John R. W. Stott (1921-2011): We'll Miss You, Uncle John

John Stott died today, aged 90. He had withdrawn from almost all public life for some years, but it is still sad to think of him gone.

Stott meant a lot to me, and in several respects.

First, he modeled intelligent preaching, preaching that implied that both preacher and congregation were intelligent people who were concerned to understand difficult and important matters, and that patient and skilled interpretation of the difficult and important texts of the Bible was not only possible, but to be expected from sermons on every occasion. Preachers I have heard since then, and that’s the majority, who fail to interpret the text intelligently, fail to treat their audiences as intelligent people, and fail to express themselves intelligently, earn either my pity (if they can’t help it) or my contempt (if they can). But they do not get a pass: John Stott showed us what could be done, and we ought to do it, even if few of us can do it so well.

Second, he showed that smart and educated people could be evangelicals and remain evangelicals. In my young adult years, many upwardly mobile evangelicals were hitting the “high road,” so to speak, on their way to Anglo-Catholicism, Catholicism, or even Orthodoxy, but Stott–whose church services at All Souls Langham Place were like InterVarsity meetings with robes–was irrefutably sophisticated and unapologetically low-church evangelical.

Third, Stott demonstrated Christian liberty. At an InterVarsity conference I attended once in Toronto, the worship leaders insisted that everyone put up their hands in praise, wave them about, and generally move their bodies in ways I found distinctly uncongenial to worship. Stott was the main preacher and after several sessions in which he conspicuously refused to participate in this way, came to the microphone, blessed the worship leaders for their enthusiasm, and said simply, “I don’t find it helpful to raise my hands during public worship, so I don’t. But that is just me, and I mean no disrespect to those of you who do.” Nicely put, lesson learned, let’s move on.

Finally, I had one terrible summer during my undergraduate years driving bread trucks in various small towns in West Texas. This was “Friday Night Lights” territory, and I worked long days, loading at 4:30 a.m. and not unloading until 6:30 or 7–usually in 105F heat. I would then get supper at a local eatery, my one meal of the day, and hit my motel room bed for six hours’ sleep before getting up and doing it all over again.

To stay sane–literally–I made myself read Stott’s Christian Counterculture, his exposition of the Sermon on the Mount–for twenty minutes each morning before work. It got me started and directed for the day.

Three years later I met John Stott just once, early in my M.A. program at Wheaton College. I had him sign that book. It was the first time I had asked an author to autograph a book, and the last. Two weeks later, Francis Schaeffer came to the college. A few weeks after that, Billy Graham. I admired both those men greatly, but Stott’s signature and the brief moment I could thank him inadequately for what his ministry had meant to me was it. The man who had penned the Lausanne Covenant, who had preached all those Urbana sermons, who had conducted all those university missions,  who had written all those books (I’ve read about a dozen of them), and who had helped so many needy young leaders through the Langham Partnership, known in the U.S. as John Stott Ministries–it wouldn’t get better than that.

And it hasn’t. John R. W. Stott set a standard of intellectual, homiletical, theological, pastoral, and political excellence unparalleled in our time among evangelicals and perhaps among any other group of Christians in the world. (Yes, I’ll put him up against your favourite pope, bizarre as such a challenge would be!)

Rest in peace, Uncle John. And, in honour of your first class degree in French, as well as theology, à bientôt.

0 Responses to “John R. W. Stott (1921-2011): We'll Miss You, Uncle John”

  1. D.J. Brown

    It seems so sad that our elders leave us bereft just at the peak of their wisdom. Will life after death abound, resound, with their (and our) fullfilled potential? Thanks be to God for dear John Stott.
    Here is this servant, still teaching at 85 years of age.

  2. Doug Koop

    Thank you for this tribute, John, a scholar’s appreciation for a teacher who had this tangential kind of influence on a wide variety of people in all walks of life. Stott’s knowledgeable teaching, his gentle deportment and faithful obedience to God are inspiring and endearing. The one time I met him was at an event promoting the first volume of his biography. I didn’t ask him to sign it, but I did go home and actually read it.

  3. Carolyn Culbertson

    John Stott shaped much of my thinking as a Christian and I too am grateful. It occurred to me in reading this that I might as well tell you while you are alive,Dr. Stackhouse (and while I am alive, since I am older than you!), that I am very grateful as well for your intelligent, thorough, evangelical theology which is continuing to influence me now.

  4. Lindi Lewis

    Very well put John – a more gracious person one could not hope to meet. Exemplary in every respect.

    I met him while he was teaching here in 1981, living at VST with me (my first Regent courses) and we had breakfast and dinner together many days during that fortnight. He was always gently encouraging, whatever we students were dealing with. Thank you for eulogizing him so eloquently and so meaningfully!

  5. Rosie Perera

    I got to spend a week with him and a group of others on a bird-watching trip in the Caribbean back in 1995, with him teaching us in the evenings (on board the sailing ship) what he called “orni-theology” — a topic which he later developed into his book “The Birds Our Teachers.” He was a keen birder and photographer. And such a lovely, gentle soul. He took an interest in each one of us and prayed for us each individually every day of the trip, made himself available for us to come talk to him in his cabin.

    There were some other Regent folks on that trip, and that was where the idea of going to Regent was first planted in my mind — so John Stott was instrumental in a turning point in my life.

    I’m so grateful for his life and work and sad that he’s gone. In a world where evangelical Christianity has become so polarized, we need more people like him as role models.

  6. Bob Wismer

    John, thanks so much for your tribute. I have been blessed by reading what John meant to so many people. I pray that people will continue to read his books and model his commitment and passion for Christ’s glory.
    I wanted to say that I was at the conference in Toronto you mentioned (at least, I’m pretty sure I was), and it struck me, and I wrote to John later expressing the same thing, that although he didn’t feel comfortable with the physical gestures in worship, he did almost exactly the same motions in his preaching!
    Bless you, brother. Sorry we didn’t get more time in Vancouver. Sorry I didn’t recognize your family!
    Bob Wismer

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