Prince among Preachers
- Written by: Stephen Hale
When I think of John Stott I think of Parish Preaching. More than anyone else in the past 60 years John Stott was the preeminent Prince of Preachers. John Stott will be noted for many other things but at heart he was a preacher. In particular he was a preacher in the local church. He didn’t move to the seminary or to the episcopacy. Today via the internet we can access anything anywhere but in spite of the limitations of his era, John’s preaching at All Souls Langham Place established a model of how to preach that has been emulated across the globe.
My first encounter with John was at an AFES National Conference in 1975 at Bathurst. John was the guest Bible Study leader and guided us through 6 magisterial studies in Ephesians. These studies were repeated in other places but became the basis for the Bible Speaks Today book God’s New Society. I grew up in a thoroughly evangelical suburban church where we heard the gospel preached every week. To hear the Scriptures expounded and reflected upon was a great personal breakthrough. I had experienced this at University but no one seemed to do it better than John Stott.
John Stott had the amazing capacity to open up the text in such a way that you heard God clearly speaking to you. All preachers aim to do this but some are especially gifted at it. John would always have a snappy introduction that picked up on some current issue or idea. He would then work his way through the passage through systematic exposition. Along the way he would either illustrate his point or apply it in some way. Often at the end he would give a mini response to a current theological controversy or textual issue. Behind it lay a depth of scholarship yet it was clear and accessible. John’s local church preaching went on week in and week out. When he spoke at Conventions he did what he did locally. This established a bench mark and an enticing vision of the importance and power of great expositional preaching.
In 1982 I was in my second year at Moore College and going through a rough patch. In the May break I had a week’s leave in Tasmania. During that week I read I Believe in Preaching by John Stott. It was a wonderful re-imagining of the vision of what God was calling me into. Stott retraced the Biblical material and then looked at what preachers have said about preaching. I’m not sure if I would have gone on into ordained ministry if it wasn’t for that week of inspiration with John Stott in Tasmania.
John Stott, more than anyone else, impacted the global church because of his own preaching but also for the model he established. This was matched by his integrity of life and tireless involvement in many ways in many places. He re-established for Anglicans the primacy of preaching in effective local church ministry. Many of us, from time to time, have preached John’s sermons! Many of us, myself included, probably would have struggled to know how to preach certain passages if it weren’t for John Stott. Most of us have never preached as well as John did. That doesn’t matter as long as we were faithful and God honoured what we strove to do. Much of the revival in evangelical Anglicanism that has taken place in these past 60 years can be traced back to the impact of John’s preaching. John Stott, Prince of Preachers.
Stephen Hale is Senior Minister at St Hilary’s Kew and Deputy Chairman of EFAC Australia.
A godly character
- Written by: Richard Trist
I first encountered John Stott as a young Christian in the early 1970s by reading his books Basic Christianity and Understanding the Bible. These books helped me to develop a reasonable faith. As a science undergraduate I discovered that I didn’t have to discard my brain in order to believe.
A different encounter took place at an AFES national conference in Bathurst when I sat under his preaching for the first time. John’s clear exposition of Ephesians blew me away. He was the sort of preacher and teacher I wanted to be. Over the years his many books helped to shape my thinking and preaching and I continue to value works such as The Cross of Christ, Issues Facing Christians Today, Essentials, I Believe in Preaching and the Bible Speaks Today Commentaries.
It was in 1997 that my first personal encounter with John occurred. I had just moved with my family to London to work at All Souls, Langham Place. On the day we arrived the phone rang. My wife picked up the phone to hear the words: ‘It’s John Stott here. A warm welcome to London and a warm welcome to All Souls. I have been praying for you all.’ John then asked about the family and how we had coped with the travelling. After chatting over points for prayer he invited me to join him for afternoon tea in a few weeks’ time. As I put down the phone I was amazed that this world-famous author, preacher and Christian leader with so many demands on his time and so many people to see, took time to phone and wish me and my family well.
