John Stott (1921-2011)
More than Anglican but not Less
by Graham Kings, Bishop of Sherborne
John R W Stott was more than Anglican but not less. Earthed in his beloved Church of England, his influence has percolated throughout the world-wide evangelical movement, through preaching, theological reflection, writing, statesmanship, and personal contact. A thought-provoking evangelist, he led missions to university students from 1952 to 1977 on five continents.
As well as the two volume detailed biography by Timothy Dudley-Smith, John Stott: the making of a leader (IVP, 1999) and John Stott: a global ministry (IVP, 2001), it will be worth reading next year Alister Chapman's profoundly perceptive biography Godly Ambition: John Stott and the Evangelical Movement (OUP, 2012), which combines erudition with concise comment. With full access to Stott’s private papers, Chapman writes out of a hinterland of historical perspective, comprehensiveness and scholarly critical distance.
From August 1977 to August 1978, I was a caretaker and cleaner at All Souls Church Langham Place, living at the back of the church, where John Stott became Curate in 1945, Rector in 1950 and Rector Emeritus in 1975. I first met him then and benefited immensely from his reading group, which discussed contemporary literature and film. I now live in Iwerne Minster, the Dorset village, where for many years he attended, and led, holiday camps at Clayesmore School, for boys from the leading independent private schools in England.
My personal memories include: his humility shown in a hand-written note to the church administrator, apologising for pushing a point a little too hard in a staff meeting; his delight in obeying the dominical command, ‘look at the birds of the air’ (Matthew 6:26); his simple lifestyle and early rising; like many of his sermons, his punctilious written instructions for sorting out rubbish at his welsh cottage being in three parts; his wry humour; his diligence in meetings of the Langham Scholarship committee; and the meticulous patience and persistence of Frances Whitehead, his secretary, in transcribing his longhand. Appropriately, she was awarded a Lambeth MA by Archbishop George Carey in 2001.
John Stott’s evangelical imagination was enlarged through critical engagement with the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Roman Catholic Church. He attended the WCC conferences at Uppsala (1968) as an observer and adviser – and was ‘deeply moved’ by a speech on world poverty by Barbara Ward (interview in Third Way February 1982) - and at Nairobi (1975), as a ‘response’ speaker. He co-authored a book with David L. Edwards, who had made a detailed study and appreciative critique of his publications, Essentials: a liberal-evangelical dialogue (Hodder & Stoughton, 1988). Edwards wrote that John Stott was ‘apart from William Temple (who died as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1944) the most influential clergyman in the Church of England during the twentieth century’ (p 1).
He conceived, and co-chaired with Monsignor Basil Meeking (of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity), the Evangelical-Roman Catholic Dialogue on Mission (ERCDOM). Three meetings took place over seven years, which included the leading evangelical African theologian, Kwame Bediako. The report was published in the International Bulletin of Missionary Research (January 1986) and hailed by the editor as a landmark ‘that will have lasting influence on our understanding and action in Christian mission’.
Within the world Evangelical movement of the second half of the century [John Stott] played to Billy Graham a role not altogether unlike that which J. H. Oldham had played fifty years before to John R. Mott. In each case the less flamboyant but more intellectual Englishman was endeavouring to guide the movement into new, less simplistic vistas. What is remarkable is how far Stott was able to go without losing the confidence of Graham. (p 617)
John Stott was influenced by his friendships and travels in the developing world. Of particular significance were his Latin American friends Rene Padilla (Ecuador and Argentina) and Samuel Escobar (Peru), both of whom were national secretaries in the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES) and had a crucial impact at the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization in 1974. Stott was the key architect of the Lausanne Covenant, which has become a touchstone of holistic mission theology.
His deft, concise drafting also shaped other key statements on mission which still repay study: Willowbank Report on Gospel and Culture (1978); Evangelism and Social Responsibility: an Evangelical Commitment (1982); Manila Manifesto of Lausanne II (1989). His main theological work is The Cross of Christ (1992), his major series is the New Testament expository commentaries, The Bible Speaks Today (IVP), and his final book is The Radical Disciple (IVP, 2010).
