Editor's Note: John Stott died today at 3:15 London time (about 9:15 a.m. CST), according to John Stott Ministries President Benjamin Homan. Homan said that Stott's death came after complications related to old age and that he has been in discomfort for the last several weeks. Family and close friends gathered with Stott today as they listened to Handel's Messiah. Homan said that John Stott Ministries has been preparing for his death for the past 15 years. "I think he set an impeccable example for leaders of ministries of handing things over to other leaders," Homan said. "He imparted to many a love for the global church and imparted a passion for biblical fidelity and a love for the Savior."
"An evangelical is a plain, ordinary Christian," John Stott told Christianity Today in an October 2006 interview. From his conversion at Rugby secondary school in 1938 to his death in 2011 at 90 years old, Stott exemplified how extraordinary plain, ordinary Christianity can be. He was not known as an original thinker, nor did he seek to be. He always turned to the Bible for understanding, and his unforgettable gift was to penetrate and explain the Scriptures. As editor Kenneth Kantzer wrote in CT's pages in 1981, "When I hear him expound a text, invariably I exclaim to myself, 'That's exactly what it means! Why didn't I see it before?'"
Until his conversion and subsequent call to Christian ministry, Stott seemed headed for the diplomatic corps. A skilled linguist, he would win a first at Cambridge in French before going on to study theology, in which he also gained a first. (A prestigious "first" is something like "highest honors" for an American graduate.) Nobody doubted that Stott would have made a superb diplomat. In his ministry, he retained the best qualities of that calling, which is to faithfully and skillfully represent someone else.
Like any good diplomat, Stott knew exactly who he was and where he came from. Born into an emotionally close and cultured doctor's family, he spent virtually his entire life in the same London neighborhood. As a child, he attended All Souls Church, sometimes sitting in the balcony and dropping wads of paper on the ladies' hats below. At his ordination in the Church of England in 1945, Stott became curate there and then, in 1950, rector of the badly war-damaged church. He would remain on staff for the rest of his days.
Stott was thoroughly English in stereotypical ways: incisive, cool, time-conscious, orderly, and balanced. Though he had a great gift for friendship, he was not given to small talk or self-revelation. (He did have a wry sense of humor and was a talented amateur musician.) A lifelong bachelor, he showed a formidable capacity for work. When he was at a writing project, he could happily keep his own company for weeks on end at his retreat in Wales, grinding out page after page of well-regulated prose.
At the same time, he relished the world around him in all its variety. Perhaps nothing showed this so obviously as his lifelong love for birdwatching, which biographer Timothy Dudley-Smith says bordered on an obsession. In his later decades, Stott spent a great proportion of his time traveling, much of it in Majority World countries. Time for birds was nearly always included. He traveled without entourage, sometimes preaching in a cathedral one day and under a tree the next, meeting the mighty and the lowly and staying in their homes. As a London pastor, too, he formed strong attachments to a wide variety of humanity. When he encountered opposition or criticism, he would seek it out for an exchange of views. He did not enjoy conflict, but he was committed to dialogue.