[Yesterday]…in England, at 3:15 pm Greenwich Mean Time, John R. W. Stott died and went to be with the Lord.
John will be remembered as one of the greatest preachers and Bible teachers of the twentieth century, even TIME magazine named him as such at one time. He will also be remembered as one of the great evangelists of the same century and one of the greatest contributors to the building up of the Christian community of faith around the world, especially in Africa and Asia where he was instrumental in aiding in the development of young clergy.
John was a primary force behind the resurgence of Anglican evangelicalism in the Church of England and elsewhere around the world, including the United States and the Episcopal Church. In regard to the former he was a strong supporter of Inter Varsity (ICCU in England) and of evangelical theological colleges in Britain, especially his own alma mater Ridley College, Cambridge. (John was a graduate of Trinity College, Cambridge, having earned academic firsts prior to enrollment at Ridley for theological study.) And, John was the long-serving pastor/rector of All Soul’s Church in the west end of London. He was responsible for the founding of numerous fellowships in the Church of England which contributed to the growth and positive influence of Anglican evangelical clergy and laity across the nation.
In the United States he was supportive of and instrumental in the founding of the Evangelical Fellowship of the Anglican Communion ”“ USA, a branch of the international organization he had served to found in England. EFAC-USA brought together evangelical clergy and laity of the Episcopal Church for mutual support and witness and out of EFAC-USA American evangelical Episcopalians, with the support and help of John and other Anglican evangelical leaders such as Jim Packer, founded the Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry, Ambridge, Pennsylvania, the authentic Anglican evangelical seminary in the American province.
In the United States John was a popular guest visitor at numerous evangelical and other institutions of learning including Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, IL, Wheaton College, Illinois, and Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California. (I first heard John speak in Ann Arbor at the University of Michigan when I was a senior in high school where he spoke to a large gathering of academics and collegians.)
John was a prolific and gifted writer as well as an oral communicator. His books have served to deepen the faith of people around the globe and contributed to the spiritual development of countless generations of college students. Scholarly substantive and grounded, his writings are at the same time easily accessible and clear. His best known book, Basic Christianity has been especially formative of bringing many thousands of people to Jesus and Christian faith and discipleship.
Alongside the writings of C. S. Lewis, N. T. “Tom” Wright, J. B. Phillips, and William Temple, John Stott and his lectures, sermons, and writings have had the greatest influence in my own spiritual and intellectual development as an evangelical Christian, scholar, philosopher, and theologian. I have been privileged to know John personally since I was a college student at Trinity College, Deerfield, IL (now Trinity International University) and attended his lectures at TEDS. From that time forward we have regularly communicated via mail and our friendship was sustained by personal meetings when I had opportunity to be present at various of John’s presentations in our country or by visits to All Souls Church, London while I was a student at Trinity College, Bristol, England (a Church of England Anglican evangelical theological college).
I was first introduced to John’s writings while in high school, introduced to them by the man singularly responsible in being used by the Holy Spirit to introduce me to Jesus Christ and Christian discipleship, David Knapp. David was the same person that took me to hear John at U of M where John was giving a series of talks on the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). Little did I think at that time I would become personally acquainted and encouraged by John over the years in my Christian life and later in my professional ministry as an Anglican/Episcopal presbyter.
While I was a student at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary, Evanston, IL (where I earned my Masters of Divinity degree), I was successful in convincing the Dean, O. C. Edwards to permit John coming to SWTS and preaching in chapel and engaging students in an open forum. After his visit to SWTS John would go on to make another of his numerous appearances at Wheaton College. I was responsible for picking John up at O’Hare airport in Chicago, taking him to SWTS and then delivering him latter to Wheaton.
As it happens, Chicago was hit with one of the worse snow storms that particular winter on the day John’s flight landed at O’Hare. Despite the building snow, my little green Chevrolet Chevette and I were able to make it to O’Hare on time and meet John at the gate. Driving from O’Hare to Evanston and SWTS the snow continued to accumulate, such that at one point the car got stuck in the snow. I learned then how ordinary and normal a person John was as well as a remarkably saintly Christian as John got out and alongside the fellow student accompanying pushed the car out of the deep snow drift. John took it all in stride. We arrived in time at SWTS and had a successful forum and chapel experience as students and faculty with John. Fortunately, the snowing subsided and by the time had come to deliver John to Wheaton the roads had begun to be plowed. At Wheaton we helped John check in and then we had a memorable time of prayer with John in his room before I and my two fellow colleagues headed back to Evanston.
Another significant moment spent with John was during a visit Joann my spouse and I made to the IVCF Urbana Missionary Conference at the University of Illinois in December 1976. After hearing John’s presentation to the conference, John met with Joann and I in his room at the Illini Union and we talked at length about the possibility of ordained ministry, academic teaching, and other aspects of the life of discipleship we were feeling called to pursue. Joann and I came away from that meeting with John encouraged in our sense of discipleship and vocation and, like later at Wheaton, spent a meaningful time in prayer with John in communication with the Lord Jesus.
Another contribution John made to Joann’s and my life was his role, alongside that of Jim Packer and John Rodgers and O. C. Edwards, to arrange for the opportunity to live a year in Bristol, England and for me to study at Trinity College. As a result I was privileged to study with Alec Motyer, Joyce Baldwin, Peter Williams, Garvis Angel, Michael Wilcocks, Colin Brown, Jim Packer, and Philip Budd. Joann was able to attend Alec’s lectures on the Old Testament and Colin’s lectures on philosophy. In addition to the academic opportunities Trinity afforded us, one of the lasting fruits and joys of our life was the long-standing friendship with David and Eluned Bourne who went on to serve as presbyter and spouse in the C of E. (Sadly, Eluned preceded John in being called to return to the Lord a couple of years ago. David has since remarried, and to a remarkable Christian woman, a widow herself of a C of E presbyter and continues in ordained ministry as Rector of a C of E parish.)
It is with a certain amount of sadness to learn of John’s death today. It is a sadness tempered by the Christian hope to go and be with Christ and of the future resurrection of the dead when God will complete his work of new creation and we are set free to enjoy and do remarkable things in the new heaven and earth (ref: the writings of Tom Wright). My life and that of Joann will always remained marked by the presence and positive influence of John on our lives and for that we are grateful to God.
May John rest in peace and his witness here will continue to have impact for years to come in many, many lives and a variety of ways.
Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your servant John. Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming. Receive John into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light. Amen.
– Book of Common Prayer, p. 465
Lord Jesus Christ, by your death you took away the sting of death; Grant to us your servants so to follow in faith where you have led the way, that we may at length fall asleep peacefully in you and wake up in your likeness; for your tender mercies’ sake. Amen.
– Book of Common Prayer, p. 504