John R.W. Stott (1921-2011)
During the mid-’90s a campus-wide employee notice landed in the in-box on my desk at Wheaton College: the speaker at the upcoming “Brown Bag Lunch” on the 4th floor of the Billy Graham Center would be none other than John R.W. Stott. This is one of the perqs of studying or working at Wheaton: it serves as a major hub in the itineraries of outstanding evangelical speakers.
I can listen to John Stott speak as I eat my lunch? You don’t have to tell me twice!
When the day arrived I made sure to get there early to secure my spot. As Stott entered the room he was accompanied by representatives from a local seminary—one at which I had also once worked and which I knew had significant theological differences with Stott—and yet they were all smiles. They later told me how delighted they were by the appearance he put in at their school that morning, and I was instantly reminded that here was a man who was not only uncompromising in his theology but ecumenical in the best sense of that term.
In 2005, John Robert Walmsley Stott made TIME magazine’s “TIME 100″ list for that year, under the category of “Heroes & Icons.” The author of Stott’s profile for that list wrote, “I can’t think of anyone who has been more effective in introducing so many people to a biblical world view.” Those words came from Billy Graham, who did not make the list that year.
It would be exceedingly difficult to write an obituary of Stott, who died on July 27, 2011, that even remotely does justice to either the length of his ministry, the depth of his love for Christ’s church, the breadth of his scholarship, the importance of his literary output, or the extent of his influence on evangelical Christianity in the second half of the 20th century. He has made lasting contributions to evangelism, theology, and cooperation among evangelical denominations worldwide. To even begin to summarize Stott’s myriad of accomplishments would be a daunting task.
Fortunately, there have been people who for some time now have been preparing for the nonagenarian Stott’s inevitable home-going. Whether you’ve never heard of John Stott before, have only recently begun reading his wonderful books, or are a longtime fan, I can do no better than to present you with some of the most thoughtful eulogies to be found online:
- Not to be missed is Justin Taylor’s tribute to Stott on his Between Two Worlds blog at the Gospel Coalition web site. (July 27, 2011. It is probably no coincidence that Taylor’s blog is the namesake of one of Stott’s many influential books, Between Two Worlds: The Challenge of Preaching Today.)
- Tim Stafford, vice-chair of the board of John Stott Ministries, published his obituary for Stott on Christianity Today’s web site. (July 27, 2011.)
- The unattributed obit in The Telegraph (UK), “The Rev John Stott,” candidly informs us that “Stott was never prepared to compromise on the priority of Biblical revelation, and it was this unwillingness that stood in the way of his appointment to an English bishopric.” By the time it dawned on Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie that Stott was more than worthy of a bishopric (in 1985), it had also dawned on Stott that the boundaries of his ministry extended so far beyond the Anglican communion that accepting the position would be to sacrifice his calling. He asked Runcie to excuse him from consideration. (July 28, 2011)
- David Turner of the Manchester Guardian reminds us that Stott was “a renaissance man with a reformation theology” in his article titled, “The Rev John Stott obituary. Influential evangelist and founder of the Langham Partnership.” (July 28, 2011)
- Randall Balmer declares Stott “the closest evangelicalism has ever come to a theological rock star.” Frankly, I think at least one of Stott’s fellow Anglicans would also qualify. Nevertheless, Balmer’s appreciative essay, “We Shall Not Stop at Evangelism: Remembering Evangelical John R. W. Stott,” at (of all places!) Religion Dispatches is worth a read. (July 28, 2011).
- Nicholas Kristof’s “Evangelicals Without Blowhards” obit in the New York Times, while eventually expressing respect for evangelicals “who truly live their faith,” suffers from a glaucomic contrast between Stott and the bottom-feeders of evangelicalism (such as televangelists). But he makes some good points and is worth reading for obtaining one secularist’s perspective (“I’m not particularly religious myself,” writes Kristof). (July 30, 2011.)
I disagreed with various points in Stott’s theology, but they’re not worth mentioning here. I agreed with him on so much that is essential. Suffice it to say that you can count the purchase of any book written by John Stott as money well spent—exceedingly well spent.
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