The global church (and Anglicans) lost a titan not long ago, when John R. W. Stott (1921-2011) passed from this world to the next. One is only now getting a sense of the stone God dropped into the pond of history through this remarkable man, as ever more ripples move through the waters of those who lives and ministries he touched.
John Stott was above all a preacher, and as such he modeled a craft that is increasingly weak in the West.
My mother taught English, and we had a life long conversation about writer-based versus reader-based prose. Good articles and books do the work for the reader, she insisted–they reach out and draw you in.
Dr. Stott was a listener-based preacher. I do not mean by this that he allowed his potential audience to set the topic; nothing could be further from the truth. He was someone who sought to expound Holy Scripture throughout his life.
But he did it though making an argument that one who heard him could follow. As you listened you had the sense that John had wrestled mightily with the text so that you would not need to. More than one person has quipped that John Stott made St. Paul more understandable than Paul himself did!
I will always remember him speaking on the Acts of the Apostles chapter 17 about the mission to Thessalonica. He observed with great care the verbs used in the passage to describe what Paul was trying to do””argue, explain, prove. Then he noted with real force that in response some were “persuaded” by what had been presented. How many times, he asked, do we hear that response to contemporary sermons?
I pray that we might learn to follow in the footsteps of this persuasive preacher. Let us wrestle hard with the text, but let us also present a coherent narrative which is easy to follow. So easy to follow, in fact, that many who did not even wish to hear it will find themselves grabbed and drawn in.
–The Rev. Dr. Kendall Harmon is Canon Theologian of the Diocese of South Carolina and Convenor of this blog