We have good reason to thank God for John Stott.
Here I focus on his preaching, both method andmessage.
John visited Australia in January 1965, and this visit—one of many—had a profound effect on Australian preaching.1 He gave Bible studies on 2 Corinthians at the CMS Summer Schools in several states in Australia. Much Australian preaching at that time was on 'a text', that is, on an individual verse from the Bible, often without much regard to its context. In his Bible studies John Stott was demonstrating the obvious value of preaching from a passages of Scripture, and from consecutive passages of Scripture. His example had a profound impact on Australian preaching.2 One person who was profoundly affected by this change in preaching style was Sydney evangelist John Chapman, who reflected this way on Stott's influence:
'Prior to that, I had tended to get an idea from a passage and leap all over the Bible supporting the idea from other parts so that the people I taught knew the "idea" but not the passage from which it came or how that passage fitted into some overall argument from the Scriptures … He provided a model for expository preaching that I could copy and make my own.'3
Chapman and Dudley Foord set up the College of Preachers in Sydney to promote this expository preaching, and it was soon promoted at Moore College. In Melbourne a series of Sunday night expositions of the Bible was set up to promote the Stott style. Expository preaching means that each verse of the Bible is preached in its revelatory context. For the units of God's verbal revelation are the books of the Bible, rather than isolated verses or general ideas from those books. This change was effected most rapidly in Sydney, but is now found throughout Australia. It has spread through the work of the Australian Fellowship of Evangelical Students, and by a number of good theological colleges and Bible colleges. Australians now contribute to the growth of expository preaching around the world.
Admittedly John Stott had extraordinary gifts of concentration, clarity, and conciseness which are beyond ordinary mortals. His deep thinking enabled a simplicity and clarity of expression. However the model was still transferable: just say what the Bible says, and show its application to our lives today. Stott defined preaching in these words: 'To preach is to open up the inspired text with such faithfulness and sensitivity that God's voice is heard and God's people obey him.' With customary clarity he explained that this sentence contained two convictions, that the Bible text is inspired and that the preacher's task is to open or explain it; two obligations, that we must be faithful to the text and sensitive to our hearers; and two expectations, that God will be heard, and that his people will respond.4
What was the centre of the Bible and its message in John Stott's mind and ministry? Here are three clues:
i. John wrote in his magisterial book, The Cross of Christ, '[the cross] lies at the centre of the historic biblical faith ... and this is in itself a sufficient justification for preserving a distinctive evangelical testimony.'5
ii. John chose a Bible reading from Galatians for his funeral which included these words: 'May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ' (Gal 6:14). The words 'May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ' are at once a prayer, a commitment, and a curse: May God help me not to boast in anything other than the cross of Christ; I will never boast in anything other than the cross; May God forbid that I boast of anything except the cross of Christ.6
iii. The words on his gravestone are based on the memorial to the great Cambridge preacher Charles Simeon in Holy Trinity Church Cambridge, 'who resolved both as the ground of his salvation and as the subject of his ministry to know nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified'. These words in turn are based on 1 Corinthians 2:2, 'For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.'7
Of course we would not contradict the cross: but we might neglect it in our theology, our preaching, our evangelism, our ministry and our lives. We might engage in heresy by silence: we might replace the cross with sincerity, achievement, success, good works, religious energy, exciting worship, or internal experiences of grace; or we might remove its theological foundations of holiness, sin, incarnation, and penal substitution. The cross is at the heart of Christianity, and without the cross there is no gospel at all. As John wrote, 'If the cross is not central … then we deserve to have applied to us that most terrible of all descriptions, "enemies of the cross of Christ"' (Phil 3:18).8
John led a renewed and robust evangelicalism after the second world war, with a commitment to the exposition of the Scriptures, and the preaching of the cross of Christ. John, with the assistance of our own Leon Morris, recovered the cross for evangelicalism, glorying in the cross. In his later years John discerned a return to that liberal evangelicalism of the early 20th century which had neglected the cross.9 Perhaps he wanted to warn us from the grave: 'May you never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.' To glory, to boast in the cross of Christ now is great practice for eternity, when we will join all the saints and angels in singing:
'You are worthy...for by your blood you ransomed for God saints from every tribe and language and people and nation; you have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God, and they will reign on earth.'
'Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing!' 10
2 See Jonathan Holt, 'The emergence of expository preaching in Sydney Anglican churches'. St Mark's Review, No. 230, Nov 2014: 72-83; and Peter Adam, 'Reflecting on Fifty Years of Expository Preaching in Australia' at https://au.thegospelcoalition.org/ article/celebrating-fifty-years-of-expository-preaching-in-australia/
3 Michael Orpwood, Chappo: For the Sake of the Gospel, John Chapman and the Department of Evangelism, Russel Lea, Eagleswift Press, 1995, 158.
4 John Stott, The Contemporary Christian, Leicester, IVP, 1992, 207-218. See also John Stott, I Believe in Preaching, London, Hodder & Stoughton, 1982.
5 John Stott, The Cross of Christ, Leicester, Inter-Varsity Press, 1986, p. 7.
6 This theme was expressed in Stott's life and ministry, see Peter Adam https://stjudes.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/John- Stott-memorial-sermon-Peter-Adam.pdf.
7 In 1986 James Houston published a collection of sermons by Charles Simeon, for which Stott wrote the Introduction, in which he expressed his appreciation for Simeon's model of life and ministry, andespecially his preaching. James Houston, Evangelical Preaching, Portland, Multnomah Press, 1986. Stott's Introduction is on pp. xxvii-xli.
8 The Cross of Christ, 351.
9 Dudley-Smth, Stott, 164.
10 Revelation 5:9-12