John Stott: A Uniter and a Divider
Chapman's observations about Stott's global turn make the most sense. His frequent overseas travels revealed God at work in powerful, exciting ways. All Souls thrived, but national revival did not appear to be imminent. Students no longer responded so enthusiastically to his evangelistic messages. The prophet found little honor in his native land. His hopes for comprehensive reform in the Church of England ran aground in the 1960s and 1970s, according to Chapman, who devotes considerable space to church politics and controversy. Chapman says Stott wasn't yet prepared in 1966 to follow the famed Welsh preacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones into the "cultural wilderness" and forsake his hopes for the Church of England.
But Stott couldn't keep the evangelical coalition together. Apparent uneasiness with Stott's leadership was among the reasons J. I. Packer left Britain in 1979 for Regent College in Vancouver. Stott's influence reached its climax as drafter of the landmark 1974 Lausanne Covenant, which affirmed sociopolitical involvement as a Christian duty. Graham deferred to Stott but never agreed, Chapman writes. Graham eventually shifted his focus toward supporting evangelists.
Power and Control
Chapman raises an important question about the difficulty of evangelical leadership: What could Stott have done differently? What incentives could he offer, what threats could he make to impose his views on divided evangelicals? Chapman writes, "Others might refer to him as the bishop, or archbishop, or cardinal, or patriarch or even the pope of the evangelicals, but he had none of the tangible means of power and control associated with any of those offices."
Graham could lead through the power of his preaching and the depth of his supporters' pockets. But Stott had a powerful tool, as well: his pen. Chapman could have devoted much more attention to his books, which continue to circulate widely today. Stott's classic book The Cross of Christ does not even merit mention from Chapman. Nor does Stott's seminal preaching text, Between Two Worlds: The Challenge of Preaching Today.
Even so, Chapman's biography helps us remember Stott as immensely gifted, dedicated, and ambitious for God's glory. We learn more from this critical evaluation of his unexpected triumphs and excruciating failures than from merely laudatory obituaries.
Collin Hansen is the editorial director for the Gospel Coalition and co-author of A God-Sized Vision: Revival Stories that Stretch and Stir (Zondervan).
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Christianity Today has a special section with articles on John Stott's life and ministry, including:
John Stott on Singleness | "Uncle John" explains why he stayed single for 90 years. (August 17, 2011)
John Stott Has Died | An architect of 20th-century evangelicalism shaped the faith of a generation. (July 27, 2011)
John Stott: The Man Who Wouldn't Be Bishop | Discernment and discipline have enabled him to touch lives worldwide. (March 16, 2011)