Over my time at All Souls I saw this generosity of spirit and humility of character time and time again. In many ways it is this side of John rather than his books and global leadership that has stuck with me and which I seek to emulate in my own life.
His simple attitude. When John retired as Rector of All Souls, he moved into a two-room flat behind the rectory in Weymouth Street. It was a comfortable flat but very basic—not what you might expect from someone of his stature. He ate, dressed and lived simply. He eschewed television, daily newspapers and the internet. In comparison to this my own life seems so often full of stuff and things that waste my time.
His enjoyment of the ordinary things in life. John appreciated many of the simple things that we take for granted: conversations, walks, reading, and of course his beloved bird-watching. An extravagance might be a trip to Leicester Square to see his favourite cinema genre—James Bond films!
He gave of himself to others. Whenever John preached at All Souls, he would greet people as they left the church. Inevitably some would make a fuss and insist on having photos taken or books autographed, yet John never showed contempt. He saw it as important to them and thus obliged with grace and dignity.
He was a man of prayer. Although his public prayer before preaching was the same it was never insincere : ‘Heavenly Father, we bow in your presence. May your Word be our rule, your Spirit our teacher, and your greater glory our supreme concern, through Jesus Christ our Lord.’ His private times of prayer were the same. They began as soon as he awoke with the words: ‘Good morning Heavenly Father. Good morning Lord Jesus. Good morning Holy Spirit’ and were followed by meditation on the Bible and praying over long lists of people whom he knew from around the world. I was humbled one day when I realized that the reason he could ask me about each of my children by name, was that he had been praying for our family on one of his lists. Prayer for John was the hidden source of power.
As I reflect on John’s life I am grateful to God for so many things: his ability to preach and teach in such a way as to make the message of the Bible clear and applicable; his balanced approach to contentious issues that at times divide us; his call for evangelicals not to retreat into isolationism nor separatism but to engage with the wider church. But it was his godly character that challenges me the most. I could excuse myself from being like this by saying that John was simply an extraordinary man. But I am sure that John would point me away from himself to the Christ who calls me to follow and the Spirit who promises to empower. His message would be clear: rather than saying ‘I cannot’, I ought to be saying ‘why not?’.
Richard Trist is Dean of the Anglican Institute, Ridley Melbourne, and Secretary of EFAC Australia.
An ordinary Christian
- Written by: Glenn Davies
A great sadness has overcome the Evangelical world as we mourn the loss of one God’s great ones.
Of course, John would never have said that, as he always remained a humble servant of Christ, despite the accolades that came his way over many years. Yet we may truly say so, as he has been used by God to teach and preach the supremacy and all-sufficiency of Christ for our salvation, and taught us to glory in the Lord and not in human achievement.
John was, in his own words, ‘an ordinary Christian who struggled in his desire to understand, to explain and to apply the Word of God’. We thank God for this ordinary Christian who had an extraordinary effect on the world wide church, and we who follow him have been richly blessed by the legacy of his struggles to understand, explain and apply that living Word of God. The effects are many but I mention four.
1. His passion for preaching the Bible as it comes to us by sequential exposition, without avoiding the difficult verses, so that he might teach the whole counsel of God. His founding of the Bible Speaks Today Series, with his landmark commentary on Galatians in 1968, based on his sermons at All Souls Langham Place, has made the Bible accessible to countless numbers of Christians throughout the world.
2. His concern that Evangelicals stand firm within the Church of England, following the assaults of liberalism from within, led him to play a founding role in EFAC in 1961. While Martin Lloyd-Jones was encouraging Evangelicals to come out of the established Church and form a new body, John Stott stood firm (a bold stance against the Doctor!) and thereby encouraged Evangelicals not only in England but around the Anglican Communion to contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints.
3. His passion for seeing Christian faith expressed in word and deed. Here his contribution to the Lausanne Congress in 1974, being the principal architect of the Lausanne Covenant, is incalculable. Not only did John clarify the primacy of evangelism as it is accompanied by social action, he was also instrumental in binding together Evangelicals of all persuasions in what is now known as the Lausanne Movement.
