April 26, 2011
John Stott at 90
InterVarsity Press is privileged to have been associated with the ministry of John Stott for over fifty years. His clear, balanced, sound perspective on Scripture and life has been filled with a grace and strength that seems rare in this era of extreme viewpoints and harsh rhetoric. As tomorrow marks his ninetieth birthday, I want to consider just one aspect of his character and vast influence.
Throughout his ministry Stott (now retired) has been an evangelical statesman, a decidedly vanishing breed. He has never sought to divide Christians, to win over people to the particulars of all his viewpoints. Rather he has worked to unite Christians in the basic convictions of the faith. Stott has not emphasized the differences Christians have with one another but what we have in common. He never aimed to win so much as to be winsome.
In this regard Stott was so fond of the following quotation from Memoirs of the Life of the Rev. Charles Simeon (ed. William Carus, 1847) that he quoted it at least twice, once in Christ the Controversialist (p. 45) and again, more extensively, in Balanced Christianity (p. 10). Simeon begins with the comment: "The truth is not in the middle, and not in one extreme, but in both extremes. . . . Here are two . . . extremes, Calvinism and Arminianism." Then Simeon imagines a conversation with the apostle Paul.
"How do you move in reference to these, Paul? In a golden mean?"
"To one extreme?"
"To both extremes; today I am a strong Calvinist; tomorrow a strong Arminian."
"Well, well, Paul, I see thou art beside thyself; go to Aristotle and learn the golden mean."
". . . But, my brother, I am unfortunate; I formerly read Aristotle, and liked him much; I have since read Paul and caught somewhat of his strange notions, oscillating (not vacillating) from pole to pole. Sometimes I am a high Calvinist, at other times a low Arminian, so that if extremes will please you, I am your man; only remember, it is not one extreme that we are to go to, but both extremes."
The supreme example of this came when Stott was the chair of the committee that framed the Lausanne Covenant in 1974, a document that still resonates with clarity and charity.
But there is an exception that likewise proves the rule. Stott famously confronted D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones in 1968, drawing a line and saying he will go this far and no farther. What is remarkable about it is not just that there came a point when Stott felt compelled to clarify a key doctrinal difference he had with a brother in Christ; but rather that this was not a division over truth but over fellowship.
Lloyd-Jones called for evangelicals to come out of the Anglican Church because of the way Lloyd-Jones (a free churcher) perceived the established church of England to have become doctrinally compromised. Stott felt otherwise. History proved Stott correct; evangelical influence in the Anglican Church became very strong in the forty years since this confrontation, largely because Stott led an evangelical resurgence.
Rather than looking for ways to divide from or disagree with other Christians, Stott sought where possible to find common ground.
He truly has been pastor to the world.