In Memoriam: John Stott

August 16, 2011

Rev. Dr. William Edgar, professor of apologetics, reflects on the life and ministry of John Stott, who died on July 27th, 2011.

Click Here to see the sermon preached by Rev. J.I. Packer at the memorial for Rev. Stott

John R. W. Stott (1921-2011)

July 27, 2011, the church lost one of its most influential leaders. John Stott was a truly global Christian. Paradoxically so, for his principal calling, since his ordination in 1945, was to serve in a local church, All Souls, Langham Place, London. Although he resigned from being Rector of All souls in 1975, he remained Rector Emeritus for the rest of his life.

Stott came to Christ at the age of 17, while at the famous Varsity Public School Camps. A sermon preached by the legendary Eric “Bash” Nash convicted him that he had been holding Christ at arm’s length, and now needed to ask him into his heart. Nash mentored the young Stott, and wrote him every week, a practice the Reverend Stott would emulate with many of his own mentees. He took a double first in French and theology at Trinity College, Cambridge. He finished graduate school at Ridley hall, in order to enter service in the Anglican Church. He distinguished himself as a first-rate preacher as well as a tireless shepherd of the flock.

It would be impossible to enumerate his many involvements in a short space. He was chaplain to the Queen. He was, along with his friend Billy Graham, the founder of the Lausanne movement, which has been operating since 1974. He also founded the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, a training center principally for lay persons, whose mission is to bring the norms of the Gospel to bear on every sphere of life. Stott never became a bishop, and it is unclear whether he might have desired to be in that office. He wrote over 50 books. Basic Christianity was and is an international best-seller. Perhaps his The Cross of Christ is the best presentation of the Gospel in recent times. His favorite avocation was bird watching. One of his most endearing books is The Birds Our Teachers, which he not only wrote but illustrated with his own photographs. 

Although passionate about church unity, he held certain positions that were, at best, controversial. He became agnostic about the possibility of the annihilation, rather than condemnation to hell, of unbelievers. He was not a pacifist, but he rejected any use of nuclear weapons. He and Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones engaged in a very public debate about Lloyd-Jones’ call for evangelicals to leave any denomination that included liberal theology.

John Stott was a statesman. He was a master at encouraging dialogue. He loved to put different people in touch with one another. He was a man of prayer. He never married, but became persuaded that celibacy should be a rare calling. Stott visited Westminster Theological Seminary several times. On his last visit, he encouraged students and faculty alike to nurture holiness in the sight of God. His John Stott Ministries and the Langham Trust have helped a number of our graduate students from foreign countries.

I have many fond memories of “Uncle John.” As a new believer I went to 12 Weymouth Street, where he sponsored discipleship luncheons for young men who seemed likely to enter the ministry. I can remember his counsel as though it were yesterday. I spoke a number of times at the London Institute, and he was always kind enough to attend and encourage me. One memorable encounter was in the Central African Republic, where I not only translated for him, but roomed with him. (He leaned over before one of his speeches to warn me not to try and correct his theology, since his French was excellent!) One morning he made me get up early and go bird watching with him. While we saw no birds, we were greeted by a rather frightening soldier holding a machine gun, who was convinced we were spies! John came regularly to support our youth work, FOCUS, which was modeled on the VPS camps. At one evening gathering our five year-old daughter, Debbie, spilled a glass of water all over his trousers. With a great twinkle, he thanked her for administering his second baptism!

John Stott lived a full and rich life. He is now with the Lord he did so much to honor. Many of us will miss him terribly, not only because of his sharp thinking and great preaching, but because of the holiness and love he modeled. We are sad, but at the same time, deeply grateful that the Lord raised up such a man in our times.

William Edgar

From the Westminster Media Archive, you can listen to the following messages which Rev. Stott gave at Westminster:

Please join with Dr. Lillback and the Westminster community as we mourn the loss of this brother.