John Stott’s royalties helped towards the funding of books for pastors in the developing world and of Langham Scholars from Africa, Asia and Latin America who studied for PhDs, usually in Britain. These may well be his lasting legacy and include, among hundreds of others: John Chew, Archbishop of South East Asia and Bishop of Singapore, who visited him at the College of St Barnabas, Lingfield, near London on 16 July, soon before his death on 27 July 2011; Michael Nazir-Ali, former Bishop of Rochester; Josiah Idowu-Fearon, Archbishop of Kaduna, Nigeria; Michael Poon, Director of the Centre for the Study of Christianity in Asia, Trinity College, Singapore; and Joseph Galgalo, Vice Chancellor of St Paul's University, Limuru, Kenya.
The innovative, crucial work of the Langham Partnerhsip International (in the USA, John Stott Ministries) continues under the direction of Stott’s successor, Chris Wright, a notable theologian of mission and author of The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative (IVP, 2006). The interdisciplinary vision of the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, also founded by John Stott, and the fertile ground for his major book on ethics Issues Facing Christians Today (Marshalls, 1984), continues under the direction of Mark Greene.
At the end of an interview published in Christianity Today (13 October 2006), Stott concluded with a breathtaking breadth of mission:
My hope is that in the future, evangelical leaders will ensure that their social agenda includes such vital but controversial topics as halting climate change, eradicating poverty, abolishing armories of mass destruction, responding adequately to the AIDS pandemic, and asserting the human rights of women and children in all cultures. I hope our agenda does not remain too narrow.
‘Radical in his conservatism’ is an apt descriptive phrase in The Guardian obituary by Judge David Turner, former churchwarden of All Souls Church and a member of the reading group in 1970s, for he navigated between the conservative and open streams of evangelicalism in the Church of England. He was loyal as an Anglican and against any separatist movements.
The resurgence of evangelical Anglicanism in the second half of the twentieth century was aided by John Stott’s founding of Eclectics (for clergy under 40), the Church of England Evangelical Council and the Evangelical Fellowship in the Anglican Communion. Of particular significance was his chairing of the National Evangelical Anglican Congresses at Keele, in 1967, with its commitment to engaging with the corporate life of the Church of England, and at Nottingham, in 1977, with its emphasis on the importance of hermeneutics - the interpretation of the Bible.
He was one of several chaplains to the Queen from 1959 to 1991 and was appointed extraordinary chaplain from 1991 onwards. In 1983 Archbishop Robert Runcie awarded him a Lambeth DD. The present Archbishop, Rowan Williams, stated in his tribute the day after his death:
It is not too much to say that he helped to change the face of evangelicalism internationally, arguing for the necessity of ‘holistic’ mission that applied the Gospel of Jesus to every area of life, including social and political questions. But he will be remembered most warmly as an expositor of scripture and a teacher of the faith, whose depth and simplicity brought doctrine alive in all sorts of new ways.
Charles Simeon (1759-1836) was vicar of Holy Trinity Church, Cambridge, for 54 years. Through his extraordinary ministry of expository preaching and evangelism, and the strategic founding of evangelical societies, he had an immense influence on students, future ministers and world-wide mission. John Stott followed in his footsteps. Stott’s life of integrity, generosity, discipleship and study bore witness to the importance of evangelism rather than propaganda, compassion rather than sentimentality, justice rather than indifference, unity rather than uniformity, urgency rather than hurry, patience rather than complacency, assurance rather than presumption, and hope rather than optimism.
Thanks be to God for his life, ministry, mission and writings.
The Rt Revd Dr Graham Kings is Honorary Assistant Bishop in the Diocese of Ely and Research Associate at the Cambridge Centre for Christianity Worldwide.