John Stott turned 75 this year. He passed this milestone with his integrity unscratched, his vigor seemingly undiminished, his mind as luminous as ever, and his ministry still touching the far corners of the world. Not all reach this milestone; very few reach it with such honor; and fewer yet view their accomplishments with the humility of a John Stott.

Stott has been called "the most influential clergyman in the Church of England during the twentieth century" (David Edwards), and he has been one of the most prominent evangelical leaders of our time, too. As an evangelical leader, he views the world as a pastor. He has been preeminently a steward of God's truth and a herald of the biblical message. The leadership he has given has flowed out of his pastoral and biblical perspectives.

Local pastor, global leader

Today, pastors average between two and three years in their churches; Stott has just passed his fiftieth year of ministry at All Souls Langham Place in London, the only church he has served.

Stott's ministry at All Souls was marked by his conscientious, systematic preaching of the Word of God. "Every authentic ministry begins … with the conviction that we have been called to handle God's Word as its guardians and heralds," he wrote in his commentary on Thessalonians. "Our task is to keep it, study it, expound it, apply it, and obey it." And so he has.

But preaching the truth of God's Word in the Anglican world has not been easy. In the years immediately following World War II, evangelicals were considered a sectarian "party" and were not well positioned to reform the Church of England. Evangelicals were within Anglicanism ecclesiastically, but they kept themselves apart from its inner workings because of their theological convictions. That separation, Stott believed, was the major obstacle to effective engagement with the church's theology and practice.

Stott sought to change evangelical separatism through sponsoring two National Evangelical Anglican Congresses (1967 and 1977). The first congress, whose theme was the church (its nature, mission, and message), successfully re-engaged evangelicals with the Anglican church, signaling their intent to be loyal members. Evangelicals went into the first congress thinking of themselves as evangelicals who happened to be Anglican, but by the second congress a decade later, they had become Anglicans who just happened to be evangelical.

This success has not been without its ambiguities. Whereas a growing number of evangelicals have been appointed to bishoprics, evangelical identity today is hazier than it used to be. Was this inevitable if evangelicals were to become loyal Anglicans? Could this have been avoided if evangelical substance and passion had not declined? These are not insignificant questions. Evangelicals in American mainline denominations ponder the same dilemma: What are the benefits and costs of staying in, and what price should be paid for which gain?

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Stott has played a large role, too, in the remarkable international growth of evangelicalism since World War II. The high-water mark in this resurgence of biblical Christianity was the Lausanne Covenant, the outcome of the International Congress on World Evangelization in 1974. Attended by representatives from 150 nations, the congress was described by Time magazine as "possibly the most wide-ranging meeting of Christians ever held." Stott was the principal drafter of the covenant, which was both a theological declaration and a summons to evangelism and social responsibility. The importance of the Lausanne Covenant remains undiminished for its evangelical cohesion, vision, and conviction, and no small part of this remarkable moment belonged to Stott.

From All Souls, Stott has also extended his ministry into the Third World where, in spite of his own privileged upbringing, he has been able to cross national and cultural divides to identify with the needs and suffering of those who are forgotten by the First World. Today, through the Langham Foundation, which Stott created, two main ministries are undertaken-pastoral training and book distribution.

Stott believes that churches rarely rise above their pastors, and that those who train pastors have a significant place in the life of the church. Consequently, Stott works with indigenous churches to identify leaders whose character and leadership are widely recognized and whose teaching ministry would be enlarged through doctoral work. This past year, 17 doctoral students from 14 countries were being supported, mainly in British universities, in addition to the 12 who graduated during the year. This support is costly-between $22,000 and $28,000 per student per year-but Vinay Samuel, of the Oxford Center for Mission Studies, says that this program "has already produced scholars who are having an influence on their generation throughout the world." Stott also established the Evangelical Literature Trust to distribute books to Third World pastors and seminaries.

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In all Stott's ministries, he has been known as a reformer. "We need to get the failures of the church on our conscience," he says. Nothing today is more urgent, he declares, than that the church begin to exhibit its reality as the dwelling place of God and as the new humanity being built in Christ. Only then will there be a credible witness to Christ.

The making of many books

Stott's literary output is remarkable for both its quantity and its sustained quality. He is the author of 42 books, the editor of 14, and he has written about 500 chapters, essays, articles, and booklets. So prolific has he been that for many years, at least in America, the image of InterVarsity Press, which carried most of his books, was subsumed under his own image. In everything he has written, Stott has always been stringently biblical, charitable but principled, often creative and courageous, his thought expressed in prose both crisp and lucid.
His books fall into two main categories: those about the biblical Word and those that engage the world from a biblical perspective. The category of the Word breaks down into three subcategories. First, there are books on or about the Bible, such as his Basic Introduction to the New Testament and commentaries on numerous books of the Bible. Also included are biblical studies on doctrinal themes such as The Baptism and Fullness of the Holy Spirit.

Second, there is his lifelong preoccupation with Christ. Christ the Controversialist argues that Jesus not only faced many of the debates that trouble the church today, but that he insisted on a doctrinally shaped answer to them. In The Cross of Christ, on the Atonement, one probably hears Stott's heartbeat more loudly than any other. Basic Christianity, which has sold about a million copies and is translated into more than 50 languages, explains the gospel message. Finally, there are books on preaching, Preacher's Portrait and Between Two Worlds.

In the category of the world is his seminal Christian Mission in the Modern World, which argued that evangelism must be done out of a Christian sense of responsibility for the whole person. Involvement is a two-volume study on some of our most perplexing ethical dilemmas.

