01 September 2011
Last Word: John Stott - The two sides of his brain
Chris Wright, international director of Langham Partnership International, remembers friend and mentor John Stott…
"He was committed to the truth of the Bible and regarded the evangelical tradition as the simplest and most faithful form of orthodox biblical Christianity."
John Stott's lifetime spans more than half the history of the Evangelical Alliance. And for all his life of active ministry he was a whole-hearted supporter of the vision and mission of the Alliance, and served for some years as its president. The Evangelical Alliance's stated aims of unity could well sum up one of the many passions of John Stott: unity among evangelical believers for the sake of their effective witness in the world - witness that must be personal and public, spiritual and social.
"The Alliance promotes unity and truth, acts as an evangelical voice to the state, society and the wider church, and works collaboratively with Alliance members and other evangelicals, to present Christ credibly as good news for spiritual and social transformation."
All of the above could describe John Stott. He was committed to the truth of the Bible and regarded the evangelical tradition as the simplest and most faithful form of orthodox biblical Christianity. But it was always Bible first. In the truest Reformation spirit, he saw all tradition, including the evangelical tradition, as semper reformanda. "The hallmark of an authentic evangelical is not the uncritical repetition of old traditions but the willingness to submit every tradition, however ancient, to fresh biblical scrutiny, and, if necessary, reform," he said, in an interview with Roy McCloughry in Third Way in 1995 (Vol. 18.8).
Like the Alliance, John Stott sought to uphold both truth and unity. "I've given a great deal of my life to the preservation and development of the unity of the evangelical constituency, because it has been a great concern of mine," he said, in that same Third Way interview. "I have never believed that our differences have been great enough to warrant fragmentation. I don't mind people founding their own societies and going after their own thing - provided they still recognise that we belong to one another."
That spirit of unity in plurality, of truth spoken with grace, explains John Stott's foundational role in the formation of possibly the two most influential manifestations of evangelicalism in the world today - the World Evangelical Alliance and the Lausanne Movement. John Stott was a major speaker at the inaugural conference of the World Evangelical Fellowship (later the WEA) in 1951, and he joined Billy Graham in the first Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization in 1974. That was when he framed the epoch-making Lausanne Covenant, which provided a benchmark for a global network of evangelicals (and Christians from other traditions, it has to be added) who are committed to mission in all the dimensions of its biblical wholeness.
Lausanne, and its consultations that followed in the 1980s (most chaired by John Stott), restored the integration of evangelism and social engagement that had characterised evangelicals in the century of the Evangelical Alliance's formation. And to those two elements has been added the third - our care of creation itself as a dimension of Christian mission. That too was dear to John Stott's theology and heart, and all three have found fresh expression in The Cape Town Commitment. That document was read to him gradually over the months before he died, and he delighted in its affirmations and what he called 'the remarkable degree of unity' that was evident at Cape Town.
Another proof of the integrating unity of John's vision was his concept of "double listening". We must listen, he would frequently say, to the Word and to the world. We listen to God's Word in the Bible, in order to believe and obey it. But we must also listen to the world in order to understand it and to relate the gospel relevantly to its challenges and needs. This has been described by some as "the two sides of John Stott's brain". And out of one side came an organisation and out of the other an institute - both founded by him.
Langham Partnership International is committed to equipping a new generation of Bible teachers - whether that teaching is done in the pulpit (through training preachers), or on paper (through evangelical literature), or in a classroom (through funding theological teachers) - in the fast growing churches of the majority world. It reflects John Stott's conviction that the Church grows through God's Word, and that biblical preaching is essential to Christian maturity and Christlikeness. "The Church is always a reflection of the preaching it receives, and I don't think it is an exaggeration to say that the low standards of Christian living throughout the world are due more than anything else to the low standards of Christian preaching and teaching," he said in that Third Way interview.
The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity reflects John Stott's passion that Christians must engage their many cultures for the gospel, as salt and light, and must do so not just in verbal evangelism, but in whole-life discipleship that overcomes the sacred-secular divide by affirming every area of life and work as a means of glorifying God, of obeying His calling, and fulfilling His mission.
May the Evangelical Alliance, in its future as well as its history, remain true to its own vision and goals that were so heartily embraced and fostered by John Stott.
Do visit www.johnstottmemorial.org for rich resources on John Stott's life and an international book of remembrance. All donations in his memory received in the UK through this site will be divided equally (at John Stott's request) between Langham Partnership and LICC.