4. John was very aware of the privileges of his upbringing and his education and accordingly devoted much of his time (and royalties from his writings) supporting students and pastors in developing countries, the majority world. Langham Partnership International is the fruit of his endeavours to provide scholarships for young Evangelical leaders and to provide literature for pastors and theological libraries.
I thank God for John’s ministry to me as a teenager, not only through his many books which helped shape my Christian growth, but especially through his graciousness in taking the time to answer my no doubt irritating questions on one of his early visits to Australia. For those who had the pleasure of meeting him personally we share a rare privilege; and for those who did not, they still have the privilege of learning from this great one, through his many books and sermons. May God continue to bless this legacy for many years to come.
We thank God for this humble servant of Christ. May we all emulate his example of an ordinary Christian, seeking to know and apply the Word of God to all of life.
‘Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.’ (Psalm 116:15)
Glenn Davies is Bishop of North Sydney and Chairman of EFAC Australia.
- Written by: Peter Jensen
Peter Jensen, Glenn Davies, Richard Trist, Stephen Hale, John Harrower, Heather Cetrangolo and Adrian Lane farewell the most influential protestant Christian of our time, an architect of 20th-century evangelicalism who shaped the faith of a generation.
There are a few, a very few, who deserve to be called a Prince among the people of God. John Stott was one such.
We all see other people partially. I am not therefore going to try to give a rounded picture of the man. I am only going to mention briefly the areas in which his impact was strongest in our part of the world. But the source and nature of that impact was at the very heart of his whole ministry. It had to do with his treatment of Scripture.
The thing for which we will mainly remember him was as one who expounded the Bible as God’s word.
All preaching worthy of the name Christian starts from the Bible. The biblical preaching of my youth would start characteristically from a verse, sometimes taken out of context and used as a starting point for an extended Christian homily with exhortation.
Our first hand experience of John Stott was different. He took passages rather than texts and gave rigorous attention to the context and the meaning of the passage taken as a whole. And he spoke with such spiritual vibrancy that you could immediately tell that the biblical text was shaping and informing his faith and his walk with God. Here was a man with something to say, precisely because he took it from Scripture.
The effects were profound. Not only did people come to know Christ through his preaching and not only were people built up in Christ. He modelled a preaching style which others could use as well. He was not the great orator who can only be admired but never emulated. He was a servant of the word who showed what can be done by faithful attention to the text of Scripture. Obviously few had his intellectual and theological skills; nonetheless we could all aspire to use his model.
His ministry had a multiplier effect.
First and foremost, he helped you to revere and love the Bible. His expositional commitment underscored the sufficiency of Scripture. His expositional method underscored the clarity of Scripture. His expositional habit underscored the authority of Scripture. You were more inclined to say, what a great passage, than what a great preacher.
There were two features of this preaching which I remember in particular. The first is to do with its simplicity. It was not that he strove for popularity and delivered trivia. On the contrary, it was the simplicity of the master craftsman, who could analyse the text of Scripture and by carefully tracing the development of its thought, help his hearers to be better readers. We could see what he could see, and we could be inspired to believe that we too could read the Bible for ourselves.
The second feature was the basis of the first—he was a scholar. I don’t mean that he had a PhD or taught in a university. He was beyond such measures. I mean that he had mastered the arts needed for biblical exposition and he gave the time and energy to make sure of his results. You can only achieve true simplicity by working very hard. That is what he did. Our debt to him, under God, flows from his willingness to give time, energy and thought to the study of Scripture in the light of modern thought and modern needs and to pastor us through his preaching. In this, as in much else besides, He was a Prince amongst God’s people.
Peter Jensen is Archbishop of Sydney and President of EFAC Australia.
John Stott Tribute
- Written by: Wei-Han Kuan
John Stott Memorial Edition
Twenty years ago, as a teenage boy discovering Christian books for the first time, I picked up what I thought was the most useful and interesting book on the shop shelves. It was a cheap Asian edition of Understanding the Bible. I didn’t know it then, but I had just been introduced to one of the truly great men of twentieth-century evangelicalism, John Robert Walmsley Stott.