His writing has a striking candor about it, as reflected in how he consistently approaches Scripture. "We have to open our minds wide to risk hearing what we do not want to hear," he says. Because we too often come to Scripture for comfort, "we tend to come to it with our minds made up, anxious to hear only the reassuring echoes of our own prejudice." Stott's expositions jolt us out of our complacent comfort zones.

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Stott, the noncontroversialist

Stott's kind of evangelicalism is profoundly biblical, thoughtful, full of conviction, and it goes hand in hand with a piety marked by self-discipline, self-sacrifice, and self-forgetfulness. Stott's Balanced Christianity is, in brief compass, a declaration of this kind of evangelicalism. In it he opposes a polarization between mind and emotions that is so common today; he calls the church to be both conservative on the nature of Scripture and radical in working out its truths in culture; he asks for acceptance of what is both structured and unstructured in the life of the church; and he calls for a partnership between evangelism and social responsibility.

It is the first of these polarizations, however, that is especially pertinent. Stott opposes preaching that is without biblical substance, faith without the apostolic willingness to reason about it, and in the contemporary hunger for emotional experiences, he opposes "the enthronement of experience as the criterion of truth, whereas truth should be the criterion of experience." Evangelical faith ceases to be evangelical when it ceases to concern itself with the truth of Scripture.

Worship is impossible without biblical preaching. "Word and worship belong indissolubly together," he says in Between Two Worlds. "All worship is an intelligent and loving response to the revelation of God, because it is an adoration of his Name. Therefore, acceptable worship is impossible without preaching. For preaching is making known the Name of the Lord, and worship is praising the Name of the Lord made known." He observes that the poverty of our worship today reflects a poverty in our knowledge of God, and this is a poverty in our knowledge of Scripture.

In drafting the Lausanne Covenant, Stott resisted the temptation to reduce evangelism to technique and the gospel to therapy. The covenant first lays a foundation: God is the one "who governs all things according to his will" and "who has been calling out from the world a people for himself"; the Scriptures are truthful and authoritative "in their entirety as the only written Word of God"; and Christ is the "only one Savior and only one Gospel." These convictions explain what evangelism is-spreading "the good news that Jesus Christ died for our sins and was raised from the dead according to the scriptures, and that as the reigning Lord he now offers the forgiveness of sins and the liberating gift of the spirit to all who repent and believe."

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According to the covenant, the nature of God explains why social concern is not an alternative to the gospel; the God who calls people to a saving faith is also the creator and judge of all. Therefore, we "should share his concern for justice and reconciliation throughout human society and for the liberation of men from every kind of oppression."

For someone whose convictions are as clear as Stott's and whose mind is as decisive, he has been embroiled in very few controversies. Stott, in fact, has been able to do consistently what so often eludes us: he speaks the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). Without love, truth can be ugly; and without truth, love can be empty and sentimental.

This union of love and truth was clear in his exchanges with David Edwards, his liberal interlocutor in Evangelical Essentials. Without yielding an inch, Stott modeled how to speak to a theological adversary, one who asked some nettlesome questions. And it was modeled in All Souls when his own convictions on the Holy Spirit's baptism were challenged by the intrusion of charismatic experience in the church. Especially in the early days of the charismatic movement, this kind of situation frequently divided churches. In All Souls, it did not, and much of the credit belongs to Stott, who held together both theological conviction and pastoral charity.

Stott, the controversialist

He has, however, been involved in some controversy. Aside from Anglican church politics, there have been three such matters that stand out. First, Stott has counseled against separating from theologically defective denominations. In October 1966, however, Martin Lloyd-Jones addressed the National Assembly of Evangelicals in London and argued for such separation. Stott, who happened to be chairing the meeting, politely but forcefully rebuked him. That event, remembered today in England as if it had happened only last week, marked the beginning of a rift between Anglican and non-Anglican evangelicals, a rift that, in many ways, has not been overcome as each side simply went its own way. And yet to the end, Stott remained in fellowship with Lloyd-Jones and admired his ministry greatly.

Second, Stott opposed the charismatic understanding of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Michael Harper, who became prominent in the charismatic movement in England, was a curate in All Souls when he first experienced the Spirit's renewal. And it was from within All Souls that Harper began to advocate his new understanding. Stott's response came in an address at a clerical conference and was later published as The Baptism and Fullness of the Holy Spirit. Although he subsequently modified the way he stated his position, he did not change his mind on this matter. He did, however, bend over backwards to accommodate charismatic concerns that he believed were biblically valid.

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Third, in his debate with David Edwards, Stott was asked what he believed about the fate of those who die outside of Christ. He elaborated briefly on a view that he had, in fact, held for many years. The wicked, he thought, would be annihilated. His proposal, by his own reckoning, was outside the parameters of historic Christian thought, and in the United States in particular it caused much consternation. Since then Stott has focused on qualifiers: initially, he said that he held the view "tentatively," more recently that he remains "agnostic" about it. But most of his critics have focused on what he said he believes, and his statement is rather clear.

Despite these disputes, Stott's reputation remains intact. One symbol is that in 1983 the archbishop of Canterbury, who has parliamentary power to confer degrees, awarded Stott a doctor of divinity degree from Oxford University in recognition of his extraordinary leadership in the church. It was an honor that Stott has earned.

He has been a visionary who has seen what others cannot see and a leader who has known how to get there. But such are the qualities of integrity, love, and wisdom that one finds in him that his leadership has always rested lightly on those around him. He has always valued being balanced, and he himself has exhibited a balance that is unusual and rare today: truth is accompanied by love, thought by action, the gospel by social responsibility, care for the church by a caring spirit for the world, boldness in belief by humility in spirit, passion for what is true and right by restraint, clarity of thought by sensitivity to others. His ministry has been a gift to the church, for which we should be grateful to God.

David F. Wells is Andrew Mutch Distinguished Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, South Hamilton, Massachusetts.

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