days before the internet, MP3s, online sermons and DVDs, we wanted to hear the man in person as he neared ‘retirement’.
For like untold numbers of Christians over several generations, all of us , had been shaped and influenced by his writing – robust, biblical, gracious, evangelistic, engaged, thoughtful, and missiological. John Stott was for generations the default resource; whether for a commentary or preaching or a theological topic.
For me, Issues Facing Christians Today opened up a whole new world of how the Bible connects to the contemporary world, something I’ve been passionate about ever since. So it was special, after hearing him speak in Belfast once, to stand in line and shake his hand and try to express how much his books had helped me grow in my faith.
Many will rightly pay tribute to Stott’s extraordinary contribution to the global church, particularly global evangelicalism – The Langham Partnership, WEA, Lausanne, The London Centre for Contemporary Christianity, his contribution to the Anglican Communion, his preaching and teaching ministry worldwide – the list is extraordinary.
But what I remember most about him is his warmth, humility and joy, both in the times I heard him speak and in his writing – and this was no ‘persona’, it comes through clearly in the biographies that have been written too.
Through God’s grace, he managed to model grace and humility with a passion for truth, profound learning and a vision for effecting change. That’s rare to say the least!
He always wore his achievements lightly and was keen to keep the focus off himself and onto his beloved Lord. He never lost focus that the purpose of the Christian life is to become more like Jesus. (Just read another of his books entitled, The Incomparable Christ to get a flavour of his trinitarian and Christocentric faith).
One of his later books was Evangelical Truth. After a penetrating Stottian unpacking of evangelical essentials, he closed with a plea for humility saying that after 60 years in ministry he continued
“to be profoundly grieved by our evangelical tendency to fragment”.
It sounds obvious, but evangelicals, as ‘gospel people’, should be deeply concious of the doctrine of grace and therefore display that grace to one another and to others. But I’m sorry to say that when I compare some significant voices within global evangelicalism today with John Stott, there is a strident tone combined with a tribalism and distinct lack of warmth, graciousness and humility.
Why are evangelicals often so bad at living grace as well as preaching it?
But rather finish on a negative note, here is a little flavour of his passion for unity, truth, love and humble service that so marked his own life. – from his book Baptism and Fullness:
In fact, if love and truth go together, and love and gifts go together, so do love and service, since true love always expresses itself in service. To love is to serve. We are left, then, with these four aspects of Christian life forming a ring or a circle that cannot be broken – love, truth, gifts and service. For love issues in service, service uses the gifts, the highest gift is the teaching of the truth, but truth must be spoken in love. Each involves the others, and wherever you begin all four are brought into operation. Yet the “greatest of these is love” (1 Cor.13.13)
Amen and thank you.