Stott of course played a leading role in the founding of EFAC in 1961, and steered its international development. So it is fitting that we mark his passing with this commemorative edition. EFAC Australia leaders from across the country offer their reflections on Stott’s life and ministry. Peter Jensen and Stephen Hale focus on the influence of this Prince of Preachers. Glenn Davies and John Harrower reflect on the wider impact of his leadership. Richard Trist and Heather Cetrangolo share something of the personal effect he had on them. Many of these important themes are brought together in Adrian Lane’s tribute at the EFAC Queensland memorial service. My hope is that this issue of Essentials will help Stott’s legacy live on strongly through EFAC. May his example, his priorities in ministry, his personal godliness, graciousness and famous humility, continue to inspire us towards Christ the Saviour and Lord whom he lived to serve. You can read more tributes and leave your own reflections at: www.johnstottmemorial.org
Wei-Han Kuan is Senior Associate Minister at St Alfred’s, North Blackburn, and is the editor of Essentia
- Written by: Jill Firth
Jill Firth peels back the layers of the fourth commandment.
Do you treat yourself like a 24/7 sweatshop worker? Many of us live as if we have no need of relief and refreshment, as prescribed for everyone including slaves, strangers and even donkeys in the sabbath rules given to Israel (Exodus 23.12). According to the Christian psychiatrist, Arch Hart, failing to rest leads to stress-related diseases and burnout. Hart advocates taking a day every 7 days, as well as some relaxation time every day, as essential to physical and mental well being.
The Hebrew word for sabbath, shabbat, literally means ‘ceasing’ or ‘resting’, as God ceased or rested on the seventh day of creation (Genesis 2.3). On the first Sabbath, before the Fall, the man and the woman rested with God in the garden of Eden. Outside Eden, Israel was called to imitate God who rested on the first sabbath (Exodus 20.10–11). On the way to the Promised Land, the sabbath reminded God’s people to live in trustful dependence on God the provider (Exodus 16.22–33). The sabbath was a time for giving rest to others in the community and caring for the needy (Deuteronomy 5.12–14; Isaiah 58). The ‘sabbath year’ reminded Israel not to overwork the planet (Leviticus 25.1–7). The year of Jubilee, a ‘sabbath of sabbaths’, called them to a just and redemptive lifestyle (Leviticus 25.8–12). In the New Testament, the promise of sabbath rest is fulfilled in salvation in Christ (Hebrews 4.1–11). The sabbath looks forward to the eternal reign of Christ and the creation’s release from decay and death (Romans 8.18–25, Revelation 21.1–4).
Some Christians consider the sabbath to be a part of the moral law, binding on all. Others believe that Jesus’ claim to be Lord of the sabbath signals that a day of rest is no longer required for Christians (Matthew 12.8). A study group chaired by the Biblical scholar, Don Carson, concludes that while neither Saturday nor Sunday is obligatory as a day of rest, one day of rest and refreshment each week is appropriate for human functioning.
A sabbath is not just a day without work. Eugene Peterson critiques the ‘secularized’ or ‘bastard’ sabbath—a day off for resting only so as to work more efficiently on the other six days. Peterson, a busy pastor, takes a Monday sabbath with his wife, Janice. After reading a psalm together, they walk in silence in the woods for several hours, revelling in God’s creation. On the way back they share their thoughts and experiences. A true sabbath is a day for praying and for playing, says Peterson, ‘a time to quit our work and contemplate his’.
