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August 3, 2011

Column #1,562

John Stott:   Teacher, Friend, Mentor

This past Sunday my rector (pastor) paused to thank God for John Stott, “a teacher, friend and mentor,” who died last week at age 90 surrounded by friends, listening to ”The Messiah.”  In fact Stott was a mentor to thousands including Billy Graham and Rick Warren.

Unassuming but erudite, Stott authored more than 50 books, including the 1958 classic, Basic Christianity that sold 2.5 million copies in 60 languages, with sentences such as this: “God has spoken, but have we listened to his word?” Others: Why I Am a Christian and The Cross of Christ. His royalties funded Langham Partnership International, training clergy in 100 countries.

He and Billy Graham created the Congress on World Evangelization in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1974, and Stott was the primary author of its famous Lausanne Covenant that launched the global evangelical movement.

From 1950-1975 he was rector of Our Souls Church in London near the BBC, where he was a frequent guest. He remained as Rector Emeritus another 25 years. In 2005 TIME recognized Stott as one of the “100 Most Influential People in the World.”

David Brooks, who is Jewish, wrote a 2004 column about why so many people are “misinformed about evangelical Christians.  There is a world of difference between real-life people of faith and the made-for-TV Elmer Gantry-style blowhards who are selected to represent them.  Falwell and Pat Robertson are held up as spokesmen for evangelicals, which is ridiculous. Meanwhile people like John Stott, who actually are important, get ignored.”

Brooks observed that “When you read Stott, you encounter first a tone of voice…that is friendly, courteous and natural.  It is humble and self-critical but also confident, joyful and optimistic. Stott’s mission is to pierce through all the encrustations and share direct contact with Jesus.  Stott says the central message of the gospel is not the teachings of Jesus, but Jesus himself, the human/divine figure.”

Brooks loved Stott’s paradoxes. “Jesus teaches humility, so why does he talk about himself so much?  What does it mean to gain power through weakness, or freedom through obedience?”

I just read Stott’s last book, The Radical Disciple, which he completed at age 88, “to share where my mind has come to rest as I approach the end of my pilgrimage on earth.” He explores eight characteristics of “Christian discipleship that are often neglected and yet deserve to be taken seriously.”  Here are three:

Nonconformity. A paradox: “We are to live, serve and witness in the world. On the other hand, we are to avoid being contaminated by the world.” Paul wrote to the Romans (12;2), “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

One popular contamination today is pluralism which claims that all faiths lead to God. Another is ethical relativism.  Judeo-Christian ethics says that “marriage is a monogamous, heterosexual, loving and lifelong union and the only God-given context for sexual intimacy,” he writes. “But now, even in some churches, cohabitation without marriage is widely practiced,” and “same sex partnerships are promoted as a legitimate alternative.”

Stott notes that some claim “Jesus did not speak about these things. But he did. He quoted both Genesis 1:27: (`At the beginning the Creator made them male and female.’) and Genesis 2:24: `A man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’) as giving the Biblical definition of marriage.”

Simplicity: “In view of the fact that about 10,000 people die of starvation every day, we determine to simplify our lifestyles.”  Stott doesn’t say so, but he lived in two rooms over a garage at All Souls. Like St. Paul, he was a celibate.

As he wrote in the Lausanne Covenant, “Those of us who live in affluent circumstances accept our duty to develop a simple life-style in order to contribute more generously to both relief and evangelization.”

Death: Stott quotes Paul Marshall’s book, The Blood Cries Out, “In 60 countries Christians are harassed, abused, imprisoned, tortured and executed simply on account of their faith.”

To an unbeliever, death is the end. Professor Ronald Dworkin writes, “Death has dominion because it is not only the start of nothing, but the end of everything.”

Not to Stott: “But death holds no horrors for Christians…We affirm that `Christ Jesus…has destroyed death” (2 Timothy 1:10). However, he confesses, “Death is unnatural and unpleasant…As I lay down my pen for the last time (literally, since I confess I am not computerized), at the age of eighty-eight, I venture to send this valedictory message to my readers.  I am grateful for your encouragement for many of you have written to me…

“Let me urge you to keep reading….Farewell.” 

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