- Written by: Adrian Lane
John Stott’s ministry was Christ-centred, Biblical, prayerful, personal, gracious, strategic, unifying, multiplying, world-engaging and international.(1)
Imagine a cadet in the early 1970s tramping the hills of Singleton in New South Wales to share pocket-sized tracts with another lone Christian during a rough and bawdy camp. That cadet was me, those little tracts were Becoming a Christian and Being a Christian,(2) and that other cadet went on to be a senior community leader. For many, our first encounter with John Stott was through his extraordinarily extensive literature ministry. It’s hard for us now to imagine just how little evangelical literature was available 50 years ago. Stott’s Basic Christianity soon became a classic, translated into many languages. It robustly
gives a defence of the faith in the face of modern criticism, while winningly commending it. The book is simultaneously an apologetic and an evangelistic work, as well as being a comprehensive foundation for discipleship. It was exactly what I needed at University.(3)
Others know John Stott through a conference, such as a Church Missionary Society Summer School, an Australian Fellowship of Evangelical Students Annual Conference, or a convention at Mount Tambourine, Katoomba or Belgrave Heights. As a young Christian I was taken to hear his studies on Ephesians. They left an indelible impression on me. Stott set a high standard of Biblical exposition which engaged with contemporary issues. I can still remember Stott saying how he prayed daily ‘that he would be filled with the Spirit’ (Ephesians 5:18b), and how he regularly set aside time for prayer on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly cycle. He was a clear and succinct preacher and teacher, characterised by his pithy and memorable headlines and outlines. His expositions were studded with many an eloquent turn of phrase. Illustrations were drawn from a wide spectrum. These often included references to etymology and word use in a range of ancient literature. Without being unduly prescriptive, his application was characterised by disciplined theological reflection. He argued that the preacher was to have the Bible in one hand, and the newspaper in the other, and that the sermon needed to express the interaction.(4) Indeed, one exercise he gave preachers was to think through a theological response to the newspaper headlines each day.
John Chapman considers Stott’s greatest contribution to the Australian church was this modelling of expository preaching and the subsequent training it occasioned, in a range of contexts.(5) Chapman reports that following a Church Missionary Society Summer School in the late 1960s or early 1970s, Dudley Foord and he instituted the College of Preachers, where groups of ten clergy were trained at the residential conference centre, Gilbulla, in expository preaching.(6) One cannot assess the profound effect Stott’s exemplary preaching has thus had on Christian life in Australia and beyond. At the time the authority, infallibility and unity of the Scriptures was doubted by many churchmen, especially those in the academy. Biblical faith was regarded as fundamentalist, naive, uneducated and sentimental. Stott demonstrated that evangelical faith was intellectually credible, historically rooted, coherent and compelling, with major implications for the transformation of every aspect of the individual and society.(7) I was privileged to attend a Diocese of Sydney clergy conference where Stott modelled such exposition. It was hosted at my old school, where there were extensive grounds. After speaking, Stott would relax by searching out Australian birdlife at the end of an enormous telescope, with yours truly ‘providing security’ at a distance.
This brings me to a side of Stott which, on reflection, is frankly amazing, given his heavy and wide-ranging public ministries and responsibilities. Stott was wonderfully personable and gracious. This was both his character, but also a ministry strategy. Whenever our paths crossed, at a conference or an airport, he would always ask after my ministry, with an encyclopaedic memory and prayerful interest. He was the mentor of mentors: a 20th Century Simeon, whether with trainee clergy in the United Kingdom, with University students across the world, or with post-graduate theological students from the global south. This is now reflected in the ministry of Langham Partnership and in the intensive mentoring work that so characterises the ministries of the various International Fellowship of Evangelical Students groups today.(8)
Stott’s commitment to the development of character in Christian leaders was plainly evident in every aspect of his ministry. Almost 30 years since its publication, I Believe in Preaching(9) is still a favourite with Ridley preaching classes, partly because it has substantial chapters on the integrity and humility of the minister of the word.
The pairing of Stott’s rigorous Biblical mind with his humble and gracious character meant that he was used by God to bring together Christians from all over the world for cooperation in mission. This is an under-acknowledged and little known aspect of his ministry. Stott had a substantial role in crafting The Lausanne Covenant at the original Lausanne Congress in 1974.(10) This provided a theological basis for joint mission which the ecumenical movement plainly failed to achieve. The covenant privatized core issues, such as the uniqueness of Christ and the authority of the Scriptures, while naming and bounding secondary issues.(11) Out of the 1989 Lausanne Conference in Manilla, the Australian Lausanne Emerging Leaders in Evangelism network and conference was instituted. This developed into Arrow Leadership Australia, an interdenominational training program for emerging leaders. In a similar way, Stott’s work has brought together evangelicals in the Anglican Communion. He has provided them with resources and modelled a means of making a positive contribution for renewal and reform. Indeed, this very magazine and the organisation it represents probably wouldn’t exist if it were not for John Stott!
As I’ve reflected on John Stott’s influence on my life, I’ve realised how indebted I am to him, through his writing, teaching, ministry strategies and personal style.(12) Many of his commitments and priorities are my commitments and priorities. Future generations may not realise the source of their heritage and commitment to Biblical authority and exposition; to Biblically-founded and motivated engagement with the world; to mentoring and personal work; and to strategic ministry in universities and nations. Whether they are an ex-Hindu student worker in India; a Burmese Langham Scholar at Ridley Melbourne; a Sudanese pastor reading the Africa Biblical Commentary; or trainers at a Preaching Workshop in Papua New Guinea, all these friends are deeply indebted to Stott. This monumental legacy is in many ways unsung and taken for granted. My hunch is that that’s the way Stott would want it. Praise God!
Adrian Lane serves as Senior Lecturer in Ministry Skills and Church History at Ridley Melbourne. He is currently on a six-month secondment to the Mathew Hale Public Library, Brisbane, a ministry of the Simeon Association.
1. An abridged version of this tribute was initially given at the John Stott Memorial Service held at St Andrew’s Anglican Church, South Brisbane on the 21st August 2011, organised by the Queensland Branch of the Evangelical Fellowship in the Anglican Communion.
2. Becoming a Christian, InterVarsity Press, London, 1950; Being a Christian, InterVarsity Fellowship, London, 1957.
3. Basic Christianity, InterVarsity Press, London, 1958. Interestingly, John Arnold advises that the content of Basic Christianity is based on university addresses, including those given at the famous Sydney University mission, ‘What Think Ye of Christ?’ in 1958. It was during this mission that Stott lost his voice before the last address. Arnold states that Stott ‘croaked the gospel that night’. Nonetheless, the response was so significant Stott later remarked that on subsequent visits to Australia he never failed to meet someone converted that night, a clear testimony to the power of God in proclamation.
4. This is reflected in the title of the American edition of I Believe in Preaching, Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1980, which is Between Two Worlds.
5. John Chapman, My Critique of Current Preaching, Compact Disc Recording, Croydon, NSW: Sydney Missionary and Bible College Graduates’ Preaching Conference, 2006. See also Chapman’s comments at the John Stott Memorial Service, St Andrew’s Anglican Cathedral, Sydney, 28 August, 2011, www.sydneyanglicans.net.
6. Personal conversation, 29 August 2011.
7. See, for example, Your Mind Matters, InterVarsity Press, London, 1972; Christ the Controversialist, InterVarsity Press, London, 1973; Issues Facing Christians Today, Marshall, Morgan and Scott, Basingstoke, 1984; and The Radical Disciple, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, 2010.
8. In Stott’s tradition, this ministry of mentoring was generally described as ‘personal work’. Stott’s emphasis on expository Bible study, both in public and private ministry, coupled with the process and personal ministry strategies of various American groups, such as Navigators and Lay Institute for Evangelism (Student Life), was a powerful fusion. It created a style of discipleship in University ministry that churches have been unable to replicate.
9. Op. cit.
10. The Lausanne Covenant, World Wide, Minneapolis, 1975. Stott served as Chairman of the Drafting Committee for the Lausanne Covenant, adopted at the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization in 1974. The Covenant serves as a theological basis for the Lausanne movement, including subsequent Congresses in Manilla (1989) and Cape Town (2010). It has also been adopted by many other ministries for similar purposes.
11. More generally, however, it is only fair to note that many have challenged Stott’s position on annihilationism, and have considered him unclear on the priority and foundational nature of the gospel in relation to social concern.
12. Incidentally, Stott’s rare Biblical affirmation of the gift of singleness (1 Corinthians 7:7) and his example of positively using this gift for the extension of the kingdom have also been personally pastorally significant.
