In 2004, New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote that if evangelicals chose a pope, they would likely select John Stott. Stott, 85, has been at the heart of evangelical renewal in the U.K. His books and biblical sermons have transfixed millions throughout the world. He has been involved in many important world councils and dialogues, not least as chair of the committees that drafted the Lausanne Covenant (1974) and the Manila Manifesto (1989)two defining statements for evangelicals. For more than 35 years, he has devoted three months of every year to traveling the globe, with a particular emphasis on churches in the majority world. He is ideally suited to comment on evangelicals' past, present, and future. ct senior writer Tim Stafford interviewed him at his home in London.
As you see it, what is evangelicalism, and why does it matter?
An evangelical is a plain, ordinary Christian. We stand in the mainstream of historic, orthodox, biblical Christianity. So we can recite the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed without crossing our fingers. We believe in God the Father and in Jesus Christ and in the Holy Spirit.
Having said that, there are two particular things we like to emphasize: the concern for authority on the one hand and salvation on the other.
For evangelical people, our authority is the God who has spoken supremely in Jesus Christ. And that is equally true of redemption or salvation. God has acted in and through Jesus Christ for the salvation of sinners.
I think it's necessary for evangelicals to add that what God has said in Christ and in the biblical witness to Christ, and what God has done in and through Christ, are both, to use the Greek word, hapaxmeaning once and for all. There is a finality about God's word in Christ, and there is a finality about God's work in Christ. To imagine that we could add a word to his word, or add a work to his work, is extremely derogatory to the unique glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
You didn't mention the Bible, which would surprise some people.
I did, actually, but you didn't notice it. I said Christ and the biblical witness to Christ. But the really distinctive emphasis is on Christ. I want to shift conviction from a book, if you like, to a person. As Jesus himself said, the Scriptures bear witness to me. Their main function is to witness to Christ.
Part of your implication is that evangelicals are not to be a negatively inspired people. Our real focus ought to be the glory of Christ.
I believe that very strongly. We believe in the authority of the Bible because Christ has endorsed its authority. He stands between the two testaments. As we look back to the Old Testament, he has endorsed it. As we look forward to the New Testament, we accept it because of the apostolic witness to Christ. He deliberately chose and appointed and prepared the apostles, in order that they might have their unique apostolic witness to him. I like to see Christ in the middle, endorsing the old, preparing for the new. Although the question of the New Testament canon is complicated, in general we are able to say that canonicity is apostolicity.
How has the position of evangelicals changed during your years of ministry?
I look backit's been 61 years since I was ordainedand when I was ordained in the Church of England, evangelicals in the Church of England were a despised and rejected minority. The bishops lost no opportunity to ridicule us. Over the intervening 60 years, I've seen the evangelical movement in England grow in size, in maturity, certainly in scholarship, and therefore I think in influence and impact. We went from a ghetto to being on the ascendancy, which is a very dangerous place to be.