John R.W. Stott would have been 100 years old today. He died ten years ago, but the man left his mark on the history of the worldwide evangelical church. A tribute website to Stott’s influence rightly states that Stott was “an English Anglican who impacted evangelical Christianity in the 20th Century more than any other individual.”
I discovered John Stott as a college student, through a series of small booklets Stott wrote for InterVarsity. Over his life, Stott wrote about 50 fifty books, but what set Stott above many of his peers was a combination of three qualities:
- John Stott combined the warmth and heart of a pastor with a crisp and keen intellect.
- John Stott was a gifted leader.
- John Stott had a heart and passion to reach the world for Jesus.
John Stott came to know Christ at age 17 in the United Kingdom, on the eve of World War II, after hearing a talk by youth evangelist Eric Nash, “What Then Shall I Do with Jesus, Who Is Called the Christ? Stott would eventually go onto becoming the Rector of All Soul’s Church, Langham Place, in London, where he would serve for most of his life. He studied the Scriptures for hours and hours, and appreciated the value of sound, verse-by-verse expository preaching.
Though Stott never married, he was very much a “people-person.” He partnered with the American evangelist, Billy Graham, to sponsor a series of revival meetings in England in 1950s, that sparked the worldwide ministry outreach of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Yet Stott was not content simply to be a pastor, as he believed that cultivating a Christian heart should also be accompanied by cultivating a Christian mind. He encouraged the development of British-based Bible commentaries, to revive an interest in thoughtful evangelical Bible scholarship, that had languished by the mid-20th century. One of my favorite Stott books to this day is his commentary on the Book of Romans. Stott was both a pastor and a teacher.
Together with Billy Graham, John Stott drew together evangelists and missionaries from all over the world to convene at Lausanne, Switzerland, where the Lausanne Covenant was drafted, one of the most important statements of evangelical belief and practice, during the modern era. A tireless supporter of the work of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, John Stott traveled the world as a leader to promote the global work of spreading the Gospel.
Stott was not without controversy, as he clashed with fellow senior evangelical leader Martyn Lloyd-Jones in the 1960s, over evangelical involvement in the Church of England, which had grown increasingly liberal in theological direction. Lloyd-Jones urged evangelicals to leave the Church of England, while Stott urged evangelicals to stay, and maintain their influence in the national church. Stott also urged other fellow Christians to affirm God’s design for marriage, as being between one man and one woman for a lifetime, contrary to certain popular trends today.
Stott steered a middle-way through theological disagreements, that still plague 21st century evangelicalism. In the 1960s, he gently admonished the leaders of the Keswick Holiness movement to abandon their late-19th and early-20th century commitment to “let go and let God” theology and embrace a more classic, Reformed view of sanctification, that emphasizes gradual growth and change in the Christian life. Stott was a critic of excesses in the charismatic movement, while avoiding knee-jerk reactions against the charismatic movement, by advocating an “open yet cautious” approach to modern manifestations of the miraculous gifts of the Spirit. Stott sought a middle-way in the debate over “women in ministry,” by affirming the principle of an all-male-only eldership in local churches, while simultaneously encouraging the development of female leadership in other ministries of the church. Stott accepted the antiquity of the earth, and was open to the scientific theory of evolution, while firmly believing in an historical Adam and Eve, created in the image of God, who later fell into sin.
Stott was no mere traditionalist, simply accepting tradition for the sake of tradition, as he sought to follow Scripture wherever it led him. Most controversially, Stott eventually adopted a “conditional immortality” view regarding the doctrine of hell, at least in a tentative matter, as opposed to holding to the view of hell as conscious eternal torment.
My favorite John Stott book is The Cross of Christ, which is my view the best, contemporary well-rounded exposition of Jesus’ substitutionary death on the cross. In The Cross of Christ, Stott affirms the classic Reformation of view of penal substitutionary atonement, while emphasizing that God’s self-substitution at Calvary corrects certain misunderstandings that many often have about penal substitution.
Check out the John Stott 100 website to learn more about Stott and about his many helpful books.