He spoke the truth in love
- Written by: Heather Cetrangolo
I wish I could say that I have had a deep and life-long relationship with the Reverend Doctor John Stott and that his work has long influenced my thinking about scripture and church doctrine. Even better, I wish I could call him a friend. But alas, it is not so. However, I think I can safely say that John Stott would have happily considered me a sister in Christ and accepted my heart-felt appreciation for his life’s work and witness. He strikes me to have been a kind man, who somehow managed to write in a fashion that intertwined academic rigour with human warmth,
kindness and genuine humility. I find this a striking combination and indeed, as striking as the manner in which Jesus himself interprets the truth of scripture in the gospels. The Reverend Stott had a gift for speaking the truth in love and I consider him to have been a great blessing to the body of Christ.
In actual fact, John Stott only came into my life relatively recently. I dare say I am possibly one of the least qualified people to comment on the impact of his scholarship and preaching, since I have probably been exposed to about 0.5% of the works he so faithfully produced. So I don’t boast in my own knowledge; but here’s something I can boast in: it is a fact that it was John Stott’s book, The Cross of Christ, that first led me to understand, perhaps before I could accept it, that I was evangelical. I had never in my life had someone properly explain the atonement to me. The word ‘atonement’ was mostly ridiculed by the teachers and pastors that had ministered to me up to that point. This is not to disrespect any of my brothers and sisters in Christ, but to say, through the ministry I had received, I had developed questions that no one had ever answered in a way that had meaning for me: How could a loving God require the satisfaction of his wrath by such cruel means of suffering? What’s so important about Jesus shedding his own blood?
Coupled with my query about accepting a cruel image of God, I also had other concerns, which were becoming stronger, the more I studied scripture and grew in my knowledge of God. I wondered, ‘If Jesus’ death on the cross was really only the highest exemplar of God’s sacrificial love, what could it achieve? What could it change?’ If forgiveness was all the cross stood for, what did this add to God’s mercy reflected in the sacrificial system already employed by his people? I remember taking these questions to Richard Trist. I told him I wanted to understand how evangelicals understood the cross and he sent me straight to The Cross of Christ. John Stott fixed me good.
I read the book in two days and must have mentally cried out ‘yes’ about a hundred times. ‘Yes, yes, yes! That is what I believe.’ John Stott’s defence of the words ‘satisfaction’ and ‘substitution’: truth spoken in love and very convincing! Naked I stood in the face of my absolute and total reliance on Jesus Christ to pay the price for my sin that I could never pay, so that I could know my Father in heaven. John Stott gifted me with his truthful words and his heart of love for the Lord. What a blessing to us, that in-between pastoring his flock and long hours of study, he one day typed the following words.
‘We cannot escape the embarrassment of standing stark naked before God. It is no use our trying to cover up like Adam and Eve in the garden. Our attempts at self-justification are as ineffectual as their fig-leaves. We have to acknowledge our nakedness, see the divine substitute wearing our filthy rags instead of us, and allow him to clothe us with his own righteousness.’ (The Cross of Christ)
Heather Cetrangolo serves as a Curate (Children and Families) at St Thomas Anglican Church, Burwood, Melbourne.
Gracias, Tío Juan
- Written by: John Harrower
Your Mind Matters. Here, in the title of one of his early and shorter books, John Stott captured an affirmation and a challenge. An affirmation and a challenge lived out in his own life. Life mattered, our mind mattered, indeed all God had gifted us mattered. Hence our mind was to be neither ignored nor idolised, but rather put to kingdom service. The title of the final chapter? ‘Acting on our knowledge.’ Yes, the discipleship challenge was to know God and God’s way in the world and to act on that knowledge.
Life mattered to John Stott and in the Bible he discovered the basics that both motivated and nurtured behaviour.
Bible teacher of the highest calibre I watched him engaging people in South America and here in Australia.
Basic Christianity was just that; a treasure of the basics of following Jesus.
The basics were there in his writings. The Cross of Christ, a standard reference, is near to my desk to this day; as is his New Issues Facing Christians Today.
Behaviour mattered and his participation in missiological consultations such as the Willowbank Report, ‘Gospel and Culture’, encouraged sensitive contextual mission.
Tío Juan (Uncle John) was the term of endearment used to address him by South Americans. His wisdom was that of an uncle wise in life’s challenges and caring in speaking of it. His clear, rich vocabulary and straightforward biblical exposition was readily translated and engaged eager listeners so effectively that his books were translated into Spanish.
I recall him allowing others pass by him in a lunch queue. Gentle, warm, interested, humble: full of grace and truth.
Gracias, Tío Juan for the Bible, basics and behaviour.
John Harrower is Bishop of Tasmania and a Vice-president of EFAC Australia.
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.