I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that John Stott died this week (27 July 2011), aged 90. I can’t add anything new to the many obituaries, tributes and eulogies that are already on the internet, but I nonetheless wanted to mark the passing of a good man, one of the foremost – and best – British evangelicals of the last 50 years.
John Stott was of course a leading conservative evangelical and a passionate evangelist; as a more liberally-inclined semi-evangelical I do not entirely share his theology and ecclesiology. In fact, what I probably shared most with Stott was his enthusiasm for ornithology; if we’d met our conversation would probably have been about bird-watching rather than theology.
I must also confess that I’ve never actually read a whole John Stott book. I started Basic Christianity several years ago but didn’t get very far; from what I remember it struck me as good, well-written and sound , but it didn’t ignite any spark of excitement in me – Tom Wright’s Simply Christian, which covers roughly the same ground, would be my choice any day.
But Stott was much more than a bog-standard conservative evangelical; he was a profoundly thoughtful, humble and kind man – a true British gentleman of the old school, and an all round ‘good egg’. He had a profound care for creation, for people and for the ‘Majority world’. Among his notable achievements were helping to shape the influential and ecumenical Lausanne Covenant, and founding the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, an institution for which I have a lot of respect.
As an evangelical John Stott was also surprisingly progressive. Famously he incurred the ire of some evangelicals by coming out in support of the annihilationist view of hell as opposed to the classic conservative eternal-conscious-torment view. He was also reasonably progressive in supporting the ordination of women deacons and ‘presbyters’ (essentially local ministers), while not believing that they should be in a position of full headship over men.
Stott’s death is a great loss to the evangelical community and to the wider church, and leaves a void which will be hard to fill. My hope and prayer is that other progressive conservatives like Tom Wright will now come to the fore and prevent a slide back into separatist and doctrinally-obsessed evangelicalism.
In the end though, like all great men and women of God, what marked John Stott out most was not his theological views or personal achievements but his simple and genuine love of Christ. I almost definitely wouldn’t agree with everything he wrote or preached, but I take my hat off to him as a true son of our shared Father.
Way to go?
On a less serious note, I was interested to hear that Stott died while listening to Handel’s Messiah (though I don’t think it was cause and effect). It probably wouldn’t be my top choice, but I have to admit it’s a pretty good way to go out. What would you choose if you had the chance? For me, if I was in classical spiritual mode it would probably be James MacMillan’s Seven Last Words from the Cross, Messaien’s Dieu Parmi Nous, or something by Tavener or Gorecki. But alternatively it might just be something daft by They Might be Giants.
Obituaries and biogs
If you want to read more about John Stott from people who (unlike me) actually know something about him, there are plenty of good obituaries and biogs out there: