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Notable Christians: John Stott

Jul 28, 2011

John Stott passed away this week at age 90. The British evangelical leader and Anglican clergyman was a giant of 20th century evangelicalism. He was a pastor, preacher, theologian, teacher, writer and renowned Christian statesman. It would be almost impossible to overstate his importance.

He is known for many things, including his expertise in expository preaching and teaching. He has written scores of important books and biblical commentaries, and left an indelible mark on the shape of contemporary evangelicalism.

Born in 1921, he studied at Trinity College and Ridley Hall, Cambridge. He was ordained in 1945, and became curate, then rector, then vicar, at the famous All Souls Church in central London. He could have gone on to become a Bishop, but he felt his writing and speaking career was somewhat more worthy of his time and attention.

His preaching was in a similar vein to that of another expository preaching giant, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, at Westminster Chapel. I heard him preach on the slim book of Philemon (a mere 25 verses) over a week-long period. He was a master of digging out the meaning of the text and explaining it in a clear and relevant manner, always with a view to keeping the theological message paramount.

He was a major author of the important 1974 document, the Lausanne Covenant. In it the need for Christians to renew their efforts in worldwide evangelisation, along with practical and helpful works of social transformation, is carefully argued for and elaborated upon.

Of his many dozens of books, a number of now classic volumes can be mentioned. Back in 1958 he penned his valuable work, Basic Christianity which has gone through numerous editions. In it the basic themes of biblical Christianity are clearly laid out and detailed.

In 1967 he wrote Our Guilty Silence in which he urged believers to take seriously their task of evangelism and mission. In it he looked at obstacles to this, and what Scripture teaches concerning our responsibilities in this area. In 1970 he penned Christ the Controversialist which looked at the uniqueness of Christ and his message.

A brief but vital volume was written by Stott in 1972. Your Mind Matters was one of the earlier works by an evangelical to stress the importance of loving God with our mind, and the value of scholarship, academics, and the intellectual witness to the gospel.

In 1984 he penned an important volume on social ethics, Issues Facing Christians Today. This volume has also been revised and expanded a number of times. Many of the main ethical issues are tackled here, including abortion and euthanasia, marriage and divorce, work and employment, the environment, human rights, war and peace, and so on.

Generally his take on these issues is helpful and solidly biblical, although I happen to like some of his emphases more than others. For example, I much more prefer what he wrote on matters of sexual ethics, homosexuality, and the like, than what he says on things like nuclear issues and global economics.

The Cross of Christ, which first appeared in 1986, is another classic work, this time looking at the work of Christ, the atonement, and related themes. A twentieth anniversary edition of this work, along with a study guide, came out in 2006.

In 2001 The Incomparable Christ appeared, also focusing on the person and work of Christ. Based on lectures he delivered in 2000, this is classic Stott, giving us theologically sound and biblically solid teaching on the vital themes of Christianity. Part of his own story is recounted in the 2003 volume, Why I Am a Christian.

In addition to these and many other key titles, he also did a number of solid commentaries in the Bible Speaks Today series. The first one was The Message of Galatians which came out in 1968. He also covered Acts, Romans, Ephesians, Thessalonians, the Sermon on the Mount, and several other biblical books.

All of these are excellent works and all eight of his volumes in this series should be obtained. They are not massive, lengthy overly-technical commentaries, but neither are they in any way lightweight or superficial. They offer real meat and solid teaching, and are highly recommended.

Of course like any Christian leader, he was not perfect, and there was at least one episode in his theological stance which did cause much concern. Back in 1988 there appeared Essentials: A Liberal-Evangelical Dialogue, co-authored by David L Edwards (released in the US as Evangelical Essentials).

In this volume Stott spoke of his dalliance with the doctrine of annihilationism. This is the doctrine (regarded as heretical by most orthodox Christians throughout church history) that claims that instead of endless suffering in hell, the unbelieving, unsaved sinner will simply be annihilated.

This position – which he perhaps more hinted at than strongly and unambiguously affirmed – caused much division and controversy, needless to say. It really is the one main theological blemish on his otherwise supremely biblical and orthodox evangelicalism.

But for well over a half century Stott has championed biblical evangelicalism, the supremacy of Christ, the importance of Scripture, and the necessity of evangelism and missions. He has certainly earned his place in the world of evangelical superstars. Enter into your much-deserved eternal reward, John Stott.

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6 Responses to Notable Christians: John Stott

  • It was probably 20 years ago I read “Issues” and was bothered with his figures on the size of the homosexual population. I wrote to Mr. Stott (none too graciously, I might add), that he was using the figures which Alfred Kinsey had gleaned from his interviews, mainly with prison inmates, which were 6 or 7 times greater than the general population. His reply, which arrived weeks later via snail mail was so gracious; he assured me the next printing of the book would be amended to be more accurate.
    I had read recently, Bill, that he held to annihilationism. Thanks for setting the record straight.
    Vic Trudeau

  • Thanks for that Vic

    It appears that you have achieved some good then. I pulled out two editions of his book (both UK Marshall Pickering editions). In his 1990 edition (pp. 336-337) he offers a dreadful rehash of Kinsey’s figures without really questioning them (this may have been the edition you referred to).

    But in his 1999 edition (pp. 382-383), he does indeed make a radical correction, not only questioning the Kinsey figures, but bringing in other research to show the much lower percentages. So if those changes were due to your admonishment (and that of any others) it has paid off, so well done.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Unfortunately Stott was a theistic evolutionist:

    ‘[M]y acceptance of Adam and Eve as historical is not incompatible with my belief that several forms of pre-Adamic ‘hominid’ seem to have existed for thousands of years previously. … It is conceivable that God created Adam out of one of them. … I think you may even call some of them Homo sapiens … .’

    Understanding the Bible, Scripture Union Publishing, Sydney, Revised Edition, p.49, 1984.

    Jonathan Sarfati, US

  • There is much to be said in praise of Stott, but one of his books, Baptism and Fullness, caused a lot of grief to Anglican charismatics (as I was then in the late 1960s) by attacking the charismatic/Pentecostal view of baptism in the Holy Spirit. Good defences soon sprang up from charismatic authors but I think Stott scared a lot of people way.
    Jon Newton

  • I lived in London in the early 1970s and attended All Souls Langham Place. I treasury the memory of those years sitting under John Stott’s teaching. I recall the series including his teaching on the importance of the mind and its impact on me that remains to this day. I recall his simplicity, clarity and humility. I attended his meetings in Sydney a number of years ago when he spoke on behalf of Langham partnership and again was deeply impacted by him. His work in Africa and the distribution of sound theological teaching material I believe has a significant ongoing influence in Africa. His ‘Issues Facing Christians Today’ was timely and relevant. I agree with Jonathan Sarfati that is is unfortunate that Stott was a theistic evolutionist and some of his other views I see differently. However I remain deeply grateful to God for this man and his ministry.
    Brad Salisbury

  • I too, like many have benefitted from sitting under Stott’s teaching, and from reading his commentaries, such as The Sermon On The Mount and on Ephesians. However, it is a reminder that we must never become complacent and lazy by substituting the authority of a writer, no matter how highly esteemed, like that of John Stott, for that of scripture.

    Thanks for that Jonathan Sarfati – but I had better check out what you have just written too!!!

    David Skinner, UK

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