EFAC Australia

A. Donald MacLeod, C. Stacey Woods and the Evangelical Rediscovery of the University (IVP, 2007)

C. Stacey Woods may arguably be the Australian with the greatest impact on the twentieth-century international evangelical scene, after the scholarly contributions of Leon Morris. MacLeod’s biography skilfully traces his boyhood in Bendigo and Brethren roots through to his transfer to North America for theological education at the fledgling Dallas seminary, and then on to his monumental and foundational work in leading three increasingly large and complex organisations: the Canadian InterVarsity movement, the United States IVCF and finally his role as the long-serving founding General Secretary of the IFES. An Australian-born evangelical spearheaded the birth and growth of all three – how astounding!
Woods’ story has probably fallen victim to the tall-poppy syndrome, but here is a well-written carefully-researched and readable biography detailing his life and ministry. Four interesting themes stood out for me:

1. So much of twentieth-century evangelicalism centred around the same broad network of people and organisations. Billy Graham and Carl Henry, Martyn Lloyd-Jones and John Stott, T. C. Hammond and Howard Mowll – all feature. The Doctor noted ‘the importance of personal contacts’ in Christian ministry – especially in the international spread of evangelical cooperation in mission and evangelism. John Stott is quoted in similar vein in his biography, about going to conferences for the contacts, not necessarily the content. It is a lesson many contemporary leaders need to learn, for the sake of the Gospel mission to the world.

2. The key ministry of converting and encouraging young people into ministry was another recurring theme. Edmund Clark, a Children’s Special Service Mission (CSSM – the progenitor of Scripture Union beach missions) worker, raised up Woods, converted Marcus Loane and was influential in Don Robinson’s family. Sadly, the Clark’s ‘failure’ and ejection from Australia cut short this ministry here and, in God’s sovereign purpose, led to Woods’ departure for the US. I remain struck by how few individuals there are with these both gifts. There are evangelists among us, and there are encouragers of others into ministry – but we have too few who do both at the one fell swoop. We must pray for them.

3. The key ministries of financial giving and business acumen run through each episode of ministry growth in the book. Woods may have been the charismatic networker and speaker, but it was a succession of well-heeled generous Gospel-hearted men and women who bankrolled staff salaries, travel costs and organisational costs. Additionally, they brought wisdom from the cut-and-thrust of the business world to bear on the Gospel enterprise and played an important role in offering encouragement and personal support to Woods. A similar story has yet to be adequately told of Christian business workers’ major part in the progress of much evangelical effort in Australia – both in giving and in leading. Woods linked the ‘increasing preponderance of academia over business’ on boards and councils as a reason for IVCF’s weakness. We might say the same of the preponderance of clergy over capable laity in some of our organisations and committees.

4. Woods’ passionately innocent pietism – appealing to prayer and unity in Christ in the work of evangelism whenever conflict threatened to erupt – was striking feature. The portrait painted is of a compelling preacher and writer, a charismatic visionary leader, but a poor administrator and team leader. Someone whom God used to achieve much, even as he caused and created tension in his wake. This is a biography that, as Timothy Larsen observes on the back cover, is ‘full of grace and truth’. It deserves many humble, self-reflective readers.

Wei-Han Kuan is editor of Essentials.