Ceasing, resting, embracing and feasting are four aspects of the sabbath experience, according to theologian Marva Dawn. Dawn chooses Sunday as her sabbath. She sets aside her weekly work and completes her preparations on Saturday evening, then begins her sabbath in the literal physical rest of sleep. Even in the final stages of her doctoral thesis and on the day before final exams, Dawn ceased from work on Sundays. On her sabbath, she teaches the Scriptures and offers hospitality, but she completes all her preparations on Saturday. For Dawn, sabbath is a time of reflecting on our values in the light of Scripture so that we can embrace God’s values ‘to the hilt’, delighting in God, not pursuing our own affairs apart from him (Isaiah 58.13–14). Feasting in worship, music, beauty, food and the company of others becomes a weekly ‘eschatological party’ as we look forward to the marriage feast of the Lamb in the eternal sabbath rest of God. On Sunday, Dawn eats different food, makes time for creativity and friendship, celebrates and worships in community. To mark the beginning and end of her sabbath, she lights candles and uses traditional prayers drawn from Jewish practice. Dawn delights in her sabbath, eagerly looking forward to it through the week and looking back with joy when it is over.
I was intrigued by the unfolding dynamic of ceasing, resting, embracing and feasting. I had a few days’ break coming up, which seemed like a good opportunity to road test these ideas. Driving up to the beach house, I switched off all technology, aiming to cease not only from active work but also from mental preoccupation with work and daily issues. After a long walk on the beach, I?took a nap then enjoyed some Scripture reading. Hours just watching the waves helped me find a place of resting in God. Eventually, I felt ready to ‘embrace’, reflecting on God’s providence in Psalm 104 and his loving care in Psalm 139. I spent a morning walking, journaling and praying, reviewing the past year. In the afternoon, I offered the coming year to God, and prayerfully considered changes to my lifestyle which would allow more time for the activities and relationships that God was bringing to my attention. On?the final glorious sunny day, I?clambered in rock pools and enjoyed a special meal, feasting on the love of God in creation.
Recent leadership theory emphasises the connection between who we are and how we lead. ‘Leadership has little to do with making lots of decisions, with getting a great deal done. It is about getting the right things done’, says Simon Walker who teaches leadership at Oxford University. ‘As leaders, the crucial quality we need is the courage to stop. The courage to wait and be still.’ He continues, ‘While everyone around us is clamouring for a decision, the leader waits until she is confident and clear’. Robert Fryling is a senior IVP publisher who developed new weekly patterns after reflecting on the sabbath. He benefits from a complete break from his weekday thoughts and activities by taking a technology-free day without his computer, mobile phone or even television. His sabbath includes Sunday worship, small group, walking, resting, praying, reflecting and journaling.
Sabbath time is a gift from God. We can joyfully set aside our daily work, putting our trust in God the provider. We can rest in God’s presence as we look back to Eden, and as we look forward to the new heavens and the new earth. We can embrace God’s Kingdom values, reaching out with the gospel and with justice, and caring for his creation. We can taste the eschatological feast as we worship God, rejoice in salvation, and have fellowship with his people. Ceasing, resting, embracing and feasting help us to move from living like sweatshop workers, or unredeemed donkeys, to finding sabbath rest as the beloved children of God.
Jill Firth is an ordained Anglican minister, a trained spiritual director and an Adjunct Lecturer at Ridley Melbourne. Jill is part of an EFAC Victoria planning group for quiet days and retreats. Regular 24 hour retreats are offered by EFAC in the Melbourne area.
Don Carson (ed), From Sabbath Day to Lord’s Day: A Biblical, Historical and Theological Investigation (Zondervan, 1982).
Eugene Peterson, Working the Angles: the Shape of Pastoral Integrity (Eerdmans, 1987).
Marva Dawn, Keeping the Sabbath Wholly: Ceasing, Resting, Embracing, Feasting (Eerdmans, 1989).
Archibald Hart, The Anxiety Cure: You Can Find Tranquillity and Wholeness (Word, 1999).
Simon P Walker, Leading out of Who You Are: Discovering the Secret of Undefended Leadership (Piquant, 2007), page 125.
Robert A Fryling, The Leadership Ellipse: Shaping how we lead by who we are (IVP, 2010)
Glenn Davies, ‘Sabbath and Ecology’, St Mark’s Review 212, May 2010, pages 25–38.