Fifteen years or so ago I purchased a copy of The Cross of Christ by John Stott. I’d heard his name, knew he was “famous” in evangelicalism, but had never read any of his writings. It took only a chapter or two in The Cross of Christ for me to be won over to Stott’s style of writing. He was intellectually rigorous but clear and accessible. More than that, though, I was drawn to the devotion that permeated Stott’s writing. It was contagious, the passion he had for Christ and His church. I wanted it to characterize my own spiritual life.
John Stott was 90 years old when he died in London on Wednesday. Surrounded by friends, Stott passed away listening to “Handel’s Messiah” and the reading of scripture. If there is such a thing as a good death, it sounds like a good death to me. In life and in death, John Stott’s was soaked in scripture and dedicated to Christ the Messiah.
Ordained in the Church of England in 1945, Stott served at the same church – All Souls, London – for 60 years. But he also wrote prolifically, spoke widely and served as a mentor for countless church leaders.
In 2005 Time Magazine named John Stott one of it’s 100 Most Influential people, with Billy Graham writing the tribute. What drew the attention of Time? Perhaps it was Stott’s role in spearheading an evangelical revival in England after World War II, or perhaps the help he provided in crafting the Lausanne Covenant in 1974. Perhaps it was Stott’s classic book Basic Christianity, published in 1958, which has been translated into 63 languages. In the essay Graham points to an impact Stott had that was probably as unknown to many of his other readers as it was to me.
In the early ’60s, John created the Evangelical Fellowship in the Anglican Communion. From the outset, it offered training scholarships in the West to potential future leaders in Asia, Africa and South America — many of whom took up high positions when they returned to their own countries. Today they are in charge of church movements with millions of members; John’s work is a significant factor in the explosive growth of Christianity in parts of the Third World.
For me, as for countless others, John Stott was a teacher. Intervarsity Press publisher Benjamin Homan described Stott’s books as “the gold standard for expository teaching.” For the past decade, when I’ve prepared to teach a class on a book of the Bible, one of my first steps has been to look for a John Stott commentary. His work is reliable, relevent, and challenging. Stott also taught through the way he lived his life. Never married, John Stott saw his singleness as a gift that allowed him to devote himself more fully to ministry. While the apostle Paul would have approved, it’s a rare position in an evangelical culture that sometimes fetishizes marriage and parenting. Stott was also known for his simple lifestyle. Much of his writing was done in a Welsh cottage that didn’t have electricity until 2001, and he spent his later years living in a small apartment over the garage of a London rectory. For much of his life he rose between 5 and 6 a.m. each day to spend a long period of time in prayer, having a prayer list with hundreds of people on it. His friends and coworkers consistently describe him as warm and humble. Despite never having a wife or children, he was “Uncle John” to many who came across his path. John Stott was, in the words of Chris Wright, director of Langham Partnership, “for all of us who knew him, a walking embodiment of the simple beauty of Jesus, whom he loved above all else.”
There is no need for us to wait, as the one hundred and twenty had to wait [Acts 1], for the Spirit to come. For the Holy Spirit did come on the day of Pentecost, and has never left his church. Our responsibility is to humble ourselves before his sovereign authority, to determine not to quench him, but to allow him his freedom. For then our churches will again manifest those marks of the Spirit’s presence which many young people are especially looking for, namely biblical teaching, loving fellowship, living worship, and an ongoing, outgoing evangelism. John Stott