Generous Orthodoxy  

Thursday, July 28, 2011

John R. W. Stott 1921-2011

The entire Christian world, and indeed the entire population of the globe can be profoundly grateful to John Stott, whose death was announced today. Most Christian leaders have had embarrassing public traits; even Billy Graham, as he almost but not quite admitted, was tainted by his love of being close to presidents (contrast Elijah). Stott's life, however, insofar as it can be judged from his reputation, was blameless. The New York Times obituary, remarkably, reveals no flaws; indeed, it is as respectful as one could wish from an organ which often seems to be out to discredit Christianity whenever possible. There are many wonderful things in the obituary. Here is the link:

When I was at Grace Church in New York, John Stott came to visit and to speak to small groups. It was quite thrilling to be up close to the famous world evangelist. The scholar who took a "double first" at Cambridge spoke with the upper-class, erstwhile "BBC accent" which has now almost completely vanished from England (not even the Queen speaks the "Queen's English" any more). Yet it was obvious that he was committed body and soul to global Christianity and was altogether indifferent to the motley styles of dress, comportment, and speech that he met everywhere he went. He was truly a man of the "Majority World," as he called the "Third World." My husband attended All Souls Langham Place frequently when on business trips to London, and it was obvious from its multiethnic congregation that John Stott's ministry had brought people there from all over the global South.

John Stott's holiness of life was such that one can only repent of one's own shortcomings. His disciplined commitment to prayer, his singleminded concern that the gospel be preached, his outpouring of books, his nurturing of disciples, his global reach, his passion for the incarnation of Christ's mission in every department of human life was perhaps unequalled in recent Protestantism.

He was formidable, but he had an attractive human side. I will admit that perhaps my favorite of all his books is the "bird book," which is mentioned in the obituary, and my favorite story is one that he charmingly told on himself at Grace Church about a man who introduced him by saying that he would crawl on his knees a thousand miles to hear John Stott, and then promptly fell asleep! Stott added wryly, "I can only assume that he was exhausted from his thousand-mile crawl."

No one is without limitations. Very much like John Paul II, another celibate who was surrounded by men all his life, he was apparently somewhat clueless about women. A more important factor in assessing his influence is his character as the quintessential modernist. As such, his works--even including the famous Basic Christianity, translated into more than 60 languages--will probably find less ready audiences in decades to come. Arguments from reason no longer resonate as they once did, and his writing sometimes seems dry. The man for the next season has been at home with the Lord since 1998, but his star should rise: Lesslie Newbigen saw postmodernism coming in a way that Stott did not, and was able to rise to meet it. For both these men, for all that they wrote, for the gospel that they tirelessly preached, and for the peoples of the Majority World for which they labored, God's holy Name be praised.

Here is a nice little summary of some of Stott's quotable quotes: